Thursday, May 5, 2011

Are You Experienced - The Jimi Hendrix Experience


Are You Experienced
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Reprise  RS 6261
1967

Are You Experienced
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy 88765441751
2013

This is the American debut album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and a recent mono reissue of the British debut album that was originally released by Track Records.  The American debut was the first Hendrix album I owned.  I bought it at Tower Records in Berkeley about 1979.  I was a late convert to Hendrix.  I saw "Woodstock" while I was in high school and Hendrix's performance gave me a headache - too many close-ups and too much noise.  I also saw "Monterey Pop" as a young teen and thought his performance was self-indulgent and gimmicky.  Fortunately I've since realized the errors of my ways and Hendrix is now my favorite guitarist and one of my favorite performers.  This is one of the great debut albums in rock history, particularly in its U. S. release version on Reprise - for once the U. S. record company made a better version than its U. K. counterpart.  I prefer the psychedelic record cover that Reprise used and I approve of substituting the classic singles "Purple Haze," "Hey Joe" and "The Wind Cries Mary" for "Can You See Me," "Red House" and "Remember" although if it were up to me, "Third Stone From the Sun" or "May This Be Love" would be the songs coming off the album instead.  "Red House" is a great performance, but it is pretty much a straight blues song and disrupts the flow of an otherwise psychedelic album.  "Remember" is one of the worst songs that Hendrix ever wrote, I find it lackluster and dull.  "Can You See Me" on the other hand is terrific, I wish Reprise had  kept it on the album.  As for the issue of mono versus stereo, I prefer the stereo versions for the most part.  Maybe I'm just used to hearing the stereo versions having been listening to them for 35 years, but they sound more expressive to me particularly on the more expansive psychedelic numbers like "Are You Experienced" or "I Don't Live Today."  The reissue sounds very clean though, they did a great job mastering it.  In either version I think the most remarkable thing about this record is that it represented something entirely new, nothing like this had ever been heard before.  I'm a little envious of people who bought this in 1967 and heard it for the first time.  How astonishing it must have sounded, I'll bet they were blown away.  Admittedly when I listen to "Love or Confusion," I am reminded of the Yardbirds in the Jeff Beck era and prior to Hendrix's arrival, Jeff Beck was the most inventive and creative guitarist in rock.  Certainly the Yardbirds explored the heavy psychedelic blues before Hendrix did, but they were just as likely to deliver silly pop ditties as well.  Hendrix was a far superior songwriter and a more consistent artist.  As inane as "Third Stone From the Sun" may be, it is still far more interesting than "Hot House of Omagarashid" or "Little Soldier Boy."  Besides, nothing in the Yardbirds catalog (great as it is) can really compare to "I Don't Live Today" or "Purple Haze."  This is the boldest and heaviest rock music ever, played with unprecedented skill and passion.  This isn't just lumpen heaviness like Blue Cheer, this is heaviness with a purpose.  Even now, 44 years later, it still sounds impressive, state of the art heavy rock.  No metal guitarist will ever approach Hendrix at his zenith.  Every riff he touched turned to gold, the man was one of the few bona fide geniuses in rock.  Aside from "Remember," "Third Stone From the Sun" or "May This Be Love" every song on either version of the album is brilliant and even those three are enjoyable.  This is a record with intelligent and poetic lyrics and dazzling playing throughout, what more do you want from a rock album?  1967 was such an amazing year, so many great albums were released that year but I have yet to hear a better one than this.  Recommended to anyone who has never been experienced.

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