#15 – The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced (1967)

March 20, 2015

hendrixexperI’m pleased to report that I actually don’t have a whole lot to say about this album.  Certainly it’s an amazing, groundbreaking, highly influential and enduringly awesome piece of work, and is well deserving of a more careful analysis than I intend to give it.  But this whole thing is getting a little exhausting, isn’t it?  Now that we’re in the top twenty, every single album is like a big, cumbersome fuckin’ deal of a record about which much needs to be said–whether in an affirmative analytical mode, or in an extensive defense of why I don’t love something that is so widely acclaimed.  But surely my readership grows weary of slogging through such three thousand word diatribes, and, to varying degrees, I grow tired of writing them.  So for this very fine album, I can try to keep it (relatively) short.  It’s simply an album that I readily concede is a masterpiece, but which is not one I have ever enjoyed listening to all that frequently.

I think Jimi Hendrix is one of the four or five artists on this list who most unambiguously merits the designation of genius.  Primarily he earns the title for his reinvention, essentially, of the expressive possibilities of the electric guitar.  He one of those truly rare, revolutionary figures who changed the way his instrument–the essential instrument of rock ‘n roll–is thought of.  But I think he was also a songwriter (and singer) of tremendous sensitivity, soul and inventiveness.  A handful of his songs are among the most radiant, soul deep, genuinely psychedelic pieces of music I know.  And a few of those songs are on this album.  But more of them are on Axis: Bold as Love, which has always been my favorite Jimi Hendrix record.  I owned that one and this one during my youth, but I never loved this one as well, nor played it as much.

And I’m still tentatively inclined to assert that Axis is the better album–more unified, and with a denser concentration of amazing songs.  And yet I don’t make that assertion with a great deal of confidence.  It may be that this album receives such a substantially higher estimation because it was his first.  It’s often the case that a first record gets a bit of a bump for having introduced an artist to the world, and I think that in the case of an artist as unprecedented as Hendrix, that really would count for something.  But it’s also an effect that is lost on those of us who came later.  Jimi Hendrix has been a fact of existence for longer than I have been alive, and his entire output available simultaneously (not counting the seemingly endless string of new recordings they somehow keep unearthing).

But it also could just be a matter of tone and taste.  Jimi did a lot of things really well, and not all of those things will appeal to all people.  For my purposes, it is his more gentle, beautiful songs that are the most rewarding to listen to, and his fiery, aggressively bluesy and or chaotically psychedelic material–while it probably displays more jaw dropping guitar technique overall–something I am less attracted to.  I think a lot of it is extremely impressive, impassioned, great stuff-just not my kind of stuff.  And this album tends to have a higher density of that type of material: “Purple Haze,” “Fire,” “Foxy Lady,” and so forth.  All great songs, and certainly “Purple Haze” in particular must have been a mind blowing song to hear for the first time over the radio back in its own time.  But I just don’t derive all that much pleasure from listening to them.  I fared a little better with them as a teenager, but even then, I preferred the more gently soulful-psychedelic aspect of his output.

Happily, there are a good selection of those songs represented as well.  “The Wind Cries Mary” and “May This Be Love” are the big examples, and two of my favorite tracks on the album.  Both provoke an almost dreamlike state of beautiful, stoned kind of wonderment.  “The Wind Cries Mary” is surely the more formally excellent of the two–and an uncommonly effective realization of the influence of Bob Dylan.  But “May This Be Love” is always the one that really sinks me into a deep, beautiful feeling(, man).  Listening this time, I was especially struck by how much the rumbling, oceanic drum part contributes to the quiet power of the song.

Then there are a number of songs which more or less elude my simple beautiful/aggressive dichotomy, and which I like a lot.  “Manic Depression” is probably the best of the bunch–and really, among the best songs on the album.  It feels like it’s going to be one of those oppressively heavy bluesy numbers–and it is heavy and bluesy–but its saved for me by the loveliness of its melody, and the way Hendrix sings it.  “Hey Joe” is a song that pretty much everyone was doing at the time, but Hendrix’s feels like it’s the one that has really endured.  Certainly it’s the only one I would go out of my way to hear.  There’s a sense of menace built right into the fabric of the song, of course, but Hendrix exploits it beautifully, with that slow, spacious arrangement punctuated by an aggressive sort of grooviness in his guitar part.

The title track is great, though I’d be a liar if I said I had ever really connected with it.  I actually heard Devo’s cover of it first as a kid, from their little known Shout! album, and still recall hearing the original and not liking it at first blush.  I believe that was my first introduction to Jimi Hendrix.  I’ve gotten over it, but I still feel as though the true effect of the song probably has always eluded me.  Then there’s “Third Stone from the Sun,” which is just one of the great riffs of all time–so good it almost feels like it could have been written as symphonic motif centuries ago, but with that groovy, propulsive bass part keeping it very much in the modern era.  As a track, its a bit of an overlong mess–or rather, I guess it hasn’t aged too well.  It was probably trippy as fuck in its own time.  In any event, the strength of that riff makes it worthwhile.  I also just recently learned that if you play it at 45 RPM, you can apparently hear two aliens having a conversation as they approach the earth.  I guess I should try that sometime.  Or should have tried it twenty years ago, really, had I had it on record at the time.

The fact is, I’ll never really know what it felt like to have this album spring into existence–to have been alive before, during and after its coming into being.  I feel the feebleness of my position (born a generation too late) quite acutely in such cases.  All I can do is kind of lamely pick and choose which songs I love and which ones I don’t, never quite managing to either feel or properly express the literal experience that this album surely was for so many music lovers, of it own time especially.  I envy you that, old people.  But as it is, it’s an album I will always listen to and enjoy, just not quite as often or as much as Axis: Bold as Love.

Source: LP.  Not an original, but a decent 60s or early 70s pressing, I’d say.

5 Responses to “#15 – The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced (1967)”

  1. Bob Jordan Says:

    Glad to know you young whippersnappers envy us “old people” for something! I remember well how mind-blowing this record was when it came out. I counted myself a huge fan, had all his stuff through Cry of Love. Yet I don’t feel compelled to listen to him much anymore. There is an intensity to his music that is often more than I feel equipped to handle these days. A shortcoming on my part, I think. I preferred Electric Ladyland back then.
    You make another good point here–as we near the top of the list, these albums are legendary, iconic. They have stood the test of time. You could write a book about each one, or say little. I always enjoy your thorough, thoughtful, well-penned analysis, so keep ’em coming. The end is near!


    • Well, thanks Bob. Nice to hear. The end is indeed near, and while I’m looking forward to it, I will probably miss it when I’m done.

      I think a diminished capacity for intensity is a pretty natural function of aging. Certainly it’s happened to me, and I am not even 40 yet. I always feel worse for aging punks than I do for aging hippies, because it seems like they have to try harder to hold on to the music that once defined them.

      It’s a bit sacrilegious to the integrity of the album principle, but just for fun, I put together a playlist of my favorite Hendrix songs from the three Experience records, most of which are of the less intense variety. I’m listening now, and enjoying it a lot.

  2. rodney Says:

    Emmylou Harris does an awesome “May This Be Love”. I tend to listen to Hendrix these days like I do jazz. There are so many unreleased jams and live bits that have since been released that all of the songs are fluid and improvised, really, so I just put on Hendrix to hear Hendrix and not necessarily the “song”.

  3. […] into good music, almost thirty years ago now, twenty years ago meant Sgt. Pepper, Blonde on Blonde, Are You Experienced, Otis Blue.  Now, twenty years ago is…Dookie.  Much of the stuff I still reflexively think […]

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