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Hendrix's Magnum Opus is in the classic Pantheon of the Great
on 24 July 2011
The third album from The Jimi Hendrix Experience was released in 1968 and, more than 40 years on, justifiably finds its place in most people's top ten greatest rock albums of all time.
However the fame/notoriety of EL doesn't really do it justice: to realise just how ground-breaking and innovative this project was, how revolutionary in concept and execution, you need to listen to it against other music from the period. Hendrix re-defined what could be done with the electric guitar and his excellent song-writing, experimentation with sound and uniquely creative lyrics offer a rewarding experience to anyone interested in the evolution of modern music.
The original 2-disk album had 16 tracks of varying length (of course on the vinyl - the only format available until the 1980s - this meant four `sides' of music). The running order chosen by Jimi and put out on release was:
1. And the Gods Made Love
2. Have you ever been to Electric Ladyland?
3. Cross Town Traffic
4. Voodoo Chile (the long, bluesy version)
1. Little Miss Strange (composed by Noel Redding)
2. Long Hot Summer Night
3. Come on (let the good times roll)
4. Gypsy Eyes
5. Burning of the Midnight Lamp
1. Rainy Day, Dream Away
2. 1983: A Merman I should turn to be...
3. Moon, turn the Tides
1. Still Raining, still Dreaming
2. House Burning Down
3. All along the Watchtower (Jimi's seminal and definitive version of Bob Dylan's original song)
4. Voodoo Chile slight return (the 5-minute full-on version with that famous intro)
Now, this album contains everything: first-class electric blues (`Voodoo Chile'); experimental soundscape (`And the Gods...', `Moon turn the Tides'); gospel-derived/choral-driven ballads (`Long Hot Summer Night', `Burning of the Midnight Lamp'); crisply executed danceable rock (`Cross Town Traffic', `Come On', `Gypsy Eyes'); extended, spaced-out experiment in psychedelia (`1983...' listen to Pink Floyd's `Echoes' from 1971 and speculate where the inspiration came from); the powerful and mind-expanding (`VCSL'); a first-class hit single in an unusual minor key inspiring a shiver-down-the-spine feel (`All along the Watchtower').
Hendrix was a virtuoso musician and a visionary, never afraid to experiment with the new. Here on EL, in one timeless project, you have it all. His guitar style, frequently imitated, has never really been equalled: he was a one-off, a fountain of creativity cut off in his prime.
Now you have several versions of EL to choose from. The main choice is between:
1. The original 2-disc set from Polydor with sides 1&4 on one disc and 2&3 on the other, as with the 1968 vinyl release (however because of the CD format you'll hear sides 1&4 run together, then 2&3 on the second disc which doesn't work so well when listening to the whole work). This version has the original nude cover art, which you might feel worth having if you care for authenticity (though of course it's not the astounding 24" x 12" size of the vinyl cover)
2. The `Authorised Hendrix Family Edition' with its tell-tale yellow and purple rectangular sticker, which claims to be `digitally remastered' but it's hard to tell the difference in sound quality - in fact to these ears, there is virtually no difference. Here you get the whole album on one disk with the correct 1-2-3-4 running order as originally intended, plus a DVD of questionable value titled `An Inside Look' and a few photos of the trio relaxing. You'll likely pay a bit more for this version, as the royalties go to the extended family (all three of the JHE are now deceased, Mitchell as recently as 2008, and Jimi had no known children to inherit anything)
3. Or you can download it, track by track
So, take your pick. But regardless of which version you choose, if you care about the history of rock music and want the classic and the best in your collection, you should buy `Electric Ladyland.'