Isaac Hayes

Theme from Shaft

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
Stax Greatest Hits 1970
Various Artists
Stax 4:37
Shaft [Music from the Soundtrack] 1971 Stax 4:39
No Image 1980 Stax
The Best of Isaac Hayes, Vol. 1 1986 Fantasy / Stax 4:34
Top of the Stax: Twenty Greatest Hits 1988
Various Artists
Stax 4:35
Stax Gold: Hits 1968-1974 1990
Various Artists
Stax 3:16
Sounds of the Seventies: 1971 -- Take Two 1990
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:16
Greatest Hit Singles 1991 Stax 3:15
Soul Hits of the 70s: Didn't It Blow Your Mind!, Vol. 6 1991
Various Artists
Rhino 3:18
Pimps, Players & Private Eyes 1992
Various Artists
Sire 4:37
Dance Expolsion, Vol. 2 1993
Various Artists
Polydor 4:35
Greatest Hits 1995 RSP Records 3:18
Nightfever 1995
Various Artists
Global TV
Bali: The Ketchak 1995 Virgin 4:37
Soul Train 25th Anniversary Hall of Fame Box Set 1995
Various Artists
MCA 3:17
Crooklyn, Vol. 2 1995
Original Soundtrack
MCA 3:19
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
Dick Bartley Presents Collector's Essentials on the Radio, Vol. 2: The '70s 1997
Various Artists
Varèse Vintage / Varese 3:18
Pure Funk 1998
Various Artists
Polygram 4:33
Chart Toppers: Dance Hits of the 70s 1998 Priority Records 3:19
Super Bad on Celluloid 1998
Various Artists
Hip-O 4:38
Have a Nice Decade: The 70s Pop Culture Box 1998
Various Artists
Rhino 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 5:51
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
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
Respect: The Soundtrack to the Soul Generation 2000
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 0:00
No Image 2000
Various Artists
Ace
The Stax Story 2000
Various Artists
Stax 4:47
Film 2000 2000
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:35
New York Knicks Collection 2001
Various Artists
Alphabet City 3:13
New York Knicks: Their Music 2001
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Alphabet City 3:13
Back to Black: 1900-1999 2001
Various Artists
Universal International 3:18
Instant Party: 70's Rockadelic 2001
Various Artists
Rhino 3:16
The Memphis Box 2001
Various Artists
Icehouse Records 4:35
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 3:19
The Man!: The Ultimate Isaac Hayes 1969-1977 2001 Stax 3:18
Solid Gold Funk 2002
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 4:34
Harlem Sessions 2002
Various Artists
Sessions Records 3:18
Superbad!: The Soul of the City 2002
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 4:37
Billboard #1 Hits of the '70s 2003
Various Artists
Rhino Flashback 3:15
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
Superstars of Seventies Soul 2004
Various Artists
Shout! Factory / Sony Music Distribution 3:28
Boogie Cops & Disco Pimps 2004
Various Artists
Virgin 3:09
Superbad 2004
Various Artists
Warner Dance 4:36
VH1: I Love the '70s 2004
Various Artists
Rhino 3:17
70's Soul Sensations 2004
Various Artists
Music Club International Records 3:18
WNUA 95.5: Smooth Jazz Sampler, Vol. 17 2004
Various Artists
WNUA 3:50
Ultimate Isaac Hayes: Can You Dig It? 2005 Stax 3:17
Express Yourself: Soul In The 20th Century 2006
Various Artists
Universal / Um3 3:16
Old School Jams, Vol. 6 2006
Various Artists
SPG 4:36
'70s Soul Gold 2006
Various Artists
Hip-O 4:38
80's Disco Stars & Hits 2006
Various Artists
ZYX Music
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
The Very Best of Isaac Hayes [2007] 2007 Fantasy / Stax 3:17
Forever Isaac Hayes 2007 Madacy 3:17
Stax Chartbusters, Vol. 1 2007
Various Artists
Fantasy / Stax 3:18
No Image 2007 Universal 3:17
Stax 50th Collection 2008
Various Artists
Madacy 3:17
Tour of Duty: Top 100 2008
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 4:36
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 / EMI Music Distribution / Source Interlink / Virgin 4:35
Essential Albums 2011 Stax 4:44
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
Stax Classics 2017 Decca / Stax 3:17
The Spirit of Memphis 1962-1976 2017 Craft Recordings / Universal 3:17
Crooklyn, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Geffen 3:17
No Image
Various Artists
Razor & Tie
No Image
Various Artists
PolyGram
Old School Hip Hop Jams: Old School Jams, Vol. 6
Various Artists
Spg Music Ltd. 4:36
No Image
Various Artists
Allegro
Soulsville U.S.A.: A Celebration of Stax
Various Artists
Craft Recordings / Universal 3:17
Stax
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution
No Image
Various Artists
Stax