Jimi Hendrix- Are You Experienced?
#15 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums
When a musician writes a piece of music, they keep two things in perspective- sound, and silence. What you do NOT play is just as, if not, more important than what you do play. Jimi Hendrix, of all rock guitar players, was a musician who understood that philosophy, and used it to his full advantage. Sure, he was an amazing soloist, who could hold his own weight at fast tempos, but what made Jimi unique is that he understood that 2 notes could do as much as 10 notes in the context of a song. Perhaps that is why he is revered today as such an amazing musician. Furthermore, he used his songwriting capabilities to their full potential, while still shaping the unprecedented sounds that flowed from his electric guitar. There have only been a handful of debut albums which influence many generations. Guns N Roses' Appetite For Destruction, Led Zeppelin I, and Rage Against the Machine's self titled are some of the few on that list. However, in my honest opinion, none of those albums can even hope to match up to what Jimi Hendrix's 'Are You Experienced' means to rock music. As much as some may disagree with me, saying that it's overrated and such, I hold this record to be the most influential debut album of all time, and it's not because of the artwork.
It should not be unfamiliar to you when I say that Jimi used a lot of guitar effect pedals, stomp boxes, and voicing modulations to craft the many unprecedented guitar tones that he is legendary for. But what matters more than what he sounds like, is what he played (and didn't play, for that matter). Some of the most infamous, as well as innovative riffs and solos have been crafted by Jimi's imagination, and he viewed feedback as a friend, not an enemy. It was his daring approach that got him noticed. And the work on 'Are You Experienced' is no exception. From start to finish, this album is immaculate, and nearly perfect. I may regret this decision later on, I would give every song on this album at least a 4/5. There is not a bad track among the 17 songs that drape this boisterously yellow album. The musicianship, songwriting, technique, and order are all pretty close to perfect in my eyes. No two songs on the album sound alike on this album. There are some songs which use very similar tones to shape the sound, but their structures and technique contrast greatly. A good illustration of that is the comparison and contrast between 'Hey Joe' and 'Wind Cries Mary'. Sure, both have that same clean, wistful tone, but what the actual music varies between them. While 'Hey Joe' is a blues-rock song that tells the tale of a man killing his unfaithful wife, 'Wind Cries Mary' is a hushed ballad with poetic characteristics in the lyrics. On the other hand, we have a few songs that remain unique in their own right. 'Fire' is a rushed, upbeat tune that is entirely driven by Mitch Mitchell's schizophrenic drum beat. 'Red House' is a crunchy blues tale that personifies the guitar to give it a ringing quality. And of course, 'Purple Haze'is still a gem and staple of Jimi Hendrix's entire catalogue. But the most atypical song on the album would have to be 'Third Stone From the Sun'. Rather than the three and a half minute melodic songs, 'Third Stone From the Sun' is a nearly seven minute, eastern-inspired instrumental, reflecting a psychedelic seizure. Case in point, no two songs sound alike on the album. Period.
When people hear Jimi's name, they most likely think 'Guitar God'. While this is true, because the Jimi Hendrix Experience is a guitar driven band, it is not appropriate to call 'Are You Experienced?' a 'guitar only' album. Mitch Mitchell provides amazing drum tracks on every song, most notably 'Fire' and 'Can You See Me'. Noel Redding as well provides excellent basslines, especially the catchy riff on 'Fire'. But nonetheless, Jimi's guitar playing remains to be the dominant role on most of the songs. 'Foxey Ladey' is a more well known example, with an eerie feedback. But the award for best guitar playing on the album goes to 'Stone Free', 'Love or Confusion', 'Manic Depression' and 'Highway Chile', all of which feature wonderful riffs and solos that will leave your brains, and groins, feeling numb. On the note of Jimi Hendrix being a guitarist that took advantage of sound effects to shape his tones, Jimi was a guitarist who did not compromise sound. With the help of his engineer and friend, Eddie Kramer, Jimi sculpted tones that were previously unheard of, and new to all music lovers. An effect that was put to good and appropriate use was the backwards tape flanging on 'Are You Experienced'. The solo is very cool with this effect and sounds like nothing else from Jimi's catalogue. It's quite disturbing, actually, at how good it sounds while being played backwards. The other effects are put to good use as well. 'Purple Haze' uses Jimi's FuzzFace effect, and the octave, flanging, and distortions on 'May This Be Love', 'Remember', 'I Don't Live Today' and '51st Anniversary' are impeccable. You couldn't ask for more from 17 songs.
While my liking of 'Are You Experienced' may be a bit exaggerated, the musical genius and quality of the tracks is anything but over the top. Jimi Hendrix was always a creative man who succumbed his soul to the music he heard in his head. His tones were unprecedented, and his playing was godlike. The release of 'Are You Experienced' gained Jimi the notoriety of being revered as one of the most innovative and majestic musicians of all time. And after hearing his debut, I couldn't agree more.