Is Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Are You Experienced?’ the greatest debut album of all time?
Jimi Hendrix announces himself and his band to the world with quite possibly one of the greatest debut albums of all time, Are You Experienced?. Looking back at the iconic record form 1967 it’s hard to find an argument against it for taking the crown.
Though we imagine those fans of Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Arctic Monkeys and a whole range of other artists would argue differently. But putting it all together it’s hard to see how Are You Experienced?, isn’t the finest debut album ever.
When Jimi Hendrix arrived in London back in 1966 he did so like a breath of fresh air. London had been brimming with musical talent for some years by now and had officially made it a swinging place to be. But it wasn’t until Hendrix arrived that everything kicked up a notch.
When he got up to play with Cream back in 1966 and blew everybody away, Hendrix was making a statement. It was chaotic, frenzied and produced a tangible energy that thickened the air like soup. But could he transfer that energy to record?
Simply said, yes. The iconic debut album would be recorded across a few months that joined 1966 with 1967, Hendrix eventually managed to capture the iconic otherworldly sound that he became famous for. For every moment of hard rock and fuzzy riffs, he married it with a jazz-like delicacy and the intention of creating. Its impact on music is unchartered yet undoubted. We imagine most artists who heard this album, either when it first came out or just for the first time, had a chill of excitement.
“When it came out, nothing else had ever sounded like this. Super special,” Iggy Pop once said of the record. With a tracklisting that has a wealth of gold, the record boasted tracks like ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Purple Haze’—arguably the finest album-opening song ever—, ‘The Wind Cries Mary’, ‘Foxy Lady’ and more which sums up its brilliance.
The Damned’s Captain Sensible once said of the album and it’s inspirational value, “By the mid-70s it was clear to me that my only chance to escape a lifetime of crap jobs (and I was a bog cleaner at the time) was as a musician, so I set about practising with a sense of purpose. When I first heard this album I thought, “That’s the way to play guitar!”
Everyone who heard the game-changing album had their mind altered in some way or another. The record’s heady combination of traditional blues licks mixed with the psychedelic rock haze that was beginning to sweep the globe. It saw Hendrix, a proficient traditional performer, change his tack and fire straight at the establishment with a sound that promoted creativity, free-thought and championed a free-spirit.
It, like punk did much later, challenged everyone to tune in and freak out, to get down with this new sound and embrace it. If the answer to the album’s titular question was ever “no”, then by the end of the LP you were sure to have changed your mind.
Of course, Hendrix was just letting his own spirit run free on the record and the command of his instrument, guiding it to where it needed to be and stopping everywhere it should. But that didn’t stop the game-changing record bending genre and setting the precedent of the early seventies rock and roll trajectory.
Suddenly the counter-culture movement was in full swing and the masses were making a pilgrimage to San Francisco. Now, with Are You Experienced?, they had their hymn book.
It’s likely impossible to name one debut album better than the rest. Aside from genre variations and moments in time mattering more than others, Hendrix was always keen to promote a sense of self—meaning it might be right for you and not right for others. But what we can say with authority is that no album had nor has since, changed music so quickly as Jimi Hendrix and Are You Experienced?