Blaxploitation films have some of the greatest soundtracks of all time, from funk and soul pioneers such as James Brown and Isaac Hayes. Here are 5 of the best.
Blaxploitation (or Blacksploitation) is a term usually used to define films from the 1970s which were made predominantly by, and for, the African-American culture of the time. Whilst many of the films seem dated by today’s standards, and some borderline racist even, the soundtracks to some of these films have gone on to be bonafide classics, as the artists making them were funk and soul stars at the height of their powers as musicians, but also struggling to break out into the mainstream of culture. The best of these soundtracks are presented to you below…….
5 – Black Caesar – James Brown 1973
The Godfather of Soul himself funked up the soundtrack to this 1973 hit. Bringing his backing band the J.B’s and young protégé Lyn Collins with him to create a groove that would overshadow the movie. Standout track The Boss went on to be one of Brown’s signature tracks. The beginning of soundtrack pulls you in with it’s laid back groove but by the time you listen to Lyn Collins on the fantastic ‘Mama Feelgood’ it is all over and you have to submit to a full frontal funk assault. Brown is at the height of his powers here and it shows.
4 – Across 110th Street – Bobby Womack and JJ Johnson 1972
Bobby Womack, already a successful solo artist, had been an outcast for several years previously due to his marriage to the late Sam Cooke’s wife, only 3 months after his death. This forced him into studio work and being a session musician, whilst writing material for artists such as Wilson Pickett. Gradually he moved back towards the mainstream, before scoring a huge hit with this score. He only saw the film once before writing the songs with Jazz musician JJ Johnson providing the score, in only 2 weeks. Containing lush string arrangements and socially conscious lyrics about Womack’s own past, this classic should get more praise than it does. The title track has since been used in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Ridley Scott’s American Gangster to great effect.
3 – Coffy – Roy Ayers 1973
Coffy, starring Pam Grier, is a standout on this list as it focuses on a strong female character using her sexuality to get her way in the gang led community she lives in. Grier plays Coffy, a nurse who’s sister is a drug addict, living in a rehab centre. Coffy decides to get revenge and rid the streets of gangsters using her feminine charms to get close to them without arousing suspicion. The film was a moderate success, making a profit and forwarding Grier’s career.
Jazz Funk pioneer Roy Ayers sculpted a perfect psychedelic trip through xylophone infused jazz, slow percussion led funk and deep soul that is mesmerizing. Anybody looking for a place to start with Roy Ayers could do a lot worse than start here.
2 – Super Fly – Curtis Mayfield 1972
Super Fly is a classic tale of drug dealers in the ghetto, which was a moderate success at the time, but is now a little dated and old fashioned. The tone of the film portrays drug dealers in a slightly sympathetic light, which Curtis Mayfield did not like, so when he was asked to compose the soundtrack he focused the lyrics on a negative viewpoint of the narcotics.
Luckily, the soundtrack was a huge hit and out-grossed the film it came from, allowing Curtis’ message to prevail. Heavily sampled and full of funky horns, shuffling basslines and tight percussion, this is a must for any music lover, not just soundtrack aficionados.
1 – Shaft – Isaac Hayes 1971
Shaft has it all. A great, successful film creating a franchise and instantly recognizable character, backed by an Academy, Golden Globe and Grammy Award winning soundtrack from Black Moses himself, Isaac Hayes.
The movie follows John Shaft, a private detective who goes up against the mob, and is very much the prototypical Blaxploitation movie. It was a huge hit, grossing over $13m from a budget of only $500,000 and saving an MGM on the brink of collapse.
The double album soundtrack went on the be the biggest selling record of Stax record’s history, and Isaac Hayes’ biggest hit. Full of lush string arrangements, biting funk and great vocals from the man himself, this really is a tour-de-force, and if you can get past the main theme there is so much on offer here. Check it out….