Soundtrack groove: The 20 best blaxploitation records from the 1970s

Soundtrack groove: The 20 best blaxploitation records from the 1970s

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SHAFT 1971

Our definitive roundup of blaxploitation soundtracks.


Dovetailing the civil rights movement, 1970s blaxploitation film was the birth of a new code of black representation. Often formulaic, they featured black heroes thrown into style-heavy contexts (anything from crime to westerns to sci-fi), often facing white opposition in one form or another.

It’s a genre shrouded in disagreement but whether you think it was empowering or that it encouraged divisive stereotypes, it’s impossible to ignore the music that accompanied the action. The soul and funk soundtracks often surpassed the quality and popularity of the films themselves. In contrast to the radio-friendly funk of the time, ’70s soundtracks are complex and feature rich orchestration. Quite the ear treat.

So, in alphabetical order (of film title), here’s our essential selection of 1970′ blaxploitation soundtracks. Listen to the playlist below and scroll down to check out the records individually.


 

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Bobby Womack & J.J. Johnson

Across 110th Street (UAR, 1972)

Film: $300,00 is stolen from a Mafia-owned Harlem bank. Two detectives are on the case but so are the mob…

Soundtrack: The film owes its cult status to the title track, which was later revived by Tarantino in Jackie Brown. Overall there’s a nice blend of classic ’70s soul and funky instrumentals.

Buy it here.

 


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Dennis Coffey & Luchi De Jesus

Black Belt Jones (Weintraub Heller, 1974)

Film: Mafia world becomes entangled with a karate school, leading to death, revenge and plenty of martial arts.

Soundtrack: Music that packs a punch. Heavy bass, mega drums and blasts of groove, plus bits of sound effects and dialogue thrown in. The title track (left) chants its way along and Love Theme is a choppy delight you need to hear.

Buy it here.


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James Brown

Black Caesar (Polydor, 1973)

Film: Another Harlem mob story – a young man ascends to power in the Mafia and seeks out the racist cop who tormented him as a child.

Soundtrack: James Brown’s first shot at a soundtrack (with support from Fred Wesley). A classic JB style workout plus the excellent “Mama Feelgood” by Lyn Collins.

Buy it here.


carwash

Norman Whitfield
Car Wash (MCA, 1976)


Film: A day in the lives of employees at a car wash and the strange visitors they encounter.

Soundtrack: Debut album of the Whitfield produced group Rose Royce, and the music that launched their name. The title track was a number one hit but dig deeper and you’ll be rewarded with sharp disco funk cuts and hypnotic instrumental pieces.

Buy it here.


 

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Roy Ayers
Coffy
(Polydor, 1973)

Film: A black nurse seeks justice against the drug dealers who led her 11-year old sister to addiction.

Soundtrack: A jazz-funk masterpiece. More sophisticated than the average blaxploitation soundtrack, Roy Ayers’ Coffy is atmospheric and rich in texture.

Buy it here.


 

Kusini Countdown At

Manu Dibango
Countdown At Kusini
(D.S.T. Telecommunications Inc, 1975)

Film: Set in a fictional African country, a foreign corporation attempts to remove a revolutionary leader whose policies are comprising profits.

Soundtrack: “Soul Makossa” man on top form. From uptempo movers to downtempo cuts, there’s a cinematic melding of African, funk and jazz.

Buy it here.


 

Fat Albert Rotunda

Herbie Hancock
Fat Albert Rotunda (Warner Bros., 1969)

Film: Bit of a double cheat here – it’s taken from Bill Cosby’s animated TV (not film) series  Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert, which was released in 1969 i.e. not quite the 70’s.

Soundtrack: Definitely worth bending the rules for this expertly crafted album. There’s a nod towards the funk territory that a later Hancock embraces but with a strong jazz flavour from the post-bop, Blue Note days.

Buy it here.


 

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Willie Hutch
Foxy Brown
(Motown, 1974)

Film: More black revenge. This time a seductive lady masquerades as a high-class prostitute to infiltrate mobsters that killed her boyfriend.

Soundtrack: Not as successful as the soundtrack to The Mack but infinitely better. “Give Me Some of That Good Old Love”(left) is a slice of delectable, foot-tapping soul. And “Hospital Prelude of Love Theme” is a thing of beauty.

Buy it here.


 

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Art Ensemble Of Chicago
Les Stances A Sophie
(Nessa, 1979)

Film: Centres around middle-class life and features scenes with Art Ensemble Of Chicago. The film did a bit of a disappearing act until Soul Jazz re-released it on DVD in 2008.

Soundtrack: The powerful vocals of Fontella Bass meet cosmic jazz to stunning result – “Thème De Yoyo” (left) says it all.

Buy it here.


 

live and let die

Various
Live And Let Die
(UAR, 1973)

Film: James Bond (Roger Moore) meets blaxploitation in a tale of Caribbean corruption with dubious racial overtones that were met with negative reception.

Soundtrack: The first Bond score not to involve John Barry, Beatles’ producer George Martin delivers the funkiest Bond soundtrack ever.

Buy it here.


 

no way back

The Dells
No Way Back
(Mercury, 1976)

Film: A lesser known movie with Fred Williamson as a private detective that will do anything for cash – a mentality that leads him into a dangerous world.

Soundtrack: Only “No Way Back”, “Too Late For Love” and “Adventure (No Way Back Pt 2)” (left) are used in the film but the whole record is cracking.

Buy it here.


 

shaft soundtrack

Isaac Hayes
Shaft
(Stax, 1971)

Film: An iconic film that follows a black private eye’s hunt to retrieve a mobster’s missing daughter.

Soundtrack: One of the best known and most successful blaxploitation soundtracks. An intravenous injection of pure soul from peak-time Isaac Hayes.

Buy it here.


Slaughter's big rip-off

James Brown
Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off
(Polydor, 1973)

Film: Sequel to Slaughter, in which the title character killed a gangster to avenge the deaths of his loved ones.

Soundtrack: More James Brown magic from start to finish. “People Get Up And Drive Your Funky Soul’ deserves a special mention.

Buy it here.


 

Space

Sun Ra
Space Is The Place (Blue Thumb, 1973)
Film: Experimental, trippy, bizarre stuff but would you expect any less from a film starring Sun Ra? Afro-centric sci-fi and a non-linear narrative meets blaxploitation to produce a cinematic take on Sun Ra’s music.

Soundtrack: The opening scenes are accompanied by the 20-minute free-form “Space Is The Place” that occupies side A. On the B there’s four incredible cuts showing off a range of styles and instrumentation.

Buy it here.


 

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Curtis Mayfield
Super Fly
(Curtom, 1972)

Film: A drug dealer wants to quit the game but before going clean he needs to complete his biggest deal yet to fund his mobster pension.

Soundtrack: Mayfield’s third studio album, a huge hit and a big influence on the blaxploitation soundtrack genre. The lyrics are masterfully socially aware – using storytelling to challenge the glamorisation of street life but without overtly moralising.

Buy it here.


 

Sweet Sweetbacks

Melvin Van Peebles
Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song
(Stax, 1971)

Film: A landmark classic written, directed, scored and starring Melvin Van Peebles. It’s often credited for starting the blaxploitation boom.

Soundtrack: Performed by Earth, Wind and Fire, it was released before the film to generate publicity because Van Peebles didn’t have funds for advertising. The soundtrack’s not as groundbreaking as the film but it’s still funky as hell.

Buy it here.


 

trouble man

Marvin Gaye
Trouble Man
(Tamia, 1972)

Film: Mr T., a private detective, is hired to fight a masked gang but things get very complicated…

Soundtrack: Like Hayes and Mayfield before him, Marvin Gaye stepped up to soundtrack a film and ended up outperforming the film quite considerably. A strong contender for the best Blaxploitation soundtrack ever. 

Buy it here.


 

truck turner

Truck Turner
Isaac Hayes
(Enterprise, 1974)

Film: Hayes wrote the score but he also stars as Turner, a bounty hunter who finds himself being hunted after completing a job.

Soundtrack: The third soundtrack from Hayes and a lengthier release than Shaft or Tough Guys. “Breakthrough” is the star track – a nice little funk workout.

Buy it here.


 

willie dynamite

J.J. Johnson
Willie Dynamite
(MCA, 1974)

Film: The rise and fall of an ambitious New York pimp with a clear moral guide being offered up by the film.

Soundtrack: Scored and conducted by trombonist, J.J. Johnson, it’s all about breakbeat sections and driving instrumental cuts. There’s an edginess to the soundtrack which mirrors the action-packed uncertainty on screen.

Buy it here.


 

war youngblood

War
Young Blood
(UAR, 1978)

Film: A 15-year old black youth attempts to break free from the ghetto while also keeping friendly with his neighbourhood gang.

Soundtrack: Available very cheaply and in abundance, this soundtrack is packed with delicious funk. “Flyin’ Machine (The Chase)” (left) is a spicy flute piece with a latin streak.

Buy it here.