Released: 12 May 1967
I must begin this article with a clarification. Jimi Hendrix’s acclaimed debut album Are You Experienced was first released in 1967, and it had a considerably different tracklist for the UK and USA versions of the record. So, for example, the mighty Purple Haze wasn’t even included on the UK edition. If you buy or stream Are You Experienced today however, you get all tracks from both original versions. Still awake? OK, good. What this means is that instead of a concise ten track album, Hendrix’s debut is now a sprawling 17 track behemoth. The frustrating thing is that there is a combination of ten songs here that would make this record great – having everything all slung together actually harms this album.
A brief word about my own relationship with Hendrix. My Dad loved him, but we never had anything other than his greatest hits in our house growing up. I can’t listen to All Along The Watchtower – arguably the greatest cover ever – without immediately being transported back to beers and whiskey with my Dad, in my parents living room. My Dad loved Hendrix more for his attitude than his virtuoso guitar playing. Both are in full force on this occasionally searing, but often disappointing debut record.
The album bursts into life with Foxey Lady, surely one of the best album openers of all time, and the chugging Manic Depression is also great, but from there things take a downward turn. The 12 bar blues of Red House sounds tired and I Don’t Live Today should have been a b-side. The pretty almost ballad May This Be Love is a welcome change of pace and Fire twists and writhes before exploding into that chorus.
Third Stone From The Sun is the worst song on this or perhaps any album. A glorified jam that has absolutely no place sitting alongside tracks of this calibre. Self indulgence at its worst. Thankfully, the rest of the album is pretty great. The title track is pleasant enough, but it is the opening licks of Hey Joe, another masterful Hendrix cover, that confirm just how much of a genius this man was.
The track listing of this amalgamation, this Frankenstein’s Monster of a record, is all wrong. I was already exhausted by the time Purple Haze and The Wind Cries Mary came along. The production, while pleasingly raw, also means the songs kind of bleed into one another. Are You Experienced, or this modern iteration of it, concludes with the masterful riff of Highway Chile, perhaps Hendrix’s most underrated song, and then just like that, it’s all over.
Unsurprisingly, compared to the other albums I have covered for this series, this one is the least essential. It doesn’t feel like something that needs to be absorbed as a whole, certainly not in the same way as Dark Side of the Moon or Graceland. Listening to Are You Experienced kind of confirmed what I always thought about Hendrix. A comprehensive greatest hits is probably all you really need.