On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Isaac Hayes – Theme from Shaft (1971)
We’re staying in the US, dear reader, but making our way over to Tennessee. Isaac Hayes first hit the big time in the 1970s but younger generations will remember him fondly as the voice of Chef in Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s series, South Park (1997-2006). In 1971 the crime thriller, Shaft, was released and for the soundtrack Isaac Hayes recorded the film’s signature theme song.
Shaft tells the story of a private detective named John Shaft who finds himself between rival mobster gangs when one Harlem boss hires him to rescue their daughter from Italian mobsters. Isaac Hayes wrote Theme from Shaft which is around four minutes with the first couple of minutes being devoted to the music. We then get to the lyrics where Hayes asks a series of questions, each met with the response of “Shaft” by female backing vocalists. One such example is, “Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother man?” Well, obviously it’s Shaft. I mean, who else would do that? The guy is cool. From the song, we get the image of Shaft as a tough badass, a sex machine irresistible to women, complicated and only understood by his woman.
Theme from Shaft is one of the classic songs from the 1970s and probably more familiar to people than the film itself which divided critics upon its release. Hayes sounds confident with his lines and is clearly enjoying himself, and who wouldn’t singing this? The song would not only top the US charts for Hayes but it would bag him an Academy Award in 1972, only the third African-American to receive such an honour and the first for a non-acting Oscar. What a sad fact that is. The song has been parodied in many TV shows, most memorably, for me, on Father Ted when Ted plays it for a priest who is feeling depressed and the song makes him smile and feel positive again. Sadly, he later hears a song by Radiohead and his mood changes for the worst.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
The Kinks – Days (1968)
Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)
David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Led Zeppelin – When the Levee Breaks (1971)