There aren’t many guitarists that can shine a light on Jimi Hendrix. Rightly regarded by pretty much anyone worth their weight in guitar gold as the finest player to ever pick up the instrument, what many people often forget is that Hendrix was a supreme songwriter too. Often using improvisation to improve his work, Hendrix released one of his most searing tracks on this day in 1968.
‘Crosstown Traffic’ just so happens to be one of Hendrix’s filthiest songs. It’s not just the dirtier than mud licks he introduces, but the song’s sentiment is also rooted in the promiscuity of the growing sexual revolution surrounding him. It’s one of the few moments in the dazzling career of Hendrix that the duality of his soulful turmoil came to fruition. This track, embroiled in the sexual explosion of the sixties, quickly became an underbelly anthem.
It’s not just music critics adding layers of connotation where they’re not warranted either. The song is simply drenched in sexual references and is primarily centred on Hendrix trying to get through to his lover from the previous evening with a simple message of “get lost”. Not the most enlightening piece of lyricism Hendrix ever delivered, we’ll admit, but the song possesses something incandescent all the same.
Much of that ethereal brilliance derives from the technical majesty of Hendrix’s mercurial guitar playing and the foresight of Chas Chandler and the rest of The Experience to allow him to deliver the track how he saw fit. For that reason alone, the song deserves top billing on any Hendrix playlist. As anyone who considers themselves a die-hard fan will tell you, such a playlist is likely to be a sprawling affair, and there’s good reason for it.
Though Chas Chandler and Hendrix had planned out the debut LP for The Experience, by the time they got around to recording the sophomore album, Hendrix was no longer concerned by Chandler’s plans as their relationship deteriorated. “You have the whole planned-out LP, and all of a sudden they’ll make ‘Crosstown Traffic,’ for instance, a single, and that’s coming out of a whole other set,” Hendrix complained of the decision to use ‘Crosstown Traffic’ as a single.
Unusually for the songs on Electric Ladyland, it features all the band members and even has Hendrix using a kazoo-like instrument he constructed with some tissue paper and a comb. But, in honesty, the Jimi Hendrix Experience was never destined to be a great album band.
Speaking as part of a ‘Behind The Scenes’ video on the group’s output, Chas Chandler remembers: “We didn’t actually start out to do an album at any time. We’d just kept on rolling, and as soon as we had enough songs for an album — bop! We’d put one out.” The song ‘Crosstown Traffic’ is one of the final moments of Chandler’s extensive professional relationship with Hendrix. Producer Eddie Kramer said of the single: “It was one of the last tracks that Chas had a tight hand on.” Eventually, Hendrix would break away from the shield of Chandler and venture out on his own.
Not many songs of Hendrix’s rely on the lyrics to deliver the piece’s emotion; his guitar was usually the most delicate paintbrush for that expression, and ‘Crosstown Traffic’ is just the same. However, it does come with some witty lines nevertheless. In the sixties, without being explicit about their sexually-driven content, artists had to get creative with how they spoke about drugs and sex — metaphor was the only way to go. For Hendrix, he uses the metaphor of being unable to get through to heavy traffic to tell the story of his unwanted lover.
It goes further than though and even sees Hendrix delicately play with the ideals of sexual liberation, “I’m not the only soul, who’s accused of hit and run, tire tracks all across your back, I can see you’ve had your fun.” It’s one of the few times Hendrix is so playful with his tone, acting as the perfect balance to the powerful and demanding guitar that wreaks havoc throughout the song’s short but oh so sweet run time.
Check out the song Jimi Hendrix wrote about a one night stand, ‘crosstown Traffic’ below.