Friday, November 30, 2007

The Four Tops - "Are You Man Enough?" (1973)

The Isaac Hayes soundtrack to the original Shaft movie was an instant classic, still fantastic to enjoy to this day. Since the movie was a hit, MGM was going to milk that black detective franchise for everything it was worth... which was not much.

The first sequel, Shaft's Big Score, did respectable business in 1972, but by the time it staggered to 1973 with Shaft in Africa, the box office wasn't coming in like it used to. Each sequel was sillier than the last, and this one was thrown together fast for a quick buck that never came.

At this point in the 70's, the Four Tops had left Motown, where they had earned their bread on classics like "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch," "Reach Out I'll Be There," "Standing In The Shadows Of Love" and others. They were now recording with ABC's Dunhill Records, which teamed them with songwriters Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter and producer Steve Barri. In retrospect, you wouldn't believe how many pop hits these guys cranked out, from the insipid (Coven's "One Tin Soldier"), to slick (Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds' "Don't Pull Your Love") to cheesy (Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy").

Lightning struck again for this match-up, as they cranked out more soulful hits, like "Keeper Of The Castle" and "Ain't No Woman (Like The One I Got"), all using the careful wah-wah guitars and late Motown-era strings (think The Temptations' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone"). So it was natural for Shaft in Africa's producers to have them come up with a song for the film's opening credits.

Even if this film was unintentionally hilarious (and you'll see what I mean below), the song was killer -- same production style as their other hits, ear-grabbing opening with heavy beat kick drum, clavinet and tuned congas, feeling like a private dick film already. I loved the solo handclaps before the chorus, a great device to build up tension waiting for that part.

"Are You Man Enough" asks if you're ready to play tough as Shaft:

Are you man enough?
Big and bad enough?
Are you gonna let 'em shoot your down?
When the evil flies and your brother cries
Are you gonna be around?

I've got some real treats for videos below. First is the Shaft in Africa trailer, and like the one I posted for Trouble Man, it's blaxploitation jive talk through and through. Next is "Are You Man Enough" over the opening credits. Finally, and this has to be seen to be believed, a scene from Shaft in Africa where Shaft's car is running over these ridiculous looking assailants in some of the worst, yet most hilarious stunt work you'll ever see

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