Analogue Productions Unleashes the Funk on Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters

With a career spanning more than six decades, Herbie Hancock is one of the most treasured names in jazz. From his early days with Blue Note, to his last release (2010’s The Imagine Project), there are more than a few of his impressive 46 albums that people consider to be favourites. My personal favourite however, is the fusion classic, 1973’s Headhunters.

Jazz fusion as a genre has two main styles that fuse with jazz, the first being rock and the second being funk. Headhunters wastes no time in showing you what style it's blending. If the lack of a guitar on the record wasn’t any sort of giveaway, one of the funkiest basslines of all time kicking off the album will smack you in the face with an answer.

Listening to the opening track “Chameleon” on any release will get you feeling funky, but the Analogue Productions 2 LP 45rpm release will get you groovin’! The song kicks off with the classic bassline being played on an ARP Odyssey synth, and everything else builds from there. Throughout the song, Hancock delivers inspired and groovy solos that sound as fresh today as I'm sure they did then. Clocking in at 15 minutes and 41 seconds, it may seem a bit long for a single side on a 45rpm record, but I experienced no inner groove distortion whatsoever and found the fidelity to be outstanding. The highlight of this track for me is the drums. Harvey Mason’s kit sounds incredibly alive and crisp, to the point where I often forget I'm listening to a record.

From “Chameleon” we are treated to the classic Hancock composition, “Watermelon Man”. This song was originally released on Hancock’s 1962 debut, Takin’ Off, and by the release of Headhunters had already become a staple. After opening with the unusual sound of percussionist Bill Summers blowing into beer bottles, the cut transitions into some of the greatest mid tempo jazz-funk you can find. I find Bennie Maupin’s sax playing to be the highlight of the song, with his interjections being smooth and tasteful.

After switching to the second record, and throwing on the tribute to funk legend Sly Stone, “Sly”, the record keeps its momentum in fantastic fashion. “Sly” starts off sounding ominous, and makes you think something is about to happen, and at the two minute mark, whatever you thought was going to happen, happens. The tempo explodes, and throughout the controlled chaos of the track Hancock and Maupin do an excellent job of trading solos, while Paul Jackson’s bass groove keeps the song grounded.

After the bombasity of “Sly” we move on to the fourth and final track on the record: “Vein Melter”. Instead of melting your veins by going incredibly fast, the song ops to melt with its balladry and beauty. It’s a perfect closer for the album, and gives the listener the needed variety to keep us intrigued. Hancock’s sound on this particular song is very different from the others. He draws back the complexity and delivers lyrical passages that are eerie yet charming at the same time.

Analogue Productions does an incredible job on this release, keeping you enveloped in the music while breaking down the barrier between your stereo and musicians. I’d previously had a run of the mill reissue of this album that I thought was good and did the job, but because of how much I love this album I opted to spend some more bucks on the AP release, not expecting a huge difference. Boy was I wrong. There is so much more clarity to every instrument, and instead of the funk taking a backseat, it punches you in the face and demands your attention. Both of my discs arrived flat and without any pressing defects or jacket damage on the mighty journey from Salina to Edmonton.

I would urge any record collector to buy this release. Whether you like jazz and have yet to get into fusion, or if you have known this album for years and want it to sound new again, this press will get the job done. If you’re debating between the 33 or the 45 edition like I was, without a doubt get the 45. The extra $20 boosts the fidelity magnificently, as well as upgrades the package to a gatefold with bonus artwork on the inside. The fantastic music mixed with the AP treatment is a match made in heaven, and Analogue Productions proves once again why they are the best audiophile label out there.

(Simon Guile is a newly employed worker at Record Collector’s Paradise in Edmonton Alberta. Currently, he’s trying to get as many shifts in as he can before he goes on a trip to the big apple.)

ghn5ue's picture

Cool to see someone from Record Collector's Paradise now writing for Analog Planet:). I don't get to visit that often (I live in a different city), but this a fantastic record store with great people working there!

jazz's picture

or am I wrong? But nothing against reviewing past reissues, I just wondered.

Tom L's picture

...this set in limited numbers several times, starting in 2005. The most recent release was this year (2021).
I don't know if there are any differences between the various issues, or which one Simon has. Perhaps he will fill us in.

ebeneezer's picture

Simon, it's been my favorite Herbie fusion album since release. I've always wondered if a production edit could firm up the sponginess of the drum mix - do you think any engineers breathed on it for the new 45's?

Mark Evans's picture

and have enjoyed it for the last 48 years. I have fond memories taking this record to a friends house and listening to it after watching the Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King Battle of the Sexes. Herbie's other LP, Thrust, is also a very good listening experience. I can imagine the 45 RPM version is outstanding. Thanks for the memories.

Tom L's picture

So are the 80 or so other Herbie releases, spanning the gamut from modern be-bop to solo acoustic piano to the funk-jazz we've been talking about here. He was a tremendous talent.

LarryRS's picture

"he was a tremendous talent." Still is - I saw him in concert a couple of years ago.

Steelhead's picture

Have an original and now with AP releasing or re-releasing a in all likelihood a superior version I am not going to be able to resist springing for this awesome album.

Damn you Man.

xtcfan80's picture

Many of you probably have heard/purchased the River: The Joni Letters...Great 2007 album of Joni Mitchell tunes that Herbie organized and played on.

Steve Edwards's picture

In the last paragraph, you recommend the 45 version over the 33, stating it "boosts the fidelity magnificently." Is that based on a direct comparison to the new 33 version, or to whatever version you already owned?
Thank you

andrewslattery's picture

I've just picked up the double 45. WOW! What a record! It blows my original Japanese press to pieces!

Steelhead's picture

Damn you Simon,

You sent a payment of $58.85 USD to Acoustic Sounds Inc. (

When can we expect your next review???????

GSN's picture

I can't fathom why humans try so hard to explain, via words, the essence of music that is best heard and felt.

Please, focus your expertise on the art of playback and let HH's music speak for itself. Take my word for it, you have nothing of value to add.

Michael Fremer's picture
You can take my word for it that your comment is useless and it is you who have added nothing of value. If you think music criticism or coverage using words to describe music is useless, find a site that uses sign language or grunts.