1. The Songs
Of the three studio albums released by Hendrix before his death, this comes across as the most personal. Are You Experienced is hook-driven and full of perfect three-minute pop songs, Electric Ladyland finds Hendrix immersed in the New York scene of barflies and hangers-on, but Axis catches him in full songwriter mode.
Hendrix’s lyrics are often overlooked, but he can really paint a picture with words. Axis showcases his love of science-fiction and his vivid imagination on tracks such as Spanish Castle Magic and Little Wing. Other songwriters can sound banal when they tell a story with lyrics – Paul McCartney commonly makes this mistake – but Hendrix seems to effortlessly get you on his side. His lyrics for Wait Until Tomorrow and Castles Made Of Sand are heartbreaking, and far from the sort of expectations set by the simplistic tone of Fire and Foxy Lady only a matter of months prior.
2. The Guitar Sound
I love the fuzz on Hendrix’s guitar throughout Are You Experienced. The fade-in to Foxy Lady has to be one of the best sounds captured on a rock album – but Hendrix playing a clean tone on his guitar is even better. Thankfully this album is full of it.
The introduction to Little Wing is stunningly beautiful, and wouldn’t be quite the same if there was any overdrive involved. There’s a big difference between playing a guitar to chug away on some barre chords, and using it as a virtuoso instrument. It’s a really delicate piece, complimented perfectly by the addition of a glockenspiel – something that would usually be very much out of place on a rock album.
When I started learning to play the guitar, the first music book I bought was Electric Ladyland – there’s nothing like throwing yourself into the deep end. I didn’t last long with the book – I think I sold it to a friend as it was far too advanced for my skill level at the time. It always rankled me though, and eventually learning to play Little Wing gave me the confidence to go back and learn some of his other songs. I can play Hendrix’s stuff on the guitar reasonably well, but there are always a million subtleties that I overlook.
3. The Cover
If there’s one thing I hate about the late-‘60s, it’s the look associated with psychedelia. When The Beatles jumped on the bandwagon with Sgt. Pepper’s, they brought that look to a worldwide commercial level. People rave on about how timeless the Sgt. Pepper’s sleeve is, but I can’t stand it. It’s garish and like most record sleeves of that time, it dates it to a period when designers could get away with murder – as long as they painted their criminal efforts with as many colours as they had available to them.
The Sgt. Peppers sleeve is probably to blame for opening the doors of possibility for a number of visual crimes – The Rolling Stones’ terrible Their Satanic Majesties Request and Cream’s vomit-inducing Disraeli Gears immediately spring to mind. One other album sleeve to be thrown into that mix is Axis: Bold As Love. Quite simply though, I love it.
Rumour has it that the record company found out about Hendrix’s Cherokee ancestry. This got lost somewhere in translation, and the subsequent cover featured Hendrix amidst the wrong kind of Indians.
I’m sure most people would argue that the cover is just as offensive, wild and garish as anything produced around those times, but I truly see it as a piece of art – one of the nicest gafefold sleeves in my collection.
4. The Drum Intro To Little Miss Lover
Mitch Mitchell is oft-overlooked for his contribution to rock music. John Bonham and Keith Moon are always seen as the best drummers from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but Mitchell is a master player. He just suffers from having his parts overshadowed by Hendrix – and what a problem to have.
One of his standout moments across all three Hendrix studio albums is this funk-driven introduction to Little Miss Lover. Unfortunately, it’s so good that somewhere along the way it caught the ears of the Master of Mediocrity, Noel Gallagher – who used the sample as the basis for Fuckin’ In The Bushes from their Standing On The Shoulder Of Giantsalbum.
This meant that for a distinct period of time, Oasis fans claimed themselves a bit of credibility because of the Hendrix connection. I already despised Oasis and their legion of numbskull fans; I loathed them even more now.
5. Walking Down The Aisle
When I got married in 2011, my wife walked down the aisle to Little Wing.
In the weeks running up the wedding, she couldn’t decide between that and Led Zeppelin’s Over The Hills And Far Away. She wanted both played at the wedding – one to walk down the aisle to, and the other to walk back up the aisle to, as a married couple.
I convinced her that Little Wing worked much better as a down-the-aisle song, as the section in Over The Hills And Far Away where the bass and drums kick in, a minute and a half into the song, seemed more apt to mark a joyous occasion.
6. Fulfilling The Record Contract
Hendrix was tied to a really bad record contract from day one, and never really made any money before he died. His estate now makes millions off his name, and it’s sad that his business affairs were always in such dire straits during his short tenure as a rock star.
The initial contract Hendrix signed with Track Records tied the Experience to release two LPs during 1967. Are You Experiencedhad already landed in May of that year, so surely another release would be of an inferior quality. Most bands would knock something out quickly, but Hendrix turns around and delivers a masterpiece.
7. Three Copies And Counting
Of all the albums in my vinyl collection, this is the one I own the most copies of. I bought two second hand copies while I was still living in Manchester – neither of which had a gatefold sleeve. About a year ago I bought brand new copy of the 2010 reissue from Real Groovy in Auckland. This is a heavyweight vinyl release, and also features the full gatefold sleeve, together with a booklet containing photos and an essay on the album.
You can say what you want about the Experience Hendrix releases – yes, they may be cashing in on Hendrix – but they’re supremely well packaged, and give his music the justice it deserves. If you don’t like the endless re-releasing of his albums, don’t buy them. It’s that simple.
8. The Production.
Electric Ladyland, would perfect the direction that Hendrix wanted to go but his first soundscapes came along on the title song of Are You Experienced, and were cemented here on Axis.
The wall of rolling feedback that symbolises the sound of a UFO taking off, on the album’s comedic opener EXP, leads the way into a set of songs where production really is as important as the songwriting. Axis would be the second and final album that Hendrix would record with Chas Chandler on production duties, and you definitely get a feeling that these sessions were fun. Electric Ladyland, on the other hand, can sound very serious at times and just a bit too heavy. Man.
9. The Font.
Hendrix’s handwriting is easily identifiable- his handwritten lyrics happily pop up all over the liner notes of the Experience Hendrix releases.
This font of his handwriting style cleverly takes the name of the album – Axis Bold.
10. Spanish Castle Magic.
Purple Haze, Foxy Lady and Fire always get their dues when it comes to their place in the rock riff canon. For some reason, Spanish Castle Magic gets lost in the dust.
It has a wealth of riffs – the stuttering overdrive of the intro, the main arpeggiated riff, and the descending, syncopated power-chords of the verses all combine to provide a really heavy guitar assault.
Hit: Little Wing
Hidden Gem: Bold As Love