By Britt Bickel

On this day (Nov. 6th) in 1971, the acclaimed soundtrack from the classic private detective action flick Shaft topped the Billboard 200 charts and remained there for an incredible 60 weeks.

The double-album, mostly composed of soulful/funky instrumentals, became the biggest-selling release off the Stax Records’ Enterprise label, largely in thanks to its producer, Isaac Hayes.

So in honor of the release securing the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200, we’re taking a look at the man and the music behind Shaft with five little known facts about the album.

Isaac Hayes, the mastermind behind the music of Shaft

Hayes wrote and produced all songs from the landmark soundtrack, as well as sang the vocals to the songs that had them. Hayes agreed to score the film, initially hoping that director Gordon Parks would cast him as the lead role of Shaft. Though that part ultimately went to Richard Roundtree, Hayes’ unforgettable voice forever serve as the theme of Shaft and became the signature work his career.

The album spawned Top 40 singles

Not only did the album itself top the charts, two of the singles from the album became Top 40 hits. The Hayes-sung “Theme From Shaft” peaked at No. 1 and slow/soulful “Do Your Thing” saw Top 40 success as well.

Who were the backup singers?

The “Theme From Shaft” featured a chorus of female backup singers who punctuated Hayes’ deep baritone with their high-pitched calls in response to the lyrics.

One of the backup singers was Telma Hopkins, known as part of the group Tony Orlando & Dawn, who became known for her famous catchphrase in the song “Shut yo’ mouth!” when cutting off Hayes after he implies Shaft is “a bad mother–“.

Shaft received numerous awards

The album had both fan and critical appeal after its release and went on to receive a number of awards in various categories. At the 1972 Grammy Awards, “Theme from Shaft” won the awards for Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical and Best Instrumental Arrangement. The film score itself won for Best Instrumental Composition Written Specifically For A Motion Picture or for Television.

The National Association of Television and Radio Announcers also gave Shaft the Album of the Year award. Perhaps the most significant award to come from the soundtrack was when Hayes won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for the “Theme,” making him the first African-American to win an Oscar in a non-acting category.

Pop culture appeal of Shaft

Both the movie and music of Shaft have remained timeless since their original release. “Theme From Shaft” has been featured, covered and parodied by numerous artists, TV shows and films.

Of course, an artist doesn’t reach pop culture status until spoofed by the animated series The Simpsons, where the “Theme” was notably featured when Bart and Lisa sang it in the 1990 episode “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.”

Now that you know a little more behind the music of Shaft, re-watch that classic “Theme” from the film’s opening sequence below.


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