The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Smash Hits – Reprise (1969) / Sony Legacy – vinyl

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Smash Hits – Reprise (1969)/ Sony Legacy (2016) 8898303081, 44:3 stereo vinyl [6/10/16] ****:

Vinyl reissue shows why Hendrix was the greatest rock guitarist in history!

(Jimi Hendrix – guitar, piano, vocals; Mitch Mitchell – drums, backing vocals; Noel Redding – bass, backing vocals)

As new guitar heroes have emerged on the rock scene, they all had one thing in common. How did they compare to Jimi Hendrix? The brilliant, charismatic guitarist burst on the scene with his debut album, Are You Experienced? in 1967. He followed this up with two double albums, Axis Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland. His original songs (“Purple Haze”, Foxey Lady”, “Fire”) and phenomenal covers (“All Along The Watchtower”, “Hey Joe”) pushed the rock genre to a new artistic zenith. The incendiary, effects-laden guitar licks were a perfect complement to his cool, bluesy vocals. He was adored by his fans and was the envy of his colleagues. Above the studio accolades (his first three albums have been included in the Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Albums of All Time), he is widely considered the greatest rock guitarist, ever. His untimely death in 1970 cut short a brilliant career, but magnified the impact of his music. His stardom was enhanced by legendary performance at Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock.

Sony Legacy has reissued The Jimi Hendrix – Smash Hits on vinyl. The original trio (Hendriz, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding) constituted the ultimate rock power trio (along with Cream) of that era. Opening Side A is the iconic “Purple Haze”. The initial driving chords feed into the inspired (“…Excuse me while I kiss the sky…”) spacey vocals. Hendrix’s solos are searing and the riffs are infectious. There are several other cuts from Are You Experienced? “Hey Joe”, the recording that made Hendrix was an unlikely launching pad. Originally a folk blues piece (with disputed songwriting credits), the tale of a man fleeing to Mexico after killing his wife transcended the standard blues narrative and now represents the best efforts of the British reinvention of blues as rock and roll (even though Hendrix is American). The solo at 1:42 is framed by the inimitable rhythm section. Now it is a Jimi Hendrix masterpiece.

There is no shortage of memorable Are You Experienced? material. “Foxey Lady” may be one of the most exquisite distortion-laden guitar songs ever. The aural sound and studio technique is extraordinary. In the hands of a lesser musician, this would be a catchy metal opus. But with Jimi, it’s nothing short of epochal. Nearly fifty years later, no one can touch the raw power. It is ground zero for the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lenny Kravitz and Prince. This album is a virtual greatest hits compilation on its own.

“Fire” is steeped in hard-driving tempo with terrific drum fills and furious instrumentation. The hip lingo and humor (“… Move over Rover and let Jimi take over…”) is uncanny. It’s hard to imagine a song titled “Manic Depression” as an expression of 60s counterculture. Hendrix’s jagged solo is vibrant. Jimi has an equal command of slower tempos. “The Wind Cries Mary” is evocative and full of poetic metaphors. This guitar solo is gentler, with rolling Southern hooks. Paying homage to blues, “Red House” is an unexpected, albeit pleasant surprise. Jimi Hendrix’s musical legacy is firmly rooted in blues.

There have been a lot of great Dylan covers. But none compares to Hendrix’s cover of “All Along The Watchtower”. The centerpiece of Electric Ladyland, Dylan’s striking imagery is explosive in the Hendrix arrangement. The piercing guitar line at the end is breathtaking. At just under two-and-a half minutes, “Crosstown Traffic” (also from Electric Ladyland) is funky and wildly inventive with cool vocals and guitar magic. Oddly, Axis Bold As Love was shut out of this collection. Why cuts like “Little Wing” or “If Six Was Nine” failed to make the list is baffling.

The vinyl re-mastering (from the original 2-track master tapes) by Bernie Grundman is excellent. The stereo separation maintains the balance of the expansive guitar sonics and the precise electric bass and drums. At increased volume (a prerequisite for rock), the overall sound is crisp. Part of this reissue is the Western-motif album cover with Jimi, Mitch and Noel dressed in outlaw garb on horseback. This shot was originally included only as a poster (and is here, too) on the 1969 release. The Jimi Hendrix – Smash Hits is loaded with superlative psychedelic blues from the master. It should have been a double album!

TrackList:
Side A: Purple Haze; Fire; The Wind Cries Mary; Can You See Me; Hey Joe; All Along The Watchtower
Side B: Stone Free; Crosstown Traffic; Manic Depression; Remember; Red House; Foxey Lady

–Robbie Gerson

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