Friday, February 24, 2006

Box Of 45's: Herbie Hancock

I am not going to lie, this was a recent eBay purchase. Some of you might be saying "John, that's a common song by a common artist", but read me out for a moment.

I am someone who enjoys various aspects of recorded music, and one of them is the 45rpm single. For the most part, 45's are released (and I say "are" because there are a small handful of major labels who are still releasing 45's) for the sole purpose of having a hit. Look at any used 45 bin at a record convention or record store, and you will see loads of promotional 45's by certain labels. The hope was that if one of them was able to make a dent, it would be a regional hit, and maybe, just maybe, a national hit. The recording and radio industry is very different from what it was in the 70's and 80's, but it is interesting to see how much money was wasted for the sole purpose of having a hit and "making a dent".

I have also been interested in seeing 45's by artists who may not have been "radio friendly". On the opposite end of AM radio was FM radio, where things were freeform and you didn't have to conform to playing songs at four minutes or less. If you wanted to play one song at 23 minutes, you could. Walk out the backdoor of the radio station and have a smoke.

However, record labels always pushed for "just one more hit", and that mentality went everywhere from psychedelic folk bands to trippy old ladies who couldn't hold a tune (read "Mrs. Miller").

So what to make of this 45 by Herbie Hancock? Head Hunters was released in 1974 and became one of his best selling albums. The album begins with the funky "Chameleon", running at 15 minutes and a few seconds. Anyone who sits and listens to the album goes into it for the ride, the experience of the groove, knowing that it goes up and down in mood, getting hyperactive with "Sly" and mellowing the listener with "Vein Melter". However, take a different perspective of the album's first song, "Chameleon", and it's obvious that it could have been a massive hit on its own. There was a time when an instrumental out of nowhere would become a huge hit, it has happened many times over the years: "Axel F", the theme from "Miami Vice", "Chariots Of Fire", "Music Box Dancer". Herbie Hancock was at the start of his funky jazz era, and "Chameleon" was a song that once heard, you knew it by heart.

However, Columbia Records felt that it could be a hit single. What to do? Edit. This is not a Rare Earth "Get Ready" kind of deal, where you start the song after the trippy intro, and then fade before everyone does their solos, what someone did was try to take the best elements from "Chameleon" and attempt to make it hit worthy, for the radio, for jukeboxes, and for non-jazz consumption. They did so by creating an edit piece that was 2 minutes and 50 seconds, removing about 80 percent of the song's actual content.

When I read books about how record companies have tried to turn anything into a hit, stuff like this interests me. A song may be too long, so they'll tell you to trim it down by a minute or two, there was a push to get it onto radio, otherwise no one will know about you, and it will not be a hit. In this case, it is taking a 15:40 song, slicing and dicing it in the hopes it would become a hot hit. Condensed for the masses/them asses, and hoping it will make a dent.

Well, the single did not make a dent but the album sold very well and continues to do so. The B-side of the 45 was a 4 minute edit of the 9 minute "Vein Melter". The edit of "Chameleon" in retrospect is genius in itself, but the sad thing is that with more radio formats catering to music from the 70's, this song would be perfect for airplay in 2006 and unfortunately it isn't getting any.

Again, a common song for jazz and funk heads, but heard in a fashion most of us are unfamiliar with.

Herbie Hancock - Chameleon (Single Version) (3.8mb)

1 comment:

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