Pros: Crosstown Traffic, Voodoo Chile & Come On
Cons: And The Gods Made Love, Have You Ever Been & Little Miss Strange
Jimi Hendrix was going through a very psychedelic stage when he recorded this, the final recording with the Experience. It would appear things were beginning to fall apart with the band, which probably goes part of the way to explaining why Hendrix plays so many instruments himself here and used so many additional musicians.
And The Gods Made Love is not so much a song as an ‘experience'. It is literally 1m24s of reversed and speeded up tape that sounds like something from outer space. It almost picks up where EXP on the Axis: Bold As Love album left off. And left off is probably what should have been.
As is also the case with ‘Axis' the opening bit of pschesilly is followed by a brief and very laid back little love song. This is the song called Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland) and Hendrix plays nearly everything on this track except the drums. I think this track was also one that could have been left out.
The album really starts to kick off with Crosstown Traffic which was released as a single, but which would always have been a standout anyway. It combines of a good hook, with an irresistible drum beat, and fiendishly clever lyrics that make it one of his best songs ever. A classic extract is: "Tyre tracks all across your back - I can see you've had your fun". That high pitched ‘doo-dee-doo' sound is Hendrix playing a comb and paper kazoo, which I think, was a truly inspired idea.
The epic Voodoo Chile comes next and it is a fifteen minute blues with guest players Steve Winwood on organ and Jack Casady on bass. Mitch Mitchell puts in a work rate at the drum stool that is far higher than a song played at such a slow tempo would normally warrant, but it sounds great. Jimi and Steve trade licks between guitar and organ and even the very echo-laden vocals don't spoil this great song.
At this point the track order can differ according to which version of this set you have. When this title was released on LP side four was on the reverse of side one (allegedly for ease of playing with automatic record changers) and when the CDs were first released it would seem some people did not realise this. The result is that some versions have the tracks in a different order to others.
Little Miss Strange is an odd track to have here because it is so completely different to everything else. To start with it is written by Noel Redding who also sings lead vocals (a duet with Mitch Mitchell actually) plays bass and acoustic guitar as well as his usual bass. Then there is the style of the song which is like a cross between the sort of thing you might have heard from the mid 60s British beat boom. It's an odd choice and not a particularly great song.
Al Kooper plays piano on Long Hot Summer Night not that you can really hear much of it, the way the song has been mixed. Hendrix plays bass again here and while this song has some really nice melodies in it, it doesn't fit together terribly well and seems a bit of a mish-mash.
Jimi hits pay dirt with his version of the Earl King composition Come On however. This is Jimi doing what he does best; rocking and a very ‘live' approach has been taken to this song even to the extent we can hear some amplifier hum in the quieter passages, just as you would on stage. It is another example of what a great interpreter Hendrix could be of other people's songs. He never just did them karaoke style. They always had a big Jimi Hendrix stamp all over them.
Rumour has it that Gypsy Eyes could have been the track that broke the camel's back, or at least the one that did the same for Chas Chandler and Noel Redding. As the story goes they had both been getting fed up with the number of takes Hendrix kept insisting on for each song and for this one he allegedly did more than 50! I think it sounds great and not at all laboured, but it is easy to understand how that sort of obsessive behaviour could drive people crazy.
That distinctive wah-wah guitar opening coupled with Hendrix double tracking on electric harpsichord makes Burning Of The Midnight Lamp one of the most easily recognisable rock songs around. When you analyse it you find there is not a lot there actually, but it just sounds good. Backing vocals are from the Sweet Inspirations who you would not normally expect to hear on a Hendrix record, either.
There are many different moods on this album and the vibe surrounding Rainy Day, Dream Away is a case in point. It is a jazz groove led by Freddie Smith on tenor sax and features Hammond organ from Mike Finnigan and later Band of Gypsys collaborator Buddy miles on drums. But there are still plenty of distinctively Hendrix licks among the jazzy flourishes he also adds.
1983...(A Merman I Should Turn To Be) is at first listen, a continuation of the spacey/alien stuff and it is true the lyric suggests it is pretty ‘out there'. However the tune is another matter altogether; it is one of those anthemic pieces that is built around an emotional sounding riff to that allows Hendrix to daub some nice guitar splashes across the background.
‘1983' actually runs headlong into the next track - Moon, Turn The Tides....Gently, Gently Away and the two really do belong together as one big extended work. In fact this part is clearly an overflow from the previous track as the main riff returns here too. There are no credits listed for this track apart from the fact Jimi plays the bass solo, but Chris Wood's flute can also be clearly heard here as well as on ‘1983'. The whole package is a bit like the "Third Stone From The Sun' on the first Experience album - a mixture of experimental noise and beautiful melodies and sounds.
Still Raining, Still Dreaming is really part two of Rainy Day, Dream Away. It is really just a jam out on the original theme. It sounds good though.
House Burning Down begins with a dramatic build up like a rock anthem and then becomes a sort polka with rock influences. There are a bunch of time changes and guitars zooming from one channel to another. Pretty good stuff that transports you back to ‘the good old days'.
As with Come On earlier in this set Hendrix demonstrates once again that while he was a great songwriter he was also a great interpreter. His version here of All Along The Watchtower is the definitive one. It sounds almost sacrilege to credit the definitive version of a Dylan song to another, but with this one, Hendrix just found something else and his guitar was most of that but his vocal phrasing was another plus.
The set closes with another revisitation, this time in the form of Voodoo Chile (slight return). This is simply a shorter sharper version of the magnum opus at track four.