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Classic Album Reviews: In the Heat of the Night / They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! Soundtracks | MGM Soul Cinema Series

The music from Sidney Poitier's two Virgil Tibbs tales comes together on one album.


This came out in 2002 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


Who’s the cat who won’t cop out when there’s danger all about? Shaft. Damn right. But there’s plenty more where he came from.

Back in the swinging ’60s and ’70s, there were more blaxploitation movie heroes than you could shake your booty at — Superfly, Slaughter, Foxy Brown, Coffy, Friday Foster, Truck Turner, Sweet Sweetback, hell, even Blacula. And like John Shaft, when they went strutting down 125th Street in Harlem in their platform boots and ostrich-feather hat, it was usually to the funky backbeat of a personalized theme song by Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack or James Brown.

Good luck finding most of those old flicks at your local video chain. But thanks to the Soul Cinema Series, you can get down to the original grooves. MGM has dug through the vaults and reissued the soundtracks to a slew of African-American movie classics, with every wah-wah guitar lick, soul-sister singer, conga-drum break and flute solo superbly intact. Here’s the score on the scores. Can you dig it?

In the Heat of the Night / They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!

The Years: 1967 / 1970.

The Plots: Sidney Poitier’s principled detective Virgil Tibbs clashes with Mississippi sheriff Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) over a murder in the former, an Oscar winner for Best Picture; Tibbs probes the link between a murdered prostitute and a reverend (Martin Landau) in the lesser sequel.

The Music: Nearly 70 minutes of art and soul from the one and only Quincy Jones, who sets the soundtrack standard by striking a perfect balance between lush orchestrations, tensely gritty incidental music and earthy passion.

The Best Line: “You aren’t taking me anywhere, you dig?” says Tibbs to Gillespie.

The Funkiest Track: Ray Charles’ muggy, organ-driven title blues is simply untoppable, though instrumentals like Peep-Freek Patrol Car and Fat Poppadaddy hold their own.

The Love Theme: Charles again, this time caressing the piano keys on the downtempo Mama Caleba’s Blues.

The The Last Word: Indispensable.