Great Debut Album – Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix

A short while back I did a post on what I believed to be Great Debut Albums. Feel free to check that one out if you’re so inclined. Today’s album -Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced. Note – I did a series on Hendrix a while back, first post here

“H-bombs were going off, guided missiles were flying – I can’t tell you the sounds he was getting out of his instrument. He was getting every sound I was ever to hear him get, right there in that room with a Stratocaster, a Fender Twin amp, a Maestro fuzz box, and that was all… He had melded them into a perfect blend.” – Mike Bloomfield. 

To quote one of my posts -“Released in the UK in May 1967, Are You Experienced was, per Allmusic, “One of the most stunning debuts in rock history, and one of the definitive albums of the psychedelic era. It synthesized various elements of the cutting edge of 1967 rock into music that sounded both futuristic and rooted in the best traditions of rock, blues, pop, and soul.

It was his mind-boggling guitar work, of course, that got most of the ink, building upon the experiments of British innovators like Jeff Beck and Pete Townshend to chart new sonic territories in feedback, distortion, and sheer volume.”

If you weren’t there for it, it’s difficult to overestimate the impact that Hendrix had on the musical (and cultural) world. He came along just at the right place and the right time. Not only as the most significant rock guitarist to come along in quite some time but also as a cosmic, psychedelic ambassador to the “counterculture.”

Not only was he getting sounds out of his instrument that no one else ever had, but guitarists also marveled at his seeming ability to play lead and rhythm at the same time. (My guess is there was some overdubbing involved.) He fit in because he was a total freak in the good sense of that word in the 60s and he was a good songwriter to boot.

I won’t go through the album song-by-song but will highlight a few tunes, most of which are now classic rock standards. A dilemma here is that the UK and American versions had different tracks. So if the tune was on either version, I will take that as fair game to include here. I “solved” this problem on the Spotify list by making one combined 14-track album.

First up, is the opening tune, “Purple Haze.” Wikipedia: “After the basic track was finished, producer Chas Chandler explained that he and Hendrix developed the song. With ‘Purple Haze’, Hendrix and I were striving for a sound and just kept going back in [to the studio], two hours at a time, trying to achieve it.”

As to the meaning of the tune, well, I had always believed it was named after Owsley Stanley’s development of a strain of so-called Purple Haze acid. However, said that he read a sci-fi story called Night of Light by Philip José Farmer. “In the story set on a distant planet, sunspots produce a “purplish haze” which has a disorienting effect on the inhabitants.

In an interview Hendrix was asked how he wrote songs; he responded, “I dream a lot and I put my dreams down as songs. I wrote one called .., ‘The Purple Haze,’ which was about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.” {That may well be true but let us also here state that admitting you wrote a song about drugs in 1967 was akin to – as one person said – professional suicide – ME.)

I’m gonna go next with “The Wind Cries Mary.” Whereas “Haze” is all hard edges, “The Wind Cries Mary” displays a mellower side. From a guitar perspective, this song features some of Hendrix’s chord work that he intersperses with lead playing. Maybe that’s what they meant.

I will again quote myself, this time on the impact of Hendrix on the British blues players, notably Eric Clapton. “One anecdote tells the whole story. Jimi told Chandler he wanted to meet Eric Clapton. So, one night Chandler took Jimi to see Cream. And after watching one set, Jimi asked if he could jam with them. Now, the guys in the band were astonished because most players were intimidated to play with them. But Jack Bruce said, sure, and let him plug into his bass amp.

And then Jimi got up and played a wild version of Howlin Wolf’s “Killin’ Floor.” Clapton later said, “My God, this is like Buddy Guy on acid.” Jack Bruce later ruminated on the fact that “Clapton is God” graffiti was prevalent in London at the time and that this night’s events affected Clapton significantly.”

When Are You Experienced was released in the States, the geniuses at Warners chose to leave “Red House” off as they didn’t believe blues was popular in America. The only reason I heard it was because Warners released a compilation album (still own it) that had “Red House” on it. (In fairness, a Polydor exec listened to it all the way through and pronounced it “brilliant.”)

That song was revelatory for me and I have consistently referred to it as one of the greatest if not the greatest blues song of all time. I have ripped off so many licks from this song in my own playing that I probably owe the Hendrix estate royalties. I’ve studied Hendrix’s solos and while he has deep roots in R&B, he was very much a blues player.

Guitar World magazine called Experienced “a veritable textbook of what a musician can do with his instrument” and “the measure by which everything … in rock and roll has been compared since.” According to music journalist Charles Shaar Murray, the album “completely changed notions of what a guitar could sound like, or indeed, what music could sound like.”

Rolling Stone includes the album and several songs on various “best of” lists notably its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Best Debut Albums of All Time – No. 3, crediting it as the LP “that established the transcendent promise of psychedelia”, stating: “Every idea we have of the guitarist as a groundbreaking individual artist comes from this record.”

Additionally, Mojo magazine listed Are You Experienced as the greatest guitar album of all time in 2013 In 2005, Are You Experienced 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.”

Lastly, let me say that this is not a solo album. Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell were an excellent rhythm section and the latter especially is revered by drummers everywhere.

 

13 thoughts on “Great Debut Album – Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix

  1. My favorite Hendrix album. I was fortunate to see him live twice in Dallas and Fort Worth. Talk about loud, geez. I couldn’t believe the amps survived.

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    1. I like all his early stuff even including the first posthumous album. Hit or miss after that thanks to his estate putting out every shred they could find.

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  2. Wind Cries Mary also displays Jimi’s poetic side. It’s full of imagery and allegory. I’ve always felt that, had Jimi lived, he would have been at the forefront of the jazz-rock fusion of the 70s. He wanted to put together a band with Paul McCartney and Miles Davis. Imagine that.

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    1. Yes, I’d heard that. Remarkable. I was thinking while writing the post that Jimi might have expanded into fusion. It would have been a stretch even for him. Jazz harmonies are more complex. But I suppose if Jeff Beck could do it….

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  3. Very well said, Jim. That album is just incredible! For quite some time when I was way younger, I had only known “Hey Joe.” When I finally started exploring Hendrix’s music “Purple Haze”, “Foxy Lady” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” became early favorites, the latter also because of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s great cover. I don’t recall having listened to “Red House” before – another great tune!

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    1. Wow, no “Red House,” huh? My God, I have every lick of that song memorized. It’s a perfect blues tune. He’d play it live for like, 25 minutes. But U like the conciseness of the original. Hendrix was a god to SRV which I think you know.

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      1. This music still does it for me especially when I hear snippets of the commercial stuff that sneaks into my ear through adds etc. CB just counters it with ‘Purple Haze’ and he’s good again. Im just lucky that it appeals to me.

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        1. Aphoristical just clued me in to a song I never heard or heard of. It was the B-side of ‘Purple Haze’ and it’s called ’51st Anniversary.’ Check it out if only for completeness’ sake.

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  4. The b-side 51st Anniversary would be a worthy addition to your playlist as well.

    I often favour albums a little way down the track where artists are more ambitious and developed, but I think this is Hendrix’s peak. He’s already pretty sophisticated here, and it’s his best set of songs.

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