Having given my brutally honest opinions on the Stones and the Beatles in my LP face off battles over the last couple of days, I thought I would tackle another sacred cow today – Mr Hendrix.
I answer to no-one in my adoration of the man. Yet, I tend to listen to individual songs more than the albums. And (like the Stones and Beatles albums I have spoken about) I tend to get mixed up with the Experience’s first two albums, which tracks are on each. So in what is now a time honoured tradition, let’s listen through and I’ll rate each song as I hear it!
A ground rule/disclaimer first. Hendrix is just the best electric guitarist out there. Certainly from ’66 to ’68 he was anyway. Every guitar note played on each of these two albums just drips style and soul. So let’s just assume that as an accepted truth – I won’t comment too much on his guitar playing except where appropriate. Just recognise that the standards I judge him on are different to your average 60s pop guitarist.
Plus I consider The Experience to be a superior power trio than Cream. Probably not a popular opinion, but there you go. I think Mitch Mitchell can swing in a way Ginger Baker just can’t quite manage.
Are You Experienced? (1967)
A1 – * Foxey Lady – A blunt instrument of a song, but effective – 8/10
A2 – * Manic Depression – Always loved the way this one swings – 9/10
A3 – Red House – I have to be in the mood to listen to this… it’s a decent slow blues, just not my usual cup of tea – 6/10
A4 – Can You See Me – Chugs along nicely, but forgettable – 4/10
A5 – Love or Confusion – We are into interstellar territory here, signalled by the feedback and the echoey vocal. The song is inconsequential (apart from a couple of nice riffs) but the band make such a beautiful sound together – 8/10
A6 – * I Don’t Live Today – What an intro! I loved that crunchy, syncopated thing with the drums doing some kind of off-beat rhythm. Then it’s off to outer space again for the solos. 8/10.
B1 – May This Be Love – He doesn’t quite manage to pull off the sensitivity of this tune. Plus it sounds unfinished. Not great. 3/10
B2 – * Fire – Kicks like a mule! A song built from the riff up, which is no bad thing. 9/10
B3 – * Third Stone From The Sun – Showing my colours here, but this is just right up my street. Floaty, space age hippy nonsense… cosmic jazz… whispered stoned gibberish lyrics… just my cup of tea. 9/10
B4 – Remember – Bit of a filler track this – 3/10
B5 – * Are You Experienced? – The band finally go all out psychedelic and try their best to create their own Tomorrow Never Knows. (It strikes me now how similar the sound is on this track to Revolver – those kind of chiming, swirling guitars). A great deal of psychedelic music can be formless, but this is tight. The throbbing backwards piano note through the whole song is a genius touch. And Hendrix playing a backwards guitar solo sounds just as good as a “normal” solo. This song is one of the reasons I love 1967, and a great closer for the album. 10/10
– Cosmic masterpieces (songs with a ten score) – 1/11 (9%)
– Songs I would listen to outside the context of the album (songs with a * next to them) – 6/11 (5%)
– Overall rating for all songs combined – 77/110 (70%)
A surprisingly high score there. This album is a stunning debut, a relentless box of tricks that showcases all the moves Jimi and the boys can muster at this point. The slightly weak songwriting is obscured by the overall energy and consistency. A glorious little package.
Axis: Bold as Love (1967)
A1 – EXP – Complete stoned gubbins. A “comedy” skit. A shame, because the score for this track will bring down the overall score for the album. 1/10
A2 – Up From The Skies – I don’t like Hendrix’s cocktail jazz excursions. Is this his first use of a wah-wah pedal? A shame if so. 2/10
A3 – * Spanish Castle Magic – That’s more like it! A worthy addition to his concert repertoire – stomping, gritty power pop. 9/10
A4 – Wait Until Tomorrow – After a wonderful little bubbly intro, the song itself is a bit weak. You can see the band are experimenting here, trying out a lighter, more sophisticated style. For me, it doesn’t quite work, and shows up Jimi’s limitations as a songwriter. 4/10
A5 – Ain’t No Telling – This is the JHE on autopilot, recycling bluesy riffs for no purpose. 3/10.
A6 – * Little Wing – The spindly intro is rightfully lauded by wannabe guitarists as a thing of wonder and a standard to aim for. In those 20 seconds you can hear Hendrix laying the seed for everything from Curtis Mayfield to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And, gloriously, the song is good enough to live up to it. Jimi finally channels his sensitive side in a compelling way, and the addition of a xylophone (or whatever it is – maybe a glockenspiel?) is a stroke of production genius. 10/10
A7 – * If 6 was 9 – This was the first Hendrix track I ever heard (on the Easy Rider soundtrack), so maybe I’m biased. But it blew me away then and has lost none of its power now. It’s a really chunky, compressed sound, and the bizarre finger-wagging “turned on” lyrics (“if all the hippies cut off their heads”, “white collar conservative…. poking his plastic finger at me”) manage to be thrilling rather than off-putting. Even listening to it now in my late forties I feel like I want to stick it to The Man. The rhythm is gloriously all over the place, as the band repeatedly go off to the far reaches of the galaxy and back again. It doesn’t get better than this. 10/10
B1 – You Got Me Floating – We are back into autopilot territory here. Some nice backward guitar, but not enough to save it from blandness. 3/10
B2 – Castles Made of Sand – Jimi reaches again for the flighty softness of Little Wing and doesn’t quite manage it … but it’s a decent effort. More backwards guitar? Lots of that on this album. 8/10
B3 – She’s So Fine – Ah, Noel, Noel, Noel. A brave effort at songwriting, but this just sounds like any number of identikit psychedelic pop songs that came out in this period. Not good enough for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, I’m afraid. 1/10
B4 – One Rainy Wish – The intro reveals the band have probably been listening to A Love Supreme. The floaty sensitive verses give way to a muscular chorus that looks forward to stuff like 1983 (A Merman I Should Be)… but he’s not quite there yet. 6/10
B5 – Little Miss Lover – The opening stomp of a breakbeat means I can forgive this song a lot. Yeah, it’s formulaic Jimi, but a cut above his usual stuff. 8/10
B6 – Bold As Love – A lovely outro with flange effects, but not enough to save a wisp of a song. A shame, because the playing is beautiful throughout. 4/10
– Cosmic masterpieces (songs with a ten score) – 2/13 (15%)
– Songs I would listen to outside the context of the album (songs with a * next to them) – 3/13 (23%)
– Overall rating for all songs combined – 69/130 (53%)
Well, it’s a patchy album. Who knew? The twin bullseye of Little Wing/ If Six Was Nine obscure the fact that for the majority of this album Jimi is over-reaching as a songwriter. He might have been better to fill it out with more covers instead (and veto Noel’s effort). Clearly what Jimi is striving for is Electric Ladyland, but that will have to wait a few months longer….
I don’t think even the staunchest Hendrix defender would argue that he struggled as an album artist and that that the first two albums don’t have their weak moments. It’s very clear that throughout this period Jimi was firing off on a load of cylinders simultaneously, and didn’t know whether he wanted to be John Lennon, John Lee Hooker or Syd Barrett. That sense of chaos makes the first album a glorious ride and the second album a tad inconsistent.
Still, sonically I don’t think any other band has quite matched the Jimi Hendrix Experience for the sheer interplanetary joy they managed to spread across these two albums. They remain an astonishing behemoth of an act and no one else ever sounded quite the same.
My top fantasy gig would have been to see Hendrix in his prime.