When Herbie Hancock Went Disco

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There is a bunch of good discussion on Herbie's disco records and related albums on this thread.

Jazz in the late 70s / early 80s (jazz goes pop, jazz goes disco)

earlnash, Monday, 17 March 2008 04:15 (fourteen years ago) link

amazing video

Mark Rich@rdson, Monday, 17 March 2008 04:43 (fourteen years ago) link

"Virtually left unasked was why a musician of Hancock's ilk would spend so much time, effort and goodwill making such transparently commercial records"

uh, money?

Jeff LeVine, Monday, 17 March 2008 04:57 (fourteen years ago) link

one helluva drug

jaxon, Monday, 17 March 2008 05:35 (fourteen years ago) link

Out of those records, I own Secrets, Sunlight, and Lite Me Up, and none of them are really disco. Secrets is pretty much a continuation of the Headhunters era jazz-funk with some nice guitar playing added, due to Wah Wah Watson joining Herbie's band. It's quite good and at times even a bit experimental album, not that poppy. Ditto for Sunlight, where Herbie first experiments with the vocoder. I guess the three songs with the vocoderized vocals do have a disco feel, but I'd say they're still too light, playful, and jazzy to work properly on the dancefloor. And the last two cuts on the LP are still proper fusion jazz, if I remember correctly the last song is actually quite stark and somewhat experimental.

I think out of those records only Feets, Don't Fail Me Now is pure disco, though I've only heard a couple of tunes from it. Lite Me Up is quite poppy and clealry aimed for the pop market, but the style is more early 80s r&b/urban rather than disco. It's an okay album, but it suffers from too many non-vocoderized vocals by Herbie - he's not really a good singer. The best tunes are those where someone else sings, plus the final song, a weird vocoder duet with Herbie and Patrice Rushen.

Tuomas, Monday, 17 March 2008 07:33 (fourteen years ago) link

I quite like the albums I've heard from this era, but they are generally considered below par by critics and fans. Which is also why most of them are really hard to find. Out of these, I think only "Secrets" is available on CD these days.

Geir Hongro, Monday, 17 March 2008 08:05 (fourteen years ago) link

No, the three I own are all on CD, and I've seen the other three on sale in CD format too. Sunlight, Magic Windows, and Lite Me Up are a bit harder to find though, because they haven't been released as part of Columbia's "Legacy" series. They were released on some minor French label, maybe because Sony/Columbia didn't consider them worthy of reissuing. (Though if that is true, it's weird that they did reissue Monster and Feets Don't Fail Me Now, because they're usually considered among the worst of Herbie's albums.)

Tuomas, Monday, 17 March 2008 09:26 (fourteen years ago) link

I think the problem with most of these albums is that even though Herbie wanted to embrace disco/r'n'b, he wasn't willing to discard his jazz roots altogether, which results in a mix that is a bit disappointing for both jazz and r'n'b/disco fans.

Tuomas, Monday, 17 March 2008 09:32 (fourteen years ago) link

On his three electro-funk albums of the 80s I think he was more successful in embracing a new style, though that may be because they are allegedly more Bill Laswell/Material productions than proper Herbie solo albums.

Tuomas, Monday, 17 March 2008 09:37 (fourteen years ago) link

They are great nevertheless. Among my favourite "jazz" albums of all time and IMO even better than "Headhunters".

Geir Hongro, Monday, 17 March 2008 10:51 (fourteen years ago) link

It is indeed baffling why the "Watermelon Man" sixties hitmaker felt the need to go pop.

Most of those VSOP issues were Japanese so it's probably no surprise that they got short shrift in the States. Over in Britain we got both sides of Herbie so consequently when "I Thought It Was You" went top 20 we all went WTF? in a pleased way.

Dingbod Kesterson, Monday, 17 March 2008 11:19 (fourteen years ago) link

I think Herbie was taking the lead from Miles, in his flexibility of adapting (and/or creating) new styles of music. Miles was always looking ahead, Hancock did too. Herbie even put out a jungle-esque record in the late 90's(?) that was hailed as being pretty good. So disco is no stretch. I like 'Monster' for the Gahan Wilson cover though.

U-Haul, Monday, 17 March 2008 15:24 (fourteen years ago) link

"magic number", "i thought it was you", etc Herbie killed it on the disco tip.

pipecock, Monday, 17 March 2008 23:03 (fourteen years ago) link

two months pass...

I've recently pulled down a bunch more of these records. A few reactions:

That vocoder duet between Herbie and Patrice Rushen on Lite Me Up is pretty great.

That last cut on Sunlight is very experimental indeed. The idea that the same person who would like "I Thought It Was You" would like this crazy dissonnt, modal jam ("Good Question") is crazy.

Incidentally, tho it's technically outside of the purview of this thread, the "Cantaloupe Island" on Dedication from 1974 w/ the ARP bassline and space keyboards is amazing, as is "Nobu" which features him jamming on Rhodes over a sample-and-hold riff on the 2600.

Monster, I forgot, is his first "rock" record -- but it's only rock insofar as those early 80's records Giorgio Moroder produced for Donna Summer are rock. They have guitars, that's about it. I like some of it, tho...

Naive Teen Idol, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 03:42 (fourteen years ago) link

Stars in Your Eyes is the absolute shit (the extended mix especially). I hadn't thought of it as a rock album, apart from the opening and closing tracks.

Andy K, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 14:03 (fourteen years ago) link

Also, "Getting to the Good Part" on Lite Me Up is another gem, with its vocoder goodness.

Overall tho, it's amazing how utterly trashed these records were by critics in their day -- to these ears, they're a pretty solid collection of electro funk records, hardly anything worth getting angry about, with some moments that are downright exceptional.

Naive Teen Idol, Friday, 23 May 2008 12:23 (fourteen years ago) link

fourteen years pass...

Fuckin’ a, I just saw Herbie in Portsmouth and the guy played songs from Sunlight and Thrust like he just wrote them, did a deep space vocoder a capella solo for five minutes, and concluded things on a ridiculously funky keytar “Chameleon” jam. Dude is utterly undiminished at 82.

Naive Teen Idol, Sunday, 19 June 2022 00:24 (one month ago) link

oh he’s still so goddamn amazing live

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Sunday, 19 June 2022 01:00 (one month ago) link

imagine how fun it is to play if it's that much fun to watch.

I'm ANTIFA and I vote. (Austin), Sunday, 19 June 2022 03:30 (one month ago) link

All I want in life is more songs that sound like Stars In Your Eyes. Amazing vibe on that one.

OneSecondBefore, Sunday, 19 June 2022 23:19 (one month ago) link

Dude jumped in the air with his keytar at the Kennedy Center

Antifa Sandwich Artist (Boring, Maryland), Sunday, 19 June 2022 23:25 (one month ago) link


Ride into the Sunship (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 19 June 2022 23:37 (one month ago) link

Xpost not very high admittedly but for his age pretty respectable.

Antifa Sandwich Artist (Boring, Maryland), Monday, 20 June 2022 17:04 (one month ago) link

did the same in Central Park last week. Great set with Terence Blanchard and Lionel Loueke.

i cannot help if you made yourself not funny (forksclovetofu), Tuesday, 21 June 2022 06:26 (one month ago) link

This is one I found on Youtube a couple years ago that I have listened to a few times. Good sound for a radio broadcast.

I think I remember that Jaco did some playing with Herbie, but I did not know this existed until a couple years ago.

Herbie Hancock w/ Jaco Pastorius on bass - Live in Chicago 1977


The Artist formerly known as Earlnash, Tuesday, 21 June 2022 21:59 (one month ago) link

Herbie is on Jaco's debut too, that I know.

The Artist formerly known as Earlnash, Tuesday, 21 June 2022 22:02 (one month ago) link

yep, this is awesome. thanks for posting!

I'm ANTIFA and I vote. (Austin), Tuesday, 21 June 2022 22:47 (one month ago) link

Oh well then, this thing is just ridiculous how good it is. Herbie, Ron Carter and Tony Williams with a whole slew of all stars. Japan loves some jazz.


The Artist formerly known as Earlnash, Wednesday, 22 June 2022 01:30 (one month ago) link

It's awesome that Herbie was doing stuff like Rockit and then going over to Japan and just blowing the hell out of some postbop jazz. Bad MF'er.

The Artist formerly known as Earlnash, Wednesday, 22 June 2022 01:32 (one month ago) link

that's fantastic, thanks for sharing

the cat needs to start paying for its own cbd (map), Wednesday, 22 June 2022 02:11 (one month ago) link

It's awesome that Herbie was doing stuff like Rockit and then going over to Japan and just blowing the hell out of some postbop jazz. Bad MF'er.

The Wire wrote a snooty review of his duet album with Wayne Shorter in 1998 or so while dumping on his more obviously commercial work. It prompted me to write a letter about how they were totally ignoring all of his Japanese-only releases—ie, Dedication, Directstep, and all those trips with Tony Williams and Ron Carter—that kind of demonstrated a much broader spectrum of interests than they suggested and how they often converged.

Herbie’s Columbia deal was great in the sense that it allowed him to record almost anything he wanted. But because they limited which market saw what, it often gave off the impression that he was just a jazz guy who wanted to make some money too.

Also: he jumped in the air with the keytar at my show too. And it was awesome.

Naive Teen Idol, Wednesday, 22 June 2022 11:48 (one month ago) link

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