"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 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 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 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 anaudition for the lead role. 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.
The song begins with a sixteenth-note hi-hat ride pattern, played by Willie Hall, which was drawn from a break on Otis Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness", aStax record on which Hayes had played. Also featuring heavily in the intro is Charles Pitts' guitar, which uses a wah-wah effect 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 that he's "only 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 award 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.
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".
The song has been played or parodied in television shows including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Simpsons, Sesame Street, Scrubs, The X-Files, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Father Ted, 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, has used different variations of the end of "Theme from Shaft" as its opening theme.
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.
|Theme from ShaftMENU 0:00 Single version of "Theme from Shaft", performed by Isaac Hayes.----|
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- Sammy Davis, Jr. recorded a cover version of this song with extended lyrics.
- 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 Twoalbum.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
|Preceded by||Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
November 20, 1971 (two weeks)