Top Fifty 2: Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland, 1968

[originally published March 2013]

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Not Necessarily Stoned, But Beautiful

My aural encapsulation of Hendrix’s third album Electric Ladyland is not unique I’m sure, but it is specific in that it is Part 1 of the actual release as a double album because I could only afford – I seem to recall – a single copy at the time. What this means though is I have a distorted feeling for its tracks and their chronology because Sides 1 and 2 of Part 1 constitute the record as I know it, but they are in fact an odd sequence abstracted from the whole of the double album.

What this means in a dramatic sense is that the first four tracks I know and love of my Side 1 are Still Raining, Still Raining; House Falling Down; All Along The Watchtower, and Voodoo Chile [Slight Return], but these make up Side 4 of the original double. The next three tracks I know and love and relive as the psychedelic follow-on from my Side 1 to my Side 2 are Rainy Day, Dream Away; 1983….(A Merman I Should Turn To Be), and Moon Turn The Tides…..Gently, Gently Away, but these make up Side 3 of the original double.

That’s a bit convoluted, but critical because as I have written so many times, especially with Top Fifty selections that are primarily from my formative, teenage musical years, the sequence of songs are utterly embedded in memory and then expectation when listening to the album – and the myriad of precise memories links in to that sequence indelibly. Listening to the album as intended on my cd copy does not resonate, therefore, in the way I expect and treasure, and the way my Top Fifty notion of this album must be. The ‘correct’ sequence produces a corrupted and distorted emotion if I listen to it – as brilliant as that ‘version’ is.

For example, those first four tracks on my Part 1 album are the quad-core of the whole album’s more melodic, even ‘pop’ essence, All Along The Watchtower being a prime example. Fourth track for me Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) was the only version I really knew for some time, and yet it ‘should’ follow on, albeit at a distance, from the fourteen minute live version as track four on the original double: I say distance because it is the closing track sixteen on the original double.

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I’ll leave that exposition there because although it could be expanded, there’s little point when, I trust, the essential point is made. So for me, Side 2 of Part 1 is the psychedelic arrival for Hendrix, a sound presaged by the song Are You Experienced from his debut and realised here on his self-produced third album, Chas Chandler having thrown in the towel because of his disenchantment with Hendrix’s recording habits: irregular arrival/attendance, surprise invited guests, intense repeat recordings of numbers, his drug-taking. In terms of that psychedelic/differing musical trajectory, Rainy Day, Dream Away has, for example, the jazz saxophone of Freddie Smith dancing with Jimi’s guitar licks. And then 1983../Moon…. is fourteen minutes combined of outerspace narrative and effects wrapped around one of Hendrix’s more beautifully melodic tunes – all the echoes and distorted vocals, references to beyond the will of god, clanged bells, Jimi’s own echoed bass playing, swirls of spaceship and other sounds, and guitar/effects seagull squeals giving at the very least an impression of faroutness as a teenager’s mantra for living life from then. It is this extended musical psychedelia that introduced to me in 1968, aged 14, the kind of aural trip I could take in differing ways later on.

I know I haven’t mentioned in detail Voodoo Chile, but what more can be said of this premier guitar anthem? I will, however, just mention that I bought Crosstown Traffic/Gypsy Eyes as a single, CT being a radio hit which I thought very cool at the time.

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