Originally posted by The Vinyl Factory
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) usually facing white opposition in various manifestations.
It’s a genre mired in disagreement, but whether you think it was empowering or that it encouraged negative stereotypes, it’s impossible to ignore the music that accompanied the action in these films. 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, these soundtracks are often noted for their complexity and rich orchestration. Quite the ear treat.
So, in alphabetical order (of film title), here’s our essential selection of 1970s blaxploitation soundtracks.
We’ve also created a playlist (below) of 20 songs chosen from the records so you can listen in one go.
Bobby Womack & J.J. Johnson
Across 110th Street
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 (later used by Tarantino in Jackie Brown). Overall there’s a nice blend of classic sounding 70s soul and funky instrumentals.
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 chants its way along and Love Theme is a choppy delight worth a listen.
Black Caesar (
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.
Film: A day in the lives of employees at a car wash and the strange visitors they encounter.
Soundtrack: Debut album of the Norman Whitfield-produced group Rose Royce, and the music that launched their name. The title track was a number one hit, and there’s a good supply of disco funk cuts as well as hypnotic instrumental pieces to check out.
Film: A nurse seeks justice against the drug dealers who led her 11-year old sister to addiction.
Soundtrack: A jazz-funk masterpiece that’s more sophisticated than the average blaxploitation soundtrack – atmospheric, subtle, rich in texture.
Countdown At Kusini
(D.S.T. Telecommunications Inc, 1975)
Film: Set in a fictitious 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 sounds, funk and jazz.
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, so not quite the 1970s.
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.
Film: More revenge. This time a seductive woman 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’ is a slice of delectable, foot-tapping soul, and ‘Hospital Prelude of Love Theme’ is a thing of beauty.
Art Ensemble Of Chicago
Les Stances A Sophie
Film: Centring around middle class life and featuring scenes with the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, the film did 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’ says it all.
Live And Let Die
Film: Roger Moore’s James Bond 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 was instead written by Beatles’ producer George Martin, and it’s the funkiest Bond soundtrack ever, support the foray into blaxploitation.
No Way Back
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.
Film: An iconic film that follows a private eye’s hunt to retrieve a mobster’s missing daughter.
Soundtrack: One of the best known and most successful blaxploitation soundtracks, it’s an intravenous injection of pure soul from Isaac Hayes at his peak.
Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off
Film: The sequel to Slaughter, in which the title character killed the gangster to avenge the death of his loved ones.
Soundtrack: More James Brown magic with too many good ones to pick, but if pushed, ‘People Get Up And Drive Your Funky Soul’ would probably win.
Space Is The Place
(Blue Thumb, 1973)
Film: Experimental, trippy and bizarre stuff, but would you expect any less from a film starring Sun Ra? Afrofuturist sci-fi and a non-linear narrative meets blaxploitation to produce a cinematic take on the jazz bandleader’s music.
Soundtrack: The opening scenes are accompanied by the 20-minute freeform piece ‘Space Is The Place’, which occupies side A, while on the B there are four incredible cuts showing off a range of styles and instrumentation.
Film: A drug dealer wants to quit the game, but before going clean he needs to complete his biggest deal to date to finance 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 being overtly moralising.
Melvin Van Peebles
Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song
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 there’s lots of nice funk to enjoy.
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 it outperformed the film quite considerably. Definitely considered one of the best soundtracks in the genre.
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.
Film: The rise and fall of an ambitious New York pimp with a clear moral guide.
Soundtrack: Scored and conducted by trombonist J.J. Johnson, it features lots of breakbeats and driving instrumental cuts. There’s an edginess to it which mirrors the action-packed uncertainty on screen.
Film: A 15-year old attempts to break free from the ghetto while also keeping friendly with his neighbourhood gang.
Soundtrack: Available very cheaply and in abundance but packed with a great range of funk tracks. ‘Flyin’ Machine (The Chase)’ is a spicy flute piece with a latin streak.