It’s time for a new installment of Revive Music’s original literary series: Order Is Everything! This is a how-to-guide for music lovers looking to invest in the catalogs of prolific artists.  Say you were curious about a Miles Davis, a Stevie Wonder, a James Brown, The herbie-hancock-synthRoots, etc. You wanted to see what the fuss was all about, but you don’t know where to begin. Which album should you buy first? Well, Revive is here to help! Each installment will instruct – better yet suggest – the would-be consumer on not only which albums to buy, but also in which order to collect them.  One might think to buy them in chronological order, but for a great artist with 10 or more albums, there’s a science to collecting the records.  First of all, not every record is essential to own, especially if you’re a casual music fan with a reasonably extensive palette; secondly, the first purchase is crucial to the listening experience of the consumer.  The first album you acquire is usually a microcosm of their artistry as a whole, balancing the crucial line between individuality and accessibility.  Each succeeding album you get would be an expansion of the last, increasing the likelihood that you’ll purchase it, developing a genuine admiration of the artists’ music during the process.  Today’s artist is Herbie Hancock.

Herbert Jeffrey Hancock, Jr. is a melody machine. Some pianists try to wow the audience – but mainly fellow musicians – by showing off their complex chops. Then there are those who can make melodies that last forever. Hancock can do both. As a prodigious player, he wrote standards like “Watermelon Man” and “Dolphin Dance” before turning 25! Miles Davis may get the lion share of the credit for birthing “jazz fusion,” but Hancock was melting soul with jazz years before. His approach to soloing is rhythmically incomparable; listeners memorize his melodies in less than a single spin.

Throughout the 1960s, he was able to bring accessibility to complex collaborators like Davis and Wayne Shorter, and in the 1970s, he enhanced the contemporary sounds of crossover kings like George Benson and Stevie Wonder. Even today at age 73, he continues to exude a youthful mindset to his music and all those who work with him. Experimenting in funk, avant-garde, Afro-Cuban and even Hip-Hop, Hancock has made ZERO apologizes for crossing over. In fact, it was his very intention to reach wide audiences and move peoples’ bodies. So, whether he was writing tributes to Sly, fusing computers to keyboards, or composing an Oscar winning soundtrack, Herbie Hancock is a musician who’s built a legendary career on seeing the big picture.

To date, Herbie Hancock his released 58 albums – studio, live and soundtracks – as a leader. Of those, 10 albums are essential to own for all music lovers. Here they are, and this is the order in which to acquire them:

Maiden Voyage (1965)

Herbie Hancock_Maiden Voyage

Classical, plaintive, and sublime are just some of the adjectives that describe Maiden Voyage, making it the ideal first place to begin. Featuring saxophonist George Coleman, legendary cohort trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and his Miles Davis band-mates bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, this Blue Note release displays Hancock as a master composer and mood setter. Three of the five songs – “Eye of the Hurricane,” “Dolphin Dance,” and the title track – became instant standards. To think it was only his fifth album as a leader!

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Empyrean Isles (1964)

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Many legendary artists had back-to-back classics that are linked; the Beatles had Rubber Soul and Revolver; Michael Jackson had Off The Wall and Thriller; The Wailers had Catch a Fire and Burnin’. Well, Herbie’s Empyrean Isles was the soulful predecessor of the ethereal masterpiece Maiden Voyage. Once again featuring Hubbard, Carter and Williams, this four song LP showcases the powers of all four players. Hubbard and Hancock particularly shine on the classic “Cantaloupe Island,” foreshadowing the progressive injection of pop music sensibilities that Hancock would make his trademark on later recordings.

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Speak Like a Child (1968)


The third and final Blue Note album on this list, Speak Like a Child is the perfect melding of Maiden, Empyrean and all that he imbibed from his tenure with Miles Davis’ 2nd Quintet. Unlike the aforementioned records, Hancock takes full reign over the LP as a soloist. The combination of intellectual and visceral lyricism over these mysterious post-bop tunes like “Riot,” “The Sorcerer” and the title track gave the album a darkness that was utterly intoxicating, and remains so 45 years later.

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Fat Albert Rotunda (1969)


The soulfulness that was subtly marinated within the chords of the previous three records is now on full display here. It all started when Bill Cosby requested Hancock to compose a theme song to his cartoon “Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids.” Not only did the cartoon become a long running success, but Hancock’s subsequent LP, inspired by the project, became a pivotal turning point in his solo career. You’ll be hard pressed to find any traces of his jazz roots here, as songs like “Wiggle Waggle” and “Fat Mama” evoked the gangster boogie vibes of Chi-town style soul, meanwhile “Jessica” became the basis of hip-hop classic “Shook Ones Part II.”

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Head Hunters (1973)


Inspired by the work of Sly Stone & James Brown, Hancock desired to make a record that was all funk and no jazz. Assembling a crack team of gritty jazz session titans with drummer Harvey Mason Sr., bassist Paul Jackson, percussionist Bill Summers and saxophonist Bennie Maupin, Head Hunters became one the first jazz album to reach platinum sales.  The quintet’s quirky re-do of Hancock’s 1962 hit “Watermelon Man” almost makes you forget the original. Jackson’s iconic bass line on “Chameleon” immediately struck a chord in music, making non-jazz fans into Hancock fans, however, unlike Fat Albert, his chops and arrangements remained complex and perplexing. Head Hunters was a watershed moment for jazz’s mainstream visibility.

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Thrust (1974)

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Following up Head Hunters has a tall order, but Hancock was up to the task. Jackson, Summers and Maupin all returned, but what separated Thrust from Head Hunters was the entrance of drummer Mike Clark – who replaced Mason on the Head Hunters tour the year before. Clark and Jackson were roommates at the time, and their propulsive chemistry as rhythm section made all the difference, as heard on the spastic, spacey funk of “Actual Proof.” Hancock’s ballad “Butterfly” became a standard for a younger generation of jazz/funk fusionists. The outcome for Thrust was so special, Jackson, Summers, Clark and Maupin became a band unto themselves the following year, know as, what else, The Head Hunters.

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Sunlight (1978)


You’ve heard the classical jazz side of Herbie, the soulful side, the funky side, and now it’s time for the electronic phase of his career. With the commercial success of the Head Hunters era records, Hancock still was in search of new territory to conquer, while still attempting to become more accessible to a wide audience. In Sunlight, Hancock incorporated disco inflections and even vocals (sang through a vocoder), making songs “I Thought It Was You” and “Come Running To Me” prime for radio play. However, with tracks like “Good Question” found Herbie exploring the Fender Rhodes and synthesizers in a classical jazz context, creating a realm that few had been accustomed.

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Future Shock (1983)


The electronic experimentation went into high gear on Future Shock. Herbie had spent the previous few albums making R&B records (i.e. 1981’s Lite Me Up, comprised mostly of compositions from pop/soul songwriter Rod Temperton). However, on this project, Hancock fused electronics with music quite literally, incorporating the Fairlight CMI computer with his synthesizers. Herbie also became one of the first jazz artists to embrace hip-hop, enlisting Grand Mixer DXT to add turn table scratches to add an ambient rhythmic component to Hancock’s new sound. The result is one of his famous songs and unlikely break dancing anthem, “Rockit.”

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Mwandishi (1970)


Now it’s time to go back in time. By now, you have been fully immersed in multiple personalities of Herbie Hancock’s artistry, so taking in this album should be a piece of cake. While this foray into electronic soundscape certainly laid the foundation for Future Shock, Thrust and other albums, Mwandishi takes more patience and prep work to appreciate. The album’s title got its name from the Herbie’s octet, featuring trombonist Julian Priester, trumpeter Eddie Henderson and drummer Ndugu Chancler, Mwandishi was his own personal expansion on the fusion that he’d been doing with Davis in the two years prior (see In a Silent Way). The difference is the unique way he used dynamics to create a rollercoaster of emotion. 

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V.S.O.P. (1976)


Herbie Hancock’s records are case studies in identity reinvention. V.S.O.P. is the culmination of all of the keyboardist’s genre explorations in a forum that mustn’t be missed: live on stage. Recorded in concert, V.S.O.P. is a double live album, featuring three of Herbie’s bands. The first was him and Miles Davis’ 2nd quintet sans Miles, replaced by Hubbard. The five piece ran through songs like “Maiden Voyage” with a chemistry that’s unparalleled in music (these five would go on to do three more V.S.O.P live records). Next up was Hancock’s Mwandishi octet of the early 1970s with Henderson and bassist Buster Williams, featuring an atmospheric canvas of electronic sound, evident on “You’ll Know When You Get There.” Hancock closed out the night with tracks from his Head Hunters days. Ringers Ray Parker Jr.  and Wah Wah Watson on guitars with Jackson on bass made “Hang Up Your Hang Ups” and “Spider” a lively, funky period on the paragraph of his career to that point.


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For you completists out there, here are the remaining Herbie Hancock albums:

* Recommended, but not essential

Takin’ Off (1962)*

My Point of View (1963)

Inventions & Dimensions (1963)*

Blow-Up Soundtrack (1965)

The Prisoner (1969)*

Mwandishi (1970)

Sextant (1973)*

Death Wish Soundtrack (1974)

Dedication (1974)

Man-Child (1975)*

Flood [Live] (1975)*

Secrets (1976)*

Herbie Hancock Trio (1977)

VSOP: The Quintet [Live] (1977)*

VSOP: Tempest in the Colosseum [Live] (1977)

Directstep (1978)

An Evening with Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea: In Concert [Live] (1978)*

The Piano (1979)

Feets, Don’t Fail Me Now (1979)

VSOP: Live Under the Sky [Live] (1979)

CoreaHancock [Live] (1979)

Monster (1980)

Mr. Hands (1980)*

Magic Windows (1981)

Lite Me Up (1982)*

Quartet [Live] (1982)

Sound-System (1984)

Village Life (1985)

Round Midnight Soundtrack (1986)*

Jazz Africa [Live] (1987)

Perfect Machine (1988)

Dis is Da Drum (1994)

The New Standard (1995)

1 + 1 (1997)

Gershwin’s World (1998)

Future2Future (2001)

Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall [Live] (2002)

Possibilities (2005)*

River: The Joni Letters (2007)*

The Imagine Project (2010)*

Series by Matthew Allen (@headphoneaddict)


1 Replies to "Order Is Everything! Collecting…Herbie Hancock"
crocodilechuck says:
April 4, 2014 at 12:48 am

Not bad. Great taste and props to Mr. Sandler.

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