Herbie Hancock’s Joyous Soundtrack for the Original Fat Albert TV Special (1969)

Mil­lions of kids grew up with the groovy yet edu­ca­tion­al car­toon com­e­dy of Fat Albert, and mil­lions of adults may find it dif­fi­cult or impos­si­ble now to watch the show with­out think­ing of the crimes of its cre­ator. Such is life in the 21st cen­tu­ry, but so it was too at the end of the 1960s when the first iter­a­tion of Fat Albert debuted. There were plen­ty of rea­sons to feel ter­ri­ble about the cul­ture. Yet the music that came out of the var­i­ous jazz/funk/fusion/soul scenes seemed like it couldn’t let any­one feel too bad for long.

In 1969, Her­bie Han­cock had just been let go from the Miles Davis quin­tet and left his­toric Blue Note. Dur­ing this piv­otal time, he signed on to com­pose the sound­track for the TV spe­cial Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert, the pre­cur­sor to the episod­ic car­toon Fat Albert and the Cos­by Kids, which ran from 1972 to 1985 and taught seri­ous eth­i­cal lessons about such sub­jects as kind­ness, respect, steal­ing, drugs, scams, kid­nap­ping, smok­ing, racism, and more with orig­i­nal songs.

The lat­er show’s unfor­get­table theme song (“na, na, na, gonna have a good time!”) was not penned by Han­cock, nor were any of its oth­er tunes. Only the orig­i­nal spe­cial used his music, which is maybe why the sound­track is not bet­ter known, as well it should be. “It’s a deeply soul­ful affair,” writes Boing Boing, “that pre­saged Hancock’s 1973 jazz-funk clas­sic Head Hunters.” The album, Fat Album Rotun­da, had gone out of print, but has now been reis­sued on the label Antarc­ti­ca Starts Here.

After lis­ten­ing to the tracks (hear sam­ples above and below), you might find it dif­fi­cult to resist buy­ing a copy. Whether or not you still enjoy the car­toon, the incred­i­ble grooves here evoke much more than its ado­les­cent char­ac­ters and their junk­yard mishaps. This is such an expan­sive, joy­ous album, one “in which Han­cock,” Supe­ri­or Viaduct writes, “clear­ly had a great time.” So too did the rest of the band, “which by the time of record­ing in late 1969 was both razor-sharp and con­fi­dent­ly loose from rehears­ing and tour­ing.”

The band includ­ed three horn play­ers, “Joe Hen­der­son on sax and flute, Gar­nett Brown on trom­bone and John­ny Coles on trum­pet and flugel­horn.” Hancock’s solos run flu­id­ly through each song, held in place by the rock-sol­id swing of Albert Heath’s drums. The com­po­si­tions are com­plex and catchy, with lilt­ing melodies, mean hooks, and big refrains.

The album is instant­ly clas­sic, whether you heard it fifty years ago or just now for the first time. Warn­er Broth­ers agreed, and gave Han­cock and his band a deal on the strength of the album. So did Quin­cy Jones, who record­ed his own ver­sion of the track “Tell Me a Bed­time Sto­ry,” a mel­low, dynam­ic slow burn that builds to some of the finest Fend­er Rhodes play­ing Han­cock put to tape. Fat Albert Rotun­da was hard­ly his first or his last sound­track album, but while it has fall­en into obscu­ri­ty, it should rank as one of his best.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Her­bie Han­cock Explains the Big Les­son He Learned From Miles Davis: Every Mis­take in Music, as in Life, Is an Oppor­tu­ni­ty

Mis­ter Rogers, Sesame Street & Jim Hen­son Intro­duce Kids to the Syn­the­siz­er with the Help of Her­bie Han­cock, Thomas Dol­by & Bruce Haack

How Inno­v­a­tive Jazz Pianist Vince Guaral­di Became the Com­pos­er of Beloved Char­lie Brown Music

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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