Jun 052016

Axis came out in early 1968, and I probably got it within a few months of that. I’m not sure how familiar I was with Hendrix at the time but I remember the album being pretty cheap at Korvette’s and so picked it up. It was on Track Records and so was an import of some kind; why it was at Korvette’s or cheap I don’t know. I loved it immediately and still do. No other Hendrix album has replaced it for me. There’s that period bit “EXP” opener, the jazzy “Up From The Skies,” the heavy psych of “Spanish Castle Magic,” the funky pop of “Wait Until Tomorrow” (with the great opening line “Well, I’m standing here freezing, inside your golden garden”), the classic rock of “Little Wing,” the ’60s philosophy of “If 6 Was 9,” and on and on. I even love Noel Redding’s contribution, “She’s So Fine.”

It’s an album that’s a perfect hyphenate: pop-rock-jazz-funk-blues. Deep & frothy. Heavy & light.

And so it’s always been my favorite Hendrix album but I can’t help thinking: “How much of that is because it was the first?” I don’t feel like I hear this opinion too often. Are You Experienced? or more often Electric Ladyland are what you hear about, but I’ll take Axis over either of those.

What do you think? Am I right or wrong? And do you have analogous “first” albums by other artists where you feel the blush of first love may be coloring your rock-crit bona fides?


  16 Responses to “Is Axis: Bold As Love the Best Album by Jimi Hendrix, Or Is It Just Because It Was My First?”

  1. Al, my tastes are so well-reasoned and accurately attuned to my hard-earned sense of aesthetics that the “first cut is the deepest” phenomenon does not color my rock-crit bona fides.

    No, not really. I was confronted by this last night, when my oldest son, proud and enthusiastic owner of his first turntable and first crate of records, wanted to borrow some records of mine that he knew little about. He wanted to check out the Faces. He held up Long Player and Ooh La La. “Which one should I start with, Dad?” he asked. “I like this cover better,” he said, before I could answer, holding Ooh La La’s die-cut smiling face out to me. (My version of Long Player is also die-cut, a leather wallet looking cover with a hole cut out for the label to show through: http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0267/3701/products/Faces_Long_Player_1024x1024.jpg?v=1383580871)

    I was having trouble forming an answer. Long Player is the first Faces album I grew up loving. My uncle had it on 8-track. As a little kid I was fascinated by the way “Bad ‘n Ruin” just seemed to kick in out of nowhere, like a gang that appeared out of a dark alleyway, just looking for action. “Richmond” was one of the saddest sounding songs my young heart could bear – and it reminded me of the Port Richmond area of Philadelphia my family was from. “On the Beach” had all those stops and starts – again, like the band members were telepathic. Unbelievable personal favorite for me, I thought, but my son was asking for the Faces album that would most appealingly introduce him to the band.

    Given the choice that I didn’t have as a 6-year-old boy, I suggested he start with Ooh La La. It’s objectively (in my opinion) the BEST Faces album. It’s got the amazing pinky rock workout “My Fault” and it’s got, as I told him, “One of the most beautiful rock ballads ever, the title track.”

    If he likes that album, I’ll definitely shove my “first love” down his throat.

  2. 2000 Man

    I don’t know which Hendrix album is the best, because I just have Smash Hits and some other collections. Smash Hits is pretty perfect and when I’ve checked out his proper albums at a friend’s house, something like If Six Was Nine comes on and i’m ready to check out. My friend has a ton of Hendrix and listens to him all the time, but I don’t think I’d be able to take much more than the little bit I have.

    I never care about which album I got first. I may like a lesser album more than some people, but the first Stones album i got was Sticky Fingers. It’s a pretty fantastic album, but it’s not in my top 5 Stones albums. It cracks the top 10, but there’s a lot I got after it that I like a lot more.

  3. I agree that Smash Hits is the best Hendrix album!

  4. BigSteve

    I’m not sure the best one is the optimal place to start. Then all he has to look forward to are lesser albums. There have been artists I put off getting into, and when I finally do it I start at the earliest one.

  5. alexmagic

    Axis kinda, sorta fits neatly into the “thinking listener’s favorite Hendrix album” choice that I think Revolver has attained over the years for the Beatles, though for different reasons. In this case, it’s the somewhat neglected middle child of the three Experience albums and doesn’t come with the pedigree of being the hit-filled, exciting first effort that AYE? is, or the giant, sprawling “statement” album that Electric Ladyland became. You have to want to work for it to get to Axis, and that want leads you to being open to the rewards.

    That said, I agree that it IS the best Jimi Hendrix Experience album. There’s a flow to it that Are You Experienced doesn’t necessarily have, but it keeps that album’s punch in a way that Ladyland may lose depending on your tolerance for the massive Rainy Day/1983/Moon Turn The Tides/Still Raining section (which I, personally, have been on record as loving in years past here at the Hall). Even at, essentially, an album-length shorter in runtime than Electric Ladyland, though, it’s still adventurous and willing to stretch on “If 6 Was 9” in ways that would suggest what was coming on the next album, while still making room for songs with punch line gags – see “Wait For Tomorrow” vs. the (buried, obscured) joke of “Third Stone” from AYE?.

    It also, like you say Al, flows EXP into “Up From The Skies” is a fine way to open the album (I actually like the similar “And The Gods Made Love” into “Have You Ever Been…” *better*, but they mirror each other well), easing you into “Spanish Castle Magic”, the first Hendrix-sounding-like-you-expect-Hendrix-to-sound song on the album. Along the way, I don’t think there’s any real filler – “Little Miss Lover” may not be a titan on the level of “Little Wing” or “Castles Made of Sand”, but it’s got a fantastic groove, and fits in perfectly as a cool-down between what I consider the two best songs on the whole album.

    One of those is the album closer itself, “Bold As Love”, which still holds up as just pure, unrestrained Hendrix magic. Clever wordplay (the downside of Jimi’s undisputed guitar dominance is that his lyrics have never gotten the shake the deserve – I’d go to bat for “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” or “Wind Cries Mary” over “Bold As Love”, but I’m still all in for Hendrix doing emotionally-color-coded synesthesia riffs as personal therapy), increasingly confident vocals (who else could land “blue are the life-giving waters taken for granted” the way he does?), amazing, soaring guitars, those rolling drums and multiple fakeout endings.

    But over the years, “One Rainy Wish” has become my favorite song on Axis and maybe my favorite Hendrix song. I went to bat for it pretty extensively here years ago during psychedelia week/the True German Stereo wars, but it really stands out to me as Hendrix simultaneously at his most vulnerable and confident. An earnest attempt to explain something inexplicable (a moment of clarity experienced in a half dream) that he desperately wants us to understand but he knows is just outside anyone’s ability to describe. The tension is there at the end of the song, as the background escalates to match his cascading guitar and he almost wails “golden rose!”, the sound of a guy trying hard not to forget an important thought from dream that’s already fading from his grasp. But right in the middle of the song, there’s that “I have never laid eyes on you” section where he abandons trying to describe the dream for a second and just makes the direct connection to that butterflies in the stomach feeling of “true love”, and gets you there by force by guitar and switching back to his rock ‘n roll Jimi voice. To me, the whole song is the summation of Hendrix as a musician, a guy who was only ever comfortable expressing himself in music, but even then, not fully confident of his prodigious gifts until the moment really hit him and he went all in.

    To bring it back around to the Beatles/Revolver analogy, I like to hem and haw on the Beatles all the time when somebody asks my favorite album and give a “Sgt. Pepper is the most famous but Revolver is the most important but Abbey Road is the best but The White Album is my favorite” dodge of an answer. Similarly, I think I’d start anyone looking to start on Hendrix with Are You Experienced?, and I think Electric Ladyland is my favorite…but yeah, Axis is his best album. If the title song itself is about finding the central “being” (the Axis itself, as he sings it) that connects all of your emotions, Axis the album really is a perfect middle hub for his studio work.

  6. Alex, fantastic post! Mr. Mod, how can you put RTH to bed when there is this type of insight resident in the Halls?!?!

  7. mockcarr

    Very strong argument. The thing AYE has going for it is the “hits”. I think the more mono-y production sound appeals to me just a bit more which is kind of a last gasp of a ’66ish pop sound IMO. You begin to get that side to side channel thing that’s geared to the headphone wearer on Bold with thicker songs. Nothing wrong with that, but I feel AYE is more of a piece with an era I enjoy a bit more. EL is too overindulgent to be a favorite, but that was the time for such things, and it’s hard to fault him for lack of an editor there.

  8. alexmagic

    Axis is *definitely* a headphones album, which is a pretty great point. Kinda fits into the AYE? being the “pre-Revolver” Hendrix, I think, if I can continue to stretch that idea.

    It occurs to me that I didn’t fully address Al’s initial question, the part about whether coming to Axis first gives it a boost for him. For my end, I probably came to Axis last. I think I bought it and Electric Ladyland at the same time, after having mostly known Hendrix on the Smash Hits level and then getting AYE? (where the title track, which I knew but hadn’t really appreciated yet, sold me on that there was real, potential depth there, both sonically and beyond).

    Jumping from that to the second and third albums makes Axis look like Are You Experienced, Too? at first glance since Electric Ladyland is the formidable, sprawling monster in his catalogue with most of the real curveballs among his officially-released material. So I gravitated towards that first and only came back to Axis after. In that sense, at least, Axis ending up as my favorite 20+ years after taking on Hendrix in depth feels like a hard-won victory for it that I think pairs nicely with your Axis-first path to the same conclusion, Al.

  9. BigSteve

    To me it’s obvious that Electric Ladyland is the greatest, but I’ve been around RTH long enough to know that there’s always someone willing to challenge my orthodoxy. There’s probably someone who would make the argument that The Cry of Love or one of its posthumous iterations is the best. (I actually think it’s undrerrated myself.)

  10. misterioso

    This, I believe, is where Mod enters and says that EL would be much better as a single lp or perhaps an ep…

  11. misterioso

    I think Axis is tremendous and definitely, as someone said, a great headphones album…but I have to skip EXP, sorry.

  12. Funny, I get those albums totally confused. I always think they’re both double albums. I get the cover for one confused with the cover for the other. I forget which one has “Castles Made of Sand” and which one has what I consider it’s amazing prototype, “The Wind Cries Mary.” Both songs are great, mind you, but whichever album has BOTH the “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Crosstown Traffic” is definitely THE BEST Hendrix album. See, that’s the great thing about Smash Hits. I know it’s got both of those songs. I know exactly what’s coming. I love every song but “Red House,” which isn’t bad for a stock A-A-B 12-bar blues song.

  13. I was going to say that Ladyland is clearly the best of three phenonmenal LPs…but this bit:

    “There’s a flow to it that Are You Experienced doesn’t necessarily have, but it keeps that album’s punch in a way that Ladyland may lose depending on your tolerance for the massive Rainy Day/1983/Moon Turn The Tides/Still Raining section (which I, personally, have been on record as loving in years past here at the Hall).”

    may just have changed my mind.

    I still think Ladyland just beats Axis, but I can 100% understand and even buy the argument that Axis’ relative brevity packs a punch the more expansive Ladyland lacks.


  14. misterioso

    Um, since I’m not picking up on whether you’re kidding or not, the only album that has “Wind Cries Mary” and “Crosstown Traffic” is, in fact, Smash Hits, since the former is on Are You Experienced and the latter is on Electric Ladyland. Neither is on Axis.

  15. Correct. I was kidding about my longstanding confusion between those second and third albums and my eventual fall-back position on Smash Hits.

  16. And speaking of Hendrix…

    I just watched the PBS American Masters documentary on him and it’s very very good. Some really great footage – back in the pre-fame days backing up the Isleys and others, London, Monterey, etc – that was unfamiliar to me (which maybe means little since I’m not especially versed in video Jimi).

    He really was amazing and this doc puts that in the context of the times which made him even more amazing.

    And with the exception of Dylan and maybe Lennon, was there anyone who looked so totally cool all the time? Fringed jackets, feathers, silk karate-type jackets, scarves, necklaces, and on and on, he carried them all off and never looked the tiniest bit less than absolute zero cool. So much of that stuff looks so dated now on others but not on him.

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