As we celebrate the life and times of the incredible Jimi Hendrix, a talent sadly lost 50 years ago today, we thought the best way to do so was not to focus on his eccentric personality nor his imposing iconography but on the one thing that gave him all of that warranted mystique; the music.
That’s why we have decided to look at all of his songs and rank them in order of greatness. It’s a jam-packed list full of 46 reasons to fall in love with Hendrix—but there are some provisos to the list. Firstly, we’ve only included the songs that were shared as part of his studio albums. That does mean that his work with his other group, The Band of Gypsies, is sadly discounted. However, as it includes some of his better work, we have made sure to include the additional song included on the CD edition of Are You Experienced? as it collated all of the singles released between records.
It may seem a bit trivial to paw through an icon like Jimi Hendrix’s work so diligently. After all, what more can we learn from the greatest guitarist the world has ever known? Well, we think it is because of this very iconography that we must take on our own learning. So, we’re looking beyond the classics, we’re searching beyond the sky and looking at how Jimi Hendrix became an icon.
The tracks amassed below come from his studio albums with his band, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, AKA The Experience. Their debut from 1967 Are You Experienced?, the follow-up of the same year Axis: Bold as Love and, of course, Electric Ladyland. Below we’re putting Jimi Hendrix’s songs in order of greatness and it is a captivating list of incredible work.
Taken from Hendrix’s second album of 1967, Axis: Bold as Love, ‘EXP’ works as the disorientating introduction to the guitarist’s latest production. It’s a bit tough to rank this alongside anything close to a song, it is more akin to a collection of noises.
It does, however, do a good job of breaking the ice and readying the listener for the flurry of tunes that are about to hit it.
Another dizzying instrumental to being proceedings, the band’s third (and final) album would begin much like the second.
This one feels more attuned to the entire concept of the record so we’ve bumped it up from the bottom. But, honestly, there’s not much difference in them.
You may get a little sick of seeing Electric Ladyland near the end of our list but so much of the album was pure filler.
Hendrix, who was largely waiting to fulfil his obligation to the band and move one musically, makes it easy to become flippant about these pieces.
It’s hard to distinguish Noel Redding’s songs with any other British invasion band of the sixties. Jolly and with a kicking backbeat, the only real difference is that Jimi Hendrix is laying down a serious lead line over the top of it.
It’s not in line with much of what The Experience put out and was a hint that the group would never return after their third album Electric Ladyland.
The beginning of side two on Electric Ladyland is pretty forgettable. In context with the rest of the album, the song ‘Long Hot Summer Night’ fits in well enough. Extracted from the record and it lacks any real punch.
A deep cut as good as any but amid strict competition, the song’s fragility shines through despite some inspiring grooves.
A pretty basic blues sound is lifted every so often by an impressive run from Hendrix but otherwise this filler lands rather flat. The organ work is admirable and engaging but the song is simply another track on the album.
While one of the more interesting moments on the album, it is a relative reprieve and offers up a classic moment of Hendrix work.
There’s something pretty disjointed about this song in comparison to much of the rest of the album. But as some of the previously mentioned tracks, this song ends up just filling space on Electric Ladyland.
More close to a musical musing than an actual song it certainly has a talented band underneath the notes but it’s not close enough to a whole composition to really be up there.
Acting as the true opening song of the album, it was clear the near-title track of the record was written to show the intent of the LP. As a way of showing the growing tensions within the band, Hendrix actually took on guitar, vocal and bass on this one, with Mitchell still included on drums.
It was clear Hendrix was soon going to break free from the band he was placed in but he still had one hell of an album to deliver. The title track just so happens to be a more forgettable moment of it.
Pulled from the band’s second album, the opener for side two of Axis: Bold as Love acts more like an interlude at first but soon kicks into to a searing riff. Quickly, Hendrix jumps on the beat and delivers some simple but effective R&B.
When you consider that on this record you could easily point to this song as a bit of a “filler”, it’s one hell of a filler to have in your arsenal.
So we may be crucified in the comments for this one but we’ve got to add in this piece sung by Noel Redding. Apart from the fact that it is a kicky little track, which it is, the song still has some insane guitar work from Hendrix.
A solo which is precise and punchy rings out as The Experience try their hand at being Beatles for just under three minutes and it provides a moment to smile on the record.
A rainy night and the pitter-patter of rainfall on moving cars is the image we’re given when Hendrix’s vocal rises from the airwaves. Perhaps some of his softest vocal work, the singer soon kicks into a more blues-inspired wretch.
Some of the best storytelling in the song comes not from the words Hendrix says but the notes his guitar plays, often sharing dialogue with the icon. It’s one of the more refreshingly simple moments on the album.
A largely instrumental track on the band’s debut album from 1967, ‘3rd Stone from the Sun’ sees Hendrix put his fascination with space exploration to the fore. With elements of jazz and acid-rock, the song is a gentle refrain in an otherwise pacey LP.
The song came from before Hendrix got the band together and Chas Chandler, the man largely thought to have discovered Hendrix said the song came directly from his sci-fi infatuation, “I had dozens of science fiction books at home,” he once said “The first one Jimi read was Earth Abides. It wasn’t a Flash Gordon type, it’s an end-of-the-world, new beginning, disaster-type story. He started reading through them all. That’s where ‘Third Stone from the Sun’ and ‘Up from the Skies’ came from.”
We’re sure by now, you’re starting to understand the basic principle of a Jimi Hendrix song. A bubbling bassline, imbued with everything jumping that would eventually form funk, a powerful backbeat provided by Mitch Mitchell and let Hendrix put his attitude over the entire thing.
This track may be little more than an instrumental, featuring on the band’s second album Axis: Bold as Love but it’s some of the most engrossing playing the LP has to offer.
Hendrix talks directly to his lover in this track as he plans to leave town with a girl on his arm before being shot down dead by her father. The track was one of the final recordings for the album Axis: Bold As Love and lands as one of his straightest compositions.
Musically the song still holds weight though and leaves us wondering whether Hendrix would have toned down his sound with age, heading towards more standard R&B songs. Sadly, we’ll never know.
Written as part of the glut of material that the band quickly worked through once the realisation of Hendrix’s genius had firmly set in. A gothic rock song in some aspects, Hendrix’s fascination with death is undeniable, the track eventually settles in a comfortable spot of psychedelia.
Lyrically, it is one of Hendrix’s darkest songs and sees him expand the ideas of the track’s lyrics with the music’s tribal leanings offering Hendrix the chance to get his feedback on.
The closer on the extended CD version of Are You Experienced?, ‘Highway Chile’, a phonetical spelling of ‘child’, is a final moment to marvel at Hendrix’s powerful sound and also a reminder that the whole band is there too.
Some of Mitchell’s most imposing beats are present on this song but truly we’re not even really paying attention to the lyrics. This is all about Jimi’s guitar. What’s more, he knows it and uses his instrument like a sharpened broadsword.
As Hendrix approached final songs of Electric Ladyland, the idea that he would soon be finding another band may well have already been in his mind because the songs feel like they get progressively more epic. But before the album kicks into top gear, it has a flirt with what’s to come on ‘House Burning Down’.
It’s not the most incendiary moment on the album but it is positively fizzing with all the talent that Hendrix possesses and he unleashes it at will.
While technically one of the best guitarists in the world at the time, Hendrix usually preferred to champion the ‘feel’ of a song over its mechanical composition. But on the title track from his and The Experience’s debut album, he gets very technical indeed.
Centred around one droning chord the track contains backwards guitars and drums, a very fashionable idea at the time, as well as a repeating piano octave which suggests that Hendrix was trying to hypnotise us all. The original album closer is akin to some of The Beatles work at the time and hints that the two acts were leading a new generation.
Built out of a blues standard, Hendrix takes the track from the deltas to the other realms of our consciousness. A fantastic synergy between his vocal and his guitar resonates supremely over the song textured sound.
As the group use the studio to its fullest and use over-dubbing techniques, the song is given extra weight by the mixing desk. The track is actually seen as five different licks all forming together to create one encompassing sound.
Another song from The Experience’s second album, ‘Spanish Castle Magic’ has an incessant charm. The song was inspired by Hendrix’s time in high school a time which saw him often frequent a roadhouse called ‘The Spanish Castle’.
The track is, therefore, naturally packed with some serious pun and across three pulsating minutes, Hendrix lets rip and amply backed by Mitchell and Redding delivers a fire-breathing song.
Hendrix is fully committed to his vision on this track as the acid-blues begin to descend over the eyes of us all. Only a few tracks into the band’s debut album and it’s clear that The Jimi Hendrix Experience are on a different level to those around them.
Once again, Hendrix promotes the themes of love and confusion as well as weaving through the song his obsession with colours and their meanings. It may well drag on a little longer than it needs to be it just provides the band with ample room to showcase their talent.
Hendrix lets rip on this one with a fist-pumping beat from Mitch Mitchell and a naturally impressive Redding bass line allowing him to imbue the track with some impressive licks.
An R&B song by any other name, Hendrix gets a little soulful on this one as he plays towards the band, offering complimentary moments rather than domination. It’s a rare sight and sound but one that deserves the utmost attention.
The slow rumbling of drums may feel like it is building to a huge explosion of feedback and snorting guitars. Instead, Hendrix hits his pop music peak. A gentle rhythm allows Hendrix to lay over some of his more delicate licks before slowing turning up the heat on proceedings.
The track continues on its journey with Hendrix proclaiming that “I have nothing to lose/ As long as I have you” and asking mother nature herself to try and stay the same. It’s a calm and romantic moment on the band’s debut album and is certainly one of the softer songs on the LP, and in Hendrix’s entire arsenal. Put on some headphones and let the song melt you away. If only for a few minutes.
We almost put this song into the top 10 based purely on the spring-like guitar sound Hendrix somehow manages to get out of his axe. As the sound spirals out into the airwaves the band kick in and a hefty dollop of classic R&B unfolds as Hendrix’s guitar goes on the offensive.
If you want to label the track in the context of the album it is on, the band’s debut record Are You Experienced? then it may be considered a filler, but it probably adds up to what most R&B acts of the time could ever hope to achieve.
Shared as part of the additional songs included on the CD edition of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s first record, Are You Experienced?, ’51st Anniversary’ may not necessarily be the first song you should jump to if you’re just plugging into what makes Hendrix great but there is a certain subtlety to this track that makes it stand out.
All of the guitarist’s songs were imbued with a sense of story but ’51st Anniversary’ is perhaps the most easily attainable one as he details the moving relationship. Of course, the entire song is powered by Hendrix’s guitar and his sonic style is in full effect.
Not to be confused with another song which we will get to later, this track ‘Voodoo Chile’ was compiled with Hendrix, Mitchell and the help of Steve Winwood and Jack Casady, the track worked as the basis for the more famous version of the song.
This one still has plenty of chops though, restrained and guarded, it actually feels a little more menacing than the more polished return to the song. A little know fact: ‘Chile’ is a phonetic spelling of ‘Child’ so feel free to smugly correct anyone who has been inventing a new kind of chilli.
Taking on Hendrix’s now intrinsic swagger, delivering bluesy vocals over an awe-inspiring guitar, the song is often referred to as “acid-blues” and its pretty easy to see the connection. Not only does Hendrix say he’s going “to wave my freak flag” but musically the song continues to “wave on” as the group break into a jazz-inspired jam session.
Annoyingly, the song, unlike many other tracks on the band’s second album, suffers greatly from tape noise, dropouts and overall “rough” quality sound. It doesn’t do anything to dampen the spirits on this call for personal freedom. It is summed up by the lines: “I’m the one that’s gonna have to die when it’s time for me to die/so let me live my life/the way I want to.”
Featuring on the band’s second album, Hendrix’s vision is enacted on ‘Up In The Skies’ as his love of science-fiction comes to the fore. An avid reader of classic sci-fi novels, Hendrix’s work often painted motifs of an infinite universe.
The song was released as the only single from the band’s album and sees Hendrix depicted the landing of a visiting alien who is “concerned about what has happened to [Earth] since the last time he passed through.” Naturally, the song is full of licks and riffs that are truly out there.
Hendrix is clearly taking us back to simpler times on ‘Remember’. A somewhat simple creation, a straight rock ‘n’ roll number, is designed to bring us all back to a time when sitting on the front porch and watching the day go by was all you had to do. Lamenting the complications of life and love, Hendrix is pining for a time gone by.
It’s hard not to feel swept up in the golden-hued nostalgia of ‘Remember’ as Hendrix whines for a “kiss for my supper”, and allows his guitar hooks to provide flashes of his brilliance while still remaining restrained within the track.
The beginning of Electric Ladyland‘s side two may start slow but it soon kicks into gear with ‘Come On’, a song which is about as close to straight rock ‘n’ roll as Hendrix ever comes. Of course, it has some serious guitar chops running through but the playing is smooth and flourished, that is until it kicks into overdrive.
Mitchell’s quick beat provides him ample room to riff and create one of the album’s most vibrant solos and certainly one of its finest moments. Ending somewhere close to a jazz trumpeter blowing his way into the smokey night, Hendrix’s version of the Earl King song eventual settles back to type and sees the icon reprise his role as rock schmoozer.
Appearing on the band’s debut album Are You Experienced, ‘Manic Depression’ is one song on the album that really sticks out—largely, because it has a strong message. But while the notions of clinical depression are here for all to see, the real point of note is that Hendrix is clearly lovesick.
The fast-paced triple metre gives the song chops and Hendrix’s playing on the track is, of course, astronomical. Mitchell’s jazz drums are captivating and when the bassline and guitar lick marry up, it makes for something truly impressive.
With music and lyrics from the mind of Jimi Hendrix its probably fair to say that this track from the band’s Electric Ladyland album probably would never have landed so heavily without the R&B band Sweet Inspirations who provide the perfect refrain for Hendrix’s swirling sounds.
Produced by Chas Chandler, the track was released as the group’s fourth single and also appeared as the B-side to their cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’. About the song, Hendrix said, “There are some very personal things in there. But I think everyone can understand the feeling when you’re travelling that no matter what your address there is no place you can call home.
“The feeling of a man in a little old house in the middle of a desert where he is burning the midnight lamp… you don’t mean for things to be personal all the time, but it is.”
Found on the band’s second album Axis: Bold as Love, ‘Little Wing’ is a ballad which captures everything that was impressive about Hendrix. He managed to traverse the line between physical, imposing and yet somehow ethereal.
Of course, Hendrix kicks things up a notch when lets his guitar say the words he can’t. It brings the ballad back down to earth. It is one of the song’s he developed before encountering Chas Chandler.
The track began life as Jimi Hendrix strumming alone on his guitar. But soon enough the song provided a taste of what the future may have held for Hendrix. The song was the first time he really used the Record Plant studio to full effect. With a full orchestration behind him, suddenly his guitar didn’t sound revolutionary or explosive but vital.
Despite a more classical setting for his songs, it didn’t stop Hendrix from creating a series of apocalyptic vignettes as he so loved to do. It once again also sees the icon play with the metaphors of sand and water, a common thread in his later work. At over thirteen minutes long it is one of his most encompassing pieces. When asked to describe the track in 1969 he said it was “something to keep your mind off what’s happening… but not necessarily completely hiding away from it like some people do.”
“Let me stand next to you fire” sings Hendrix over a pounding rhythm and his now-iconic guitars. Following one of the quietest moments on the band’s first album Are You Experienced?, ‘Fire’ has a habit of kicking the heat up to 100 and as Hendrix sings “move over, Rover/ Let Jimi take over” before unleashing a sizzling solo, you know you’re already cooked.
The track continues to power through the entire two minutes and thirty seconds, making sure that while the track is comparatively short and sweet, the afterburn on this one will stay with you for a very long time.
The second song ever recorded by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the track was eventually released as part of the CD edition of their 1967 debut album. The track quickly became an integral anthem for the counter-culture movement. Looking back, it’s all there, isn’t it?
The ambiguous title, the unfathomable guitar sound, the creative energy and enthusiasm all underpinned by the choral refrain. The track often became an extended arrangement when performed live which shows how highly Hendrix valued the song.
The song’s lyrics explore Hendrix’s restless life, “I stay one or two months in a place and then I must have a change… I just get so restless, man—I might leave right away”. He continues, “I used to go to the [Harlem] clubs, and my hair was really long then. Sometimes I’d tie it up or do something with it and the cats would say, ‘Ah, look at that: Black Jesus.’ Even in your own section [of town]. I had friends with me in Harlem, 125th Street, and all of a sudden, cats, old ladies, girls, anybody would say, ‘Ooh, look at that. What is this, a circus or something?”
There are few songs which can evoke a series of “ooh, what’s that smell?” faces across the party then when a mere sample of this song comes. So ubiquitous is the filthy nature of Hendrix’s lick on ‘Crosstown Traffic’ that the choral refrain is almost missed.
It’s one of the mover overlooked songs of Hendrix’s canon and while it may not have the same lyrical integrity that Hendrix and the band had been employing on their music, the vibe of the song is undeniably infectious. Unusually for the songs on Electric Ladyland, it features all the members of the band and even has Hendrix using a kazoo with some tissue paper.
The final song in Hendrix’s time with The Experience is certainly one of his most iconic. The song he and the group had sketched out earlier on in their final LP Electric Ladyland comes back with full force as ‘Voodoo Child’.
Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding liked the track and went about learning it right away as Redding explained, “We learned that song in the studio… They had the cameras rolling on us as we played it”. The cameras were that of ABC’s and they were intent on capturing the band in their magical flow, Hendrix added: “Someone was filming when we started doing [Voodoo Child]. We did that about three times because they wanted to film us in the studio, to make us—’Make it look like you’re recording, boys’—one of them scenes, you know, so, ‘OK, let’s play this in E, a-one, a-two, a-three’, and then we went into ‘Voodoo Child’.”
It’s a furious song that deserves its spot in the top 10 of Hendrix’s esteemed work. Powerful and potent it is a reminder of the talent Hendrix possessed from the beginning to the end of his time with The Experience.
One of the first songs Jimi Hendrix ever recorded, back in 1966, and is largely held together by a simple 12-bar blues structure which, as ever, allows Hendrix to gild the cutting edges of the song with a touch of gold. The track changes the pace of the album and often provided a calmer moment in Hendrix’s shows.
The audience may have all taken a collective sigh when the first notes of ‘Red House’ landed on the air but it wouldn’t calm Hendrix down. Over the simple beat, he unleashes a host of rangey riffs that do all the talking his vocal doesn’t ever really get to.
The song is said to have been about Hendrix’s high school girlfriend Betty Jean Morgan and is one of his more conventional songs. It shows that he was more than capable of bringing it back to basics when he needed to.
Certainly one of Hendrix’s best songs came on his second album and the smirking track ‘Castles Made of Sand’. The track acts as a sonic essay on life’s bitter ironies as he, verse by verse, dissects the sheer ridiculousness of life. As well as some backward guitars, Hendrix continues to lay down his signature sound.
The laid back groove allows Hendrix to do his finest work. Smooth and arriving backwards means his guitar sounds like a dream, the kind of dream where you put the entire world in order and figure out the meaning of life only to wake up in the morning and not remember any of it. As a piece of pure sonic poetry, it’s delightful, as a song it’s a point of Hendrix’s devotion to that poetry.
Sometimes songs are inescapable. Whether you heard it first via Hendrix or via Wayne’s World, chances are the opening track of Are You Experienced? has hit you at some point in your life. And as we all know, when that searing riff explodes on to the airwaves, it smacks you like ten tonnes of bricks.
If there’s one track in which you can distil the talent of Hendrix, encapsulate his vision and his sonic exploration, then the sultry, sensual and sensational ‘Foxy Lady’ has to be it. With lyrics apparently connected to Heather Taylor, who went on to marry The Who’s Roger Daltrey, the music is all straight out of Hendrix’s soul.
Not the kind of soul that warms soups or tucks you in at night with a whisky-breath kiss, but the lustful, primal soul that emanates from every note of this track. It’s hard to not fall in love with this song and, if it is not love, then it’s intoxicating enough to pretend to be it.
Added as part of the expanded CD edition of Are You Experienced?, ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ comes from a lucrative session. “That was recorded at the tail end of the session for ‘Fire’,” remembered Chas Chandler. “We had about twenty minutes or so left. I suggested we cut a demo of ‘The Wind Cries Mary’. Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding hadn’t heard it, so they were going about it without a rehearsal. They played it once through [and Hendrix then suggested overdubs]. In all, he put on four or five more overdubs, but the whole thing was done in twenty minutes. That was our third single.”
The track remains one of Hendrix’s cleanest moments. It is a sincere and authentic moment on the album and provides some classic blues rock for any lover of the genre. To not hear Hendrix’s searing solos can often be disappointed but actually the work he does on this track is far more imposing.
It’s a ballad delivered in the only way Hendrix knows how, with heart, mind and soul all kicked up to eleven.
One thing that Hendrix did perhaps better than anyone else at the time was to take other people’s songs and turn them into something unique and singular to his sound and vision. He did so with his cover of the rock standard ‘Hey Joe’, creating, without doubt, the essential version of the song. Included as the additional songs added to the Are You Experienced? CD, it is easily one of his best tracks.
Released as a single with ’51st Anniversary’ on the B-side, Hendrix was proving that he wasn’t only the present and future of rock but he had a great grip on the past too. In fact, it would build the foundations of his awe-inspiring sound. The song is certainly slowed down in Hendrix’s version of the track and it allows his virtuoso playing to be given ample room to breathe.
What becomes quickly apparent with the song is that if any other artist was to have guitar playing on their song as fantastic as this, they would have made it the focal point of the track. As it is, his playing just melts into the background and creates the setting for the song’s story.
Much of Axis: Bold as Love can be seen as an extension of the band’s debut record. Part of the initial eruption of Hendrix’s creative sparks when he was given room to truly express himself by Chas Chandler. But on ‘Bold as Love’, Hendrix does that mercurial thing that only a few artists can do—he connects with something timeless.
At the centre of the song is Hendrix’s kaleidoscopic view of life and love. As he works his way through the many hues love can take he concludes that each one is as powerful and potent as the last. It adds a universal tone of acceptance and peace which makes this a Hendrix song for all ages, even looking back in 2020, this message rings true. It sees Hendrix perhaps become the iconic we know and love him to be today.
This was the song that proved that as well as being a wonderfully gifted guitarist (and the song has a hefty dose great licks) he was a gifted lyricist. Poetically sound and sonically far ahead of his peers, Hendrix was proving to be everything people had hoped.
Of course, one of Hendrix’s defining moments comes as a cover of one of Bob Dylan’s then-lesser known tracks. Dylan said of Hendrix’s version: “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.”
Written in 1967, the song has had a fair few renditions from famous faces over the years. Whether it’s from Eddie Vedder’s Pearl Jam, the smoother than smooth tones of Bryan Ferry, the salt of the earth Neil Young, or even the Irish pop-rock poster boys U2, but none hold a candle to Jimi’s.
While those bands all tried to match Dylan’s effort from ’67, Jimi ingested the track, digested it, and threw it up and walked away only a true stoner can. It’s quite literally perfect. If you think otherwise then we suggest you take it up with Bob. Hendrix takes this song to a whole new stratosphere and us as the audience along with him for the ride. It is incendiary music at its hottest.
Just by the very nature of Hendrix’s mercurial appeal, the chances are that very few people will entirely agree with our list. In fact, we would hope they didn’t. But we think it’s pretty set in stone that the archetypal Hendrix tune simply has to be ‘Purple Haze’ if not just for the iconic lyrics “excuse me, miss, while I kiss the sky.”
It has all the finer threads of what makes Hendrix a guitar genius, the shining silk of Eastern modalities, the sturdy and colourful blues mix, and rendered beauty of the sound processing. What comes out is a suit worthy of Saville Row.
While the lyrics may leave you misunderstanding the intent of Hendrix—having often been seen as a psychedelic experience—while Hendrix would reiterate it’s intended as a love song. What is in no doubt is that on this track, Hendrix’s guitar playing is the most honest and authentic moment of the song.
One of the best-known songs of Hendrix’s extraordinary yet short catalogue, ‘Purple Haze’ is a shining light of not only the illustrious creativity that flourished in the sixties. But the poster boy of that unbridled and untethered push of pulsating artistry.
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