"Theme from Shaft", written and recorded by Isaac Hayes in 1971, is the soul- and funk-styled theme song to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film Shaft. The theme was released as a single (shortened and edited from the longer album version) two months after the movie's soundtrack by Stax Records' Enterprise label. "Theme from Shaft" went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States in November 1971. The song was also well-received by adult audiences, reaching number six on Billboard's Easy Listening (later Adult Contemporary) chart.
The following year, "Theme from Shaft" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, with Hayes becoming the first African American to win that honor (or any Academy Award in a non-acting category). Since then, the song has appeared in numerous television shows, commercials, and other movies, including the 2000 remake of Shaft, for which Hayes re-recorded the song without making any changes to it. "Theme from Shaft" is sometimes considered more iconic than the movie for which it was written.
The song begins with a sixteenth-note hi-hat ride pattern, played by Willie Hall, which was drawn from a break on Otis Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness", a Stax record on which Hayes had played. Also featuring heavily in the intro is Charles Pitts' guitar, which uses a wah-wah effect common in 1970s funk; the riff had originally been written for an unfinished Stax song. The synthesized keyboard is played by Hayes. Even on the edited single version, the intro lasts for more than two and a half minutes before any vocals are heard.
The lyrics describe John Shaft's coolness, courage, and sex appeal, and Hayes' lead vocals are punctuated by a trio of female backup singers. At one famous moment, Hayes calls Shaft "a bad mother—" before the backup singers (one of whom is Tony Orlando & Dawn's Telma Hopkins) interrupt the implied profanity with the line "Shut yo' mouth! Hayes immediately defends himself by replying that he's "only talking about Shaft," with the back-up vocalists replying, "We can dig it." Other well-known passages include "You're damn right!" also uttered by Hayes, and "He's a complicated man/but no one understands him/but his woman/John Shaft."
The song was considered very racy for its time; as late as 1990, censors at the FOX Network thought it too risqué to be sung on The Simpsons (until it was demonstrated that the song had indeed been played on television before).
The song was not intended to be a single, but the success of the film and the popularity of the track in nightclubs led to a 45 record of the theme being released on Enterprise Records two months after the soundtrack. Within two months, it hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there a second week. The song had an enormous influence on the disco and soul music of the decade.
In 1972, Hayes performed "Theme from Shaft" as part of the Academy Awards ceremony in his trademark chainmail vest, but accepted the award later that night wearing a tuxedo. Hayes dedicated his historic win to his grandmother, Rushia Wade, who joined him onstage to accept the award. In addition, Hayes, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and the Stax staff dedicated Hayes' win to the black community at an Operation PUSH rally following the Academy Awards.
Later that year, Hayes performed "Theme from Shaft" live at the Wattstax concert in Los Angeles Film footage of this performance was recorded for Mel Stuart's documentary film of the concert, but was cut before the film's release due to legal complications with MGM, who would not allow Hayes to perform his Shaft songs in any other film until 1976. A 2003 remastered version of the Wattstax film reinstates Hayes' performance of "Theme from Shaft".
The song has been played or parodied in television shows including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Simpsons, Sesame Street, Scrubs, The X-Files, Father Ted, Histeria!, and The Wire. In particular, Sesame Street's Shaft-inspired "Billy Joe Jive, Super Crime Fighting Ace" animated segments featured theme music reminiscent of the "Theme from Shaft". A 1998 Burger King marketing campaign featured Hayes singing a retooled version of the song, with lyrics now alluding to Mr. Potato Head, who is seen dancing on the piano that Hayes plays. When John Singleton directed an updated version of Shaft, starring Samuel L. Jackson, in 2000, Hayes rerecorded the theme for the new film.
Isaac Hayes dies at age 65 ; Best known for 'Theme From Shaft,' he laid groundwork for disco, rap and urban-contemporary music.
Aug 11, 2008; MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Isaac Hayes, the pioneering singer, songwriter and musician whose relentless "Theme From Shaft" won Academy and...