Tag Archives: Electric Ladyland

Rocks In The Attic #440: Fleetwood Mac – ‘Rumours’ (1977)

RITA#440I saw Fleetwood Mac last night – a very wet, rainy night in Auckland to tick another band off my list. Outdoor concerts are always a risk, especially at this time of the year but a couple of bright pink ponchos (they only had pink left!) from the $2 shop were a lifesaver. When I put them on the counter to pay, the Asian lady on the till said “Ahh, you go concert!” so they must have done a run on them yesterday, hence why they only had pink ones left.

Any band that throw away something so fantastic as The Chain as their opening number must be something special. They absolutely caned Rumours for their first four songs – following The Chain with You Make Loving Fun, Dreams and Second Hand News – and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they had only ever recorded one album. In fact, by the end of their set, they only left two songs unplayed off this monster of a record – I Don’t Want To Know and Oh Daddy.

I’ve loved Rumours ever since I saw the album being picked apart on the first run of Classic Albums. That first bunch of albums covered by the show – Electric Ladyland, Graceland, Who’s Next, The Band – were an education, and the Fleetwood Mac episode was just as eye-opening. At that point in time (the early ‘90s), the band hadn’t yet reformed for The Dance so it looked unlikely that I’d ever get to see the band play live. They seem to have been touring non-stop ever since The Dance though, so it was only a matter of time.

Since 1998, Christine McVie hasn’t been playing with them, so I’ve been holding off – who wants to go and see a band who can’t play a third of their songs? Thankfully, she renounced her retirement from touring last year, and I finally got to see all five of them together.

Last night was a great concert – despite being sat up in the cheap seats with the riff-raff, in the pouring rain. Even Lorde was there (the closest thing to New Zealand rock royalty), braving the elements with her parents. At one point, a Facebook photo of Richie McCaw posing with his wife looking out from one of the corporate boxes buzzed through the crowd.

My favourite moment, other than the always awesome Tusk was the choruses of Little Lies – a blast of ‘80s pop brilliance where all three vocalists sing together. I was singing along with Lindsey Buckingham’s part at the end of each line – probably my favourite snippet of backing vocals from that entire decade.

Hit: Go Your Own Way

Hidden Gem: Second Hand News

Rocks In The Attic #337: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Stone Free’ (1981)

RITA#337I got accused the other day of not listening to enough Jimi Hendrix. The accuser was my wife, and I guess there’s plenty of worse things she could have accused me of (laundry, the rubbish bins, etc). The thing is, with Hendrix, there’s not a great deal of material to listen to, and I think I got it all out of my system in my teens.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, but I’m not going to listen to him endlessly in case I get sick of him. Hendrix is one of the cornerstones of my taste in music, my record collection and my guitar playing. Without him, my taste in music wouldn’t be as refined, there’d be some pretty major gaps in my record collection and my guitar playing would be much more average than it is now (which is pretty average).

I tend to listen to Electric Ladyland more than anything else these days – it’s a bit more of a voyage, with some really eclectic and experimental material. If I want something shorter and more immediate, I tend to go for Are You Experienced?; but of the three, the purity of Axis: Bold As Love will always be my favourite.

I found this compilation in a record shop in Withington, and you know what? Something on it really surprised me. A diehard Hendrix fan, I thought I knew it all. You see, after I devoured the three studio albums, the important live recordings (Monterey, Woodstock, Isle Of Wight, Band Of Gypsys), and a decent mid-‘90s compilation (The Ultimate Experience), I stopped. I didn’t want to dilute my interest by delving into the posthumous studio albums that were released in the late ‘90s.

These albums – First Rays Of The New Rising Sun and South Saturn Delta (both 1997) – were official releases, driven by the Hendrix family, and fully realised with the help of Eddie Kramer in the producer’s chair. They’re cash-in releases, but at least they’re a bit more authentic (and interesting) than your typical grab-bag compilation album.

Ezy Rider, one of the tracks on First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, is a true hidden gem and was included here on this 1981 compilation album, Stone Free. Before I heard it, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Hendrix. Turns out, I didn’t.

I’ve since listened to those two late ‘90s albums, together with two later releases – Valleys Of Neptune (2010) and People, Hell And Angels (2013) – and they’re not great. There’s some interesting material, but the best of the bunch had already seen the light of day on lesser releases like this one.

Hendrix fans should listen to Ezy Rider, if they haven’t already – it really stands up to the quality of material on his three original studio albums. It also proves that the man can still surprise, long after he’s dead.

Hit: All Along The Watchtower

Hidden Gem: Ezy Rider

Rocks In The Attic #336: Various Artists – ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (O.S.T.)’ (1978)

RITA#336The one person who should be stood up against a wall and shot for this travesty of an album is George Martin. In just eighty three minutes, Martin manages to avoid all traces of innovation he was known for in the previous decade, and produces an album full of schlocky middle-of-the-road Beatles covers. With very few exceptions, each song sounds like it was recorded with Murph and the Magictones (in the Armada Room at the Holiday Inn, “Quando Quando Quando…”).

I’ve never seen the film that this album soundtracks, and I don’t think I ever want to. I’ve seen the segment where Aerosmith perform Come Together on YouTube – the highlight of the album (and while you might think I would say that, being a diehard and unapologetic Aerosmith fan, Robert Christgau earmarked it at the time as being the best of a very bad bunch, along with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Got To Get You Into My Life); but the farcical stuff that was going on around Aerosmith, involving Frankie Howerd, was very hard to watch.

Who would ever want to listen to Donald Pleasance sing (or rather, say) I Want You (She’s So Heavy)? While Peter Sellers doing A Hard Day’s Night in the ‘60s raised a smile, this just sounds bad. And Frankie Howerd singing When I’m Sixty-Four and Mean Mr. Mustard? Are you fucking joking?

Just to make things ever worse, the album is one of those annoying ‘70s double albums where sides A and D are on one disc, and B and C share the other disc. I’m prepared to forgive certain double albums for this (Electric Ladyland, Songs In The Key Of Life, for example), but with this album being so unlistenable I really resent the inconvenience. Did anybody ever even see one of those turntables that would play this sequence of sides? I’m sure it was just a record company conspiracy to confuse stoned people in the 1970s: “Hey man, as well as being blind, Stevie Wonder doesn’t seem to be able to spell. What gives, dude?”

Hit: Got To Get You Into My Life – Earth, Wind & Fire

Hidden Gem: Get Back – Billy Preston

Rocks In The Attic #150: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Axis: Bold As Love’ (1967)

Ten reasons why I love this album:

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.

The beautiful Little Wing was used to soundtrack a beautiful moment.

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

Rocks In The Attic #102: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Smash Hits’ (1968)

Rocks In The Attic #102: The Jimi Hendrix Experience - ‘Smash Hits’ (1968)I remember buying my first Hendrix record – the mid-90s compilation entitled The Ultimate Experience – which I played to death on a winter holiday in Scotland. There have been many Hendrix compilations, but this one – 1968’s Smash Hits – was the first.

This is the kind of behaviour that exists nowadays – bands releasing greatest hits when they’ve only had a couple of albums out – and given the fact that this album collects Hendrix’s first four singles – including the b-sides – and a raft of album tracks, you do get the idea that the record company was scraping the barrel slightly while waiting for the band to finish Electric Ladyland.

Hit: Purple Haze

Hidden Gem: 51st Anniversary