Saturday, March 15, 2014

54. Electric Ladyland (1968) Jimi Hendrix Experience

1. ... And The Gods Made Love
2. Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)
3. Crosstown Traffic
4. Voodoo Chile
5. Little Miss Strange
6. Long Hot Summer Night
7. Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)
8. Gypsy Eyes
9. Burning Of The Midnight Lamp
10. Rainy Day, Dream Away
11. 1983 ... (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)
12. Moon, Turn The Tides ... Gently Gently Away
13. Still Raining, Still Dreaming
14. House Burning Down
15. All Along The Watchtower
16. Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

All three of Jimi Hendrix's studio albums are on the countdown somewhere. We've yet to encounter the blistering debut, we've already encountered the lesser follow up and here at number 54 is the final album they produced together and my personal favourite.

The debut is a great album but it's Hendrix playing it safe. He assembled a band made up of two guys who can back his guitar and vocals and then performed a collection of fairly standard pop songs. Granted they're Hendrixed up and have a lot more grunt that if they'd been recorded by the Monkees (to chose an appropriate example) but they're still standard rock tunes just with much better soloing.

The second album was an attempt to replicate the first only without the quality of songwriting and with some more filler.

But on the third, Hendrix started to be much truer to his original vision. Songs were platforms to leap from and a band was just backing outfit to add extra elements to. Hendrix wasn't just a great player he was a great musician who really listened to what was going on around him. He had a great respect for the talents of others and loved to throw other musicians into the mix to prompt him, push him and take him to new directions.

Consequently Electric Ladyland wanders far away from traditional rock and roll. There's some stuff that wouldn't sound out of place on the debut album: Crosstown Traffic, Gypsy Eyes etc sound like hit singles, but there's some stepping way outside of anything pop radio was playing at the time.

Voodoo Chile for example is 15 minutes of studio jamming. Regular band member Mitch Mitchell on drums is joined by Jefferson Airplane's Jack Cassady on bass guitar and Traffic's Steve Winwood on Organ to create a tight jam band which pushes Hendrix's amazing lead guitar licks ever onwards. There is some amazing playing. Mitchell is all over the place on drums throwing down some fiery fills and generally getting a chance to showcase his talent in a way that the previous records hadn't afforded him. Cassady holds down a steady groove that he learnt playing with Jorma Kaukonen and other jammy people throughout his career. Winwood's organ provides a solid backing at times and at others trading lead licks with Jimi. Hendrix meanwhile shows that while people might associate him with psychadelia he was a blues player at heart who was more influenced by Muddy Waters than LSD.

Voodoo Chile is recorded live. It's 15 minute running length is the sound of four talented guys in a studio playing together, listening to each other and creating some amazing music for the ages without overdubs (except for the occasional addition of some annoying crowd effects supposed to simulate genuine audience merriment but failing dismally). It's fantastic stuff that's too long for radio and doesn't make the Hendrix compilations. If you want to hear it you have to get the album, and I recommend you do.

The following day Hendrix, Mitchell and Redding returned to the studio and created Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) which is a truncated version but thanks to it's incredible opening is three times as powerful. Voodoo Chile is great for putting on enjoying with headphones and appreciating in all it's Jammy glory. Slight return is for cranking loud and shouting along too while air guitaring like a deranged fool.

The two Voodoo Children are enough to have me raving about this album but there's a lot more to recommend it. Crosstown Traffic, Long Hot Summer Night, Come on, Gypsy Eyes, and Burning of the Midnight Lamp are all great pieces of songwriting which would work even if they weren't smothered with massive doses of tasty Hendrix guitar work. You can see why people who wield fender strats still drool over Jimi's work. Long Hot Summer Night is a great song but you could remove the vocals altogether and it would still be worth hearing just for the notes that the great man is flinging around all over the studio. This stuff just poured out of him and we're lucky that tape was not only rolling at the time but was rolling so often when he played live where he'd produce different but equally amazing stuff to enjoy.

Whenever anyone lists the greatest cover songs of all time Hendrix's version of All along the Watchtower is inevitably high up the list. It's a transforming production which takes a great song and makes it an unbelievable one. Dylan himself has said that when he performs the song now he regards it as a Hendrix cover and not one of his originals. It's truly an outstanding moment.

Like all double albums there's some filler on Electric Ladyland. The Noel Redding penned Little Miss Strange isn't worth enduring more than once and there is some other filler material taking up room, most of it the product of Jimi's obsession with studiocraft and experimentation. But it's nowhere near enough to take away from the fact that this is some of the finest guitarwork anyone was put down anywhere.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Jimi Hendrix is the king of rock, but this cd just doesn't cut it. It's to soft and mellow."

-Wait. Are we listening to the same album? Soft and mellow? Seriously?

So have you ever been to Electric Ladyland? And did you enjoy the trip? Let me know below.

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