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Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced CD (album) cover

ARE YOU EXPERIENCED

Jimi Hendrix

 

Proto-Prog

4.22 | 295 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
5 stars In August of 1967 I was just about to turn into an adult while living amidst the most tumultuous yet exhilarating years of the 20th century. Things were changing by the hour, it seemed, especially in music where almost every new song that came wafting across the radio waves unveiled some heretofore unknown sound effect or odd influence. My adventurous peers and I participated in a never- ending contest of "top THIS," a game that involved discovering virginal artists/bands and proudly sharing our finds with each other. But nothing had sufficiently prepared me for that hot summer day when my friend Rick Cramer brought over the debut of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and left it for me to chew on and digest for a couple of days.

First of all, the three wan musicians on the cover looked as if they'd been teleported into someone's back yard from a distant galaxy and their eccentric fashion sense coupled with frizzy 'fros confirmed it. In an era when the wildly outrageous and shocking was the norm rather than the exception, this curious threesome still managed to stand out from the herd. Obviously, these funky dudes weren't from around here. "Be forewarned" the notes on the sleeve exclaimed and, for once, the record biz pukes weren't just a whistlin' Dixie. As entertaining as the package was to my fascinated eyes, my pal assured me that what I was about to hear and funnel into my brain would be life-changing. In a year that downloaded the likes of "Sgt. Peppers," "Disraeli Gears," "Surrealistic Pillow" and "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" into my mental data base, nothing (and I mean NOTHING) would top the impact that "Are You Experienced" had on my inner being. As a fledgling, amateur guitarist who idolized the holy trinity of Clapton, Beck & Page I thought those virtuosos had already done all that could be done with the instrument. Wrong. From the moment the needle touched vinyl I knew that Jimi Hendrix had single-handedly destroyed that notion forevermore. This was progressive rock music by every definition of the term. "Are You Experienced?" changed EVERYTHING.

Take the stunning opening cut for example. Those of you born after the swingin' 60s have heard "Purple Haze" so many times it might as well be elevator muzak but I'm here to testify that at the time of its release this song sent seismic shock waves cascading through the terrain of society as a whole. From its dissonant, semitone clash between bass and guitar that serves as a startling wakeup call to its freaky Octavia-processed guitar lead to Hendrix's shameless oohs and hahs slicing underneath, this track announced without a trace of humility that there was a new, badass sheriff in town and every 'slinger better line up to turn in their guns. Besides that, the radical black nuance in Jimi's vocal delivery was wholly alien to the tame Motown croonings we were used to and the brazen subject matter, well. Let's just say that he ain't describing the nicotine buzz from a Marlboro when he shouts "'scuse me while I kiss the sky.!"

Next up is the monstrously aggressive "Manic Depression" with its unparalleled-for-its-time, in-your- face frontal assault. It's totally riff-based from start to finish with nary a chord to be found, Hendrix's solo is so fierce I got the impression that he was trying to scalp me and Mitch Mitchell's cartwheeling drums are relentless throughout, especially towards the end when he throws in terrific fills one after another without ever letting the momentum flag for a nanosecond. The haunting "Hey Joe" had been around for a while but had never strolled the runway in this soulful getup. Jimi utilizes the clean, naturally tubular sound of his Stratocaster to create an almost pastoral openness for this tale of revenge. To this day I still look forward to those deep, growling guitar/bass lines that define the tune's underlying strength. The man's drastic and liberally plunging employment of the tremolo bar on "Love or Confusion" was revolutionary, making the suspenseful ending spasms absolutely mesmerizing. The number's lively midsection also added the first pinch of jazz into the stew they were cooking.

"May This Be Love" showed how differently Hendrix handled a ballad. He imaginatively lets his guitar paint the song's shifting moods but he never lets it become intrusive or boorish. The track also showcases the lost art of clever stereo panning for effect. It makes today's mixes sound like they're in mono. "I Don't Live Today" features a harsh, metallic tact that's downright menacing. There's a great "what's he doing NOW?" moment that occurs just before a wondrous, feedback-infested melee ensues where Jimi casually steps in front like a talk-show host to add his personal narrative to the mayhem roiling behind him. "The Wind Cries Mary" is another unique, iconic composition whose importance to prog can't be ignored. The looseness of the intro only emphasizes that Hendrix & Co. were more interested in the overall feel of the track than its tightness, just one of many reasons why it endures. The beautiful guitar ride is indicative of how Jimi was acutely aware of playing exactly what the tune needed. The song is brilliant in its simplicity and moving in the emotions it constantly evokes.

You wanna indulge in a brief bout of headbanging? Give the thrilling "Fire" a spin and you'll be well done in a jiffy. Mitch Mitchell blazes forth like a fistful of sparklers from start to finish while Noel Redding's solid bass lines keep the tune from flying off its axle. What's amazing is how Hendrix instinctively knew that to overplay his hand would've been counterproductive to the track's steamrolling inertia, therefore he intentionally kept his snarling guitar on a leash. His reputation may be that of a flash but the fact of the matter is that he was the master of understatement more often than not. The longest cut of the album is also its most mind-expanding and progressive. "Third Stone from the Sun" is an awesome journey. Psychedelic voices slither in and out of the jazz rock/fusion atmosphere and the instrumental's monumentally grandiose melody is statuesque. Jimi even dares to toss in random lines of beat poetry! Mitchell nudges the intensity upward a notch halfway through to show off his jazz upbringing while Hendrix proceeds to make his guitar scream in tortured agony and proclaims to all that "you'll never hear surf music again." (Believe you me, after this we didn't WANT to.) Following a powerful return to the celestial theme the group leaves us hanging out to dry as the planets surrounding us whirl in their orbits to the sound of a cosmic freight train rolling on endlessly into the night. Magnificent.

"Foxey Lady" may be the most commercial and accessible cut on the record but it's no sellout by any stretch. Jimi's overt, unabashed sexuality oozes from the speakers and his guitar solo sizzles and pops like frying bacon. But it's the album's namesake song that really made us aware that a fresh, exciting wing of the music building had finally been dedicated and opened. The Beatles and a few of their cronies had toyed with reverse engineering but Hendrix made it the foundation of "Are You Experienced?" and fully exploited the hypnotic spell it could summon in the listener. Not only does it have an unanticipated chord change as the cornerstone of its droning arrangement but the backwards guitar lead is nothing short of otherworldly. Earth had been invaded.

I remember my first run-through clearly. Afterwards I immediately got on the phone to my buddy Rick and told him that, in spite of never having tasted a drop of liquor or inhaled even a whiff of mother nature (much less ingested a hallucinogen), when the last pinprick shot of feedback faded into the ether and the turntable shut off automatically I truly felt "altered." No joke. I felt high. He said "No, man, it's just that now you're EXPERIENCED" and I knew of what he spoke. No other album has ever had that severe an impact on my psyche and, believe me, I've heard a LOT of albums in my time. This is one for the ages and one that every progger worth his or her salt should know by heart. Jimi changed the way electric guitarists looked at their instrument. Progressive? Are you kidding me? It just may be the most progressive album of the 60s, bar none. It broke every existing rule. 5 huge stars.

Chicapah | 5/5 |

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