Isaac Hayes

Theme from Shaft

Composed by Isaac Hayes

Song Review by

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.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Shaft [Music from the Soundtrack] 1971 Fantasy / Concord / Stax / Universal 4:39
Live at the Sahara Tahoe 1973 Stax 4:45
Stax Funk: Get up and Get Down 197?
Various Artists
Stax 4:37
The Best of Isaac Hayes, Vol. 1 1986 Decca / Stax / Universal 4:37
Top of the Stax: Twenty Greatest Hits 1988
Various Artists
Stax 4:34
Sounds of the Seventies: 1971 -- Take Two 1990
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:16
Greatest Hit Singles 1991 Stax 3:16
The Commitments (Original Artists Recordings of Featured Music) 1991
Various Artists
Atco 3:16
Pimps, Players & Private Eyes 1992
Various Artists
Sire 4:37
The Complete Stax-Volt Soul Singles, Vol. 2: 1968-1971 1993
Various Artists
Stax / Universal 3:15
Greatest Hits 1995 RSP Records 3:18
Nightfever 1995
Various Artists
Global TV
Superfunk: The Funkiest Album in the World...Ever! 1995
Various Artists
Virgin
Overpowered by Funk 1996
Various Artists
Renaissance Records 3:15
Only Rock 'N Roll 1970-1974: #1 Radio Hits 1996
Various Artists
Essex 3:14
Only Soul 1970-1974 1996
Various Artists
Rhino / JCI Associated Labels 3:14
Disco Mix 96 1996
Various Artists
WEA International
25 Years of Number 1 Hits, Vol. 1 (1970-1971) 1996
Various Artists
Connoisseur
Blaxploitation, Vol. 1 1996
Various Artists
Global TV 4:37
Pure Funk 1998
Various Artists
Island/Def Jam / PolyGram 4:33
Super Bad on Celluloid 1998
Various Artists
Hip-O 4:38
No Image 1998
Various Artists
MCI 3:17
Disco Fever: 20 Smash Hit Dancefloor Classics 1998
Various Artists
Crimson Productions
Funk on Film 1998
Various Artists
Chronicles / Polygram 4:39
Sun Dance Mix '98 1998
Various Artists
ZYX Music 1:34
Stax Gold 1998
Various Artists
Stax 2:31
The Best of Isaac Hayes [Ace] 1998 Ace 3:19
The Best of Shaft 1999
Various Artists
Hip-O 4:36
40 Hits: 1970-1974 1999
Various Artists
Millennium Hits (Netherlands) 4:35
Best Disco Album in the World...Ever!, Vol. 2 1999
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:10
20th Century Disco 1999
Various Artists
Insight (3)
Ultimate Collection 2000 Hip-O 4:36
Pride 2000 2000
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 6:17
Essential Soundtracks: New Movie Collection 2000
Various Artists
Telstar TV Records 3:16
Shaft [2000 Original Soundtrack] 2000
Original Soundtrack
LaFace 4:39
No Image 2000
Various Artists
Ace
Stax Story 2000
Various Artists
Stax 4:47
Shaft 2000 [Germany] 2000 ZYX Music 4:38
No Image 2001
Various Artists
Polystar (Japan) / Universal
Instant Party: 70's Rockadelic 2001
Various Artists
Rhino 3:16
Say It Loud! A Celebration of Black Music in America [Box Set] 2001
Various Artists
Rhino 3:18
Can You Dig It? The '70s Soul Experience 2001
Various Artists
Rhino 3:15
The Man!: The Ultimate Isaac Hayes 1969-1977 2001 Stax 3:18
Harlem Sessions 2002
Various Artists
Sessions Records 3:18
Platinum Soul Legends 2002
Various Artists
Warner Strategic Marketing
Ö3 Greatest Hits, Vol. 17 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:41
Isaac Hayes at Wattstax 2003 Stax 4:38
The Ultimate Soul Collection, Vol. 2 2003
Various Artists
WEA International 4:37
WCBS FM: Motown, Soul and Rock N Roll: Motown 2003
Various Artists
Collectables 3:17
Music from the Wattstax Festival & Film 2003
Various Artists
Stax 4:40
Soul Comes Home: A Celebration of Stax Records 2004
Various Artists
Stax 5:29
The History of Breaks 2004
Various Artists
Tinted 0:39
Funk Soul Classics 2004
Various Artists
Ministry of Sound 3:16
I Love 70's 2004
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:36
Superbad 2004
Various Artists
Warner Dance 4:36
VH1: I Love the '70s 2004
Various Artists
Rhino 3:17
Wattstax: Highlights from the Soundtrack 2004
Various Artists
Stax 4:41
Capital Gold Soul Classics 2004
Various Artists
Universal Music TV
Funk Soul Anthems 2005
Various Artists
BMG 3:15
Disco Deluxe Disco Classics 2005
Various Artists
ZYX Music 4:41
Super Dance 2001, Vol. 2 2005
Various Artists
ZYX Music
U 40 Partykracher 2005
Various Artists
ZYX Music
The Best of Disco Fever 2005
Various Artists
Global TV 3:19
Ultimate Isaac Hayes: Can You Dig It? 2005 Stax 3:16
Old School Soul Party Live [DVD] 2005
Various Artists
My/Shout! Factory/TJL
Express Yourself: Soul In The 20th Century 2006
Various Artists
UME Imports / Um3 3:16
Old School Jams, Vol. 6 2006
Various Artists
SPG 4:36
'70s Soul Gold 2006
Various Artists
Hip-O 4:38
Disco Fever: Get Up and Boogie 2006
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:17
Stax 50: A 50th Anniversary Celebration 2007
Various Artists
Concord / Stax 3:17
Number 1's: Soundtrack Smashes 2007
Various Artists
Hip-O 4:37
Sweet Soul Music: The Best of Stax 2007
Various Artists
UMVD 3:18
101 Jukebox Classics 2007
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:35
Stack of Soul 2007
Various Artists
Immortal 5:13
The Very Best of Isaac Hayes [2007] 2007 Fantasy / Stax 3:17
Disco Fever, Vol. 1-4 2007
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:17
Live at Montreux 2005 2007 Eagle Eye Media
Forever Isaac Hayes 2007 Madacy
Stax Chartbusters, Vol. 1 2007
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 3:19
No Image 2007 Universal 3:17
Immortal Soul: Essential Recordings from the Golden Age 2008
Various Artists
Nordstrom
Stax 50th Collection 2008
Various Artists
Madacy 3:17
The Stax Story [Concord] 2008
Various Artists
Concord 4:47
The Very Best of Smooth Jazz 2008
Various Artists
Universal 3:17
Tour of Duty: Top 100 2008
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 4:36
Sweet Soul of the '70s: Stone in Love with You 2009
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:17
A Complete Introduction to Disco 2010
Various Artists
Universal 3:16
Stax Number Ones 2010
Various Artists
Stax 3:18
Sweet Soul of the '70s [Time Life] 2011
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:17
101 Soul Anthems 2011
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution / EMI TV / Source Interlink / Virgin 4:35
Essential Albums 2011 Stax 4:39
We Love the Nightlife 2012
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:17
We Love the Nightlife: Get Up and Boogie 2012
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:17
Classic Stax
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 3:18
Dance Classics, Vol. 1 [Arcade]
Various Artists
Arcade Music
No Image
Various Artists
Razor & Tie
No Image
Various Artists
PolyGram
No Image
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 4:43
No Image
Various Artists
Stax
The Nation's Favourite Soul
Various Artists
Rhino
blue highlight denotes editor's pick