Legendary composer, producer, and performer Herbie Hancock, winner of fourteen Grammy Awards, has been an integral pianist and innovator in jazz music for more than half a century. From performing piano concertos with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as a child, to winning Album of the Year with a jazz album (first time in 43 years), Hancock has done it all.
“Chameleon” is the first track on the 1973 album, Head Hunters, the first platinum-selling (more than one million copies) jazz record. Its groundbreaking sounds attracted listeners at a faster pace than others in the genre, selling 500,000 units in under six months. It had taken Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew six years to sell as many copies. Kind of Blue took thirty-four.
The album stretched what many had considered jazz music to form a fusion with other musical styles. Hancock speaks of expanding his musical influences:
"At a certain point, I became a kind of musician that has tunnel vision about jazz. I only listened to jazz and classical music. But then, when I noticed that Miles Davis was listening to everything—I mean, he had albums of Jimi Hendrix, he had Beatles records, he had Rolling Stones, James Brown—I started to re-examine this kind of closed attitude that I had."
Key to the song’s crossover genre, and the driving element of the song, “Chameleon,” is the prominent bassline. Where it might sound like it’s being performed on an electric bass guitar, the recording is actually performed by two synthesizers. The bass guitar enters as the next musical line, itself sounding like an electric guitar, as it’s played in the bass’ high register.
Head Hunters was selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved for its musical and cultural importance.