Third Studio Album with Hendrix at his Peak
The English-American rock band The Jimi Hendrix Experience released their third and final studio album Electric Ladyland in October 1968. It was a double album with 16 songs & a playing time of 75 minutes. Its creation was a painstaking journey with recording sessions split between London’s Olympic Studios and New York’s Record Plant, which were always interrupted due to touring commitments & live shows.
Obsessed with Perfection
It was the first album fully produced by Jimi Hendrix, and he was a man possessed. He pushed himself, his band, his engineering team & the existing recording studio technology to their limits. Hendrix amalgamates various influences like blues, jazz, rock & roll, psychedelia along with science fiction to give life to completely new sounds/music. At its core, Electric Ladyland is a concept album in which Hendrix explores themes like an escape from the messy present (civil unrest, the Vietnam war) to an Utopia using science fiction/magic & magical women who keep appearing in the album (“Miss Strange”, “Gypsy Eyes”)
The album starts with “And the Gods Made Love.” It is a short, psychedelic, instrumental piece which Hendrix has described as a “sonic painting.” Next Hendrix asks us “Have you ever been (to Electric Ladyland)” – the title track of the album. He lays a red carpet and encourages us to “cast all your hang-ups …. and … take a ride to Electric Ladyland.” “Crosstown Traffic” is a fast-paced rock number that has Hendrix on lead guitar and vocals, with Mitchell on drums and Redding on bass.
Now it is a magic time, with “Voodoo Chile” – at 15 minutes, it was the Experience’s longest studio recording. Hendrix wanted it to sound like a long open-ended blues jam at a New York club. He brought in Steve Winwood (Organ), Jack Cassidy (Bass Guitar) & Freddie Smith (Saxophone) to add more heft to the song. It is classic “Chicago Blues” where Hendrix boasts about his sexual prowess while combining Native American & Black American legend with science fiction. The song starts slow and culminates in a musical explosion.
The cover version of Earl King’s blues song “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)” is a lovely song, performed at a faster tempo, in a rock & roll style. “Burning of the Midnight Lamp”- an introspective number by Hendrix about his loneliness during his frequent travels. It features excellent use of the Wah-Wah pedal and backing vocals by the R&B group Sweet Inspirations.
“1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” is a long, futuristic, psychedelic ballad that combines social commentary (“Giant pencil and lipstick tube shaped things continue to rain and cause pain”) and escapist fantasy (an undersea descent to Atlantis). Hendrix combines sound and words to create a fantastic experience of a return to the sea, the source of all life. Hendrix does the vocals, plays both lead & bass guitar, with Mitchell on drums and Chris Wood on flute.
Finishes with a Bang
The last fifteen minutes of the album have the best songs to ever close an album. In “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” Hendrix uses the Wah-Wah pedal to make his guitar talk. So just lay back and enjoy. Although Hendrix has previously escaped to “Electric Ladyland” and Atlantis (“1983…) he is forced to return to this troubled world and talk about the social unrest following Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in “House Burning Down”. Hendrix sings with emotion “I said the truth is straight ahead … try to learn instead of burn.” The theme of escape from all the mess continues as he says, “A giant boat from space landed with eerie grace, And came and taken all the dead away.”
Hendrix admired Bob Dylan’s work a lot. In his cover version of “All Along the Watchtower,” he transforms Dylan’s folk song into a throbbing, powerful rock ballad. Hendrix plays the bass guitar while guest collaborator Dave Mason played the 12-string acoustic guitar. Even Dylan praised Hendrix’s interpretation and said that he now performs it at concerts as a homage to Hendrix. The song became Hendrix’s biggest hit in the US reaching No. 20 and reached No. 5 in the UK.
The final song is “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” The day after the slow blues number “Voodoo Chile” was recorded, ABC television was doing a documentary on the Experience, and they wanted the band to make it look like they were recording. So the band created this shorter rock version where Hendrix continues to brag about his prowess – “Well I stand up next to a mountain and I chop it down with the edge of my hand” while showing his expertise of the electric guitar and amazing experimentation with the Wah-Wah pedal. It became one of Hendrix’s most famous songs and reached No. 1 on the UK charts after Hendrix’s death in 1970.
Thank You for the Experience
Hendrix ends “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” with “If I don’t meet you no more in this world, Then I’ll meet you in the next one, And don’t be late.” Well, I don’t know about the next world, but it was our good fortune to hear The Jimi Hendrix Experience display their extraordinary creativity on Electric Ladyland. It was the Experience’s most commercially successful release and their only No. 1 album in the US.
“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” was the last song performed live by Jimi Hendrix. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” has since been voted as the best guitar riff in rock & roll history.
The album was nearly called Electric Landlady due to a studio engineer’s mistake.
Electric Ladyland is ranked 54th on The Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Electric Ladyland was The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s last album. Hendrix moved on to create a new all-black band named Band of Gypsys in 1969.