Theme from Shaft
|"Theme from Shaft"|
|Single by Isaac Hayes|
|from the album Shaft|
|Released||September 30, 1971|
|Format||7" single, 45 RPM|
|Recorded||1971, Stax Recording Studios, Memphis, Tennessee|
3:15 (single edit) |
4:34 (album version)
|Isaac Hayes singles chronology|
"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 two on the Billboard Soul Singles chart (behind "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" by Marvin Gaye) and 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 chart. The song is considered by some to be one of the first disco songs.
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), as well as the first recipient of the award to both write and perform the winning song. Since then, the song has appeared in numerous television shows, commercials, and other movies, including the 2000 sequel Shaft, for which Hayes re-recorded the song. In 2004 the original finished at #38 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.
Composition and history
In 2000, Hayes told National Public Radio that he had only agreed to write and record the Shaft score after Shaft producer, Joel Freeman, promised him an audition for the lead role (which was taken by a then-unknown Richard Roundtree). He never got the chance to audition, but kept his end of the deal anyway. Director Gordon Parks also had a hand in composing the theme, describing the character of John Shaft (the "black private dick/who's a sex machine/to all the chicks") to Hayes and explaining that the song had to familiarize the audience with him. Hayes recorded the rhythm parts on the theme first, scored the entire rest of the film, then returned to the theme song.
Hayes told Mojo in 1995:
As this was my first such undertaking, at the initial meeting I had with the producer and director in New York you could see the anxiety on their faces. They tested me by giving me the opening scene – footage of Shaft coming out of the subway – to take away and see how I got on. I remembered a guitar line I had in a tune I'd never used, got it off the shelf and had our guitarist play it exactly the same, but with a wah-wah. Then I got our drummer to play 16-note sequences on the hi-hat and we had it. The core rhythm for the tune, the springboard for the whole soundtrack, we'd cut in under two hours.
The opening sixteenth-note hi-hat ride pattern, played by Willie Hall, was drawn from a break on Otis Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness", a Stax record on which Hayes had played. Guitarist Charles Pitts' wah-wah effect was 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 one and a half minutes before any vocals are heard. The arrangement was by Hayes and Johnny Allen.
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 "I'm 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." Hayes' utterance of the word "damn" made this the first #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart to include a curse word.
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 pointed out that the song had 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. It peaked at #4 in the UK Singles Chart.  The song had an enormous influence on the disco and soul music of the decade.
In 1972, Isaac Hayes performed "Theme from Shaft" as part of the Academy Awards ceremony in his trademark chainmail vest, but accepted the Academy Award for Best Original Song later that night wearing a tuxedo. He dedicated his historic win to his grandmother, Rushia Wade, who joined him onstage to accept the award. Following the Academy Awards, Hayes, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Stax staff dedicated the win to the black community at an Operation PUSH rally. "When it hit so big I was in severe disbelief..." he later reflected. "Then when it won an Academy Award – it won Best Song, but the album was also nominated for Best Soundtrack – I was in a state of shock. This was after the Academy tried to disqualify it too; saying, because I can't write music, it wasn't my composition. Quincy Jones got in there and argued my case; saying that, even if I didn't physically write it down, they were my ideas."
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".
In popular culture
The song has been played or parodied in television shows including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Simpsons, The Tick, Sesame Street, Scrubs, The X-Files, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Father Ted, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Histeria!, The Wire and Ashes to Ashes. On Sesame Street a parodied version of the song, "Cookie Disco", was about Cookie Monster, dressed as Isaac Hayes, who ends up eating the set. The song was featured in the film I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, where the lead character Slade is a parody on Shaft (Isaac Hayes was in the film in a different role). The 1989 comedy film UHF (co-written by and starring "Weird Al" Yankovic) features a mock trailer segment on television parodying the movie Gandhi called Gandhi II, set to music meant to resemble the Shaft theme. 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. Another Burger King commercial from 2002 promoted the Shaq Pack, where the lyrics alluded to Shaquille O'Neal. Hayes also parodied "Theme from Shaft" with "Two Cool Guys", the opening theme song for the film Beavis and Butt-head Do America, in which Hayes adapts the Beavis and Butt-head television theme as a rhythm guitar line for a "Shaft"-esque song about the title characters. In the series Two and a Half Men, there are occasional references to the song, including one episode where Alan, Herb, Gordon, and Jerome are seen singing the song as a barbershop quartet.
Since very early in the 1970s, the Swedish national television network Sveriges Television sports show on Sundays, Sportspegeln (Sports Mirror), has used different variations of the end of "Theme from Shaft" for its opening theme; roughly the same samples have also been used for daily sports news bulletin Sportnytt 
An instrumental version of the song served as the news theme for Memphis television station WMC-TV for a time in the 1970s.
In Australia, an edited instrumental version was used as the theme for "Seven's Big League" Rugby League broadcasts hosted by Rex Mossop in the Seventies and Eighties, as well as preview music for upcoming scenes from the Network Ten serial series Number 96.
Covers and samples
Single version of "Theme from Shaft", performed by Isaac Hayes.
Problems playing this file? See media help.
- Sammy Davis, Jr. recorded a cover version of this song titled "John Shaft" with extended lyrics for his 1972 album Sammy Davis Jr. Now.
- Maynard Ferguson did a brassy big band version of the song with a slightly different arrangement and released in 1972 on his M.F. Horn Two album.
- Joe Bataan recorded a Latin version in 1972.
- Tony Orlando and Dawn performed "Shaft" on their 1970's TV series. Particularly significant, as Telma Hopkins was a back up singer on the Isaac Hayes single. Tony has also performed it in his solo live shows.
- Los Angeles punk band Black Randy & The Metrosquad included a cover of the song on their 1979 debut album, Pass the Dust, I Think I'm Bowie.
- UK electronic group Cabaret Voltaire recorded a cover version in 1981; it was later given a wider release on 1988's "8 Crepuscule Tracks".
- A version by Eddy & The Soul Band was a #13 hit in the UK Singles Chart in 1985. This version was used in "Going to America", the final episode of Father Ted.
- UK band The Wedding Present recorded it as part of their 1992 release Hit Parade 2.
- Hip hop producer Jake One sampled it for "Hurt U", a song from his 2008 album White Van Music.
- Young MC sampled it on his "Know How" track off his 1989 album Stone Cold Rhymin'.
- Jay-Z sampled the song on the track "Reservoir Dogs" featuring The LOX, Beanie Sigel and Sauce Money from the rappers 1998 Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life album.
- French musician Malik Adouane recorded an Arabic version of the song for the Volume 1, CD2 Buddha Bar album (1999) by DJ Claude Challe.
- The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain - Precious Little - album (2007)
- Vocals, keyboards, lyrics and arrangement by Isaac Hayes
- Electric piano by Lester Snell
- Bass guitar by James Alexander
- Guitar solo by Marc "Dr. Love" Davis
- Guitar by Charles Pitts
- Guitar by Michael Toles
- Drums by Willie Hall
- Conga drums by Gary Jones
- Backup vocals by Pat Lewis, Rose Williams, Mitchell Butler and Telma Hopkins
- Lead Trumpet by Richard "Johnny" Davis
- Flute by John Fonville
- Viola by David Becker
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 136. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 249.
- Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 112.
- "Disco Savvy: 1972-1974 Disco". www.discosavvy.com.
- Echols, Alice (29 March 2010). "Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture". W. W. Norton & Company – via Google Books.
- Douglas Wolk (2005). "The Greatest Songs Ever! Theme from Shaft". Blender. Retrieved 2006-09-06.
- Alex Pappademas (2000). "Shafted: The baddest "theme from" ever". Boston Phoenix. Retrieved 2006-09-06.
- NPR, "The NPR 100," December 21, 2000. Radio program. Archived at . Retrieved September 9, 2006.)
- Mojo, 1995 (precise issue unknown)
- Al Jean (2002). The Simpsons: The Complete Second Season, "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish" commentary track (DVD). Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
- Bowman, Rob (1997). Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records. New York: Schirmer Trade. p.229-233 ISBN 0-8256-7284-8
- Bowman, Rob and Chuck D (2004). Audio commentary track for Wattstax. Los Angeles: Saul Zaentz Company and Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.
- "SVT Sport - slutsignatur 1987". YouTube. Retrieved 2016-10-05.