Tuesday, July 10, 2007

No. 54: Electric Ladyland

Band: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Album: Electric Ladyland
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The final studio album with the Experience, Hendrix expanded his abilities as a songwriter and arranger. Themes pop up more and the epic "Voodoo Chile" shows off Hendrix' overwhelming blues skill.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Certainly, "Electric Ladyland" isn't as accessible as "Are You Experienced," but many consider it to be better. Count me among those people.
Best song: I actually really like the inane/silly "Crosstown Traffic," though Hendrix' (re-)arrangement of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" is the definitive version and an all-time great track.
Worst song: "1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

As I mentioned in my piece on "Are You Experienced," I'm not the world's biggest Hendrix fan. Here's the thing, though: I was a huge Hendrix fan at one time. Like every other suburban teenager, I adored Hendrix at ages 13-16. I thought he was the greatest thing to ever come along, musically. In fact, in my high school freshman yearbook photo, I am wearing a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt.

During this period, "Electric Ladyland" was my favorite album and for good reason. Easily the most eclectic of the three Experience studio albums, Hendrix jumped from a classic Delta Blues epic in "Voodoo Chile" to an electric metal/blues song (though, thematically linked) in "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)." He had some of the first great uses of the wah-wah pedal in "Burning of the Midnight Lamp," "All Along The Watchtower" and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)." "Crosstown Traffic" is a pretty silly song, but one that showed Hendrix' more playful side. The song uses a tissue paper/comb kazoo.

Still, the best song from the record is Hendrix' arrangement of Dylan's classic "All Along The Watchtower." The song's theme of impending apocalyptic destruction just doesn't work with Dylan's soft vocals and acoustic guitar, but Hendrix blows Dylan's version out. Hendrix' pounding rhythmic acoustic guitar is the first thing in the song and it knocks your speaker against the wall.

His wailing solos took the place of Dylan's folksy harmonica jaunts, while the loud/soft of the verses and guitar solos work dynamics as well as 90s rock did. Mitch Mitchell's drumming is probably as good as it is anywhere on an Experience record and the slide guitar work (Hendrix used a cigarette lighter as a slide) is certainly the best he's put on record. The production -- done by Hendrix himself after Chas Chandler quit due to Hendrix' increasing drug use -- fades from left to right while the vocals keep in the mix.

In short, it's the definitive version of a great song and probably Hendrix' best single song.

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