Top Fifty 3: Jimi Hendrix – Axis Bold as Love, 1967

[originally posted March 2013]

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Dig My Freak Flag

I would appear to have prevaricated in deciding about putting this album into my Top Fifty, when it and Electric Ladyland are absolute givens to join Are You Experienced. Rather, I have prevaricated in keeping up with the Top Fifty, soon [perhaps] to be swelled with the bulk of John Martyn’s albums which are obvious givens too.

Axis Bold As Love contains two of the most beautiful songs ever written, by anyone: Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand, the former as magnificent as it gets, with the latter running it close and excelling in that psychedelic storytelling of the time.

It’s tempting to want to articulate some mimetic description of the guitar work, but why bother? Just listen. There are playful elaborations as Hendrix explores more on this second album in his unassailable trinity of iconic work, for example on EXP.

The album also contains the all-time great anti-establishment anthem If 6 Was 9, resonating as revolution in a teenager’s aural world at the time. It is such a funky number with its aggressive base and guitar two-step, then there is that jazz break with walking bass, a guitar that makes those unique noises, the line Point on Mr Businessman/You can’t dress like me, then rolling drums and the close-to-mic voice of Jimi claiming triumphantly So let me live my life the way I want to, and the guitar squeals and wails in its sustained independence.

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So many of these songs exemplify the genius of Hendrix [and producer Chas Chandler – maybe more so him] in framing Jimi’s sound within such short pop-burst timings. The album was completed in haste in 1967, the same year as debut album Are You Experienced, but it does not suffer for that expediency. The lengthy guitar jams are what we all want to hear, but the songcraft and even pop sensibilities of many of the songs on this album are what endear and endure. And when we arrive at relatively lengthy songs like closer Bold as Love at four minutes, the dramatic storytelling is augmented by the contrast, and the sweet guitar solo leading to the distortion effects of its finish is glorious.

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