Jimi Hendrix ‘Electric Ladyland’ 50th Deluxe: Review

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Jimi Hendrix rode a rocket to international fame with his first two albums, the Chas Chandler–produced Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold as Love, which appeared over a mere seven-month span in 1967. Both found him bubbling over with innovative musical ideas, but Hendrix had even more ambitious plans for album number three, on which he labored for 13 months. Called Electric Ladyland, it would wind up being his first double album, his first self-produced record, and his first chart-topper. It would also prove to be the last studio record he would release prior to his death at age 27 in 1970.

Hendrix’s guitar work is magnificent throughout the album, which came out in October 1968, and so are his vocals, which can change in a heartbeat from gritty and tough to a sweet Curtis Mayfield-like falsetto. The compositions showcase a dazzling array of influences and employ an equally dazzling assortment of instruments: everything from kazoo and harpsichord (both played by Hendrix himself) to congas, tenor sax and flute. In addition to bassist Noel Redding and percussionist Mitch Mitchell, the album features such luminous guests as Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady; Traffic’s Steve Winwood, Dave Mason and Chris Wood; and the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones. Among Hendrix’s contemporaries, perhaps only Love’s Arthur Lee (who also led an integrated band) drew on such diverse sources—from rock ’n’ roll to blues, from jazz and folk to psychedelia.

Listen to “Voodoo Chile (demo)”

The 16-track, 76-minute album is loaded with highlights, ranging from the psychedelic soul of “Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland)” and the blazing rock of “Crosstown Traffic” to the funky, sax-spiced “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” and the spacey, nearly 14-minute jam called “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be).” All the songs are Hendrix originals except for Earl King’s “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll),” Noel Redding’s “Little Miss Strange,” and Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” which became Hendrix’s biggest hit single.

Listen to a demo of “(A Merman I Should Turn to Be)”

As Dylan told an interviewer in 1995, hearing that recording for the first time “overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent—he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.”

Half a century after its release, Electric Ladyland is the subject of a fittingly major 50th anniversary limited edition that includes Hendrix’s preferred cover art (a Linda McCartney photo that the record company rejected in 1968) and an oversized 48-page hardcover book with extensive notes and photos and the artist’s handwritten lyrics. The first of its three CDs delivers a remaster of the original LP; a second includes fascinating early versions of some songs that made the album, such as “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” and “Gypsy Eyes,” plus some songs that didn’t, many with different personnel. “Angel Caterina,” for example, features drummer Buddy Miles, while a reading of “Little Miss Strange” has Miles as well as Stephen Stills on bass. One take of “Long Hot Summer Night” finds Hendrix accompanied only by Al Kooper on piano.

Listen to another take of “Long Hot Summer Night”

Related: Electric Ladyland is in our story: 14 Best Studio Double Albums of All-Time

A third CD preserves a previously unavailable Hollywood Bowl concert that took place only a month before Electric Ladyland’s release. As the liner notes concede, this is a two-track recording with some technical limitations; but the performances are well worth hearing. The set includes high-powered renditions of earlier triumphs like “Are You Experienced?,” “Fire,” “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze” and “I Don’t Live Today,” plus an instrumental cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and Hendrix’s amazingly twisted interpretation of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Watch Eddie Kramer talk about Electric Ladyland‘s 50th anniversary

Supplementing the CDs is a Blu-ray that contains the documentary At Last…The Beginning: The Making of Electric Ladyland, which aired in abbreviated format in 1997 and has been expanded for this release by nearly 40 minutes. The film includes interviews with Mitchell, Redding, Chandler, Winwood, Buddy Miles and others; footage from the sessions; and all sorts of trivia. (Sample: Hendrix was upset to discover that an initial test pressing of the album was mistakenly labeled Electric Landlady.)

All of the above is praiseworthy, but the biggest treat in this entire package lies elsewhere on the Blu-ray: a spectacular 5.1 DTS-HD audio mix of the original album. “I think if Jimi had lived to hear 5.1 surround sound he would have totally embraced the sonic and spatial possibilities,” says recording engineer Eddie Kramer. Be that as it may, Electric Ladyland never sounded so good as it does on this disc.

Watch a teaser for the reissue

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Jeff Burger

Jeff Burger's website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades' worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include the recently published Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters as well as Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.
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  1. Jewy Hendrix
    #1 Jewy Hendrix 25 November, 2018, 13:21

    Jimi would be so happy ‘his’ original vision for the cover finally saw the light of day! I know what I’m running out to buy today!

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