stephen colbert speaks
rhapsody ain't perfect

jimi hendrix

Taking a break from the Oscar run, we return to the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums list, with Jimi Hendrix taking center stage. Jimi's first three albums are all on the list: the debut Are You Experienced at #15, Axis: Bold As Love at #82, and Electric Ladyland between the two at #54.

Hendrix was and still is the greatest guitarist in rock and roll history, such a titanic figure on his instrument that his many other talents are unsurprisingly somewhat unsung (no pun intended). Hendrix was a fine songwriter and a v.underrated vocalist. He could seemingly play everything, from the gut-bucket R&B on which he learned his chops to psychedelia, from funk to Bob Dylan (his "All Along the Watchtower" being probably the best Dylan cover ever), from tender love songs to raunchy fuck fests to the blues. In this case, the RS poll has it right: while there is an awful lot of great Hendrix available outside of those three central albums, you need to hear the big three first, and everything else, no matter how great, is just gravy.

None of the above is original ... zillions of words have been spent on Hendrix, to the extent that there's not much else to do but go back to the music itself. I don't have any real quibbles with the RS rankings ... the debut and Ladyland are a cut above Axis, which still deserves its own high spot on the chart. Are You Experienced should be ranked the highest, since it seemed to come out of nowhere and changed the sound of rock music forever. And I don't really think any of the endless posthumous releases need to be on the list.

Having said that, I'll just add a plug for Hendrix in the West, a long out-of-print live album from the early 70s, the best songs of which are now to be found on the 2000 box set, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. "Little Wing" is a marvel here, with an understated vocal and one of Jimi's finest short solos. "Red House" is the best version of his best blues song.

In the end, some stuff is so good I'm left speechless. All three of these albums are great, they've all stood the test of time, Jimi Hendrix is one of the great figures of American popular culture. Listen to the music.

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