Album Analysis | Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced?
We analyse one of the finest debut offerings in the history of rock music which redefined the whole subgenre of psychedelic rock.
Hendrix, a man rumoured to have been beamed down from a different star or reincarnated from the origins of blues to remind white man what rock 'n' roll should really sound like, was actually a product of hard work and practice. He toured with Little Richard, The Isley Brothers and Curtis Knight, to name but a few, and released his first album Are You Experienced, under the name The Jimi Hendrix Experience, in 1967. The album was released a mere seven months before their second offering, titled Axis: Bold As Love. This would have led to a lesser record getting lost in amongst the success of their second, so hot on its heels as it was. But not this one.
Are You Experienced is widely considered to be one of the finest debut offerings in the history of rock music, and redefined the whole subgenre of psychedelic rock, as well as cementing Hendrix in the position of the greatest guitarist alive at that point. His ability to combine different genres of music is established in Hendrix’s writing style in this album which amalgamates rock 'n' roll, blues, jazz, psychedelia and even acts as a precursor to heavy metal at points. It contains no less than four songs which appear on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and the album itself appears at #15 on their greatest albums list. Are You Experienced stands out even in 1967, in the year in which psychedelia peaked, and has stood the test of time to remain the most memorable Hendrix album, and one of the defining moments in rock and roll history.
The album kicks off with ‘Foxey Lady’, lending its unmistakable F to F# note bend with enough vibrato to stop any listener in their tracks and take notice. It seems fitting that an album so genre-defying starts with a healthy dose of distortion before settling into the shuffling drum beat pattern by Mitch Mitchell. The song about London socialite Heather Taylor is an instantly recognisable tune and one of Hendrix’s signature songs. It’s followed by ‘Manic Depression’, a rare rock song in ¾ timing, showing off Mitchell’s jazz-influenced drumming style. ‘Fire’ is next, a rigorous exercise in uptempo and fun rock and roll which is another instantly recognisable classic. It was recorded live in seven takes.
However, 'Third Stone From the Sun' is the point at which the album transcends mere great rock and lands firmly in the realms of the intergalactic. A melding of jazz and rock but belonging properly to neither camp, this track is an ode to Hendrix’s love of science fiction, and takes inspiration from Coltrane recordings of the early sixties. The laid-back, jazz-influenced first section descends into one of the greatest guitar solo freakouts of the sixties, a soundscape of confusion and chaos played over the commandingly steady drum beats. The song is eventually brought back to the calming riff from the beginning. The startling effect of tape-slowing used for the first time to create distorted vocals, yet another way in which Hendrix experimented with psychedelia on this album in ways never before seen. “You will never hear surf music again” goes the vocal line, but this is exactly what we are hearing? The key is that we will never hear it in the same way. Atonal and abstract, the song clocks in at six minutes forty-four seconds, but listening to it, we have transcended time.
Jimi’s vocals in actual fact come from behind the barricade he built in the studio. Much more comfortable as a guitarist than a leading man, Hendrix was so insecure about his vocals that he wouldn’t let anyone watch him record his takes. Which must have been all the more difficult when taking into account the number of girls who would turn up to the studio to watch him and his band perform. This often led to arguments between the studio and Jimi, and arguments also ensued when the studio asked Hendrix to turn his guitar down.
There are so many more delicious facts and bits of trivia surrounding this fantastic album. The title track begins with the best acid-fuelled chat up line in the history of lyrical content and makes use of reversed guitar sounds. The tape for ‘Purple Haze’ (a song written about a dream and not an acid trip) famously bore the instruction “Deliberate distortion. Do not correct”. ’The Wind Cries Mary’, Hendrix’s ode to the after-party, was completed in a total of twenty minutes. It’s legends like this which make the album stand the test of time, making the songs come alive through their surrounding stories and the rough and ready sound the album still has to this day. Are You Experienced lives on as a collection of outstanding songs that refuse to adhere to the rules of any particular genre and instead simply serve as the best outpourings of the greatest guitarist to have ever lived.