“You don’t have to be human to use body language”: Herbie Hancock’s award-winning Godley & Creme-directed video for “Rockit”

By on January 8, 2019

“In the ’80s, America re-discovered the body” Night Flight’s Pat Prescott tells us in her introduction to our “Take Off to Body Language” — which originally aired on August 3, 1984 — but Ms. Prescott also says, as fourteen-time Grammy winner and Oscar winner Herbie Hancock‘s “Rockit” video demonstrates: “You don’t have to be human to use body language.”

Watch this vintage “Take Off” episode now on Night Flight Plus.


Well, it’s another New Year, and many of you out there have probably already renewed your gym membership to get your body back into shape.

Meanwhile, some of the rest of us will be heeding the warning from this article that “… three quarters of a million Americans die annually during their first attempt to get back in shape.”

We sure don’t want to be one of those estimated “225,000 out-of-shape Americans” who “collapse and perish within the first three minutes of attempting to start jogging again”!

(Yes, we know it’s the Onion, so what?!)


Released in June of 1983, “Rockit” — a single from Hancock’s Future Shock album (and not “Rock It,” as our chyron says) — was written by Hancock, producer Bill Laswell, and synthesizer/drum machine programmer Michael Beinhorn.

Laswell and Beinhorn were the core members of a band called Material, who — along with sound engineer Martin Bisi — were recording for the French-owned label Celluloid at the time.


“Rockit” was actually constructed at several recording studios on both coasts: In New York City, at RPM studios (on E. 12th Street in the Village) and BC Studios (located in a former factory in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn) and in Los Angeles, at Hancock’s home studio (1260 North Wetherly Drive, just off Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood ) and the legendary El Dlorado Studios (on Hollywood and Vine).

“Rockit” was the first hit song to feature scratching — a technique pioneered by the DJs Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizard Theodore — by Grandmixer DST, who later changed his name to “DXT” in honor of Malcolm X.


The music video was directed by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, who were inspired by cool robotic figures they’d recently seen at an exhibition of kinetic art.

They decided to use them in Hancock’s video, showing robot-like mannequins  — designed by British artist and inventor Jim Whiting —  carrying out menial household tasks in addition to gyrating to the track’s infectious beat.

Hancock only appears on a TV monitor, occasionally mouthing “Go ask your mother,” the track’s only vocals, processed with a Vocoder.


“Rockit” was a career-changing record for Hancock, a popular dance hit in the U.K. and U.S. , topping Billboard‘s Hot Dance Club Play charts, where it lingered for almost a month in the summer of ’83.

Its success marked the beginning of hip-hop as a mainstream musical style, and it was also one of the first videos by a black artist to get played on MTV.


Read more about Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” below.


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Herbie Hancock writes in his memoir Herbie Hancock: Possibilities — written with Lisa Dickey and originally published by Viking Books in 2014 — that the first time he heard record scratching was on a cassette tape given to him by his godson, Krishna Booker, the son of jazz bassist Walter Booker, who he’d asked to make a mixtape of the music he was listening to at the time.

Hancock writes that he doesn’t remember anything else that was on the mixtape besides Malcolm McLaren‘s “Buffalo Gals,” on which McLaren had collaborated with a pair of NY deejays, the World’s Famous Supreme Team.


Later, Hancock listened to a track presented to him by Laswell and Beinhorn in New York, and thought the record scratching sound would go well with what they’d already recorded.

Grandmixer DST was brought on to add scratching, over which Hancock layered in his own keyboard parts.


In February of 1984 — at the 26th Grammy Awards show, held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles — Hancock performed “Rockit” to a visibly-stunned audience (the camera lingered on the mind-blown expressions of Michael Jackson and Brooke Shields, among others).

Hancock jammed on his clavitar, while Grandmixer DST, in an elevated DJ booth behind him, scratched records on his twin Technic 1200s. Onstage, robotic figures in masks and suits performed physics-defying break dancing moves.

Hancock received a thundering standing ovation afterwards, and took home the Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental.


“Rockit” was also nominated for five MTV Video Music Awards that same year at the very first VMAs (Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was nominated for three awards).

The track went on to win five VMAs, including the inaugural Breakthrough Video (called “Experimental Video” at the time), as well as the awards for Best Art Direction, Best Concept, Best Editing and Best Special Effects.

Hancock’s Future Shock album would go on to become to fourth best-selling jazz record in history.


As Ms. Prescott says “New ways of communicating with our bodies developed” in the 1980s.  She adds: “In body language, it’s not the medium, it’s the message that counts.”

Like all of our classic “Take Off“s, this 1984 episode is fully-stocked with music videos from some of the ’80s top acts, including Berlin (“Sex”), Thomas Dolby (“Hyperactive”), Don Felder of the Eagles (“Bad Girl”), ZZ Top (“Legs”), Olivia Newton-John (“Physical”), Miquel Brown (“So Many Men So Little Time”), Dead or Alive (“That’s The Way”), Irene Cara (“What a Feeling”), the Gap Band (“Party Train”), and, of course, Queen‘s “Body Language.”

Watch Night Flight’s “Take Off to Body Language” on Night Flight Plus.


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.