Friday, May 12, 2017

Jimi Hendrix's 'Soul Music for Inner Space'

"I've been imitated so well I've heard people copy my mistakes."

Jimi Hendrix

In the history of recorded music, there may have been a debut album that was more influential and more dazzling than Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced" — but I don't know what it was.

And from that relatively limited subset, fewer still could be said to have altered the popular music landscape, but "Are You Experienced" did.

"Are You Experienced" hit music stores 50 years ago today. Its most recognizable track, by far, has to be "Purple Haze," which Rolling Stone said possessed "one of the unforgettable opening riffs in rock: a ferocious, stomping guitar march, scarred with fuzz and built around the dissonant 'devil's interval' of the tritone. And it launched not one but two revolutions: late–'60s psychedelia and the unprecedented genius of Jimi Hendrix."

But the influence of "Are You Experienced" went far beyond a single song and continues today. In addition to "Purple Haze," three other songs from the album — "Foxey Lady," "Hey Joe" and "The Wind Cries Mary" — made Rolling Stone's list of the top 500 songs of all time.

In rating "Are You Experienced" No. 15 in its Top 500 albums of all time, Rolling Stone wrote that "Hendrix made soul music for inner space."

"Are You Experienced" was one of the earliest albums in my collection, and I still listen to it from time to time. Lately, in anticipation of this milestone anniversary, I've been listening to it a lot more, and a question keeps popping into my head:

How can an album that is now half a century old still sound as cutting edge, as visionary as "Are You Experienced" does?

I guess that was the special genius of Jimi Hendrix.

And by the way, unlike some modern artists (i.e., Kanye West) Hendrix never would have called himself a genius.

"I don't consider myself to be the best," he said, "and I don't like compliments. They distract me."