Song of the Day: “Rockit” by Herbie Hancock

Today’s Song of the Day is Herbie Hancock’s innovated “Rockit”. This instrumental was written by Herbie Hancock, Bill Laswell and Michael Beinhorn, and the video was created by Godley & Creme. The single was released off of Hancock’s 1983 album, Future Shock – Hancock’s 35th album.

Herbie Hancock is a renown jazz musician who joined Miles Davis’ band in 1963. Davis taught Hancock the importance of experimentation, and about how you can achieve excellent results by letting the people working with you experiment as well. And while jazz purists wanted no part of this electro classic, it created a fresh new sound thanks to the production of Bill Laswell and the turntable work of GrandMixer D.ST, who each got the green light from Hancock to do their thing.

Not only was the song itself innovated, but so was the music video. It features a host of animated mannequins, was one of the most innovative of the era. It was very popular on MTV, winning five video music awards in 1984: Best Art Direction, Best Concept, Best Editing, Best Special Effects, and Most Experimental Video. Along with Michael Jackson and Prince, Hancock was one of the first black artists to get significant airplay on MTV, but he barely appears in the video (he is shown in a few shots of the television sets), which was by design. The video was directed by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, who also make the Police video for “Every Breath You Take.” Their directive was to get Hancock played on MTV, a daunting task considering the network’s reluctance to play black artists. Keeping the artist out of the video was a way to take the race factor out of it, and it worked. In addition to the MTV awards (which were overshadowed by Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” performance at the awards show, BTW), “Rockit” won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance.

A jazz musician in his 40s, Herbie Hancock was an outlier on MTV, where young pop stars were the norm. This song incorporated very modern sounds though, including elements of hip-hop. Combined with the eye-catching video, it fit in surprisingly well on the network.

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