Album: Shaft soundtrack, 1971
Justification: Yeah yeah yeah, these days he’s know mainly for being Chef on South Park, and then as a crazy Scientologist who took his bat and ball and went home after South Park poked fun at Tom Cruise (sadly, mere months before dying of a stroke), but in 1971 Isaac Hayes was pretty much the coolest man alive. He’d spent the 60s as one of the key players for Stax records (along with Booker T & the MGs, the Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn half of which were in this previous SYSRTBIIA entry), writing, producing and playing on countless sessions (‘Soul Man’? That’s one of his, as is ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’ and ‘Hold On I’m Comin”). When Otis Redding was tragically killed in a 1967 plane crash, Hayes even stepped up to the plate as the label’s newest star via the Hot Buttered Soul album… but let’s be honest: his legacy to the world was this song.
‘Theme From Shaft’ won Best Original Song in 1972 Oscars and was the first ever Academy Award won by a black man in a non-acting role (and the first Academy Award winning song written and produced by the performer), and is still amazing to this day. Sure, bankruptcy, Scientology and some terrible 80s albums were all in his future, but for a chain-mesh-singlet-wearing while there the man was a god. I’m talking about Hayes: and you can dig it.
It’s been covered surprisingly often (my favourite version is that by the Wedding Present – hearing the Scots-as-fuck David Gedge strangle out “he’s a complicated man and nobody understands him but his woman” never ceases to delight me), and if you’re of a certain generation you were probably introduced to it via Bart and Lisa’s karaoke performance in the Simpsons episode where Homer eats the poisonous sushi.
However, it’s worth pointing out that the first time I heard this song it was being done as a soundalike by Cookie Monster on Sesame Street:
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Spandau Ballet’s still-freakin’-amazing ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’.