#254: Head Hunters, Herbie Hancock
Another album from the Seventies. We get it: You guys are the Greatest Generation. I’m starting to resent having to listen to albums from the same twenty years or so — 1965–1985 — over and over and over again. We’ve been in a fifty-years-ago rut since Whitney Houston (#249).
Now that the grumpiness is out of the way, we can move on to the hubristic joy of Head Hunters. The delightfully-named Herbie Hancock gave this album the same initials as himself. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Mr. Hancock, but what I got was my favorite jazz album yet.
There are only four songs, par for the course for jazz. I was completely caught off-guard by “Chameleon,” a song that builds off an electric funk groove and builds and builds and builds until it rolls right back around to the same riff, plus one sax.
The RS blurb points out that this album was inspired by Sly Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf),” which we’ve kind-of heard on There’s A Riot Goin’ On (#82), though it was first released as a single. The aptly-named “Sly” pays homage to Stone with a pulse-racing beat that culminates into a BIG DRAMATIC PAUSE! not at the end, but in the middle.
I was also surprised by the blurb’s mention of a “Nichiren Buddhist scroll.” Nichiren Buddhism is apparently a huge part of Hancock’s life. That’s always my favorite fact to learn about musicians: what they believe in. “Vein Melter,” a slow, fuzzy song that’s as ethereal as it is futuristic, is a Buddhist song, if you pay attention. You could pray to this one.
I’m going to say something that may make you dislike me: Most jazz albums leave little impression on me. They wash over me like a wave of jazz, then they’re gone, out of my mind completely. I never remember what they sound like.
But I remember every minute of every song on Head Hunters. Like “Watermelon Man,” a reworking of a track on Hancock’s debut Takin’ Off. It starts out with this flute-like sound that’s actually beer bottles, then the bass hits after maybe a minute, then the drum kicks in and it’s real groovy, and when the guitar comes in it sounds like a real song. Then it crescendoes!
This was the first platinum-selling jazz record. Maybe I’m too much of a jazz outsider to say so but I think that the first-ever platinum jazz album should be higher than halfway up the list. But I digress.