The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland
If there’s such a thing as the quintessential 1968 album, I believe this would be it. A recurring theme among many of these 50-year-old albums is the blending of 60’s pop and the trendy, fashionable, and overall quite brief psychedelic phase of rock and pop with harder rock, blues, and roots in general. It continues to amaze me how quickly music evolved in the 1960’s, and it’s a testament to how great the music is despite the short periods some of the sub-genres lasted in terms of their actual creation. The 1967 debut Are You Experienced may have been a Flower Power creation, and it’s continuing shelf life speaks for itself. But with the epic Electric Ladyland, we have what critics have deemed to be the full realization of Hendrix’s vision – a combination of all the aforementioned elements into a beautifully un-cohesive double album.
Ambitious and experimental, Electric Ladyland is the third and final album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It’s also the only one where Hendrix is credited as producer. Recording sessions took place over numerous months beginning in July of 1967 at Olympic Studios in London and at the Record Plant and Mayfair studios in New York. Chas Chandler, producer of the band’s first two albums, began overseeing the New York sessions but left the project as it dragged on due to Hendrix’s demands for repeated takes as well as the party atmosphere in the studio with many of Jimi’s friends and hangers-on.
Out of the chaos arose a double album that confused some critics at the time as being all over the place to its detriment, but one which you might have difficulty finding retrospective reviews of fewer than five stars. Much of the credit belongs to engineer Eddie Kramer, who is lauded for his experimentation with new mic techniques, echos, and backward tapes which were considered groundbreaking at the level of Phil Spector just a few years earlier. The album is a combination of the more psychedelic sound of their first two albums with the more blues and funk of the Band of Gypsys which followed.
And as a result of Jimi’s love for late-night jam sessions, there’s quite an array of guest musicians credited, including Jack Casady (bass on Voodoo Chile), Steve Winwood (Hammond organ on Voodoo Chile), Dave Mason (12-string on All Along the Watchtower), Chris Wood, Buddy Miles, Brian Jones (percussion on All Along the Watchtower), and Al Kooper (piano on Long Hot Summer – of course Al Kooper’s on this record!). By mid-November, Electric Ladyland was the #1 album in the US and #6 in the UK.
Arguably the most famous track from the album is Hendrix’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, which became the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s highest selling single. Dylan offered the highest praise possible for Hendrix’s version, which he’s stated Jimi made his own. Dylan described his own reaction: “I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way… Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.” Bob has also stated,
It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.
Perhaps on the other end of the album’s spectrum is the mid-60’s Brit Pop sounding tune sung by Noel Redding, Little Miss Strange. Tony Glover, in his original Rolling Stone review, considered this song to be the most commercial sounding track on the album, which is a testament to how well the album has aged since that song is probably not at the top of most people’s list of favorites from the release, yet it’s still good.
And everything in-between? It ranges from the standard length guitar driven classics Crosstown Traffic and Voodoo Child (Slight Return) and the less celebrated but still very solid Come On (Pt. 1) and House Burning Down, to the epic jam that is Voodoo Chile and the experimental and fascinating 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be). My favorite stretch of the album is Side Three, which begins with the jazzy, stoney Rainy Day, Dream Away. Having mainly listened to the album on CD, this segment extends for me into the first song on Side Four, Still Raining, Still Dreaming, with the final segment consisting of the three songs after it. As Glover wrote, Electric Ladyland is “an extended look into Hendrix’s head.” It seems Jimi had lots of twists and turns happening between the ears, which resulted in what is considered one of the greatest albums of all time.
A few years back, in addition to my daytime “real” job, I kept a part-time gig at a used music store. Employees took turns playing CDs of their choice and, as is the case in life, we didn’t all share the same tastes. In an effort to stave-off one of the many inevitable 35 minute discs of show tunes one of my co-workers was fond of, I’d pull the single-disc remaster (i.e., a full hour and fifteen minute disc) of this one off the shelf when it was in stock and let it rip. When my sons come for a visit, my 17-year-old heads straight for the Zeppelin and Hendrix. He mostly learned about them on his own.
I like to add YouTube album links to my posts, but not surprisingly only fragments of this one are available online. The Hendrix estate keeps a rather tight rein on his material. But if you like it, you probably own it. If you don’t own it, get it!
- And the Gods Made Love
- Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)
- Crosstown Traffic
- Voodoo Chile
- Little Miss Strange
- Long Hot Summer Night
- Come On (Pt. 1)
- Gypsy Eyes
- Burning of the Midnight Lamp
- Rainy Day, Dream Away
- 1983…(A Merman I Should Turn to Be)
- Moon, Turn the Tides…Gently Gently Away
- Still Raining, Still Dreaming
- House Burning Down
- All Along the Watchtower
- Voodoo Child (Slight Return)