Album of the Day — June 3
The Jimi Hendrix Experience — Electric Ladyland
The Jimi Hendrix Experience — Electric Ladyland
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Prior to the digital age, it seemed at some point in every rock artist's career they were compelled to release a double studio album.
Maybe they were contractually obligated, I don’t know. The Jimi Hendrix Experience had their moment in the sun with the format on Electric Ladyland.
Sadly, it would prove to be the last album that the trio of Jimi Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding, and drummer Mitch Mitchell would record together.
Electric Ladyland began being produced by Hendrix manager Chas Chandler in various studios in the US and UK before settling into the freshly minted Record Plant Studios in New York City in April of ‘68.
Chandler had tapped the now legendary Eddie Kramer and Record Plant co-founder Gary Kellgren to engineer the sessions.
As the sessions wore on, Hendrix’s notorious perfectionism (like asking Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell to record 50 takes of “Gypsy Eyes”) and insecurity about his voice (recording vocals behind screens) was taking its toll on Chandler.
Not making matters any easier was that the studio had become the epicenter of the rock and roll musician “hang” (aka party) in New York City with a laundry list of musicians dropping by:
The control room was so crowded that Experience bassist Noel Redding said: “It was a party, not a session.” However, by that point, Redding had his own band so Hendrix ended up playing many of Redding's bass parts anyway.
Growing so frustrated, Chas Chandler eventually packed it in and severed all ties with the guitar player. Electric Ladyland would simply don the credit of “produced and directed by Jimi Hendrix.”
But it’s here on Electric Ladyland that Jimi Hendrix begins to turn up the heat on the melting pot of talent and interest that was the man as an artist.
At its core, it’s a rock album. But it also finds the artist mixing elements of the rock & psychedelic pop of his earlier work with some funk and R&B. Engineer Eddie Kramer experimented with engineering voodoo (at the time) like backmasking, flanging, and echo helped Jimi Hendrix re-imagine his sound.
The 15:00 version of “Voodoo Chile” is a prime example. It originated as a jam session that Hendrix began with Casady and Winwood. In this version you can hear the crowd, you can hear Hendrix noodling with genre’s and Kramer’s handy work.
It’s from this 15:00 version that Hendrix trimmed down to 5:00 to record with Experience bandmates Redding and Mitchell for the version that closes the Electric Ladyland.
And unless you’ve been in a coma for decades, or deaf, then you’ve heard the band's electric version of “All Along the Watchtower.” Surprisingly, even Bob Dylan has publicly approved of this version … Dylan’s approval is a musical unicorn if ever there was one.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” is still so ubiquitous to FM radio that unless you’re still in a coma, or deaf, you still can’t escape the song.
While “All Along the Watchtower” was the hit — the band’s only US top 40 hit peaking at number 20 — both “Voodoo Chile” and “Crosstown Traffic” received airplay on the growing free-form FM radio stations.
Electric Ladyland was The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s most commercially successful release and Hendrix’s only number-one album.
Upon its release, critics tripped over themselves to praise Electric Ladyland.
Tony Glover in the original Rolling Stone review called it a little “heavy-handed” but he appreciated the “energy flow” (it was 1968) going on to say that the record provides an “extended look into Hendrix’s head, and mostly it seems to have some pretty good things in it (who among us is totally free of mental garbage?”
The Dean of American Rock Critics, Robert Christgau, was more enthusiastic in his coverage in Stereo Review. Calling out Hendrix as an example of the explosive showcase of rock’s “most important recent innovation” — the “heavy guitar aesthetic”. He would go on to give Electric Ladyland the #5 spot on the 1968 Jazz and Pop Magazines critics poll — I swear to you, these lists really used to be a thing and have gravitas.
Like a fine wine, Electric Ladyland aged well with critics. When the album was re-issued in the mid-’90s, the reviews got even better.
Re-visiting it in ’98 for Blender Christgau called it the “definitive work of psychedelic music” and “an aural utopia that accommodates both ingrained conflict and sweet, vague spiritual yearnings, held together by a master musician.”
British music journalist Peter Doggett made the argument that it may very likely be the greatest rock album of all time because of its exceptional concept, artful melodies, experimentation, and skilled musicianship, which he felt remains unparalleled by any other rock artist. (it’s then rumored that Doggett had to clean off his keyboard)
In Icons of Black Music Charlotte Greig said the album should be noted for “groundbreaking, introducing audiences to a style of psychedelic rock rooted in the blues.”
50+ years on the album is regarded as the gold standard of rock albums and continues to shape guitar players to this day.
If you’re going to go out, it’s best to go out on top and that is precisely what The Jimi Hendrix did with Electric Ladyland.