The Prisoner (album)

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The Prisoner
The Prisoner (album).jpg
Studio album by
RecordedApril 18, 21 & 23, 1969
StudioVan Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs
Length41:11 original LP
LabelBlue Note
BST 84321
ProducerDuke Pearson
Herbie Hancock chronology
Speak Like a Child
The Prisoner
Fat Albert Rotunda
Professional ratings
Review scores
Allmusic3/5 stars[1]
The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide4/5 stars[2]

The Prisoner is the seventh Herbie Hancock album, his final on the Blue Note label, released and recorded in 1969. His next record would be on Warner Bros. Records. It is dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King. Hancock suggested in 1969 that he had been able to get closer to his real self with this album than on any other previous.[3] Hancock praised flute player Hubert Laws on the album, suggesting that Laws was one of the finest flute players in classical or jazz music.


Like his ambitious Speak Like a Child, The Prisoner purports to stand as a "social statement written in music". The title track seeks to express "how black people have been imprisoned for a long time." The piece was first heard live in 1968, during a performance at the University of California Jazz Festival. "Firewater" represents 'the social duality of the oppressor and the oppressed: the fire symbolises the heat in violence and (abuse of) power, whilst the feeling of water recalls Martin Luther King. "He Who Lives in Fear" also alludes to King, since he "had to live in an atmosphere charged with intimidation". (Disappointingly, perhaps, given the ambitions Herbie seems to have expressed for the tune, an early arrangement was used as a jingle for a Silva Thins cigarette TV commercial.) Continuing the album's apparent theme, the "Promise of the Sun" symbolises "how the sun promises life and freedom to all living things, and yet blacks are not yet free."[3]

Track listing[edit]

All compositions by Herbie Hancock, except where noted.

  1. "I Have a Dream" – 10:58
  2. "The Prisoner" – 7:57
  3. "Firewater" (Buster Williams) – 7:33
  4. "He Who Lives in Fear" – 6:51
  5. "Promise of the Sun" – 7:52

Bonus tracks on CD reissue

  1. "The Prisoner" [Alternate Take] – 5:47
  2. "Firewater" [Alternate Take] – 8:38

Recorded on April 18 (#2, 4, 6), April 21 (#1) and April 23 (#3, 5, 7), 1969.



  1. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2011). "The Prisoner - Herbie Hancock | AllMusic". Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  2. ^ Swenson, J., ed. (1985). The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide. USA: Random House/Rolling Stone. p. 93. ISBN 0-394-72643-X.
  3. ^ a b Original liner notes by Herb Wong