Best Hendrix Album? The Jimi Hendrix Album Match Up

January 23, 2019

 

Are You Experienced

 

It’s virtually impossible to overestimate the importance of Are You Experienced in rock n roll history.  Hendrix’s debut album was a game-changer for rock guitarists, a mind-blowing collection of songs that defined the Summer of Love in psychedelic sonic perfection. Released on May 12, 1967, the album was met with immediate commercial success and critical acclaim.  Having taken 5 months to complete, it features Hendrix’s groundbreaking approach to guitar playing and songwriting as well as laying the foundation for Psychedelic music and hard rock.  It was the quintessential album to define all rock guitar heroes both past, present and future.

 

In 2005, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Are You Experienced at number 15 on their list of ‘The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time’. The album sold more than one million copies within seven months of its release.

Songs from the album including Purple Haze, Foxy Lady, Hey Joe, and The Wind Cries Mary also placed in the Rolling Stone Magazine of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In a 1967 interview Hendrix discusses Purple Haze, “I dream a lot and I put my dreams down as songs. I wrote one called First Look Around the Corner and another called The Purple Haze, which was about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.”

 

Are You Experienced, named the greatest guitar album of all time by Mojo Magazine, was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry, which selects recordings annually that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

 

 

Axis: Bold As Love

 

Jimi’s sophomore effort was released on December 1, 1967 in order to fulfill a contractual obligation of having to deliver a second album by the year’s end. With Axis: Bold as Love, Hendrix further explored the outer limits of psychedelic music. But where their debut album explored the territory via rock and blues, Axis: Bold as Love incorporated sounds from all over the stratosphere: jazz, lounge, pop, R&B, outer space. It’s Hendrix’s most complex album and the middle chapter of his trilogy of studio LPs.  It’s a revolutionary record, being both Hendrix’s most focused and scattered.

 

There are some incredible songs on Axis: Spanish Castle Magic, If 6 Was 9, Castles Made of Sand, Bold As Love and especially the ballad Little Wing.  But Axis: Bold as Love is less about a collection of songs like its predecessor and more about a general mood, theme and tone built on pushing the limits of psychedelic sounds and recording techniques. 

 

According to Colin Larkin, Axis focused less on guitar playing than the previous Experience album, and more on Hendrix's "gifts as a songwriter". Reviewing Axis in 1968 for Rolling Stone, Jim Miller hailed it as "the refinement of white noise into psychedelia ... the finest voodoo album that any rock group has produced to date."

 

Axis: Bold As Love charted number 3 in the US and number 5 in the UK. The album also peaked at number 6 on the Billboard R&B chart.

 

Electric Ladyland

 

Electric Ladyland, the third and final studio album by Jimi Hendrix, was released on October 16, 1968. The 76 minute-long double album is a psychedelic journey through the blues, British Pop, Bob Dylan and everything in between. Hendrix had ambitious plans to push beyond the innovations of his first two recordings. To achieve this, Jimi labored for 13 months and severed ties with producer Chas Chandler.  It would be Jimi’s first self-produced record and his first and only No. 1 album on the Billboard 200. It would also prove to be the last studio record he would release prior to his death at age 27 in 1970.

 

"The album was precisely what Jimi had in his head," reveals his longtime engineer Eddie Kramer. "You look at all the drawings and the way he laid out the way the whole album was supposed to be, the running order of the songs. He was very specific in how he wanted Electric Ladyland to look. He wanted it to be a representation of who he was at that moment in time."

 

The 16-track album is loaded with highlights, ranging from the psychedelic soul of Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland) and the blazing rock of Crosstown Traffic to the funky gutbucket blues-inspired Rainy Day, Dream Away, and the spacey, nearly 14-minute jam called 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be).  All the songs are Hendrix originals except for Earl King’s Come On (Let the Good Times Roll), Noel Redding’s Little Miss Strange, and Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, which became Hendrix’s biggest hit single.

 

In their review of Electric Ladyland the BBC writes, “Unfortunately this was to be his last completed studio effort before both business and pleasure took their toll, but Electric Ladyland remains his crowning achievement.”

 

Band Of Gypsys

 

Band of Gypsys is the first album Hendrix recorded without his original group, the Jimi Hendrix Experience.  In order to resolve a legal battle regarding a contract he had signed in 1965 with producer Ed Chalpin, Hendrix was forced to deliver an album to Capital Records. Hendrix and his management decided, he would meet his obligation to Capitol by recording a live album at New York’s Fillmore East. The Band of Gypsys would play two shows on New Year’s Eve and two more on New Year’s Day 1970.

 

The resulting album, released on March 25, 1970, featured eight tracks, and offered a turn away from the psychedelic song craft that had characterized Are You Experienced and Electric Ladyland.  Featuring Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums, the album mixes funk and rhythm and blues elements with hard rock and jamming, an approach which later became the basis of funk rock. 

 

Many of these songs represent a change in Hendrix's music from his Experience repertoire. Biographer and later Hendrix producer John McDermott elaborates in the book Hendrix: Setting the Record Straight:

Hendrix's new songs made clear the emerging shifts in his musical direction. The titles alone— Message to Love, Power of Soul, Earth Blues, Burning Desire —suggest a change in theme. Jimi's playful humor ... had been replaced with a strident sense of self-examination. In addition, Cox and Miles spurred Jimi's embrace of the R&B tradition they shared [and] merged rock and funk with unparalleled ease.

 

According to Sean Westergaard of AllMusic, Band of Gypsys is one of the best live albums of all time and an important recording for Hendrix, who played with a remarkable degree of focus and precision on what were "perhaps his finest [live] performances."

 

This was the last full-length album Hendrix released before his death on September 18, 1970. Shortly after its release, it appeared on the US and UK top 10 charts as well as appearing in charts in several other countries.

 

Anthony's Commentary

 

What is the best Hendrix album?  This is such an interesting subject because a compelling case could be made for each of his magnificent releases.  Before I get there, I feel like I need to take a moment to discuss just how mulit-dimensional Hendrix was and remains today.

 

There are many sides to Hendrix that make him truly an amazing artist.  His groundbreaking guitar playing and wild stage performances seem to be what most people gravitate to.   But this is only a small part of Hendrix's greatness.  Guitar pyrotechnics aside, Jimi Hendrix was an incredible lyricist.  Have you taken the time to read his lyrics?  They are poetry and express in words what he does with his guitar.  Then, you have his songwriting.  This man wrote hit songs!  And, he was able to interpret songs by other artists and put his own indelible stamp on them.

 

In short, Hendrix was able to take a catchy song, write poetic lyrics and play mind blowing guitar within the confines of a pop song.  He was able to take some outside ideas, lyrically and musically, and make them accessible to the mainstream.  This is tremendous.  There is also the improvisational side to Jimi.  He was equally comfortable playing a 3 minute radio hit song as he was performing an extended jam.  Not everyone can do this and certainly not as well as Jimi.  Hendrix also had a huge range.  He could be fierce in songs like Voodoo Chile or Manic Depression or he could be delicate in Little Wing or Wind Cries Mary.  Also,  Jimi was equally an incredible rhythm guitarist as he was a soloist.

 

Another over-looked aspect of Hendrix is his voice.  He never liked his voice and he isn't a powerhouse vocalist in the way Otis Redding was.  Having said this, Jimi has such a rhythmic and unique singing voice.  Instantly recognizable and a perfect complement to his music.

 

Lastly, I would like to discuss how Jimi not only transcended musical genres but he also transcended race. He stands out as being a left-handed African-American in a sea of British right handed guitar gods.  But I feel like Hendrix was bigger than any one race or any planet for that matter.   He was a child of the universe. He combined Muddy Waters with Bob Dylan and shot it to Saturn.  I think people overlook his Cherokee roots.  To me the intro to Voodoo Chile has roots that come from Native American origins.  Jimi's philosophy and ways of looking at the world in spiritual terms also resonates with those roots.  When I hear a Hendrix interview, I am reminded just how deeply profound this man was.  He was beyond his years in so many ways.

 

Ok, now let's get to the best Hendrix album.

 

I wanted to discuss all of the sides of Hendrix because I think each of his albums showcase different aspects of his greatness.  Are You Experienced? is a very upbeat album with many of his signature songs.  It is a perfectly crafted album in that regard.  Purple Haze, Fire, Foxy Lady, Wind Cries Mary, Red House and Manic Depression.  Damn!  That's a hit machine.  Great songs, great lyrics, passionate performances and a groundbreaking sound.  Let's not forget the amazing album cover artwork.  Pure Psychedelic Rock Perfection.

 

Axis: Bold As Love is an intense album but in a much more subdued manner.  The hip word would be chill.  The album has arguably some of the best Hendrix lyrics and rhythm guitar playing.  It is also his album that is most wide reaching in terms of style and influences.  It continues the precedent set by his debut release of incredible album artwork.  Spanish Castle Magic is one of my all time favs!  I love this album.

 

Electric Ladyland is represents a major shift for Hendrix.  His producer, Chas Chandler, was very focused on keeping songs arranged for radio and hit potential.   For instance, Purple Haze had over a thousand words long and Chas helped him put his ideas together.  On Ladyland, I still feel Chas's influence but Jimi was able to extend his songs and showcase his guitar even more.  The solo on All Along The Watchtower remains one of the finest crafted solos of all time.  The lyrics were not as profound and introspective as this previous releases but they were still incredible.  The album artwork did not match up to the greatness of his previous efforts,  In the end, Electric Ladyland is my choice for best Hendrix album because it marries the songwriting hit machine with the extended jams and improvisation.  For me, it is the best overall snapshot of who Hendrix was.

 

Band of Gypsys showcases another side of Hendrix.  His band is heavy,  funky and playing a thick pocket.  This album has less to do with hit songs and great vocals and melodies.  It is a very spiritual hard hitting groove album. It's almost like Hendrix re-defined the guitar all over again.  Just listen to Machine Gun and you will hear his brilliance.  This is the album that I love to crank and jam along with.

 

The Winner Is...

 

The Fans Pick is Are You Experienced?

 

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