Jimi Hendrix is widely considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Many would call him the best to ever do it, most would have him in the top three, and anyone who doesn’t rank him in the top five has never heard a Hendrix riff. Jimi would be 78 today. Unfortunately, the legendary rocker will live in infamy as a founding member of the 27 Club. Hendrix, along with Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin, all died within two years of each other, all at the age of 27. More recent members of the notorious club include Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.
Though his career lasted just four years, Hendrix became one of the most influential musicians of all time, forever altering the course of music and popular culture. He was not alone, however, forming “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” in 1966 alongside English musicians, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. Together, the band fused various styles, including blues, jazz, and rock, to produce some of the most eclectic music ever put to tape.
Fans were always sure to get value for money and a unique experience – pun intended – at live gigs. Hendrix would routinely pick his guitar strings with his teeth and play his instrument over his head. The concerts would often climax with the rock legend smashing his guitar to pieces or, on occasion, setting fire to his Fender Stratocaster. It was performance art. His most famous concerts include headlining Woodstock in 1969, alongside Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and many others; and The Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 alongside the likes of The Doors and The Who.
The band released three albums: Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold as Love, both in 1967; and Electric Ladyland in 1968. But legal complications from an old contract froze Jimi’s recording royalties; rather than creating new music, Hendrix spent the last two years of his life on an endless loop of live tours just to pay the bills. The hectic schedule was taking its toll. Suffering from exhaustion, depression and anxiety, he began heavily self-medicating. In September 1970, in a small hotel in London, Jimi Hendrix died of an overdose; a lethal concoction of alcohol, sleeping tablets and barbiturates. In 1992, Neil Young inducted The Jimi Hendrix Experience into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Purple Haze (Are You Experienced)
Purple Haze is not a love song to cannabis. Many mistakenly think the song was named after a particularly potent strain of the plant with lyrics describing the after-effects: “Purple haze, all around, Don’t know if I’m comin’ up or down. Am I happy or in misery? Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me.” Rather mundanely, the song was in fact written after Hendrix had a dream about walking under the sea. He explains that he had fallen asleep reading Night of Light by Philip José Farmer.
Purple Haze is probably Hendrix’s most popular and well-known song, but it’s also one of the most misinterpreted in music history. Aside from the ill-conceived cannabis connection (what a name for a band that would be), the song also contains one of music’s most misheard lyrics: “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” often heard as “Excuse me while I kiss this guy”.
Foxy Lady (Are You Experienced)
Being the first song on the first album carries immense weight. This had to hit hard. And it did. The song has come to represent the Jimi Hendrix sound. Foxy Lady had become immersed in popular culture; the song has been covered by dozens of artists as well as appearing on several movie soundtracks.
All Along the Watchtower (Electric Ladyland)
It takes balls to cover a Bob Dylan song. Not only did Hendrix cover the track, he arguably improved it and definitely made it his own.
Little Wing (Axis: Bold as Love)
Little wing is one of the most profound love songs I’ve ever heard. The song holds a special place in my heart; I played it on repeat for weeks (if not months) after the birth of my daughter.
“Butterflies and Zebras And Moonbeams and fairy tales
That’s all she ever thinks about…
…When I’m sad, she looks to me
With a thousand smiles she gives to me free”
Hey Joe (Are You Experienced)
The ultimate anti love song. Hey Joe is structured as a conversation between two men, with “Joe” explaining that he caught his wife or girlfriend cheating and is on his way to shoot her, after which, he flees to Mexico.
Highway Chile (B Side)
Highway Chile was a B-Side for one of the band’s big singles, The Wind Cries Mary. (The word “chile” is a deliberate misspelling of the word “child”, to mimic Hendrix’s pronunciation of the word). The track is an anthem, knowingly or otherwise, for all those with an endless urge to travel the world. The song spoke to Hendrix’s adoring army of hippie fans and their free-spirit attitude to life.
“Guitar slung across his back
His dusty boots is his cadillac
Flamin’ hair just a blowin’ in the wind
Ain’t seen a bed in so long it’s a sin
He left home when he was seventeen
The rest of the world he had longed to see
You’d probably call him a tramp
But it goes a little deeper than that
He’s a highway chile”
Manic Depression (Are You Experienced)
Voodoo Child (Electric Ladyland)
Fire (Are You Experienced)
Crosstown Traffic (Electric Ladyland)
Let me know in the comments what Jimi Hendrix songs you would include in the legendary guitarist’s Top 10.