# 10 – Spanish Castle Magic
This fiery, three minute headache was recorded on the classic 1967 album Axis: Bold As Love. It was one of the few songs off that album to be a regularly performed during their live shows. What makes this song so great is it’s heavily distorted and pulse-pounding riff that fits the mold well with the overlapping jazz piano chords uncomfortably suspended upon Mitch Mitchells’ swinging rhythm and Noel Reddings’ funk-driven bass line. The spacey, kaleidoscopic lyrics were actually inspired by a club called “The Spanish Castle” where Hendrix used to perform at in his earlier years. Plus there’s the added bonus of two lightning fast guitar solos that creates the harmonious effect of elevated blood pressure even after the song fades out. If this song doesn’t make you want to travel with Jimi on his dragonfly, then you probably need your ears checked.
# 9 – Killing Floor
This ungodly, supersonic cover version of Howlin’ Wolf’s blues number is on here for not only its undeniable power and ferocity, but also the impact it had on Jimi’s soon-to-be legacy. One night when Hendrix first arrived in London, he went to see a Cream show and put in a request to get on stage and jam with them. He plugged his guitar into Jack Bruce’s bass amp and ripped into his fast-tempo version of Killing Floor, fulfilling his lifelong dream of jamming with Eric Clapton. The only downside was that he outshines Clapton to the point where he stormed off stage in a fit of rage because of how good Hendrix was. It was at that moment that Clapton realized he had met his match……and the rest was history; the two would go on to be great friends until Hendrix’s untimely death.
# 8 – Third Stone from the Sun
This psychedelic antithesis of surf rock and jazz interpretations was so far ahead of its time, and just so groovy that it simply has to be felt to be believed. It is composed of all of the key elements that Hendrix came to be known for, most notably the distorted feedback and studio wizardry that consisted of heavily manipulated vocals, breezy sound effects, and oracular poetry honey-glazed in his oily smooth voice. Also, look out for a line in the song that pays tribute to surf rock legend Dick Dale.
# 7 – Castles Made of Sand
I decided on this other Axis: Bold As Love tune mainly for its lyrical content, as opposed to its overall sound, which don’t get me wrong, also makes the song. It starts out with a swirling progression that starts out fuzzy until it breaks into those Curtis Mayfield-esque chords that embroiled your attention. Jimi then unfolds with some of the most intricate storytelling of his career; Each verse was an autobiographical account Hendrixs’ childhood that stemmed from his fathers alcoholism, his brother Leon being taken away when he was little, and his parents’ abusive relationship. The context is beautifully masked by crestfallen tales of ironic turn of events that ultimately unfolds into uplifting interpretations of redemption and optimism.
# 6 – Hear My Train-A-Comin’
If there ever was a song that put on display the uninhibited emotion and straight-from-the-hip portrayal of the blues, it would be this song. This was a regular favorite to perform during his live shows, but perhaps the most well-known version is the one that he performed with Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox at the Berkeley Community Theater in 1970. It was subsequently released on his posthumous albums Rainbow Bridge and Blues, and further demonstrates what Hendrix was all about when it came to prolonged solo’s and delicate blues phrasing. On a side note: the version he did at Winterland was some of the best improvisation he ever unleashed on stage.
# 5 – Are You Experienced?
This was the song that really opened the door to Hendrix’s studio manipulation. It’s not enough that you had a droning riff that literally marched to the beat of Mitchells’ military percussion, which by the way was reversed backwards like most of the song. And that of course leads us to what this tune is really all about: the backwards guitar solo in the middle section. The way it fits perfectly over the rhythm and never falls out of key is what puts it in a class all by itself. And what’s great about the guitar solo is that you can play the song backwards and hear how the solo really sounds……and it still fits!
# 4 – 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)
This thirteen minute suite off the classic Electric Ladyland brought out the progressive rock side of Hendrix. Its essence and mystique carries on like three different songs packed into one, with a hodgepodge of all of his guitar tricks and effects that makes this Lost City of Atlantis-like melody a true anti-war anthem of the sea.
# 3 – Voodoo Chile
What initially evolved as an off-the-cuff jam session during the Electric Ladyland sessions with Steve Winwood of Traffic and Blind Faith and Jack Cassady of Jefferson Airplane proved to be anything but. This epic stands as the true testament of the electric blues that took over Jimi from the night he was born, with a lineal expedition through the bloodline of each distinctive blues style. Factor in the funky and slow-burning organ playing that creates a nice balance to Hendrix’s mercurial attack of the axe and you’ve got yourself a jewel-encrusted mountain of soul.
# 2 – Little Wing
One of Hendrix’s most celebrated songs, this little pocketful of sweet serenity was inspired by his Monterey Pop Festival live show. He took every positive vibration he witnessed there and wrote the song in the form of an angelic-like female. Musically, it’s probably his most complex song. He took these R&B inspired chord voicings that mirrored his main influence Curtis Mayfield and structured out a guitar solo that literally takes off like it grew wings itself, and he doused all of this in the warmest tone imaginable; he achieved this tone by plugging his guitar into a Leslie organ speaker. If heaven could cry, this is the sound that would burst through her tear ducts.
# 1 – Machine Gun
This quintessential protest anthem that spoke out against the Vietnam War makes the number one slot here on our list. It was first debuted on Dick Cavett’s show, before becoming a staple in all of the live performances to come. This was around the time Jimi formed the supergroup Band of Gypsys with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, where they put on their most well known live show at The Fillmore East; this would be the basis of their self-titled live album.
This version of Machine Gun is perhaps the most infamous as well as influential. Many would argue that Voodoo Child (A Slight Return) is the definitive guitar song, but I think Machine Gun holds that titled; this song is the encyclopedia of what you can do with an electric guitar. Everything from that haunting riff, those guitar solos, the effects he creates with the guitar to mimic bombs, helicopters, and machine guns going off, all the way to that power in his voice as he preaches the pointlessness of war; and “that note” he unleashes at the four minute mark of the song: breathtaking.This is quite possibly, in my opinion, the greatest song Jimi Hendrix ever made.