Thursday, March 26, 2009

March 26: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Are You Experienced?"

Artist: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Album: Are You Experienced?
Year: 1967
Label: MCA

Truth be told, the most innovative musicians are the most difficult about whom to write. Many of them were so significant, that their impact has almost become lost, or cliche, over the decades. High atop the list of the most influential musicians in history is the one and only, James Marshall Hendrix. Though his recording career was tragically short, the amount if impact he had in that time is immeasurable. His debut record (with his first band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience), 1967's Are You Experienced? may very well be the greatest debut record in the history of recorded music.

NOTE: The UK and US had VERY different releases of this album. For the sake of writing this, I will be referring to the 1997 MCA re-release, which combines all of the possible 17 songs.

1967 was perhaps, the most important year for rock and roll. The Who were experimenting with The Who Sell Out and The Doors released their debut record. Oh, and some little band released some record called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. However, in just four years, Hendrix eclipsed all of these giants and made himself one of the names most closely associated with rock guitar, and with good reason. His technique and approach to the instrument were like nothing heard before. Taking the psychedelic movement to its fullest, and glossing it over with Ike Turner-inspired feedback and effects, Are You Experienced? marks a critical turning point for rock and roll.

The variety in musical styles found on Are You Experienced? is a testament to how brilliant a songwriter there was in Hendrix. From outright rockers like "Foxy Lady" to gorgeous ballads in "May This Be Love," to as classic blues as you'll find with "Red House," The Jimi Hendrix Experience truly knows no musical boundaries. Songs like "Third Stone From The Sun" showcase everything that it meant to be "psychedelic," and Hendrix's loose, mellow guitar work on the track defines the term "far out." Hendrix's brief, poetic verses on the track also give it a feel like nothing else on Are You Experienced? and a few of the underlying riffs and themes he plays would eventually turn into the base-music for other songs.

When you are playing in a band with a musical giant, it is easy to get "lost in the mix." Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell have perhaps, suffered this fate worse than any other. The fact of the matter is, they are easily one of the finest rhythm sections in rock history. Both infuse their own jazz-based influences, and it provides yet another dynamic to the sound. This background is especially effective on the instrumentals and extended jams throughout Are You Experienced? To hear just how much they contribute to the texture of the record, get a pair of decent headphones, find a quite room, and listen to everything going on in the right channel of the music. Though Hendrix would work with other combination of extremely talented musicians, the chemistry he found with Redding and Mitchell would never be equaled.

Over the years, many people have forgotten that the reason Hendrix had the impact that he did goes far beyond his sensational guitar work. It wasn't solely in the notes he was playing, but how he approached the music, and the ways in which he used the instrument. It is clear throughout Are You Experienced? that Hendrix sees his amplifier to be as much of an instrument as his guitar. The distortion and feedback that he creates pushed well beyond the sounds of what Pete Townsend and Jeff Beck were trying at the time, and this truly ushered in the new era of rock. This is not even mentioning the VOLUME that Hendrix pushed through his amplifier. At the time Are You Experienced? was released, guitars were still a bit of a "backing" instrument, and nobody had ever dared to put a VERY loud guitar on record, let alone at the "front" of the music. There are times on the record when Hendrix's guitar nears distortion from volume, but he either holds the "critical" level, or simply jumps in, full force, and makes the distortion "work."

Similarly, many of Hendrix's most famous riffs and lyrics are found on Are You Experienced? The main musical phrases on "Fire," "Manic Depression," and "Purple Haze" are certainly three of the most instantly recognizable riffs ever recorded. These songs have proved timeless, from "Fox(e)y Lady" appearing in one of the most legendary scenes of the film, Wayne's World, to the infamous "I Can Hear Jimi" argument in the film, White Men Can't Jump. Oh, and for you hip-hop heads, you'll find "the" sample from The Pharcyde's "Passin' Me By" on the title track of this record.

Lyrically, Hendrix muses on unfaithful women in "Hey Joe," questions about drug experimentation with "Stone Free," and thoughts on psychedelic state of mind on "I Don't Live Today." All of the songs found on Are You Experienced? help to serve as further proof about just how limitless this band was when recording. From the somewhat spooky, "...there ain't no life nowhere" to the amusing "...'cause if my baby don't love me know more, I know her sister will..." Hendrix can turn a phrase like few others in history. A personal favorite is also when Hendrix says, almost as an aside, " if you're finished talking, let me get back to my groove..." at the end of the song, "51st Anniversary."

The name "Jimi Hendrix" is now synonymous with exceptional guitar work, as well as rock music itself. From his amazing voice, to his brilliant lyrics, to his peerless guitar work, Jimi Hendrix will forever be a god among gods in the world of music. The fact that he was able to accomplish so much in just four short years of recording is nothing short of stunning (and tragic, if you consider "what could have been"). Though he recorded many albums with many different lineups, his debut record, The Jimi Hendrix Experience's, Are You Experienced? is by far, one of the ten most important records ever recorded and it should be loved, studied, and revered by all.

Standout tracks: "Red House," "The Wind Cries Mary," and "Third Stone From The Sun."

1 comment:

Rockandrollguru said...

A truly phenomenal album. I was actually just listening to it yesterday. Coincidence? I think not.