Classic Rock Review

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Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland (1968)


The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s third consecutive album of undiluted genius is a sprawling double album (now a 75-minute single cd) that captures both the fiery impact of his debut and the more delicate shadings of Axis, while also expanding Jimi’s sonic vocabulary and verbal ideas.

Jimi was increasingly becoming a perfectionist studio hound, and his relentless tinkering, requiring take after take, exasperated Chandler, who preferred live takes with minimal overdubs and who therefore left as the producer and sold his management share in the band as well (Jimi took over production duties, again with major assistance from Kramer).

Redding was also none too pleased with all the hangers-ons that Jimi now attracted and who flooded the recording studio, but this had its upside as well as Electric Ladyland contains quite a few notable guest appearances from the likes of Steve Winwood, Jack Casady, Buddy Miles, Dave Mason, and Al Kooper, even if the price to pay was Redding feeling marginalized (it wasn’t unusual for Jimi to play his bass parts on the album, as it wasn’t unusual for Noel to storm out of the studio after yet another disagreement) and the Experience ultimately disbanding soon afterwards.

Fortunately, though Chandler had a point at being frustrated with what he viewed to be Jimi’s increasing self-indulgent tendencies, the Jimi Hendrix Experience exited with yet another masterpiece, perhaps the best of the bunch as Electric Ladyland is almost impossibly rich. And though perhaps it is the most hit-or-miss Experience album on a song-for-song basis, it is the most adventurous, has the highest peaks, and is the one where I’m most apt to discover aurally pleasing new things even after countless listens.

True, there are some songs that are hard to immediately recall upon looking at the track listing, or that I do recall but are a bit generic, but Jimi’s astounding guitar playing makes every song worth hearing. As for actual songs, “…And the Gods Made Love” begins the album with another suitably “far out” intro, serving a similar function as “EXP” had for Axis.

The sweetly soulful “Have You Ever Been to (Electric Ladyland)”, an obvious nod to Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions, is atypical (but not too surprising as Jimi’s music was becoming increasingly black) with its soft delivery and sweeping falsettos, but it’s also a rousing success, in large part due to arguably Jimi’s finest vocal performance; after listening to it he famously exulted “I can sing! I can sing!”, confidence in his own voice never having been at a premium.

The blistering, catchy funk rock of “Crosstown Traffic” is one of Jimi’s most famous and straightforwardly successful tracks, before the indulgences begin on the 16-minute “Voodoo Chile.” And I’ll grant you that this largely improvised song is probably a few minutes too long (but just because this album is flawed doesn’t mean that it’s not an A+ anyway), but it also exemplifies how Jimi was determined to spontaneously stretch out and play with different people this time out.

The guests on this epic blues jam are Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady and Traffic’s Steve Winwood, two superior talents, and though the song has its ups and downs it’s worth indulging due to its explosive, incendiary peaks; plus, the success of this song and other collaborations such as Super Session made the all-star jam a fashionable fixture on the rock scene.

As for other highlights, “Gypsy Eyes” is awesome groove oriented hard rock with heartfelt, highly personal lyrics (about his mother), and “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp,” one of my all-time favorite tunes, delivers shimmering psychedelia, with harpsichord, wah-wah guitar (Jimi’s first use of the instrument as he was increasingly making use of advancing technology), and soulful gospel harmonies by the Sweet Inspirations woven together into a murky yet intoxicating musical stew. The symphonic, classically influenced “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” (and its lesser companion piece “Moon, Turn the Tides…Gently Gently Away”) is another indulgent yet often-brilliant 14-minute set piece whose watery, fantastical, incandescent peaks show Hendrix to be a true original.

Again, it could be tightened up a bit, or be brought into clearer focus, but there’s a real magic at work here, and this imaginative song is a good example of why Hendrix, though oft-imitated (most slavishly or notably by Frank Marino, Robin Trower, Uli Jon Roth, Ernie Isley, and Eddie Hazel, among others), has never been equaled. Another standout track is “House Burning Down,” one of Hendrix’s most overtly political tracks (think Vietnam) that’s simply a great guitar workout; its transition into the epochal “All Along The Watchtower” is utterly flawless. And what of “Watchtower?” Simply put, this transcendent take is the best Bob Dylan cover ever, if not the best cover song, period, with arguably his most famous guitar solo and one of his best vocals, too.

Dylan himself was so touched and impressed by this version that in subsequent concerts he played the Hendrix arrangement in tribute to Jimi. Anyway, last but certainly not least is the ferocious hard funk of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” another signature song that’s Jimi at his absolute heaviest. On the whole, this is an amazing sounding record, with pioneering usage of panning, phasing, and special effects layered over songs that would probably be pretty spectacular even without such tricks!

Unfortunately, as previously alluded to, this would be Jimi’s last record with his sympathetic compatriots in the Experience, as his restless imagination, fanatical desire to experiment, and perfectionist ways wore thin on those around him. However, short-lived though this made their alliance, it is these qualities that enabled the threesome to create arguably the greatest trilogy of albums in rock history, and Electric Ladyland is the most foreboding yet ultimately rewarding Experience album. P.S. Whereas Axis flat-out had one of the best covers ever, the U.K. version of this album proved quite controversial, what with its nude girls on the cover.

However, Jimi had nothing to do with it and was in fact quite pissed about it. P.P.S. Pretty ironic that “Watchtower,” a cover song on which Dave Mason actually played the legendary opening riff, became Jimi’s lone top 20 U.S. hit (“one hit wonder!”); Electric Ladyland was also his only #1 album.

Also, like Axis one thing I appreciate about this album is that aside from its four most famous songs (“Have You Ever Been to (Electric Ladyland),” “Crosstown Traffic,” “All Along The Watchtower,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”) you never hear it on the radio.

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland | | Leave a comment