So much has been said about the myths of Jimi Hendrix during his brief but indelible four-year reign. This young cat from Seattle with his two-man army of English boys letting loose with a hell fire of seminal music that has stood the test of time and will still be remembered in the next hundreds of years. What started out as an early career of playing backup for the likes of Same Cooke, Little Richard, and the Isley Brothers, Hendrix soon branched out on a musical odyssey with his two companions, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell. And from there, they would create sounds that were completely unheard in the midst of a time period where bands weren’t capable of doing such a thing. And soon a legacy of world-shaking proportions was birthed with none other than their first studio album, “Are You Experienced?”
The opening track, “Purple Haze,” is what started it all; their first hit single which brought a form of rock and roll that caught everyone completely off guard. It’s one of the most recognizable songs in music history, with one of the most recognizable riffs; it’s the riff that every guitar player learns. And just about anybody who hears that opening tri-tone lick can immediately point out the song; now that’s the stuff of legend right there. And it’s fascinating to think that this opening tune would be the genesis that opened the door to one of the greatest music acts of all time.
From here you have a tailor-made amalgamation of psychedelic fuzz, distortion, and feedback that Hendrix came to be known for. With a track like “Manic Depression,” you can hear the underlying pain in his words while at the same time masking it with an upbeat tempo of jazz-driven drumming and a riff that bounces off the walls of your ears, putting you in an uncomfortable position on whether you should tap your feet or remain in utter disbelief from the way Hendrix attacks the instrument with a screaming guitar solo on top of everything else. And with songs like “Love or Confusion” and “I Don’t Live Today,” the epoch of hallucinogenic rock shines brighter than ever with Hendrixs’ lyrical surrealism of love and anguish combating his swirling, sci-fi amplification; it’s all in the way he manipulates his guitar feedback.
“The Wind Cries Mary” and “May This Be Love” are perfect examples of his way of being somber and intimate with sounds and melodies. These tranquil ballads speak to a whole other level of consciousness. “May This Be Love” is a portrait of Jimi’s relationship with the spiritual aspect of nature, while “The Wind Cries Mary” displays enough woeful and beautiful imagery to make you question your purpose in life through his cynical idealism.
“Fire” is a standout track with a riff that sounds like Wes Montgomery on speed, throwing around sly quips to the women he clearly lusts after like there’s no tomorrow. And speaking of women, of course any Hendrix record couldn’t be complete without that one blues-drenched track sprinkled in primordial raunchiness that is “Foxy Lady.” The electric sexuality can’t be contained on this forceful sucker punch of distorted gyration.
The Blues was something that always connected with Jimi. It could be heard all throughout his playing about 85 percent of the time, and sometimes he would slip it in the most unlikely places. But his roots are stripped down to the bone marrow in “Hey Joe,” a popular rock standard of unknown history; nobody knows who wrote the song, but almost everybody knows about this version. It’s a song about a man who shoots his unfaithful wife and flees to Mexico, and Jimi manages to keep the story interesting in all of its simplicity.
“Third Stone from the Sun” is an interesting take on the surf rock sound; it’s like surf rock meets the last thirty minutes of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Its pleasant melody overlapped with indecipherable poetry and distorted vocals makes this a song a terrifying yet poignant tribute to Dick Dale. And finally the closing song that doesn’t hold back with its psychedelic blues tendencies: “Are You Experienced?” Its commanding riff and drums leads the listener into the battlefield of Jimi’s ever-expanded mind of surrealism that just won’t shake itself from this record. And to make things even more disoriented, he unleashes a backwards guitar solo midway that’s so undeniably mesmerizing, it can’t even be possible that a human being recorded this. It’s no wonder Jimi Hendrix is constantly marveled as being the greatest guitar player of all time; this album is self-explanatory proof.