Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jimi Hendrix

  • Are You Experienced? [Experience Hendrix, 1967]  
  • Axis: Bold as Love [Experience Hendrix, 1968]  
  • Smash Hits [Reprise, 1968]  
  • Electric Ladyland [Experience Hendrix, 1969]  
  • Band of Gypsys [Capitol, 1970] B+
  • The Cry of Love [Reprise, 1971] A
  • Rainbow Bridge [Reprise, 1971] A-
  • Hendrix in the West [Reprise, 1972] A-
  • War Heroes [Reprise, 1972] B
  • Sound Track Recordings from the Film "Jimi Hendrix" [Reprise, 1973] C+
  • Crash Landing [Reprise, 1975] B+
  • Midnight Lightning [Reprise, 1976] B+
  • The Essential Jimi Hendrix [Reprise, 1978] C+
  • The Essential Jimi Hendrix Volume Two [Reprise, 1979] B-
  • Nine to the Universe [Reprise, 1980] B+
  • The Jimi Hendrix Concerts [Warner Bros., 1982] B+
  • Jimi at Monterey [Reprise, 1986] B+
  • Johnny B. Goode [Capitol, 1986] A-
  • Band of Gypsys 2 [Capitol, 1986] A-
  • Blues [MCA, 1994] A-
  • Woodstock [MCA, 1994] A-
  • First Rays of the New Rising Sun [Experience Hendrix/MCA, 1997]  
  • South Saturn Delta [Experience Hendrix/MCA, 1997]  
  • BBC Sessions [MCA, 1998] B+
  • Live at the Oakland Coliseum [Dagger/Experience Hendrix, 1999]  
  • Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection [Experience Hendrix, 2001]  
  • Live at Berkeley [Experience Hendrix, 2003] ***
  • People, Hell and Angels [Legacy, 2013] **
  • Rainbow Bridge [Experience Hendrix/Legacy, 2014] A-

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Are You Experienced? [Experience Hendrix, 1967]
Try to hear this bombshell debut as an English pop record--only two of the 11 skillfully paced paced tracks, three titanic bonus singles, and three fascinating B sides run over four minutes, and hooks abound. You could hum these tunes. Yet humming definitely didn't capture their essence, a roiling sea of guitar that would change how a generation of fans heard music and conceived their own blown minds. [Blender: 5]  

Axis: Bold as Love [Experience Hendrix, 1968]
True believers praise the spaced-out lightness of his second album, released just half a year after Are You Experienced? But since Hendrix immediately heavied up again, figure they're kidding themselves--half the songs are forgettable as songs if fine as recordings, and there's even some pro forma guitar. Not much, though, and to hear Mitchell going wild on tracks even briefer than the debut's is to nudge Keith Moon over on his free-style drumming pedestal. [Blender: 3]  

Smash Hits [Reprise, 1968]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library; CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]  

Electric Ladyland [Experience Hendrix, 1969]
"It wasn't just slopped together; every little thing you hear there means something," said Hendrix of his two-LP masterwork. And though it isn't perfect, perfection wasn't the idea. No previous rock album flowed like this, and while jazz albums often support as many contrasting sonic moods, Louis Armstrong himself didn't match Hendrix's appetite for sound effects and general silliness. His spaced-out spirituality is the fullest musicalization of "psychedelic" ever accomplished. [Blender: 5]  

Band of Gypsys [Capitol, 1970]
Because Billy Cox and Buddy Miles are committed (not to say limited) to a straight 4/4 with a slight funk bump, Hendrix has never sounded more earthbound. "Who Knows," based on a blues elemental, and "Machine Gun," a peacemonger's long-overdue declaration of war, are as powerful if not as complex as anything he's ever put on record. But except on the rapid-fire "Message to Love" he just plays simple wah-wah patterns for a lot of side two. Not bad for a live rock album, because Hendrix is the music's nonpareil improvisor. But for a Hendrix album, not great. B+

The Cry of Love [Reprise, 1971]
At first I responded to this by feel. It seemed loose, free of mannerisms, warmer than the three Experience LPs, as if by dying before it was finished Hendrix left all the sweet lyricism of his cockeyed mystical brotherhood jive unguarded. But it isn't just the flow--these tracks work as individual compositions, from offhand rhapsodies like "Angel" and "Night Bird Flying" through primal riffsongs like "Ezy Ryder" and "Astro Man" to inspired goofs like "My Friend" and "Belly Button Window." What a testament. A

Rainbow Bridge [Reprise, 1971]
Given that Hendrix is always a guitarist first, The Cry of Love seems like the verbal/vocal half of the double-LP he was planning when he died. Except for "Dolly Dagger," now the single and a pretty conventional Hendrix song, what you notice here is the playing--the delicate "Pali Gap," the relatively dignified (and pre-Woodstock) "Star Spangled Banner," and the amazing blues jams of side two, especially the live "Hear My Train a Coming." Rich stuff, exploring territory that as always with Hendrix consists not merely of notes but of undifferentiated sound, a sound he shapes with a virtuosity no one else has ever achieved on an electric instrument. A-

Hendrix in the West [Reprise, 1972]
Despite the introductory mini-medley of "God Save the Queen" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" from Isle of Wight--a great in-concert idea that doesn't have any business on a record--these San Diego (with the Experience) and Berkeley (with Cox and Mitchell) performances make a better live album than Band of Gypsys. Not all of it is historic, but "Red House," done as a long blues jam marred briefly by a lazy unaccompanied passage, and "Little Wing," stronger and freer than on Axis: Bold as Love (or Layla), are definitive. And so, heh heh, is "Johnny B. Goode." A-

War Heroes [Reprise, 1972]
It figures you'd find the heavy metal down toward the bottom of the barrel--still strong stuff, but except maybe for the "Highway Chile" riff and the sheer speed of "Steppin' Stone," nothing springs out. And novelties like "Peter Gunn" and "3 Little Bears," biographically touching though they are, really do sound like filler. B

Sound Track Recordings from the Film "Jimi Hendrix" [Reprise, 1973]
"Johnny B. Goode" has about two-thirds the volume and brightness of the original, and the stuff from Band of Gypsys has lost clarity. None of the previously unreleased music is exceptional, although all of it is interesting, especially an early twelve-string blues. The interviews aren't bad, and at least they're at the end of each side. I wouldn't, and didn't, throw away a free copy--just filed it where the sun don't shine. C+

Crash Landing [Reprise, 1975]
The studio guys producer-curator Alan Douglas assigned to provide proper tracks (he claims the originals were unreleasable, though one must wonder whether he could have grabbed all that composition credit if he'd put 'em out untouched) do a surprisingly competent job. In fact, I don't even blame them for the competent lifelessness of side one--Jimi was a pretty fair city songwriter (cf. such guitar whizzes as Clapton, Garcia, Page, Trower, Marino, Beck), but his legacy can't be infinite. Side two, however, includes the best hook here--a soul consciousness chant called "With the Power" that features Buddy Miles and Billy Cox--as well as two astonishing instrumental showpieces, "Peace in Mississippi" (feedback heaven) and "Captain Coconut" (studio space). B+

Midnight Lightning [Reprise, 1976]
With posthumous Hendrix it's best to concentrate on the improvisations as if he were a jazz musician, and heard this way Alan Douglas's second attempt at creative tampering beats the first. Once again the standouts are instrumentals--a Mitch Mitchell vamp called "Beginnings" and especially "Trash Man," reminiscent of McLaughlin's Devotion only grander, more passionate, and more anarchic. Guitarist Jeff Mironov actually enriches that cut, just as guitarist Lance Quinn does "Machine Gun," which due to the stiffness of the rhythm section is less funky than either live version but smashes through as a raveup. And beyond that the blues playing--as opposed to singing or writing--carries the album. B+

The Essential Jimi Hendrix [Reprise, 1978]
The essential Jimi Hendrix is to be found on Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold as Love, Electric Ladyland, and The Cry of Love, from which most of the great music on this two-LP compilation was rather eccentrically excerpted. Smash Hits is a worthy song compilation. And if this is why Rainbow Bridge (two cuts), War Heroes (two cuts), and Hendrix in the West (none) were deleted from the catalogue, Alan Douglas ought to be put in escrow until they're restored. C+

The Essential Jimi Hendrix Volume Two [Reprise, 1979]
This one-LP follow-up surrounds the Band of Gypsys "Machine Gun" with the Monterey "Wild Thing" and the Woodstock "Star Spangled Banner," a worthy conceit, and includes a seven-inch "Gloria" that lasts 8:47 and is spectacular for about a third of that. It also includes five whole tracks from Are You Experienced? B-

Nine to the Universe [Reprise, 1980]
With posthumous Hendrix it's always best to concentrate on the improvisations as if he were a jazz musician, and these relaxed jams are his jazziest contexts to date. Unfortunately, at least in theory, the only jazz player on hand is organist Larry Young, who got pretty far out with Miles and McLaughlin but sounds like Jimmy Smith over the Billy Cox-Mitch Mitchell beat. The result is bracing progressive r&b with Jimi stretching out, and the question is whether tighter structures wouldn't have made him think harder and faster. B+

The Jimi Hendrix Concerts [Warner Bros., 1982]
Limited by Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, never the world's greatest living rhythm section, this barrel-bottom houses Hendrix the heavy metal paterfamilias rather than Hendrix the nonpareil rock improviser (not that the two weren't sometimes the same). There've been more exciting versions of such highlights as "Hear My Train a Comin'" (on Rainbow Bridge), "Little Wing," and especially "Red House" (both on the criminally deleted Hendrix in the West). But "Are You Experienced" has never been noisier. B+

Jimi at Monterey [Reprise, 1986]
Since I've oft been chastised for suggesting that the JHE's U.S. splashdown was less than extraterrestrial, I'm surprised at the yes-we-have-no-hosannas greeting this verbatim version. Maybe it's because only three of the ten tracks are previously unreleased. Maybe it's because after years of repackaging only suckers and acolytes get hot for another live Hendrix album. Or maybe it's because Jimi speeds alarmingly, Mitch Mitchell keeps tripping over his sticks, and "Like a Rolling Stone" is patently hokey. Nevertheless, such extramusical factors as historical verisimilitude and tinless audio incline me to charity. Peace-and-love-and-egomania at its most far out. B+

Johnny B. Goode [Capitol, 1986]
Like Hendrix's other 1986 releases, this budget-priced mini-LP (time: 26:08) is vivid testimony to the uses of digital mastering for archival music, especially music recorded direct to two-track. "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Machine Gun" occupy the B, and while there's no need to own either twice, the powerful sound is at least a reason. On the A, a compressed, guitar-heavy "Voodoo Chile" and an intense "Watchtower" surround the disc's only previously released (though long unavailable) track, which provides the album title for good reason--it's the definitive version of the definitive guitar anthem. Roll over Chuck Berry and tell Keith Richards the news. A-

Band of Gypsys 2 [Capitol, 1986]
I suppose side one of this belated sequel wasn't side two of the original because Jimi had a personal or Capitol a financial stake in such brotherhood bromides as "Power of Soul" and "We Gotta Live Together." But for better or worse he's a lot more impassioned working apolitical traditions--debuting "Hear My Train a Comin'" or reprising "Foxy Lady" or letting Buddy Miles cover Howard Tate's "Stop." What's more, the Hendrix classics by the Mitch Mitchell edition of Band of Gypsys on side two sound a lot fresher now than they would have fifteen years ago, and not just because pressing techniques have taken such a leap. Which makes the second first by me. A-

Blues [MCA, 1994]
Your soul will survive if you never hear a moment of Reprise's brass-balled clearance boxes, Lifelines (radio music, radio chat) and Stages (four concerts! four cities! four years!). But on this "new" single disc, the Inexhaustible One sounds pretty fresh for somebody who's been dead 24 years. Even if you've heard him do most of these titles, even if you've committed Rainbow Bridge's "Hear My Train A Comin'" to memory, the simple concept and modest scope do right by his uniqueness, his diversity, and the mother of all subgenres. A-

Woodstock [MCA, 1994]
Transitional--less definitive than Winterland early or Berkeley late. But more essential (also historic) than any other Hendrix concert record. The ad hoc Gypsy Sons and Rainbows band goes with Billy Cox on bass, picks Mitch's sticks over Buddy's bigfoot; two percussionists sit in for a snakier groove and Larry Lee adds extraneous guitar. The loosely rehearsed music sounds that way. But it's way, way out there--"The Star Spangled Banner" is a bon-bon compared to "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)/Stepping Stone" or "Jam Back at the House (Beginnings)" or the unaccompanied "Woodstock Improvisation." All in all, your basic rock concert as act of flawed genius. Does this kind of thing happen any more? Not on such a scale for sure. A-

First Rays of the New Rising Sun [Experience Hendrix/MCA, 1997]
"If you give deeper thoughts in your music then the masses will buy them," Hendrix said, and maybe if he'd finished this double LP his dreams would have come true. But as reimagined by longtime engineer Eddie Kramer, it's less startling musically than Electric Ladyland and not too profound lyrically. It's also a powerful collection by a stone genius whose songwriting kept growing and whose solos rarely disappoint. [Blender: 4]  

South Saturn Delta [Experience Hendrix/MCA, 1997]
Discographically presumptuous though this melange of odd tracks, alternate takes, and previously unreleaseds is, it establishes the listenability of Hendrix's dribs and drabs. Crazies with time on their hands can have a not dissimilar experience with the four-CD The Jimi Hendrix Experience box. [Blender: 3]  

BBC Sessions [MCA, 1998]
An essential exhumation of the only rock artist I'm convinced merits them (I'll finish with the Springsteen box soon, honest). But despite the one-minute "Sunshine of My Love" and other oddments from his mercurial top-of-the-pops career, anyone who owns Rykodisc's one-CD 1988 version, off the market now that the good guys control the catalogue, has the essentials. There's a whiff of completism coming off the definitive Hendrix reissue program--the usual mix of profit maximization and hero worship, certain to separate the fans from the scholars pretty quick. The rationalization being, I guess, that six is nine--the fans are scholars already. B+

Live at the Oakland Coliseum [Dagger/Experience Hendrix, 1999]
This competent unauthorized mono recording of an April 1969 concert has now been certified by Experience Hendrix's major domo, Jimi's stepsister Janie Hendrix, whom he barely knew. It's a bootleg, it sounds like one, and it's expressly "not intended for the casual fan." Big deals: 18-minute workout on "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" and, heart be still, guest shot by Jefferson Airplane's Jack Casady. [Blender: 2]  

Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection [Experience Hendrix, 2001]
This budget double--18 studio tracks balanced by 12 live recordings--whups the 20-track bestseller Experience Hendrix: The Best of Jimi Hendrix. Beyond "Manic Depression," it omits no essential songs. If several arrive in uncanonical live versions, well, you can't comprehend Hendrix without some of those. Despite climaxing with "Wild Thing" at Monterey rather than leading with it, disc two stands as his greatest live album. [Blender: 5]  

Live at Berkeley [Experience Hendrix, 2003]
The Cox-Mitchell band at its most documentable ("Hey Baby [New Rising Sun]," "I Don't Live Today"). ***

People, Hell and Angels [Legacy, 2013]
A superior barrel scrape, with Hendrix's comping behind Lonnie Youngblood worthy of the permanent collection ("Let Me Move You," "Somewhere") **

Rainbow Bridge [Experience Hendrix/Legacy, 2014]
This long-lost, new-to-CD album followed The Cry of Love in 1971, when slavemaster Mike Jeffery and some Warner Bros. overseers hired bereaved collaborator Eddie Kramer to make sense and of course dollars of the dead hero's vastness. Half of it reappeared on 1996's Kramer-overseen First Rays of the New Rising Son, a what-Jimi-wanted reconstruction that's always paled against Electric Ladyland. So probably the two in-the-moment profit-takers give us a better sense of who Hendrix was in the excited, spiritual, bummed-out sprawl of his final year. Among its rare gifts: a synthlike, pre-Woodstock "Star Spangled Banner" and the measured, lyrical "Pali Gap." A-

Further Notes:

Subjects for Further Research [1990s]: Hendrix is the John Coltrane of rock discography--a revered improvisor cut down so young that every taped leaving is treasured by his acolytes. And where, for better and worse, Coltrane's legacy has always been controlled by his widow, it took 25 years for Hendrix's family to get what they deserved. This resulted in many wondrous late-'90s rerereleases. Because Hendrix's art was preeminently sonic, the vibrant digitalized sound on the three studio albums he released while alive is reason enough to buy them again. The reconstructed First Rays of the New Rising Sun is a worthy replacement for 1971's The Cry of Love and its confusion of successors. But like Alice Coltrane, the Hendrix family has completist tendencies reflecting their uncritical regard for the artist they're charged with rendering unto history. This means that twice so far they've replaced excellent Eddie Kramer-overseen reconstruction with longer, less excellent Eddie Kramer-overseen reconstructions: Live at Woodstock for Woodstock (MCA 1999, MCA 1994), BBC Sessions for Radio One (MCA 1998, Rykodisc 1988). For what it's worth, which may not be much, I actually like the lo-fi authorized bootleg Live at the Oakland Coliseum (MCA 1998). But unless you're an acolyte, I'd suggest that to supplement the '60s basics you pick up MCA's 1994 Blues before it's deleted, or shop around for the out-of-print MCA Woodstock and Rykodisc BBC Sessions and Live at Winterland before they disappear.

See Also