This is the final instalment in the thoroughly incomplete ‘1967’ series. The other two dozen albums can be found here.
Seems fitting to end with the incendiary, psychedelic music of Jimi Hendrix and his second release from that storied year.
Steven Newstead returns to take us on a tour of Jimi’s cosmos…
There was a lot happening very quickly in London in 1967. Cream’s first LP Fresh Cream was released in December ’66 with a cover a photo of the trio against a black background. The first Jimi Hendrix LP Are You Experienced came out in May ’67, the cover having a photo of the trio against a black background. A matter of weeks later in June, The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released.
It was unprecedented in just about every way. It came with a gatefold sleeve, the famous front cover conceived by artist Peter Blake, the lyrics reproduced on the back cover and a full inner gatefold photo of the lads in their colourful Sgt Pepper uniforms, a cardboard sheet of Pepper-related cutouts, a bespoke inner sleeve and even a continuous run-out groove!
Cream’s second album came out in November and the front cover was a day-glo collage by Australian artist Martin Sharp with the back cover another collage, this time featuring photos of the band, but candid pix, not posed in any particular way.
The second album of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Axis: Bold As Love, came out in December, with a gatefold sleeve which presented a full vertical two-panel painting of Jimi as a Hindu deity. Apparently it is a genuine religious poster which art director David King brought; Jimi, Noel and Mitch’s heads were unceremoniously painted on top by Roger Law. The inner gatefold is a black and while photo, with a short wry description which concludes, “Jimi Hendrix writes his own music and almost sings it, he also plays guitar.” There is no track listing on the cover, but original copies included a lyric sheet. It was as if someone had turned on the colour. And London was indeed beginning to turn on, as LSD was being introduced into the upper echelons of the art and music scene.
If Sgt Pepper introduced the concept of an album as a more unified and considered statement (as opposed to merely an assemblage of various tracks) then it seemed that other acts readily accepted the importance of “the album”. And Axis: Bold As Love was in this way an album which was so much more coherent than Are You Experienced.
Jimi had grown in confidence in the studio. With the assistance of engineer Eddie Kramer he was ready to “play the studio” to achieve his vision—and in the process effectively sideline the influence of manager Chas Chandler.
There is some disappointing material on the record. The opening “EXP” is a speeded up Mitch Mitchell interviewing a slowed down Jimi who then proceeds to blast off into space in a howling squall of feedback, presumably astride a Marshall stack with Statocaster pointed at the stars!
This conceit segues into the next track “Up from the skies” where Jimi, as an alien, observes earthlings “on this here people farm”. It features Mitch on brushes and the recorded debut of Jimi deploying a wah wah pedal, surprisingly clear and subtle in tone. Much more strident use of the wah wah became a mainstay of Jimi’s subsequent recording and live playing.
I like “Up from the skies”, but it’s incredibly quiet and restrained and an atypical sound. So it is perplexing that it was nominated as the A side (coupled with “One Rainy Wish”) for the only single released from the album.
I’d nominate “Ain’t no telling”, “Little Miss Lover” and “You’ve got me floating” as below par Jimi (although there’s nice driving ensemble playing and guitar wash in the instrumental section of the latter). And Noel Redding’s lead vocal on his song “She’s so fine” is weak, although Jimi seems to enjoy the role of orchestrating multiple guitar riffs to try to lift the standard, an interesting new role for him.
I quite enjoy the humorous tongue-in-cheek take on a Romeo and Juliette scenario in “Wait until tomorrow” but it is still a minor track. Things improve considerably, however, with the dreamy psychedelia of “One rainy wish”, literally awash with a palette of colours (a lyrical device reprised in the title track) and boasting a very pretty melody. “Castles made of sand” also works well with its theme of thwarted dreams and ambitions and a backwards guitar solo.
“Spanish castle magic” is tremendous with its drive abetted by Jimi’s bass piano part (something deployed later with similar effect in “Crosstown traffic”). This could have been a huge hit if released as a single—a missed opportunity.
“Little Wing” is arguably Jimi’s most revered song. This is largely because of the beauty, originality and technical expertise of Jimi’s guitar parts. The instrumental opening contains a stunningly original and difficult guitar part behind each bar of every chord change. And it flows from Jimi’s hands with deceptive ease. Wonderful though it is, I actually prefer live versions which retain the lyricism but add an edge not present in the slightly prissy studio take. But still, what a track!
“If six was nine” is a strong statement of Jimi’s personal philosophy—not as a passive stoned hippie, but as a freaky prankster, rejecting conformity: “I’m gonna let my freak flag fly”. It’s strong stuff, slightly marred by Jimi’s distracting free-form recorder squawking at the end. It rightly gained a high-profile when used in the film Easy Rider.
Perhaps the best is left to last. Just like Are You Experienced, the closing title track “Bold as love” is a substantial piece. After a very satisfying performance there’s a false ending followed by a key change and a rousing instrumental guitar solo which slowly fades into silence. A fitting end.
Compared to the straight ahead production of the first album, this LP offers a much more polished studio sheen (perhaps a little too polished) slightly disrupted by an obsession with phasing effects on pretty much everything, and a rather crude approach to cross-fading (left to right and back again, and again) almost as if in reaction to the original mono release of the first LP. It’s like ultra-stereo—great under the headphones in a certain state of mind but a bit too self-indulgent and sometimes distracting. Although I’d rate this as the least critically significant of the three Experience albums, it has still been unfairly overlooked in the Hendrix canon. Axis is a bold album with much to love, and remains a significant contribution to the Year Of Sgt Pepper.