Blast from the Past: Herbie Hancock “Sunlight”

I have had a limited amount of knowledge about this album for a year or two, starting with the surreal portrait of a cheesed-out Herbie Hancock on the cover, complete with darting collars and no undershirt. This alone is enticing enough for me. However, the title track on this album, “I Thought It Was You”, is what really brought me in. This bumping track, along with the rest of the record, features some of the only vocals that Herbie Hancock ever did on a record, and they are masked by a vocoder that makes it feel like a lost Daft Punk record at times.

That is exactly what makes it so strange. If you forgot everything and listened, many parts of this album could have come directly off of Discovery, and this is the strange sort of paradox that we face as we are reminded by Q-Tip that music goes in cycles, and maybe two people from totally different worlds can create two things that aren’t so different after all in two to six minutes.

There is famous footage from this era of Hancock with his collection of moogs, synths, and keyboards, which he displays on the back of the album in good style.

A strange thing to note is that Jaco Pastorius plays bass on this album, giving it an added infusion of hard-driving funk. Wah Wah Watson and Tony Williams play on this record as well, making it some kind of accidental superstar funk project.

The vocoder is all consuming, and for some listeners it may detract from other elements of the record. I personally think it is what makes Sunlight so unique.

The album was meant to push Hancock toward a more mainstream following, but outside of a lukewarm U.K. reception, this album was largely overlooked. It is among a string of Herbie’s albums that either hit (Future Shock) or missed (Sound-System)

This is not Herbie Hancock’s greatest record. It is not even close. Records like Head Hunters, Maiden Voyage, and Thrust are near and dear to me. But this is a notable, and inexplicably enjoyable, milestone in the career of a great.

If you want something strange to dance to, pop on “Sunlight” and let that sweet vocoder take you away.

Standout Tracks:

  • “I Thought It Was You”
  • “Sunlight”
  • “Good Question”

By Jacob Newman