12. The Jimi Hendrix Experience “1983... (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” (1968)
Complex says: Yet another Hendrix elegy for the end of Western civilization when folk will mutate into eroticized water breathers. This was as close as he came to writing his own symphony, in a form he described as a “sound-painting.” Anyone else could only have made this in the studio, but as guitarist Mike Bloomfield once intimated, there's no sonic effect Hendrix got in the studio or with pedals that he wasn't capable of getting right before your eyes with just an overdriven amp, those humongus mitts he called hands, and his weapon of choice, any old upside down Fender Stratocaster that happened to be lounging about.
11. The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Still Raining, Stil Dreaming” (1968)
Album: Electric Ladyland
10. The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Are You Experienced?” (1967)
Album: Are You Experienced
Complex says: When The Beatles played voices backwards on records, folk thought they were trying to summon Satan. When Jimi does it you feel like you're watching reverse footage of a black hole swallowing a star gone supernova. The freakiest sound in his trickbag is made even freakier when you’re told that he figured the telemetry out while listening to a backwards take of the song. If you don't know how freaky that is, imagine driving blindfolded in reverse on a three-lane highway at night and only using your ears to navigate and evade oncoming traffic.
9. Jimi Hendrix “Villanova Junction” (1969)
Album: Live At Woodstock
Complex says: This is the last thing Hendrix played at Woodstock but it also seems like the last thing he ever played in life—though that night was still nearly a year away at the time. A master cellist named Rufus Cappadocia did a note-for-note every-speed-bump-intact rendition of this song at a Black Rock Coalition Town Hall Hendrix tribute years ago. After hearing that it was impossible not to recognize that Hendrix truly was as great a writer of symphonic themes as any of the 4 B’s—Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, and [James] Brown. Yeah we said it, we meant it, we even represent it.
8. Jimi Hendrix “Midnight” (1972)
Complex says: A one-off instrumental that finds Henrix pile-driving riff after incendiary riff over a steam-driven industrial-strength mid-tempo bass groove that would send Black Sabbath back to their mommies. When it's over you have little doubt it was recorded at “the witching hour” in an utterly dank abyss of a studio where the the only visible light leaked from a blood-red Recording sign.
7. Jimi Hendrix “Star Spangled Banner” (1969)
Complex says: It was Jimi’s take on the national anthem that made Ornette Coleman realize Hendrix was up to something musically profound. Hey, even harmolodic jazz geniuses might need a late pass sometimes.The Woodstock version is the one you're most likely to hear during any documentary about the ’60s even more than “Machine Gun”—if only because it speaks more directly to the war abroad and on the homefront. Only Marvin Gaye ever managed to make Francis Scott Key’s ditty such an apt vehicle for left-wing subversion, and Marvin did it at a basketball game wearing cyberpunk mirror shades.
6. The Jimi Hendrix Experience “All Along The Watchtower” (1968)
Complex says: Bob Dylan wrote it, but Jimi made it The FM Rock Radio Classic it is today. So much so that Dylan does Jimi's arrangement in concert as an homage to the man. Dylan also wondered why Jimi didn't do more of his songs because “They were all his anyway.”
The guitar solo here is restrained, sublime and aerodynamic and contains a rare example of Hendrix using a sllide. In total the solo and the delivery of the song are a work of exploded architecture with wings—ascending from the roof of the battlements right off the jump and somersaultsing through the air with the greatest of unease. The verbal poetics make you feel like Dylan is the real Nostradamus of 9/11. Like so much Hendrix, a perfect marriage of guitar and the captured vapours of Armageddon.
5. Jimi Hendrix “Machine Gun” (1970)
Complex says: My grandfather made a rare trip up into my attic temple of boom when I was about 17 and asked me "Gregory, who’s that playing?'' When I said Jimi he said, ''Huh, sounds like John Lee Hooker to me.” And he ain’t never lied. Jimi knew the deal: If you want to get deep and lament from the depths of human suffering, you need to be conjuring up some of those devil blues Hooker style.
This performance, a 12-minute phantasmagoria of man's inhumanity to man, is the war movie Coppola wished he'd made with Apocalypse Now—except Jimi's cinematography of slaughter on the battlefield is even more infernal and hellbent. You come out on the other side feeling like you have personally survived all manner of evisceration via modern warfare—mortars and grenades, full metal jackets, napalm infernos, My Lai massacres, even Hiroshima. This is also the cut that made Miles Davis realize Jimi was truly on some other shiznit.
4. The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Bold As Love” (1967)
Album: Axis: Bold As Love
Complex says: Like all the gods of creation, Hendrix knew the destruction of the earth could be likened to the most heartbreaking break-up known to man. The lyrics give you the seven stages of grief the way Apollo or Oshun might romanticize them. Musically we find another ornate example of Hendrix chordal technique and imagination, and further proof that you can’t divide his rhythm guitar from his solos—the flow between them is inimitable and ineluctable.
Still the solo that leaps out of the triads on “Axis” is Coltrane-worthy, sailing across the heavens in sheer transcendence of this bitter earth. When Hendrix finally achieves escape velocity after the flanged drum break and then goes soaring down a black hole, you'll wish you had something stronger than a warm Guiness to swoop your ass on up-up-up and away from here too.
3. Jimi Hendrix “Red House” (1972)
Album: Hendrix In The West
Complex says: Many amazingly graceful and gritty versions of Hendrix’s best known original blues appear on various albums and YouTube clips. There's something special about the way he moves forth and back between his spidery guitar obbligatoes and his sardonic vocal narrative on this one. The song offers a split-screen view of Jimi the wounded animal and Jimi the comedian.
He ends the thing after an acrobatic accapella wah-wah midsection that crescendos into one of the best fuck-you-and-the-ho-you-rode-in-on lines in all of blues literature: “I know if my baby don't love me no more, I know good and well that her sister will." The fact that his baby lives in a whorehouse makes it all the more poignant.
2. Jimi Hendrix “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” (1968)
Complex says: The full band vocal version of this on the EL album is breathtaking and the best R&B song for falsetto voices The Delfonics never cut. But this fragmentary acapella version offers a peek behind the curtain at how melodic and sublime Hendrix could be with just bare naked chords. His debts to Curtis Mayfield are presented with extreme transparency here, but Curtis never made a whammy bar weep so gently, like the breeze that brushes your cheeks after a hurricane blows itself out.
1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” (1968)