When the latest sequel/reboot of Shaft hit screens this past June, one essential element was missing: the music of Isaac Hayes. While the late composer-artist’s seminal “Theme from Shaft” was referenced in Christopher Lennertz’s score, Hayes’ commanding voice was nowhere to be found – some said to the detriment of the film. While the new Shaft underperformed in theatres, it had at least one happy byproduct as Craft Recordings revisited the classic original 1971 film soundtrack with a new deluxe edition. This 2-CD iteration fused Hayes’ original album of the score (a mainstay on both CD and vinyl) with the original MGM soundtrack as actually heard in the film, previously released only as part of a 2008 limited-edition box set from the defunct Film Score Monthly label. Shaft: Deluxe Edition offers the best of both worlds, and is a compelling addition to any soundtrack or soul library.
The original Stax double-album of Shaft, released in August 1971, became Isaac Hayes’ most successful LP as well as a Grammy Award winner, catapulting the artist-composer into a new realm of stardom. A chart-topper on the Billboard 200 and the R&B and Jazz charts, the score album to the landmark of African-American cinema blended lush yet hard-driving funk with smooth, laconic instrumental tracks, and subtle jazz flavorings. Hayes’ unerring sense of melody shone on evocative, atmospheric cues like the melancholy, organ-drenched “Bumpy’s Lament,” the mellow, vibes-infused “Ellie’s Love Theme,” breezy “Café Regio’s” (with its shades of Wes Montgomery and George Benson) and tough, brassy “No Name Bar,” while the soft “Early Sunday Morning” evinced his clear debt as a composer to Burt Bacharach. Then, of course, there was the oft-imitated but never duplicated title track, as thrilling a film theme as any ever written and recorded. An Academy Award winner for Best Original Song, it went to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, to No. 2 R&B, and No. 6 AC, a measure of how it blurred genre lines with ease.
The Bar-Kays and The Movement accompanied Hayes in his familiar environs of Stax’s Memphis studio. The album’s horns and strings arranged by Johnny Allen (alumnus of Hayes’ sophomore album, Hot Buttered Soul) complemented the slinky, sexy contours of Hayes’ melodies while adding requisite widescreen flair. Just three songs out of fifteen on the 2-LP set have vocals – the title theme, “Soulsville,” and the top 40 hit “Do Your Thing,” but Shaft remains the pinnacle of Hayes’ considerable achievement and one soundtrack that more than stands on its own merits. (The full 33-minute (!) version of “Do Your Thing,” from which the soundtrack version was edited, premiered on CD in Craft’s exemplary 2017 box set Isaac Hayes: The Spirit of Memphis 1962-1976.)
However, there was more to the Shaft story, as evidenced by Film Score Monthly’s 2008 excavation of the true original soundtrack which had never previously been released in any audio format. Between May 10 and 13, 1971, Hayes had taken the baton (sharing conducting duties with John V. Allen and James L. Johnson) at Hollywood’s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios to craft the music actually heard in the film. Musicians included L.A. veterans like Bud Shank on woodwinds, Lincoln Mayorga on piano, and percussionists Emil Richards and Victor Feldman, alongside Memphis players like Charles Pitts, Jr. and Michael Toles on guitar, Lester Snell on electric piano, James Alexander on bass, and Willie Hall on drums – all of whom would repeat their duties for the subsequent Stax album.
So why did Hayes re-record? Like other film score royalty, such as Henry Mancini or John Williams, Hayes felt that he could achieve a richer sound and more vivid listening experience tailoring an album program of his music for a strictly audio experience, whereas the film tracks had to match the onscreen action perfectly. Indeed, the Stax LP is a more cohesive listen as resequenced and somewhat condensed by Hayes. The sonics of Stax’s studio and the MGM soundstage also differed. But the original tracks, on CD 2 here, are no less thrilling even as they’re more tailored to the timing of the film. There are noticeable musical variations in the key tracks (i.e. a wholly different arrangement of the beautifully laconic “Early Sunday Morning”), as well as material that didn’t make the re-recording such as the R&B girl group number “I Can’t Get Over Losin’ You” and cues like the atmospheric “Shaft’s First Fight” and dramatic “Shaft’s Pain.” What’s similar is the striking confidence Hayes displayed in his first outing as a film composer. Without sacrificing any of his Memphis-honed authenticity, he crafted a powerfully exciting, captivatingly melodic, and eternally funky accompaniment to director Gordon Parks’ landmark Blaxploitation film.
Shaft: Deluxe Edition, produced by Cary Mansfield and Mason Williams, is housed within a six-panel digipak, replicating the cover artwork and labels of the original Stax/Enterprise LP. The soundtrack album has been remastered by Dave Cooley at Elysian Masters (likely the same high-quality remaster utilized on the 2018 vinyl reissue) while the film masters have been tackled by Doug Schwartz at Mulholland Music. The 20-page booklet reprints the original LP liner notes and premieres an entertaining essay by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson putting Shaft into the perspective of the era’s cinema and music.
In any era, Isaac Hayes’ groundbreaking score to Shaft doesn’t fail to impress. Craft Recordings’ new 2-CD Deluxe Edition does his work in both Memphis and Hollywood full justice. Dig it.