The album pick this week is one of rock’s immortal records. It is such a piece of history and lore that the album is almost beyond discussion. It is one of music’s best and most important debut albums and it redefined what could be accomplished on the guitar.
Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced
Released May 12, 1967 via Track Records (Reprise US)
My Favorite Tracks – Hey Joe, Purple Haze, Fire
Getting into this record does involve choosing a version – the original UK release had different songs than the US version. Today there are expanded reissues with 17 songs (on CD, though can also be found on vinyl) that bridge the gap between the two original versions. In order to keep things concise I will be going over the original North American release with 11 songs. I can’t leave off Purple Haze, Hey Joe or The Wind Cries Mary, which were not on the UK album. I’ll run through the reissue’s other tracks quickly toward the end.
Here’s the Cliffnotes version of the Jimi Hendrix story for anyone maybe unfamiliar – he toiled as a side player in R&B bands for years, then got noticed in New York nightclubs. He eventually got a manager in the form of Animals bassist Chas Chandler, who decided to give Hendrix total creative control and simply form a band around him. The Jimi Hendrix Experience would be Noel Redding on bass, Mitch Mitchell on drums and, of course, Jimi Hendrix with guitar and vocals. They got in the studio and this album happened. And since then, the name Jimi Hendrix is synonymous with the guitar and is a giant among men in music.
Our version opens with what would become one of Hendrix’s signature songs. It is a showcase for his unique guitar talent as he unleashes a psychedelic trip through six strings. I don’t think anyone was playing guitar like this before it, but everyone was trying to after it. The song gives the vibe of an acid trip, though Hendrix denied that being an influence. Music really doesn’t get better than this and we’re just getting started.
It’s off into a quick-paced jazzy number that keeps the beat going and retains the psychedelic vibe. The song was not about the clinical condition but rather simply being hung up on a woman, according to Hendrix. Jimi’s solo on this song is just insane. While rock music was obviously around before this, listening to this illustrates the shape of rock music to come.
A song originally composed by Billy Roberts, a folk musician, the song was covered by legions of people and involved multiple legal disputes. Chas Chandler had been looking for someone to do a rock version of the song even before managing Hendrix. Once he and Jimi got together, this became the first single released by the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The song is a murder ballad, telling the tale of a spurned lover who is off to shoot his old lady down and then run off to Mexico. This plotline was the basis for roughly 36% of songs back in the 1960’s, I think. Hendrix keeps up the guitar theatrics even on this more subdued tune.
Hey Joe was also the final song played at Woodstock. Hendrix closed his set with it at roughly 11 AM on Monday, August 18th, 1969.
Love Or Confusion
It’s jazz odyssey time for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The song goes nuts with the riffs and the trippy vibes. It’s not one of the more celebrated tracks from the album but it’s still a nice tune under the radar.
May This Be Love
100% a 60’s song, this is a psychedelic number that is a product of its time. Hendrix isn’t changing the game on this song, which given his abilities makes this feel like a secondary song. Still a nice effort that does fit atmosphere-wise on the record.
I Don’t Live Today
A hard rock attack before hard rock was really a thing, one might even call out shades of heavy metal here. The song doesn’t go much of anywhere lyrically but the music does the talking. There’s a bit of fade out and then back in action in the last minute.
The Wind Cries Mary
It’s ballad time and Jimi Hendrix knocks this one out of the park. The words were based on relationships present and prior for Hendrix and the music evokes the sweet, somber tone of the lyrics. No need for any guitar theatrics here, the six string simply lays the atmosphere and accompanies the singing.
Another hard rocker and one of Jimi’s most-celebrated works. It’s the drums getting a workout here as Hendrix keeps the guitar in simpler territory. Still the trippy vibes ring through and the band has another hot song on their hands.
Third Stone From The Sun
It’s another trippy jazz number that’s mostly instrumental, with a few half-speed spoken parts about alien invasion. It’s not so much a departure as it is further exploring one tangent that influenced Hendrix’s playing.
Back to the more straightforward rock and one of Hendrix’s signature tunes. It’s a widely known and celebrated song that doesn’t require an introduction. It’s all riffs and red hot action in the lyrics and has been used many times in movies and other such fare. It’s often been voted one of Hendrix’s best songs and also one of the best in rock in general.
Are You Experienced?
The title track closes the original version of the album. Hendrix apparently recorded the guitar and drums backwards for the song, giving it an odd movement. Whatever the case, the song gives another trip to ride off into the sunset with.
While this concludes the original US version of Are You Experienced, these days the reissued versions include six additional songs. They aren’t just throwaway tracks either – Stone Free is a monster jam that easily fits on the record and was originally used as a B-side. Red House is a somber blues number that was on the UK version of the record and was a glaring omission from the original US cut. The extra songs bring the album’s runtime to an hour and the modern reissue is certainly the definitive version of the album worth owning.
Note – there are several newer vinyl reissues that are single LPs. Both the US and UK versions have been reissued and have their original track listings, a 2008 vinyl reissue does have two LPs with all 17 songs. The CD reissues all have the 17 tracks as well as bonus DVD material.
No matter the configuration, Are You Experienced was a red-hot debut from one of the most important musicians to pick up a guitar. The legacy of Jimi Hendrix started on this album and would run for a few more years until his untimely death in 1970. His legacy is immortal and very few have really even come close to doing what he was capable of.
The album is a guidebook to rock music and has held up amazingly well in 55 years since its release. Roughly half of the songs across all the album’s versions are staples in Hendrix greatest hits sets and many of the songs are featured across his bountiful live recordings.
I could keep typing for hours about how amazing this album is but the point has already been made. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir in most cases anyway. If, by some odd circumstance, someone who has never heard this record happens to be reading, well, stop whatever you are doing and get to it.