List of Jimi Hendrix Songs From His Primary Recordings Isn't Long
The Best Jimi Hendrix Songs From His First 3 Albums
The Jimi Hendrix Experience only recorded 3 studio albums while he was alive. The first posthumous album, Cry of Love, was released in 1971, and it was the first of many to come. The most famous live album, released during his lifetime, was the Band Of Gypsies, which was not recorded with the original Experience members. So while there is a short list of original studio recordings with Mitch Mitchell (drummer) and Noel Redding (bass), they are his true legacy and the source of much of his reputation as a singer and songwriter - and guitarist, of course. Here are my choices for the best 5 of these original recordings.
1. The Wind Cries Mary
Recorded and released as a single before the summer of love, 1967, for the first album, Are You Experienced, this is a beautiful example of the tender and lyrical side of Hendrix. A poetic, fairy-tale lyric has powerful and evocative images in every verse, and the structure of the song highlights the tremendous and dynamic guitar solo in the middle. The overall mood is somber, delicate, and filled with the sadness of loss and of a lover reminiscing about other, better times. The sound is big and deep but simple, with sweeping vistas unfolding for the careful listener. The whole album - and all of his studio records, really - was meant to be heard on a high-quality system on headphones, but this song especially repays that kind of attention with sheer pleasure.
2. Manic Depression
Also on the first album - which was not released in the US until right after his historic appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, this song represents the other side of Hendrix - loud, violent, excited, nervous, but still amazingly expressive. It also shows what Pete Townsend of the Who was talking about when he described his first impression of the album as being like getting run over by a truck. The song ebbs and flows, alternating between smooth, almost jazzy sections where the ensemble playing is tight and syncopated, to full stops and careening around corners. Kind of like the ups and downs of what later came to be called bipolar disorder, known way back in 1967 as manic depression.
3. Spanish Castle Magic
The second album from the Jimi Hendrix Experience was released early in 1968, but actually was recorded in '67, not long after the first record came out. It was very exciting to hear the growth and expansion that was happening - Jimi was using more effects to get the sounds he heard in his head, and using the studio as an instrument itself. This song has many of the elements that made the whole album a classic - superb playing and singing, exotic, erotic, mysterious, and psychedelic lyrics, and a touch of funkiness that was unique to Hendrix. A song like this would later be used as a blueprint for bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers - just listen to the combination of funk and metal that Jimi invented here.
4. All Along the Watchtower
Said to be Dylan's favorite cover of one of his songs and to have changed the way he performed his song, this is a masterpiece that demonstrates the greatness of Hendrix. First of all, consider the raw material - Dylan's recording on his album John Wesley Harding was minimalist, spare, dark and biblical in sound and in its words. It was a song with no chorus, 5 short verses, recorded with bass, drums, acoustic guitar and harmonica. The tab for Dylan's version actually has only 2 chords - which Hendrix expanded to 3 for his version and for everyone else who plays it now. He took a simple song and made it into a baroque production with incredible guitar sounds, wonderful singing, and an arrangement that made it sound like a completely different song than the original. This was on the Electric Ladyland album, and it showed something else - that Hendrix could sing just as good as he could play guitar. He always said he hated his own voice and didn't enjoy singing, but the evidence is here that he vastly underestimated his vocal abilities.
5. Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Naturally, everyone thinks of Hendrix as a guitar god, legend, innovator, and so on - and that he was, no doubt. From Electric Ladyland, this prime testament of the stratocaster gospel as told by Hendrix is pure heaven for the electric guitar fan. Stevie Ray Vaughn's later version was an homage to a masterpiece, but the intensity generated in the original just can't be matched. Recorded as a live jam in the studio, this is probably rock's finest example of the art of improvisation on the electric 6-string. He did a pretty good job of singing on it, too. As the last song on the last studio recording released in his lifetime, the song represents all that the world lost when Hendrix died at 27, in September of 1970.