Two recent reissues present two visions of funk that are in the marketplace in part because DJs created a space for them.
We can spend the next 10 years tracing the ways that DJs changed the musical marketplace. Two recent reissues are very much the product of cratediggers looking for cool grooves that they can incorporate in mixes in clubs or sample for beats—Shaft: Music from the Soundtrack (Deluxe Edition), and Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR, and Boogie 1976-1986. In Questove's liner notes to the Shaft soundtrack, he counts a handful of samples from the album that found their way into hip-hop history.
Shaft is hardly new. Isaac Hayes’ classic soundtrack was initially released in 1971, and it remains the gold standard for black independent cinema soundtracks. I’ll pitch hard for the godlike genius of Willie Hutch on the soundtracks to The Mack and Foxy Brown, and Earth, Wind & Fire at its most avant-garde on the soundtrack to Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, but Willie Hall’s high-hat and Skip Pitts’ wah-wah’s guitar in the introduction to “Theme from Shaft” are not only imprinted in our cultural imagination, but the musical imaginations of the musicians who recorded soundtracks for similar movies that came later . Hayes’ soundtrack, like photographer Gordon Parks’ direction, envisioned art made from the fabric of African-American culture at the start of the 1970s. James Brown, Billy Preston, Marvin Gaye, and Booker T and the MGs are just a few of the artists who would eventually loan their cool and grooves to soul cinema soundtracks, but Hayes distilled the musical ambition he showed on Hot Buttered Soul and Black Moses for Shaft’s soundtrack. It’s no substitute for the protracted, orchestrated, existential drama of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “I Stand Accused,” but the soul tropes that he makes epic in those songs are deployed swiftly and effortlessly on the soundtrack on pieces made to accompany scenes in the movie.
The new reissue includes the original release and a second disc of versions recorded in another studio before the final versions, as well as additional pieces of music scored to accompany scenes from the movie. The music not included on the original release isn’t crucial, but it helps us appreciate Hayes’ work since even his mood music is interesting on Shaft. You can also hear the difference a studio makes—something that seems minor to music fans, but the results of the first session are inexplicably brighter, so much so that they now seem almost at odds with the tone of the movie. Would I think that if I didn’t know the original soundtrack or hadn’t listened to disc one first? I’m not sure.
Finally, you can hear Hayes’ original version of “Theme from Shaft,” which highlights his arranging skills. All the key pieces were there at the first session, but there are numerous points when you can hear him shave a few bars to create more excitement. He changed the guitar tone in one passage of the song to make a guitar and keyboard roll with greater power, and the answering piano chords were dropped in the mix as if no one had an answer to John Shaft.
Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR and Boogie 1976-1986 helps explain Pizzicato Five, the Japanese duo whose lounge electronica in the early ‘80s emerged directly from city pop, a sound that pulled together the more bourgeois-sounding parts of American yacht rock, funk, and disco. P5 released its first single in 1984 near the end of this compilation’s time window on a label owned by Haruomi Hosono, who looms large over Pacific Breeze. Hosono has two songs on the compilation and produced many others, and the collection can be heard as an extended exploration of the sound of money.
That was also Chic’s fundamental project, but Chic subtly took a box cutter to the tires of the Benzes in the parking lot with “clams on the half-shell / and roller skates.” There’s too little English on Pacific Breeze to know if these songs similarly critique consumerism, but I’d bet not vaporwave DJs have tweaked these songs and ones like them to give them a more critical edge, but the tracks themselves sound as if producer David Foster gave Hosono and the artists the blueprint with his work with Box Scaggs in the Lovin’ in the Penthouse Blues phase captured on Silk Degrees. Those songs work magnificently as long as I’m not expected to feel anything for the people who inhabit these glamorous soundscapes, as do the songs on Pacific Breeze , which make a case for luxe as a dominant aesthetic.
For more soul soundtrack music, check out our “Hell Up in Harlem” Spotify playlist.