From Head Hunters (1973) To Secrets (1976)See also: Head Hunters
After the sometimes "airy" and decidedly experimental "Mwandishi" albums, Hancock was eager to perform more "earthy" and "funky" music. The Mwandishi albums – though these days seen as respected early fusion recordings – had seen mixed reviews and poor sales, so it is probable, that Hancock was motivated by financial concerns as well as artistic restlessness. Hancock was also bothered by the fact, that many people did not understand avant-garde music. He explained, that he loved funk music, especially Sly Stone's music, so he wanted to try to make funk himself.
He gathered a new band, which he called The Headhunters, keeping only Maupin from the sextet and adding bassist Paul Jackson, percussionist Bill Summers, and drummer Harvey Mason. The album Head Hunters, released in 1973, was a major hit and crossed over to pop audiences, though it prompted criticism from some jazz fans. Head Hunters was recorded at Different Fur studios.
Despite charges of "selling out", Stephen Erlewine of Allmusic positively reviewed the album among other friendly critics, saying, "Head Hunters still sounds fresh and vital three decades after its initial release, and its genre-bending proved vastly influential on not only jazz, but funk, soul, and hip-hop."
Drummer Mason was replaced by Mike Clark, and the band released a second album, Thrust, the following year 1974. (A live album from a Japan performance, consisting of compositions from those first two Head Hunters releases was released in 1975 as Flood. The record has since been released on CD in Japan.) This was almost as well received as its predecessor, if not attaining the same level of commercial success. The Headhunters made another successful album called Survival of the Fittest in 1975 without Hancock, while Hancock himself started to make even more commercial albums, often featuring members of the band, but no longer billed as The Headhunters. The Headhunters reunited with Hancock in 1998 for Return of the Headhunters, and a version of the band (featuring Jackson and Clark) continues to play live and record.
In 1973, Hancock composed his second masterful soundtrack to the controversial film The Spook Who Sat By The Door. Then in 1974, he also composed the soundtrack to the first Death Wish film. One of his memorable songs, "Joanna's Theme", would later be re-recorded in 1997 on his duet album with Wayne Shorter 1 + 1.
Hancock's next jazz-funk albums of the 1970s were Man-Child (1975), and Secrets (1976), which point toward the more commercial direction Hancock would take over the next decade. These albums feature the members of the 'Headhunters' band, but also a variety of other musicians in important roles.
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