Thursday, 27 June 2013

100 LPs Shortlist #34: Jimi Hendrix - "Smash Hits"

Jimi Hendrix's music, to this day, still has the power to blow the minds of aspiring teenage guitar players.

And that's not overstating the fact.

When recently reflecting on the man and his work in preparation for this post, I wasn't made to feel old by the fact that I am now 10 years older than he was when he died. Nor was I annoyed at my own failure to carve out a music career for myself when I was the age he was when he was most successful. Rather, I became a bit depressed when I thought about the fact that, in the 5 years or so before his untimely death in 1970 at age 27, he changed the way the Western world and everyone in it approaches the electric guitar. He changed the way guitarists play, sound, hold, use, manipulate and (in some cases) abuse their instrument. He contributed so much to the sound and style of rock music that it has never been quite the same, either before or since.

And that's not overstating the fact.

Very few guitarists have even come close to having a similar impact on the development of pop music as we know it, let alone rewriting the manual on how to play an instrument as we know it. Maybe Brian May, Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend and Chuck Berry have made substantial contributions, but even then, the sum of their influence would still be trumped by that of Hendrix.

People have tried to copy, with varied success, his look (Lenny Kravitz, Prince), his sound (Stevie Ray Vaughn among many others), his tendency towards avant garde noise, massive volume and feedback (Richie Blackmore, Kurt Cobain, J. Mascis from Dinosaur Jr.) but no-one has even come close to achieving what he did in those five short years.

And so over to little me, 14 years old in 1990, having started to play the guitar, heard about a guy named Jimi Hendrix from a friend at school. He'd borrowed a cassette of "Smash Hits" from the library. When I asked my friend about what it was like, the brief review he gave me was "Amazing guitarist, but he can't sing for shit".

Soon after, I saw the local music emporium had a tape copy going cheap. Being a compilation album, it was in the price range of a lazy jobless teenager, and so I purchased, and I listened.

Soon after, there was a documentary on SBS about him. Again I watched and listened and, sure enough...MIND. BLOWN.

No-one looked or sounded like that guy - all wild hair, questionable fashion and rough, raw, liquid and lightening fast guitar playing. To this day, nobody really does. Very few people have been daring enough on record ever since. Very few people have pushed the envelope of technology in the ways he did. Very few people have approached their instrument in ways that others hadn't before.

And it can get depressing. For anyone aspiring to be any good on an instrument, you start to ask yourself a number of questions:

Can you actually do that on a guitar?
How does he do that?
How does he get that sound?

and sadly it ends up becoming:

How the hell am I ever going to be that good? Will I ever be able to get close to being that good?

"Smash Hits", at least the British version, contains both sides of The Jimi Hendrix Experience's first three British singles that were not included on his first LP "Are You Experienced", a couple of tracks from the aforementioned first LP and "Burning of the Midnight Lamp", which was a non-LP single about 6 months out from the release of "Electric Ladyland" and tacked onto the end of side two of that LP. It's a tidy little package that serves as a great primer and introduction into the works of Hendrix.

Of course, this album has been superceded by many other great compilations, such as the definitive single disc compilation "Experience Hendrix". For all the years that "Smash Hits" was available in Australia through Polydor Records, each issue and subsequent reissue suffered from poor quality sound. Now that the Hendrix Family have reclaimed the master tapes of all his work, the sound quality is better than ever and, as a result, Smash Hits has been reissued in pristine sound, even though all the tracks are available on other albums.

From here, I moved onto Rykodisk's now deleted "Radio One" double LP, but "Smash Hits" served as my doorway into the massive and convoluted posthumous legacy that is Jimi Hendrix.

And that's not overstating the fact.


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