SHAFT, is a character that I suppose we all primarily associate with actor Richard Roundtree, it’s one of those movie fan things, we hear the name Richard Roundtree and up pops the infectious SHAFT theme tune in ones head, more recently however Samuel L Jackson assumed the guise of the black private investigator with rather direct and unconventional methods of obtaining information, but Roundtree even made an appearance in that modern day version of the story. Shaft began in book form back in the 1970,s,authour Ernest Tidyman was white, but could see the possibilities of having a private detective in a black environment, he sold the rights to his book before it was finished and MGM asked him to write a screenplay, probably at the time the producers actors etc that were involved were not aware that it would become the runaway success that it was and also endure for so many years afterwards, but SHAFT was completely different from anything that had hit the screen before and also it had in all of its principal roles black actors, but black actors that gave performances which were also different from anything that cinema audiences had witnessed before.
It took the IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT notion to a higher level, giving black actors a chance to show they were every bit as good if not better than white performers. Interestingly enough the films producers were all white, but MGM called on black filmmaker Gordon Parks to act as director on the movie, which was a smart move on the part of the studio. This I suppose was the beginning of the era of the Blax-ploitation genre, many critics at the time saw Shaft as a real depiction of how it was on the streets but in reality Shaft was nothing more than a sharp thriller, which in essence gave black audiences their own James bond figure.
SHAFT spawned a handful of sequels and also a television series it was also to become the film that many other moviemakers tried to emulate during the 1970’s in films that would follow such as TROUBLE MAN, SUPERFLY, CLEOPATRA JONES, ACROSS 110TH STREET etc. It is also true to say that films produced decades later would take their cue from the SHAFT trilogy of feature films, i.e. BEVERLY HILLS COP, 48 HOURS and to a degree a more recent picture entitled ALEX CROSS and the BBC TV series LUTHER, in fact it even influenced movies outside of the private eye/police thriller genre in the form of BLACULA which was a blax-ploitation take on the classic Bram Stoker vampire story, which was updated and given soul and a whole lot of eye candy for the gents by its producers. But it was not just the movies within the SHAFT series that proved to be popular, the music for all of the films and also the television series became firm favourites with soundtrack collectors and also soul, funk devotees.
The first movie in the series contained a score by already popular composer/performer Isaac Hayes, the composer/artist fused expressive grooves with funky sounding flourishes along side jazz vibes and blended these seamlessly with fast paced and dramatic orchestral elements and the occasional vocal performance such as the laid back and ever so soulful/ Gospel influenced HARLEM MONTAGE (SOULSVILLE) which Hayes performed himself ,the enticing near easy listening piece LOVE SCENE ELLIE (ELLIES LOVE THEME) and I CANT GET OVER LOSIN YOU (which has a kind of Earth Wind and Fire vibe going on) along the way to create a soundtrack that was not only infectious and haunting but one that crossed over from film music into the soul and jazz funk genres thus becoming a soundtrack album that was popular with numerous fans. It was a score that appealed to the already converted soul/funk collectors and also it intrigued hardened film music devotees, who had up until that time been used to more conventional symphonic sounding soundtracks, only sometimes experiencing jazz flavoured works for the screen by composers such as Quincy Jones, Elmer Bernstein and their like, in fact the only examples that I can think of that came close to the style employed by Hayes on SHAFT are in my opinion Sid Ramin’s excellent score for STILETTO, which was released in 1969, Ramin employing jazz vibes alongside easy listening cues and high octane dramatic interludes also the now classic soundtrack to BULLIT (1968) by Lalo Schifrin and to a degree Michel Legrand’s wonderful score for THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968). The pulsating and vibrant up-tempo beats created by Hayes for SHAFT were destined to become part of film music history and also earned the composer/musician an Academy award for his trouble in the best original score category. SHAFT contains a score that is jumping right from the off, smooth and delectable sounding jazz influences and bursts of adrenalin filled orchestral flourishes that are laced with funky colours that match the action are infectious memorable and got a lot going on. It was a fresh and original way to score a movie and the music worked well with the images on screen and also had a life away from those images, Hayes creating an urban sound that matched perfectly the inner city environment in which the film was shot. It is probably the now iconic title song that most are aware of, with Hayes performing the vocals and the rhythm section being provided by the Bar-Kays and movement, the title song or a version of it included on this FSM compilation SHAFT ANTHOLOGY His Big Score and More is taken from the actual score and is slightly different to the version that was issued as a single at the time of the movies release and I have to comment that the sound quality is a little distorted at times, this FSM compilation also contains a number of cues from Hayes’s score that have not been available before (SHAFT, score- tracks 1 to 22 disc one) and as bonus tracks has Hayes’s theme from THE MEN (track 23) and a cue entitled TYPE THANG (track 24) which was used as a source cue in SHAFTS BIG SCORE.
Which brings us to the next instalment of the SHAFT film trilogy the aforementioned SHAFTS BIG SCORE (also included on the FSM compilation-tracks 1 to 18 on disc two) many thought that after the success of the music in SHAFT producers would have Hayes back to repeat his musical triumph and maybe even take it to higher levels, but to the astonishment of many the score was written by Gordon Parks who was the director of the original movie and also was the cinematic helmsman on SHAFTS BIG SCORE. This was due to certain disagreements between Hayes and the studio, and Parks found himself in the role of composer as well as director, musical arranger Tom McIntosh had already been contracted to work with Hayes on his return to the SHAFT scoring stage as he had done previously on SHAFT, but as Hayes was now not involved Parks negotiated with McIntosh to work with him on the score for SHAFTS BIG SCORE.
The music was very much inspired and influenced by Hayes’s original score and in fact although the music was essentially good and worked well within the movie, it did not contain the same originality, vibrancy or freshness that Hayes had demonstrated and achieved in the original score. The opening title song for example was in effect a clone of the SHAFT theme, yes it had different vocals and the instrumentation and construction was slightly different but it was still SHAFT all’a Hayes, with its simmering cymbals and smooth sounding strings that were punctuated by brass stabs, pulsating bass lines and up-beat percussive eruptions. BLOWING YOUR MIND was performed by O. C.Smith, and took the same line musically and stylistically as the original Hayes opening theme, it contained a long instrumental intro and then a question and answer vocal ensues O.C.Smith asking the questions, with the chorus vocalists answering him with breathy vocalising of “SHAFT” or “HE SURE WILL” and “THE MANS TROUBLE HIS BEEN TO MY HOUSE”,” PUT A HOLE IN YOUR SOUL HONEY” etc etc and all the time smooth but bubbling strings accompanying them with a constant background of percussive elements and brass punctuating the proceedings. Vocalist Smith also performed two additional songs for the score, DON’T MISUNDERSTAND which is a slow soulful number and also the upbeat and infectious MOVE ON IN which was utilized as source music in a scene in a club when Shaft is roughed up and dumped in a back alley.
Parks score for SHAFTS BIG SCORE also featured a near 15 minute cue which was released as the entire B side to the original MGM Long Playing record, SYMPHONY FOR SHAFTED SOULS is an upbeat affair for the majority of its duration, featuring the tracks TAKE OFF,DANCE OF THE CARS,WATER BABIES,CALL AND RESPONSE and THE LAST AMEN. It was in effect a coming together of many of the major themes that had been heard throughout the score and cleverly arranged and orchestrated into a lengthy suite. Steamy brass and effervescent sliding strings with a background of up-tempo percussion are the order of the day. The third movie in the SHAFT trilogy was SHAFT IN AFRICA (unfortunately the music from this is not featured on the FSM compilation-but is available on I tunes) now this was something a little different as we see the central character becoming more of a secret agent than a gumshoe as he fights against slave traders in Africa, the movie was directed by John Guillerman, the musical duties on this final cinematic SHAFT outing were handed to veteran composer, performer, arranger and band leader Johnny Pate. Pate who had worked closely with Curtis Mayfield on SUPERFLY (1972) and been a collaborator on other projects with him, seemed a natural choice to the executives at the MGM studios.
SHAFT IN AFRICA included an infectious and vibrant title song ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH which was performed by the legendary Motown group THE FOUR TOPS, and Pate,s score was also a energetic and well structured work with powerful themes and imaginative arrangements that were dramatic and jazz influenced with a strong funky sounding foundation that was laced with an almost big band or swing sound. The opening cue sets the scene wonderfully for the remainder of Pate’s score, brassy percussive and up-tempo. YOU CANT EVEN WALK IN THE PARK sets the stage for an entertaining and polished work. With highlight cues being the slow and sultry sounding ALEME FINDS SHAFT, the upbeat but sophisticated and contagious SHAFT IN AFRICA(Addis) and the slow but compelling EL JARDIA plus three versions of the title song, the longest of these being the cut that was issued as a single. Also in 1973, MGM embarked on a small screen version of the SHAFT stories and a series of seven 90 minute shows were produced from the latter part of 1973 through to the early part of 1974, Richard Roundtree reprised his on screen role as John Shaft and included guest appearances by notable actors such as Tony Curtis, Robert Culp and George Maharis.
The music for the series was the work of Johnny Pate, who utilized heavily the original Isaac Hayes SHAFT theme and from time to time would work the theme into the fabric of his own scores and introduce various arrangements of the theme. The TV series soundtracks are represented on the FSM compilation by selections from 5 of the shows, THE EXECUTIONERS (Oct-1973), THE KILLING (Oct-1973), HIT-RUN (Nov-1973), THE KIDNAPPING (Dec-1973) and THE COP KILLERS (Jan-1974).
The Film Score Monthly compilation SHAFT ANTHOLOGY-HIS BIG SCORE AND MORE is certainly worth seeking out and adding to your collection, it is a toe tapping collection of funky tunes that are entertaining and infectious but also are innovative and highly original film scores. Presented superbly with great liner notes and a colourful collection of stills.