Whether it’s the wah-wah, the stabbing brass, the hi-hat, the arrangement or Isaac Hayes’ baritone delivery, Shaft is one of the great musical extravanganzas of the seventies. Written by Hayes and arranged by Johnny Allen, like Burt Bacharach it’s the arrangement that is key. Allen apparently also worked with Hayes on his 1969 album, Hot Buttered Soul although some sources don’t credit him. As I am not at the archive when I write this, I can’t check the album cover to confirm, but on the theme of recent posts and black music post Jimi Hendrix, it’s interesting to see the Hendrix influence, Hot Buttered Soul was credited to The Isaac Hayes Movement, the name seemingly modelled on The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Shaft was the first double album of original material by an R&B artist but it has a wide genre spanning reach. It’s Funk, it’s Rock, it’s Orchestral, it’s Jazz, it’s Easy Listening, it’s sixties, it’s seventies, it’s sexy, it’s trashy, it’s deep, it’s a Soul/Rock/Orchestral hybrid Blaxploitation spectacular and without it Quentin Tarantino would be a lesser man and most certainly a lesser director.
Shaft was a huge success and the single went to No.1 on the US charts winning three Grammy Awards and an Academy Award for most original song. It was the most successful release on the Stax record label. A precursor to Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, Shaft starred Richard Roundtree (Superfly starred Ron O’Neal) these films have been culturally controversial. You can read about the genre here:
After Shaft, Hayes made Black Moses another double album that made it to No.5 on the US charts. It has one of the great record covers, Hayes framed in the shape of a cross. In later years Hayes became popular again as the voice of the chef on satirical comedy South Park and as that character he found himself at No.1 in the UK in 1998 with Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You), produced by Rick Rubin.
Hayes died in 2006 from the recurrence of a stroke, he was 65. Shaft arranger Johnny Allen died in 2014 of “complications of pneumonia”, he was 96 years old.