People just love this album. And I guess I get it, sort of. The title track is iconic and certainly one of the most famous movie themes of the ’70s. But the rest of the album – and it’s a long one – is not up to that standard.
People will tell you that Isaac Hayes basically invented this classic soul sound (which eventually became cliche porno music). I don’t think that’s remotely correct. I read someone say this was a huge influence on Superfly. Maybe, but Curtis Mayfield was already using this famous guitar style on his self-titled debut album in 1970, something like nine months before Shaft premiered. (I have not heard enough late Impressions albums to know if he did it earlier. I do know that Hendrix experimented with it before his death on songs that were not released until later.) And I’ve never heard Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song but it premiered in March of 1971 (rather than June as Shaft did) and I read that it contains somewhat similar music (partially by Earth, Wind & Fire). This might be the most iconic version of the sound but it wasn’t first.
So if the influence isn’t there as much as people think it’s a matter of quality. And, well, some of these cues are better than others. But more importantly for ;your listening purposes, some of these cues are longer than others. There is an absolute ton of music here and not all of it works. (Does “Do Your Thing” need to be 20 minutes long?) It’s fine as background music and it’s likely among the best of these types of soundtracks ever made. (I think I like it more than Superfly.) But that doesn’t make it great in my mind. Had it been “first” that might be a different story. But I’m not sure that it is.
My general feeling is that this is perfectly adequate instrumental ’70s soul, which has been made famous by its iconic title track. But honestly I don’t think most people care about the rest of the album. And I’m having a hard time myself. I’d rather it be shorter. And I’d rather either listen to music that is weirder or music like this with vocals.