Theme From Shaft

Album: Shaft Soundtrack (1971)
Charted: 4 1

Songfacts®:

  • This is the theme song to the 1971 movie Shaft, starring Richard Roundtree as a Harlem detective hired by a mob boss to find his kidnapped daughter. Written, produced and arranged by Hayes, the song establishes Shaft as one bad mother who thrives on danger and doesn't give up. He's also "a sex machine to all the chicks," making him sort of a black James Bond. Thanks in large part to the song, it became an iconic character.
  • This won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement and an Oscar for Best Original Score. The Oscar win made Hayes the first African-American to win an Academy Award in a composer category.
  • Hayes was a songwriter for Stax records before he became a successful recording artist. He wrote some hits for Sam & Dave, including "Soul Man" and "Hold On I'm Coming." Hayes explained in an interview with National Public Radio: "The character Shaft was explained to me: a relentless character always on the prowl, always on the move. I had to create something to denote that. Otis Redding's 'Try A Little Tenderness,' I had a hand in arranging that. At the end, Al Jackson was doing some stuff on a hi-hat, and I thought if I sustained that kind of thing on a hi-hat, it would give a relentless, dramatic effect, and it worked."
  • Future actress (she was on the TV shows Bosom Buddies and Family Matters) Telma Hopkins was one of the backup singers. That's her saying "Shut Your Mouth!", which became a bit of a catchphrase for Hopkins, whose character would often say it on her shows. Joyce Wilson was the other backup singer; she and Hopkins performed as Tony Orlando's backup group Dawn.
  • Hayes played keyboards on this track. The rhythm section was drummer Willie Hall and bass player James Alexander, who were members of the Memphis funk group The Bar-Kays, who often backed Hayes, Otis Redding and other Stax artists. The Memphis Strings and The Memphis Horns also appear on the track, as do guitarists Charles Pitts and Michael Toles. Gary Jones played the congas, and Lester Snell was on electric piano.
  • The distinctive funk guitar and hi-hat cymbals make this a very recognizable song. It is often used in commercials and TV promos, sometimes with the product name put in place of the word "Shaft."
  • According to Q magazine, Hayes agreed to write the Shaft theme after being promised the lead role in the film, but the promise wasn't kept - he didn't even get an audition.
  • The song went to #1 in America on November 6, 1971 and stayed for two weeks. The Shaft soundtrack, a double album with mostly instrumentals, also hit #1 in America, topping the chart on November 20. In 2014, the soundtrack was entered into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress as a "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" work.
  • The hit version of this song is not the one used in the film. Hayes recorded the one used in the movie, along with other music for the film, at MGM Studios in Culver City, California between tour dates - he was near the peak of his fame and was a big concert draw. He recorded new versions of this music, including "Theme From Shaft," at his homebase: Stax Studios in Memphis. These recordings were used on the film's soundtrack.

    The music used in the movie wasn't released until 2008, when it appeared on a boxed set. In 2019, Stax issued both the film music and soundtrack on a 2-disc set.
  • The movie was remade in 2000, with Samuel L. Jackson starring as Shaft (Hayes made an uncredited appearance). Hayes recorded a new version of the theme for the film using entirely different musicians. Various mixes of this song were released, and it was also used at the lead track on a new soundtrack album the relied more on traditional songs than instrumentals. Some big names contributed to this soundtrack: R. Kelly (with a prescient song called "Bad Man"), Alicia Keys, OutKast, T.I.
  • Hayes was the voice of the character Chef on the TV show South Park. Despite being a cartoon, Chef usually found an opportunity to sing on each show.
  • A TV version of Shaft lasted one season on CBS in 1973. Richard Roundtree again played the lead character, and Hayes contributed music.
  • When Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, he opened the ceremonies with this song.
  • It's rare for movies to use theme songs from other movies in their soundtracks, but "Theme From Shaft" has appeared in a number of films because it evokes a specific era and feeling. Some of the films to use it include:

    Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)
    Are We There Yet? (2005)
    Love Stinks (1999)
    Home for the Holidays (1995)
    Tank Girl (1995)
    Crooklyn (1994)
    Above the Rim (1994)
    I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988)
    Soul Man (1986)
    Black Heat (1973)
    The Lumberjack (1973)

    It has also been used in a number of TV series, including the 1991 The Simpsons episode "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish," where Bart and Lisa sing it. Other small-screen uses include:

    Two and a Half Men ("The Two Finger Rule" - 2009)
    The Wire ("Time After Time" - 2004)
    Friends ("The One Where the Monkey Gets Away" - 1995)
    In Living Color ("Miss Black Person USA" - 1990)
  • Hayes performed this, along with the soundtrack's "Soulsville," at the 1972 Wattstax festival, a benefit concert held by Stax Records to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots. When the accompanying documentary was set for wide release, MGM demanded the Shaft tunes be omitted from the movie. Because the studio contract stipulated that no songs from Shaft could be used in another film until 1978, Hayes had to halt his Holland tour to record new footage for the Wattstax documentary.

Comments: 11

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn this day in 1971 {October 31st} "Theme from 'Shaft'"* by Isaac Hayes peaked at #2 {for 3 weeks} on Billboard's Hot Soul Singles* chart, for the first two weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for both those weeks was "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" by Marvin Gaye, and for its 3rd week at #2, "Have You Seen Her" by the Chi-Lites was in the top spot...
    And at the time, "Theme from 'Shaft'" was also at #2 on Billboard's Top 100 chart, two weeks later it would peak at #1 {for 2 weeks}...
    Between 1969 and 1980 the Covington, Tennessee native had twenty-five records on the Hot Soul Singles chart, five made the Top 10 with the above "Theme from 'Shaft''" being his biggest hit...
    Besides "Theme from 'Shaft'", his four other Top 10 records were "Never Can Say Goodbye" {#5 in 1971}, "Do Your Thing" {#3 in 1972, "Joy - Part 1" {#7 in 1973}, and "Ike's Rap VII" {#9 in 1986}...
    One of his twenty-five charted records was a duet with David Porter {"Ain't That Loving You", #37 in 1972}...
    Isaac Lee Hayes Jr. passed away at the age of 65 on August 10th, 2008...
    May he R.I.P.
    * And from the 'For What It's Worth' department, the remainder of the Hot Soul Singles' Top 10 on October 31st, 1971:
    At #3. "You've Got To Crawl (Before You Walk)" by 8th Day
    #4. "Trapped By A Thing Called Love" by Denise LaSalle
    #5. "Have To Seen Her" by the Chi -Lites
    #6. "Respect Yourself" by the Staple Singers
    #7. "Thin Line Between Love and Hate" by the Persuaders
    #8. "Make It Funky, Part 1" by James Brown
    #9. "Tired of Being Alone" by Al Green
    #10. "She's All I Got" by Freddie North
  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenShaft must have had a great woman, since she was ok with him being a sex machine to all the chicks.
  • Jules from Negaunee, MiGreat 70s flash back :)
  • John from Nashville, TnGuitarist Charles Pitts played the famous wah-wah solo on this million-seller. Two years ago, he played a distinctive guitar riff on another million-seller (The Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing"). Future Isley guitarist Ernie Isley played bass on that Isley classic.
  • Thomas from Savannah, GaI can feel my inner afro try to bust out from under my ball cap with some English Leather laden bell-bottom wearing kung-fu moves every time I hear this tune.
  • Joe from Palos Heights, IlThey kinda made fun of this on Who's Line is it anyway? All the actors were playing a game where they had to have a converstation and could only speak using song titles. So they were all saying things like "ooh! blue suede shoes" or "eww Smells like teen spirit" and this one guy couldn't think of anything to say so he just shouted "THEME FROM SHAFT". Pretty funny.
  • Sean from TorontoThis song probably has one of the longest instrumental openings of any song in existence, with the time clocking in at approximately 2 minutes and 43 seconds.
  • Joel from Lawrence, KsCool theme from a cool movie.
  • Julio from Newark, NjIt has never been mentioned but Clarence Reid better known as "Blow Fly" was asked by Issac Hayes to help provide the words to "Shaft". If you have ever listened to any of "Blow Fly's" early albums you will clearly see that he helped in the writing of Shaft. Please note Clarence Reid also wrote "Clean-up" Woman for Betty Wright and numerous other R&B hits.Clarence Reid is now in his 60's and still performes as "Blow Fly" and has his own website.
  • Sean from Media, PaThey say this cat Shaft is a baaaad motha...
  • Michael from Harrisburg, PaTelma Hopkins, along with Joyce Vincent Wilson, were the actual back-up singers. These two of course went on to become Dawn, with Tony Orlando. Telma Hopkins is the one who can be held saying,: "Shut Your Mouth" on the Shaft single. That is why later, when Telma went into TV shows like "Bosom Buddies" and "Family Matters", her charater on the shows would often say.."Shut your mouth"..it was a reference to her work on Shaft. This has been documenteed in many books, and on Isaac Hayes' website, where he jokes that "Theme From Shaft" was Isaac Hayes and Dawn.:)
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