After all these years, “Are You Experienced” remains the definitive album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It features some of Hendrix’s most well-known hits such as “Purple Haze,” “Manic Depression” and “Foxy Lady,” and many of these songs still prove to be as popular with today’s generation of music fans as they were when this album first came out in 1967. It continues to make its mark in popular culture in movies like “Wayne’s World,” and “Purple Haze” remains one of those songs with misunderstood lyrics like “‘scuse me while I kiss the sky.” Many still think Hendrix is saying, “Scuse me while I kiss this guy.”
“Purple Haze” opens the album with a burst of infectious energy that captures the listener’s attention and never lets it go. Hendrix’s guitar playing remains legendary, and he has a sound which is instantly distinctive. When he starts playing, the listener can tell it’s him twanging away. No one ever has to guess who is playing when his songs come on the radio.
When listening to the next song “Manic Depression,” listeners may wonder if Hendrix actually understands what manic depression is. With its relentlessly upbeat tempo, depression has never sounded or felt this good, and Hendrix is inviting the audience to experience it with him. It also shows how “Are You Experienced” didn’t peak with the first song.
“Are You Experienced” does have some slower songs which seduce the listener ever so gently with their elegant beauty. “May This Be Love” has Hendrix letting loose without blowing your stereo speakers out, and his level of improvisation is extraordinary. Even more beautiful, however, is “The Wind Cries Mary” which is truly one of the best love songs ever recorded. While the latter was originally released as a B-side, it was included on the album’s North American edition.
There’s also a wealth of musical experimentation going on here as Hendrix and his collaborators, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, play around with what can be accomplished on a rock album. “Are You Experienced’s” lone instrumental track of “3rd Stone from The Sun” is a sonic psychedelic journey with the band playing against slowed down or distorted voices as the listener is plunged into a voyage where the destination remains unknown. While not all of what’s being said makes sense, something still pulls us music fans in throughout.
Perhaps the album’s most experimental track is “Are You Experienced?” which has the band playing back their instrument recordings at times backwards. Here’s another song that takes the listener on a journey and keeps propelling them forward past the point of no return. That monotonous piano key that is tapped on throughout never becomes annoying as this is not a song nor an album generations of music fans can tear themselves away from, ever.
But let us not forget “Foxy Lady”, of which filmmaker Penelope Spheeris made brilliant use of in “Wayne’s World” when Garth strutted over to his dream girl to the song’s rhythm. The song’s power is the kind which most musicians today can only dream of duplicating, and any lady as foxy as this one will not be heading to their nearest exits. This is straightforward rock and roll at its most classically groovy!
As much attention is paid to Hendrix and his accomplishments, no one should forget the contributions of Mitchell or Redding. In making this album, the guitarist was determined to work with some of the best musical artists he could find, and he lucked out with these two. Mitchell is a drum player who is not as well-known as others from the era this album was made in, but he proved to be as good a drummer as Keith Moon of The Who. Redding’s bass guitar provided a great rhythmic force which rock music needs to keep the beat going. They both easily match the playing power Hendrix brought to this particular project of his, and this album is all the better for it.
Like many of the greatest rock albums ever, “Are You Experienced” was made to break the rules of music as they were always meant to be broken. While other bands may have had to sacrifice power to make everything balance out in their musical compositions, this was an album which proved they didn’t always have to do that. It was re-released in recent years in a new digitally remastered version which sounds better than ever. Now is as good a time as ever to pass the music of guitar god Hendrix on to a new generation as few other guitarists these days can match his genius.