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 tangible energy that thickened the air like soup. But could he transfer that energy to record?
Put simply: yes. The heroic musicianship of Hendrix and his band The Experience would reverberate through the entire music world and leave most of his contemporaries shaking in their boots. Or, to quote Clapton on the aforementioned fateful night Hendrix arrived, “You said he was good but not that good.”
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. But how would those songs rank when put up against each other?
We’ve done the hard work for you and provided a definitive ranking of the songs on Jimi Hendrix’s debut album Are You Experienced.
Ranking the songs on Are You Experienced:
17. ‘3rd Stone from the Sun’
A largely instrumental track on the band’s debut album from 1967, ‘3rd Stone from the Sun’ sees Hendrix put his fascination with space exploration to the fore. With elements of jazz and acid-rock, the song is a gentle refrain in an otherwise pacey LP.
The song came from before Hendrix got the band together and Chas Chandler, the man largely thought to have discovered Hendrix said the song came directly from his sci-fi infatuation, “I had dozens of science fiction books at home,” he once said.
16. ‘I Don’t Live Today’
Written as part of the glut of material that the band quickly worked through once the realisation of Hendrix’s genius had firmly set in. A gothic rock song in some aspects, Hendrix’s fascination with death is undeniable, the track eventually settles in a comfortable spot of psychedelia.
Lyrically, it is one of Hendrix’s darkest songs and sees him expand the ideas of the track’s lyrics with the music’s tribal leanings offering Hendrix the chance to get his feedback on.
15. ‘Highway Chile’
The closer on the extended CD version of Are You Experienced, ‘Highway Chile’, a phonetical spelling of ‘child’, is a final moment to marvel at Hendrix’s powerful sound and also a reminder that the whole band is there too.
Some of Mitchell’s most imposing beats are present in this song but truly we’re not even really paying attention to the lyrics. This is all about Jimi’s guitar. What’s more, he knows it and uses his instrument like a sharpened broadsword.
14. ‘Can You See Me’
We almost put this song into the top 10 based purely on the spring-like guitar sound Hendrix somehow manages to get out of his axe. As the sound spirals out into the airwaves the band kick in and a hefty dollop of classic R&B unfolds as Hendrix’s guitar goes on the offensive.
If you want to label the track in the context of the album it is on, the band’s debut record Are You Experienced then it may be considered a filler, but it probably adds up to what most R&B acts of the time could ever hope to achieve.
13. ‘Are You Experienced?’
While technically one of the best guitarists in the world at the time, Hendrix usually preferred to champion the ‘feel’ of a song over its mechanical composition. But on the title track from his and The Experience’s debut album, he gets very technical indeed.
Centred around one droning chord the track contains backwards guitars and drums, a very fashionable idea at the time, as well as a repeating piano octave which suggests that Hendrix was trying to hypnotise us all. The original album closer is akin to some of The Beatles work at the time and hints that the two acts were leading a new generation.
12. ‘Love or Confusion’
Hendrix is fully committed to his vision on this track as the acid-blues begin to descend over the eyes of us all. Only a few tracks into the band’s debut album and it’s clear that The Jimi Hendrix Experience are on a different level to those around them.
Once again, Hendrix promotes the themes of love and confusion as well as weaving through the song his obsession with colours and their meanings. It may well drag on a little longer than it needs to be it just provides the band with ample room to showcase their talent.
11. ‘May This Be Love’
The slow rumbling of drums may feel like it is building to a huge explosion of feedback and snorting guitars. Instead, Hendrix hits his pop music peak. A gentle rhythm allows Hendrix to lay over some of his more delicate licks before slowly turning up the heat on proceedings.
The track continues on its journey with Hendrix proclaiming that “I have nothing to lose/ As long as I have you” and asking mother nature herself to try and stay the same. It’s a calm and romantic moment on the band’s debut album and is certainly one of the softer songs on the LP, and in Hendrix’s entire arsenal. Put on some headphones and let the song melt you away. If only for a few minutes.
10. ’51st Anniversary’
Shared as part of the additional songs included on the CD edition of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s first record, Are You Experienced we’re including the track and it’s a fine reminder of Hendrix’s talent. ’51st Anniversary’ may not necessarily be the first song you should jump to if you’re just plugging into what makes Hendrix great but there is a certain subtlety to this track that makes it stand out.
All of the guitarist’s songs were imbued with a sense of story but ’51st Anniversary’ is perhaps the most easily attainable one as he details the moving relationship. Of course, the entire song is powered by Hendrix’s guitar and his sonic style is in full effect.
Hendrix is clearly taking us back to simpler times on ‘Remember’. A somewhat simple creation, a straight rock ‘n’ roll number, is designed to bring us all back to a time when sitting on the front porch and watching the day go by was all you had to do. Lamenting the complications of life and love, Hendrix is pining for a time gone by.
It’s hard not to feel swept up in the golden-hued nostalgia of ‘Remember’ as Hendrix whines for a “kiss for my supper”, and allows his guitar hooks to provide flashes of his brilliance while still remaining restrained within the track.
8. ‘Manic Depression’
‘Manic Depression’ is one song on the album that really sticks out—largely, because it has a strong and potent message. But while the notions of clinical depression are here for all to see, the real point of note is that Hendrix is clearly lovesick.
The fast-paced triple metre gives the song chops and Hendrix’s playing on the track is, of course, astronomical. Mitchell’s jazz drums are captivating and when the bassline and guitar lick marry up, it makes for something truly impressive. It’s a powerhouse track on the album that is not given the attention it deserves.
“Let me stand next to you fire” sings Hendrix over a pounding rhythm and his now-iconic guitars. Following one of the quietest moments on the band’s first album, ‘Fire’ has a habit of kicking the heat up to 100 and as Hendrix sings “move over, Rover/ Let Jimi take over” before unleashing a sizzling solo, you know you’re already cooked.
The track continues to power through the entire two minutes and thirty seconds, making sure that while the track is comparatively short and sweet, the afterburn on this one will stay with you for a very long time.
6. ‘Stone Free’
The second song ever recorded by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the track was eventually released as part of the CD edition of their 1967 debut album. The track quickly became an integral anthem for the counter-culture movement. Looking back, it’s all there, isn’t it?
The ambiguous title, the unfathomable guitar sound, the creative energy and enthusiasm are all underpinned by the choral refrain. The track often became an extended arrangement when performed live which shows how highly Hendrix valued the song.
The song’s lyrics explore Hendrix’s restless life, “I stay one or two months in a place and then I must have a change… I just get so restless, man—I might leave right away”. He continues, “I used to go to the [Harlem] clubs, and my hair was really long then. Sometimes I’d tie it up or do something with it and the cats would say, ‘Ah, look at that: Black Jesus.’ Even in your own section [of town]. I had friends with me in Harlem, 125th Street, and all of a sudden, cats, old ladies, girls, anybody would say, ‘Ooh, look at that. What is this, a circus or something?”
5. ‘Red House’
One of the first songs Jimi Hendrix ever recorded, back in 1966, and is largely held together by a simple 12-bar blues structure which, as ever, allows Hendrix to gild the cutting edges of the song with a touch of gold. The track changes the pace of the album and often provided a calmer moment in Hendrix’s shows.
The audience may have all taken a collective sigh when the first notes of ‘Red House’ landed on the air but it wouldn’t calm Hendrix down. Over the simple beat, he unleashes a host of rangey riffs that do all the talking his vocal doesn’t ever really get to.
The song is said to have been about Hendrix’s high school girlfriend Betty Jean Morgan and is one of his more conventional songs. It shows that he was more than capable of bringing it back to basics when he needed to.
4. ‘Foxey Lady’
Sometimes songs are inescapable. Whether you heard it first via Hendrix or via Wayne’s World, chances are the opening track of Are You Experienced has hit you at some point in your life. And as we all know, when that searing riff explodes onto the airwaves, it smacks you like ten tonnes of bricks.
If there’s one track in which you can distil the talent of Hendrix, encapsulate his vision and his sonic exploration, then the sultry, sensual and sensational ‘Foxy Lady’ has to be it. With lyrics apparently connected to Heather Taylor, who went on to marry The Who’s Roger Daltrey, the music is all straight out of Hendrix’s soul.
Not the kind of soul that warms soups or tucks you in at night with a whisky-breath kiss, but the lustful, primal soul that emanates from every note of this track. It’s hard to not fall in love with this song and, if it is not love, then it’s intoxicating enough to pretend to be it.
3. ‘The Wind Cries Mary’
Added as part of the expanded CD edition of Are You Experienced, ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ comes from a lucrative session. “That was recorded at the tail end of the session for ‘Fire’,” remembered Chas Chandler. “We had about twenty minutes or so left. I suggested we cut a demo of ‘The Wind Cries Mary’. Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding hadn’t heard it, so they were going about it without a rehearsal. They played it once through [and Hendrix then suggested overdubs]. In all, he put on four or five more overdubs, but the whole thing was done in twenty minutes. That was our third single.”
The track remains one of Hendrix’s cleanest moments. It is a sincere and authentic moment on the album and provides some classic blues-rock for any lover of the genre. To not hear Hendrix’s searing solos can often be disappointed but actually, the work he does on this track is far more imposing.
It’s a ballad delivered in the only way Hendrix knows how, with heart, mind and soul all kicked up to eleven.
2. ‘Hey Joe’
One thing that Hendrix did perhaps better than anyone else at the time was to take other people’s songs and turn them into something unique and singular to his sound and vision. He did so with his cover of the rock standard ‘Hey Joe’, creating, without doubt, the essential version of the song. Included as the additional songs added to the Are You Experienced CD, it is easily one of his best tracks.
Released as a single with ’51st Anniversary’ on the B-side, Hendrix was proving that he wasn’t only the present and future of rock but he had a great grip on the past too. In fact, it would build the foundations of his awe-inspiring sound. The song is certainly slowed down in Hendrix’s version of the track and it allows his virtuoso playing to be given ample room to breathe.
What becomes quickly apparent with the song is that if any other artist was to have guitar playing on their song as fantastic as this, they would have made it the focal point of the track. As it is, his playing just melts into the background and creates the setting for the song’s story.
1. ‘Purple Haze’
Just by the very nature of Hendrix’s mercurial appeal, the chances are that very few people will entirely agree with our list. In fact, we would hope they didn’t. But we think it’s pretty set in stone that the archetypal Hendrix tune simply has to be ‘Purple Haze’ if not just for the iconic lyrics “excuse me, miss, while I kiss the sky.”
It has all the finer threads of what makes Hendrix a guitar genius, the shining silk of Eastern modalities, the sturdy and colourful blues mix, and rendered beauty of the sound processing. What comes out is a suit worthy of Saville Row.
While the lyrics may leave you misunderstanding the intent of Hendrix—having often been seen as a psychedelic experience—while Hendrix would reiterate it’s intended as a love song. What is in no doubt is that on this track, Hendrix’s guitar playing is the most honest and authentic moment of the song.
One of the best-known songs of Hendrix’s extraordinary yet short catalogue, ‘Purple Haze’ is a shining light of not only the illustrious creativity that flourished in the sixties. But the poster boy of that unbridled and untethered push of pulsating artistry.