Review Summary: One of the most important albums in the history of rock music in its most definite form.
In 1966 Chas Chandler gave up his position as bass player with The Animals and started looking for talented musicians to manage. After meeting the American guitarist James Marshall Hendrix, he was initially charmed by his version of Hey Joe
and brought him to London to introduce him to Pete Townshed and Eric Clapton, who’s newly founded band Cream let Jimi Hendrix join one of their live shows. Chas Chandler also searched for potential band members and was the driving force behind forming The Jimi Hendrix Experience with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding.
The newly founded record label Track Records, managed among others by Pete Townshed, noticed Jimi Hendrix’s appeal, and after his first single, a cover of the traditional song Hey Joe
was released, he signed them and his second single Purple Haze
became the very first Track record in March 1967, and “Are You Experienced?” the first Track Record album - released simultaneously with the third single The Wind Cries Mary
on 12th May 1967. All three singles reached Top 10 positions on the UK charts and the LP soon peaked at #2, just behind “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and became a major success all over Europe.
However, America needed some time to realise the birth of a new star and it was not until Jimi Hendrix was invited to the Monterey International Pop Festival at board member Paul McCartney’s urging, where he gave an infamous show including smashing and burning his guitar and throwing its pieces into the audience. (Actually Jimi Hendrix was only one of many acts that started their success in America on that show, including The Who, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and others.)
The American label Reprise Records eventually released “Are You Experienced?” in North America in August 1967. The songs were re-mixed in stereo and in favour of the three singles that had not been included on the European version, the three songs Red House
, Can You See Me
were cut out. The order of the songs was changed too and all in all it was quite a different album, but nevertheless became a big success.
So there existed two versions of the album, both of them missing important songs, and a complete one was not to be released until Jimi’s father Al Hendrix won back the rights over his son’s legacy. Eventually in 1997 two remastered versions were put out, again with different tracklists for America and the rest of the world. Both versions featured the original tracklists to which the six missing songs (the three excluded songs and the b-sides of the singles on the US version, the singles and their b-sides on the UK version) were added. If existing, the stereo mixes were used, but the two b-sides 51st Anniversary
and Highway Chile
, as well as the song Red House
were included in the original mono mix. The content on both albums is the same, only the order of the tracks is different. (The one I review is the European version, but the order of the songs doesn’t have much influence on the impact of the album. Only Foxy Lady
seems to be a better opener than Purple Haze
Guitarists like Eric Clapton, Pete Townshed and Jeff Beck achieved success in Europe before Hendrix and the music scene was already somehow prepared for a guitar virtuoso like Jimi Hendrix. His playing showed everything that could be done with an electric guitar before all today’s gimmick’s were invented, only using a Fuzz-pedal and reverb.
But credit has to be given to the other two members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience as well. Drummer Mitch Mitchell originally came from a jazz background and so his playing style has a kind of fusion approach, most apparently on the three quarter meter of Manic Depression
, which is often claimed to be his best work. Noel Redding, originally a guitarist, completed the rhythm section and gave an enjoyable and driving bass performance, though not as virtuosic as his two colleagues.
All possible styles, from blues and hardrock to jazz and psychedelic were included in the sound, but the revolutionary approach of “Are You Experienced?” was not only restricted to the musical innovations. The title alone is more openly related to drugs and sexuality than most other bands of that time would have dared to dream about. And the songs also more than hint on that themes: “You say your mum ain't home, / It ain't my concern, / Just play with me and you won't get burned”
, though he also gives a lot of examples of his more gentle lyrical talent too: “Is that the stars in the sky or is it raining far from now? / Will it burn me if I touch the sun, / So bit, so round?”
he sings on Love or Confusion
The songs themselves are all so well known, that I will touch them only briefly. There are as much rock classics on here as you can expect on one disc. First of all the three singles of course, but also Foxy Lady
(which was misspelled on the American release as Foxey Lady
), Manic Depression
and the title track, all of them showing Jimi Hendrix’s great songwriting skills and all being covered uncountable times by other artists. Not as well known but still among my favourites are May This Be Love
and the b-side Highway Chile
. Actually, while I have some sings I really love more than the rest there is not one I dislike on this record.
Two of the songs seem especially noteworthy to me because they don’t get that much attention usually: Third Stone from the Sun
must be one of the most underrated songs ever. It is Jimi Hendrix’s most psychedelic track with a different structure than all the other songs and also being the longest, lasting over six minutes. The guitar playing is as virtuosic as most of Jimi Hendrix’s works, but also very melodic and beautiful in times. A few spoken passages and strange guitar effects were added that enhance the weird feeling of the instrumental song even more.
The second often overlooked song is Red House
which wasn’t featured on the American release - against Jimi Hendrix’s wish - with the ridiculous argument that “America does not like the blues”. It is the album’s most bluesy track and became a live standard, played at almost all of his shows.
But no matter how great some of the songs are, the album as a whole seems somehow incoherent and unsteady in every of the available versions. Most of the songs seem more like potential singles than parts of a greater whole, with an average track length of 3:30 and often typical pop-song like structures, trademarks that resulted from Chas Chandler’s business-oriented influence at Jimi Hendrix’s songwriting that would last until Chandler quit managing Hendrix before his third release “Electric Ladyland”.
And though the technical abilities of the musicians are all shown, they cannot be compared to the live shows with extended versions of often more than ten minutes length. Even Jimi’s guitar playing pales in comparison to his energetic and powerful live performances.
Another big problem of this album is the production. It was groundbreaking at its release, but today it sounds painfully dated, effects like the fading in and out of the music at the end of I Don’t Live Today
just don’t deliver anymore. The music might have been considered avant-garde back then, but it didn’t stand the test of time that well. It has not proved to be timeless, but to be 60’s through and through. I don’t know how the original release sounded, but this remastered version still scratches and cracks and is pretty mediocre compared to Jimi Hendrix’s later work.
What “Are You Experienced?” must really be admired for is not the album itself, but its historical impact, turning the electric guitar into the leading instrument of rock music, a position it holds until today. It is a classic and has to be in every album collection, and if it’s just because of its influence on almost everything that came afterwards. Because I don’t include influence in my rating, only how much I like it, I think 4/5
does it justice. It is a great album, but no masterpiece, especially when compared to “Electric Ladyland”. If you already have an older version of the album, the six missing songs (no matter on which version) are still worth the money. And if you don’t own it yet there will be no way around buying it sooner or later anyway.