‘Purple Haze’ marked the moment the world woke up to Jimi Hendrix’s magical powers, and although it wasn’t his first single, the track made people realise that he was a supernatural entity.
While his debut single, ‘Hey Joe’, was mightily impressive and was a hit for Hendrix in the United Kingdom, it wasn’t an original track. It had also recently been taken on marvellously by The Byrds, and it was a soft-launch of sorts of the guitarist’s career, whereas ‘Purple Haze’ marked the true start of the hair raising career of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Speaking about the track, Hendrix’s producer and manager, Chas Chandler, commented: “With ‘Purple Haze’, Hendrix and I were striving for a sound and just kept going back in [to the studio], two hours at a time, trying to achieve it. It wasn’t like we were there for days on end”.
Chandler added: “We recorded it, and then Hendrix and I would be sitting at home saying, ‘Let’s try that.’ Then we would go in for an hour or two. That’s how it was in those days. However long it took to record one specific idea, that’s how long we would book. We kept going in and out.”
The song made Hendrix a superstar, and since then, many have tried to take it on to varying degrees of success. Below, we explore five of our favourite cover versions of the mind-bending ‘Purple Haze’.
The best covers of ‘Purple Haze’:
In 1991, Frank Zappa released his sparkling cover of Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ on his double-disc live album, The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life. He recorded it several years prior during a world tour, and Zappa’s ‘Purple Haze’ is as beautifully weird as you’d expect.
What makes his version even more spectacular is how Zappa seamlessly mixed the track with Cream’s ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ to create a joyous sax-fest, which captures exactly why he was such a celebrated live-performer who lived outside of the traditional conventions. It’s one true original paying a delightful nod to another.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Taking on Jimi Hendrix is a task that many would understandably shy away from. After all, on a technical level, he’s simply untouchable. Surprisingly, the Chili’s do the original complete justice with their take on the track with Anthony Kiedis’ bundles of energy carrying their performance.
In 2018, they included the cover in their seven-song set at the intimate Silverlake Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles. The whole group are Hendrix super-fans, with Flea even having a tattoo of the late guitarist’s face on his bicep.
He explained the ink: “It was 1981 and everyone was talking about this great tattoo artist in town. I was probably smoking a joint and said ‘I want a Hendrix tattoo!’ I remember afterward my mom or my stepdad said to me, ‘do you know the psychological implications of tattoos as your life goes on?'”.
Vitamin String Quartet
If the Vitamin String Quartet isn’t on your radar, then you’re in for a treat with their orchestral version of ‘Purple Haze’, which reimagines the track in a classical realm.
Since forming in 1999, they have released over 400 albums and covered everyone from Coldplay to System Of A Down. Nothing is off-limits, and in 2003, they shared a tribute album for Jimi Hendrix. There’s something incredibly cinematic to their take on ‘Purple Haze’, which is completely absorbing, and for originality alone, warrants a place on this list.
The Stooges’ take on ‘Purple Haze’ doesn’t reinvent the track like others on this list, but hearing Iggy Pop lead the band through a raucous rendition of Hendrix’s classic just makes you feel like everything is once again alright with the world.
Hendrix is an artist Iggy has nothing but love towards, and he once named the guitarist’s debut album, Are You Experienced? one of his all-time favourite records. The record includes ‘Purple Haze’ as well as ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ and ‘Foxy Lady’. According to the former Stooges singer, it changed the landscape of music. He said: “When it came out, nothing else had ever sounded like this. Super special.”
The Cure’s take on ‘Purple Haze’ puts the track into a completely new dimension, and it’s almost irrecognisable from the original. It’s everything a cover should be and guides the listener to this unexpected new trippy realm.
Robert Smith cooked up the version for the 1993 record, Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix, which also featured efforts from Eric Clapton, The Pretenders, and even Seal.
The liner notes for the album claim “artists were encouraged to not only record one of their own personal favourites but also to place their stamp on Jimi’s songs.” If that was the objective, then The Cure passed the task at hand with flying colours.