Arguably one of the most creatively dynamic, musically mould-breaking, and multi-genre influencing debut rock albums of all time. I bought my LP copy when I was about 15 or 16 from the much-loved and much-missed Andy’s Records in Norwich. My slice of vinyl is the 1980 German stereo reissue of the UK release. Not to be confused with the later US release which has a different track-listing, including Purple Haze, Hey Joe and The Wind Cries Mary which were single releases that took far longer to reach a fanbase in the US than the UK. The Brits were crazy for this weird beatnik guitar demon.
Nothing beats the feel of the drop of the needle and the rippling vibrato intro of Foxy Lady (without the ‘e’ please, why would anyone want to spell it this way?) before that sexy guitar riff kicks in. Complete with Mitchell and Redding’s rhythm, assault and battery on the drums and bass, it gets the blood moving as much now as when it was released in 1967.
From the heights of Foxy Lady, Hendrix’s guitar drops into the grungy depths of Manic Depression. His vocal on this: “manic depression is touching my soul, I know what I want but I just don’t know how to go about getting it” blew the lid off my angst-ridden teenage brain. This is followed by Red House, which showcases his confidence with traditional blues formats, albeit with molten guitar licks and his humour-laden vocals. I fell in love with it, and became particularly obsessed with the slower longer version that features on the live album Hendrix In the West. It’s intro was one of the first things I tried to teach myself on my guitar.
Can You See Me is the most conventional late-60s pop song on the album, but there’s nothing conventional about the workout Mitch gives his drum kit. Love or Confusion sees Hendrix experiment with vocals as well as guitar, giving it an otherworldly vibe with the echo. But just listen to the guitar line alone, its not one of his most celebrated tracks, but his guitar playing is hyperactive, it’s out of control, on a trajectory to another planet. I Don’t Live Today is the closing freakout for side one. “Oh there ain’t no life nowhere” Jimi sighs as the track fades out, and you believe him.
The second side starts with a different feel altogether: waterfalls and rainbows and hippie goings on in May This Be Love. It’s a lovely melodic ballad, of which Jimi wrote many, and it sounds like much closer to the smoothness of The Experience’s second album Axis: Bold as Love, than the rough and tumble of the debut.
This is followed by Fire which is a pure funking rock and roll song, with another storming supporting soundscape created by Noel and Mitch. But nothing of what we’ve heard so far prepares us for what comes next, the longest track on the album at nearly 7 minutes, a psychedelic prog-jazz-rockout in the shape of the Third Stone From the Sun. I love the tribal drumming and Noel’s steady light-fingered high-melodic lines in the bass. While Hendrix soars, swoops, divebombs and crashes his guitar with all manner of manual effects and finger-lickin’ goodness. You can hear its influence on George Clinton and the AfroFuturism movement.
This track would be a hard act to follow in any context and on the record it’s followed by Remember, quite possibly Hendrix’s most uninspiring song, but its still Hendrix and even if he wasn’t playing the guitar and reading the telephone directory it would sound interesting coming out of his mouth. This is followed by the grand finale Are You Experienced? (the song has a question mark but the album doesn’t) which is a full-on trip with backwards and forwards guitar wizardry – distortion, feedback, loops, choppy chords cut up with the wah way pedal – it’s a tour de force.
After this incredible debut, Hendrix died only 3 years later at the tender age of 27. The pace at which he developed and creatively pushed himself in that short time was phenonmenal. Full of raw energy, his debut, the ‘psychedelic freaky-pop album’ also contains elements that were to feature further in his next two: the gently caressed guitar melodies and lyrically lovely ballads of Axis: Bold As Love, and the sheer joy of experimentation itself, in the studio as well as on the guitar, on his third and final self-produced double album, Electric Ladyland, the rock guitar equivalent of Bitches Brew. Except it came first. Jimi Hendrix – The King is Dead, Long Live the King.
Best Bits: “Have you ever been experienced? Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful.”
Genre: Guitar God Genius
Like This, Try This: There have been several bands to attempt a cover of Are You Experienced? This (imho) is the best. There’s no other artist alive who has the vocal power, presence and rightful claim to sing this, than Patti Smith. Here she is singing it only a few weeks ago.