Although the original Shaft is a favorite cult film, most critics agree that aside from its historical significance, it doesn't hold up as well as its soundtrack. But regardless of the quality of the film, it's no mean feat when a composer's opening theme song captures the essence of a film's main character better than the movie itself. Isaac Hayes' "Theme From Shaft" did just that, earning Hayes his only number one pop single in late 1971, winning an Oscar for Best Song, and helping him become the first African-American composer to win an Oscar for Best Score. While the song's effortless cool is readily apparent, it's worth posing the question: Why should listeners care who Shaft is, and why -- in this case -- does the concept of an ode to a fictional character hold appeal for folks outside of movie marketing departments? Simply put, Shaft stands for something larger, and the music communicates exactly what that is. What the song has come to symbolize is an idealized essence of masculinity, a stylish cool and unflappable confidence. He's loyal to his friends, lethal to his enemies, and tender with his women. He never gets ruffled, never loses control of any situation, and always comes through in the end. He sets an impossibly high standard, but that's the definition of a hero. And since there were precious few African-American heroes in cinema at the time, that makes Shaft an icon of black pride, strutting around Times Square in the film's opening sequence as his theme music plays, making it abundantly clear that he really is one bad mother. You know it right from the opening wah-wah guitar notes, well before the piano, flute, punchy horn section, funky bass, tambourine, and heroic orchestral strings kick in. Hayes juggles all these elements masterfully in his arrangement, leaving enough space for each so that nothing becomes dominant -- each tonal color is part of an integrated whole. Then, in just a few jive-laden couplets and spoken interjections -- a section that only lasts one minute -- he utterly immortalizes the character, while a female chorus coos Shaft's name in the background. Hayes' smooth, silky bass voice is perfect for the task, too, seemingly embodying all the qualities he attributes to Shaft. It's largely because of Hayes' theme song that the image of Shaft is so readily available to the public consciousness; it encapsulates the essence of the character in a tighter, more expressive fashion than the film itself.