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Jimi Hendrix Buyers Guide

On the surface, it's very easy to look at Jimi Hendrix's recorded output and pick his best albums. After all, he only had a four-year recording career, with as many albums. With the Jimi Hendrix Experience, he recorded Are You Experienced (1967), Axis: Bold As Love (1967), Electric Ladyland (1968) and then the self-titled Band Of Gypsys, with the Band Of Gypsys in 1970. Each album is a killer in its own way but things start to get tricky when you delve into the myriad of releases that have appeared since the guitarist's untimely death. It seems that anyone who had even a tenuous connection to JMH has managed to cobble together some sort of release. All of which resulting in the questions - which "Best Of" should you pick? Is this live album any good? Are there unreleased sessions still lurking in the Hendrix vaults? Did Hendrix really record a version of the Welsh National Anthem as was claimed recently? (No, as it happens). So, here, Planet Rock attempts to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Are You Experienced (1967)

If you only own one Jimi Hendrix record, it's got be his debut album. Nothing can quite prepare you for the full-on assault of Jimi's innovative guitar playing, idiosyncratic vocal style and sheer genius with a tune. There has always been an element of confusion over this record since it was released in different versions for different markets. For example, when it originally hit the shelves in the UK, it was bereft of key Hendrix songs like 'Hey Joe', 'Purple Haze' and 'The Wind Cries Mary' which had already been massive British hit singles. The US version did redress the balance and included these since their market wasn't as wholly reliant upon single sales like the UK. It's not just the singles that make this release so essential though, whether you marvel at Jimi's evocative understated playing in the beautiful 'May This Be Love' or his use of squally feedback in 'Foxy Lady', there's something for everyone. Of course, in today's CD environment we don't need to worry about whether to get your hands on a US or UK album, simply grab yourself a copy of the remastered album with bonus tracks and you'll have the full-on Are You Experienced experience from both sides of the pond.

TRACKLIST:
 
Foxy Lady / Manic Depression / Red House / Can You See Me / Love Or Confusion / I Don't Live Today / May This Be Love / Fire / Third Stone From The Sun / Remember / Are You Experienced / Hey Joe / Stone Free / Purple Haze / 51st Anniversary / Wind Cries Mary  / Highway Chile 

Electric Ladyland (1968)

It's the album with the naked ladies on the cover (well, it was until it was withdrawn), but it's also the record that features the Jimi Hendrix Experience at their zenith. It's a whopping double set (now available on a single CD), that brought the Experience to a fitting close - Jimi was about to move on to his Band Of Gypsys project. Jimi took guitar experimentation to its limits here - alongside engineer Eddie Kramer, Jimi manipulated his sound with backwards tape effects, more feedback, delay and much, much more. All this studio pokery would be clever enough, but the clincher here is that Jimi had the songs to support such boundary-pushing playing. 'Crosstown Traffic' with its heady evocation of a heavy, sweltering gridlock, nestles alongside the wah-wah drenched 'Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)' - a masterclass of Hendrixian guitar art -  while the dreamy, psychedelic '1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)' highlights the other side of Hendrix genius. Once again he took a cover version and owned the song - who now (to be honest), associates 'All Along The Watchtower' with its author Bob Dylan? It's a Hendrix song through and through. This album is innovative and downright essential.

TRACKLIST:
 
..And the Gods Made Love / Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland) / Crosstown Traffic / Voodoo Chile / Little Miss Strange / Long Hot Summer Night / Come On (Pt. 1) / Gypsy Eyes / Burning of the Midnight Lamp / Rainy Day, Dream Away / 1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be) / Moon, Turn the Tides...Gently Gently Away / Still Raining, Still Dreaming / House Burning Down / All Along the Watchtower / Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

First Rays Of The New Rising Sun (1997)

Finally, after years of finagling, this set was released with the blessing of the Jimi Hendrix estate. If anything, this is an approximation of what would have been the next Jimi Hendrix album, a sequel of sorts to Electric Ladyland. Where this album succeeds, when many posthumous (and unofficial) releases had failed, was that the Hendrix Estate involved Eddie Kramer - Hendrix's longtime recording engineer to assist in its assembly. While we'll never know what Hendrix's next album would have sounded like, this is as close as we'll ever get 'Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)', the stunning ballad 'Angel', the dreamy 'Drifting' with its deft guitar work, 'EZY Rider' - featuring a guest appearance from Traffic's Stevie Winwood - and the blistering funk rock of 'Room Full Of Mirrors', they all feature here and continue to indicate Hendrix's brilliance as player, songwriter and singer. This is an album worthy of the Hendrix name, and worthy of your cash.

TRACKLIST :
 
Freedom / Izabella / Night Bird Flying / Angel / Room Full Of Mirrors / Dolly Dagger / Ezy Ryder / Drifting / Beginnings / Stepping Stone / My Friend / Straight Ahead / Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) / Earth Blues / Astro Man / In From The Storm / Belly Button Window 

South Saturn Delta (1997)

Released the same year as First Rays Of The Rising Sun, South Saturn Delta is a hotchpotch of demo takes, alternative and unfinished versions. Now, that usually spells disaster, but in this case the Hendrix Estate came up with another winning release. The alternate version of 'All Along The Watchtower', his take on 'Drifter's Escape' - another Bob Dylan song - and the beautiful instrumental 'Pali Gap' (originally featured on the Rainbow Bridge LP) are worth the price of admission alone. The completely new 'Look Over Yonder' is an interesting (and particularly strong) addition and it makes you wonder why Hendrix omitted to include it on any of his records released in his lifetime, while this is one of the few places you'll find a genuinely acoustic Hendrix track - 'Midnight Lightning' may only be a demo take, but Jimi's swampy delta blues-style song is a definite winner. Notably, the title track is probably the most unusual and unlikely Hendrix song - it's almost jazz rock in nature and unlike anything you ordinarily associate with him - there's even a horn section. It makes you wonder just what direction Jimi would have pursued if he was still alive.

TRACKLIST:  Look Over Yonder / Little Wing / Here He Comes (Lover Man) / South Saturn Delta / Power Of Cool / Message To The Universe (Message To Love) / Tax Free / All Along The Watchtower / Star's That Play With Laughing Sam's Dice / Midnight / Sweet Angel / Bleeding Heart / Pali Gap / Drifter's Escape / Midnight Lightning 

The BBC Sessions (1998)

Given that the Jimi Hendrix Experience were a primarily British band, it's hardly surprising that they managed to rack up several performances for the BBC. Packaged together here as the BBC Sessions, we're treated to everything they ever recorded for the Beeb, whether for TV or radio, including the candidly aborted 'Hey Joe' morphing into 'Sunshine Of Your Love' from the Lulu show the day after Cream split up. It's the cover songs that really hold the most interest - Jimi takes on The Beatles' 'Day Tripper', Willie Dixon's 'Hoochie Coochie Man' (featuring Alexis Korner on slide guitar), Leiber & Stoller's 'Hound Dog' and somewhat bizarrely Stevie Wonder's 'I Was Made To Love Her' with none other than the song's composer on drums. Of the 32 tracks on this record, we're given no less than three versions of both 'Foxy Lady' and 'Hey Joe' but it matters little since Jimi opted to extend and jam every time he played them, so on each recording you're treated to something a little different. Another bonus point for this collection is the simple fact that the quality is astounding. It isn't a half-arsed bootleg, these are studio masters lovingly taken care of by Eddie Kramer before release.

TRACKLIST:

Foxy Lady / Foxy Lady (2) / Stone Free / Hey Joe / Hey Joe (2) / Love Or Confusion / Foxy Lady (3) / Hey Joe (3) / Stone Free (2) / Killing Floor / Purple Haze / Fire / Manic Depression / Jam / I Was Made To Love Her / Ain't Too Proud To Beg / Little Miss Lover / Drivin' South / Drivin' South (2) / Catfish Blues / Burning Of The Midnight Lamp / Hound Dog / Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window / Hoochie Coochie Man / Drivin' South (3) / Radio One / Spanish Castle Magic / Day Tripper / Hear My Train A Comin' / Hear My Train A Comin' (2) / Voodoo Chile / Hey Joe (Sunshine Of Your Love) 

Live At Fillmore East (1999)

With a myriad of debatable quality bootleg live recordings available, it's fantastic to find a great live recording of Jimi at his fiery best. Live At Fillmore East is one such beast. This double CD is taken from recordings of four nights Jimi and The Band Of Gypsys (completed by bassist Billy Cox and Buddy Miles on drums) played over New Year's Eve 1970. If anything, this is a better place to hear Jimi with this band than the official Gypsys release that came out during the guitarist's lifetime. Hendrix's self-written material comes across the best - lead-off track 'Stone Free' is particularly powerful as it clocks in at nearly 13 minutes, but it's good to hear the guitarist stretching out on the Buddy Miles composition 'We Gotta Live Together', while closer 'Wild Thing' serves as a reminder that while Jimi liked to improvise and jam in a live environment he was more that capable of wringing the best out of a three minute pop song.

TRACKLIST : 

Stone Free / Power Of Soul / Hear My Train A Comin' / Izabella / Machine Gun / Voodoo Child (Slight Return) / We Gotta Live Together / Auld Lang Syne / Who Knows / Changes / Machine Gun (2) / Stepping Stone / Stop / Earth Blues / Burning Desire / Wild Thing 
 
DISC: 2
 
Auld Lang Syne / Who Knows / Changes / Machine Gun (2) / Stepping Stone / Stop / Earth Blues / Burning Desire / Wild Things 

Live At Berkeley (2003)

This is a tasty recording as it features Jimi Hendrix neither with the Experience nor with his Band Of Gypsys, rather the line-up here was a cross between the two. Gypsy bassist, Billy Cox and Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell backing up Jimi as he tears through blinding versions of 'Purple Haze' and 'Hey Joe'. Encapsulating the best of both worlds, Hendrix was able to illustrate the experimental side of the Experience with the more funky, R&B-led style of the Gypsys. The concert captured here is the second show Hendrix and co. performed at the Berkeley Community Center in 1970. As ever, the live rendition of 'Red House' is stunning while 'Voodoo Child' is a textbook performance - the perfect blend of experimentation kept on a short leash, even though it's a suitably extended version with a superb vocal track. It's not all established material that Hendrix offers here - we also get to witness early versions of songs (notably 'Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)' and 'Straight Ahead' - here in the guise of 'Pass It On') that would go on to be featured on other posthumous releases.

TRACKLIST : Introduction / Pass It On (Straight Ahead) / Hey Baby (New Sun Rising) / Lover Man / Stone Free / Hey Joe / I Don't Live Today / Machine Gun / Foxy Lady / Star Spangled Banner / Purple Haze / Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

Live At Woodstock (1999)

As celebrated as Hendrix's appearance at the Woodstock Festival was, this double disc release containing Jimi's entire 16-track performance is nothing short of an exhausting listen. The band weren't as tight as they should have been and Jimi extended every track to within an inch of its life, not always to its advantage. While it's undeniably great to have access to a good quality recording of the fabled show, chances are you'll find yourself returning to a select few incendiary performances - more than likely 'Foxy Lady', 'Red House' and the 'Star Spangled Banner' - but most of it is far too reliant upon seemingly endless jam sessions, and there's only so much of that you handle at one sitting without the heady visuals to match. This one is for your iPod to create your own truncated Woodstock playlist!

TRACKLIST:

Introduction / Message To Love / Hear My Train A Comin' / Spanish Castle Magic / Red House / Lover Man / Foxey Lady / Jam Back At The House

DISC: 2

Izabella / Fire / Voodoo Child (Slight Return) / Star Spangled Banner / Purple Haze / Woodstock Improvisation / Villanova Junction / Hey Joe

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