So what did Jimi Hendrix do after he created a spectacular debut album and an equally brilliant follow-up? He released one of the best rock albums in history.
Electric Ladyland was a sprawling two disc affair that found Jimi Hendrix bringing his technical studio wizardry to rock, blues, and pure psychedelic music. The extended length of the album allowed Hendrix more room for jamming and improvisation. He had started to pull away from the confines of the basic guitar, bass, and drums of the Jimi Hendrix Experience as an array of additional instruments appear in many of the songs.
“And The Gods Made Love” starts the musical process and finds Hendrix just getting warmed up for the three songs that will follow. "Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)" is a title that sums up his music in 1968. No one had ever had a musical vision similar to his; so there was no one who had ever visited Electric Ladyland. The song was a slow rhythm & blues number with a soulful vocal.
“Crosstown Traffic” just blasts out of the speakers. The guitar tone is unique on this scintillating track. I have listened to this song hundreds of times over the years but still find fresh nuances. “Voodoo Chile” is a 15 minute tour de force for Hendrix to jam on his guitar. It features Steve Winwood on the organ and bassist Jack Casady from The Jefferson Airplane. While both are accomplished musicians, here they only serve the purpose of providing back-up as Hendrix takes the guitar sound to places previously unexplored.
Electric Ladyland’s best known track, and deservedly so, is the cover Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower.” Dylan’s songs have probably been recorded tens of thousands of times but this may be the definitive cover. Dylan himself is said to have preferred this version over his own. The opening guitar lines, the vocal interpretation of the lyrics, and Hendrix taking off on one of his guitar excursions all add up to classic rock ‘n’ roll. “All Along The Watchtower” may not be Hendrix at his experimental best but it may be the best Hendrix ever offered.
“1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)" is a lost gem in the vast Hendrix catalogue. It is science fiction for the ears. “Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)” is the old Earl King blues song. He remains true to its blues roots until taking the song in a psychedelic rock direction in the middle with the use of a wah-wah guitar sound. “House Burning Down” is a political statement, but he incorporates all types of feedback to enhance his message. “Burning The Midnight Lamp” finds him back in guitar experimentation mode.
“Voodoo Child” is the last song on the album and many people trace the evolution of hard rock through this track. It is a driving guitar feast but I will always remember the lyrics; “If I don’t meet you no more in this world, then I’ll meet you in the next one, don’t be late, don’t be late.”
Electric Ladyland would be the last studio album Hendrix would release during his lifetime. Given the vastness of the types of music and the continued experimentation; it is difficult to say where he might have gone musically had he lived.
All in all, Electric Ladyland can be considered to be the mother ship of Jimi Hendrix’ musical legacy. The best way to appreciate this album is not to read about it, but rather to listen and experience it.