Herbie Hancock – “Watermelon Man”

Tonight’s post is brought to you by some guy’s watermelon socks I saw at lunch today!

Keyboardist Herbie Hancock has been in the mix for decades. He was a child virtuoso who got his break playing in bands headed up by greats like Donald Byrd and Miles Davis throughout the ’60s. By the end of the decade Hancock was a rising force, composing for movies and television and incorporating pop, funk, and world music into his solo work. In the early ’70s he formed his own group called the Head Hunters, and in 1973 released Head Hunters.

On release Head Hunters was criticized by some in the jazz world for being too mainstream and pop-oriented, but Hancock knew exactly what he was doing here. The album was a game-changer, a commercial success that was influential on popular music. My introduction to the record was via a junior year music theory class in college, which also helped to jump-start my interests in music exploration. This album is knowing, confident, and sly as all get out, and I obsessed over it in my early 20s.

One of Hancock’s signature listens, “Watermelon Man” ranks supreme. A remake of an earlier composition, this version is known for the unique flute-like wind instruments and yelps in the intro and outro, influenced by the music of pygmy peoples from Central Africa. Hancock got himself into a bit of controversy by downplaying the African influences on the record (it’s right there on the cover!), but this song is phenomenal regardless. The authoritative bass lick and the palpable, laid-back cool makes this one a stone cold classic, and has lead to some pretty sweet samples in hip-hop.