Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Shaft and Isaac Hayes

The death at the weekend of Isaac Hayes reminded me of the film with which he will be forever associated, Shaft. Shaft was a huge success in the early seventies and I remember watching it as a student, though I don’t recall much about the story, which concerned a black American private eye called John Shaft.

The character of John Shaft was originally created by a white writer, Ernest Tidyman, who also achieved fame through his screenplay for The French Connection. I haven’t read the novel on which Shaft was based, let alone its various sequels, and I suspect that, like the film, the book was very much of its time and wouldn’t stand up to too much scrutiny today. But what remains memorable about the film was Isaac Hayes’ music – above all the Oscar-winning theme song. A good example of how an average crime film, or any sort of film come to that, can be improved by great music.

I was, and have remained, quite a fan of Hayes. Years ago, I had several of his albums, including Hot, Buttered Soul, which featured an epic, seemingly endless, version of my faovurite song ‘Walk on By’. Even better was his version of ‘The Windows of the World.’ The whole soundtrack for Shaft was pretty good, if you like soundtracks (as I do.)

In recent years, Hayes was better known for voicing Chef in South Park, but he continued to write and record from time to time. In the obituaries so far, I have yet to see mention of a wonderful, hypnotic song of his which Dionne Warwick recorded, ‘Déjà Vu’, which to my mind is a minor classic.

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