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47th Favorite Album

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Fair Warning. Van Halen.
1981, Warner Brothers. Producer: Ted Templeman.
Bootleg Cassette, ca. 1983. Purchased, ca. 1998.

IN A NUTSHELL: A record by a band that I describe in one word: “fun!” Eddie Van Halen’s guitar heroics are all over the place on this album, and he always plays with a sense of enjoyment and laughter. David Lee Roth is the clown prince of cock rock, and the band’s rhythm section is second to none. This album has all the hallmarks of a VH classic. It might not be for everyone, but if it’s you get it, you’ll want to get it!
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Everyone likes to have fun, right? At least a little bit? I’m sure there are a few people you can think of who seem completely disinclined to have fun. I myself have a relative or two who seem to need a lesson in fun. But I’d venture to say even those dour folks you know who seem to have gone to some weird face gymnasium to build up their Zygomaticus muscles (major and minor) to ensure their lips can never curl into a smile have some little thing in their lives that they consider fun: weather-stripping the house, perhaps, or looking at their Commemorative Spoon collection. Fun means different things to different people, but it’s a universal feeling, known across cultures, throughout history.

Popular music has often celebrated fun, as well. Hit songs from the past 60 years that extoll its virtues include those by Cyndi Lauper, The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, Sheryl Crow, Sly & The Family Stone, Madness, Wang Chung and Tom Tom Club. (Less popular musical artists, such as Bruce Willis and Charles Manson, have also cut tracks about fun). Plenty of other songs describe such fun activities as jumping around, driving around, going on vacation, going to parties, playing basketball, playing baseball, playing cards … even cosplay (sort of). Throw in fun activities like dancing and sex, and it becomes damn difficult to think of a song that isn’t about fun. (Songs by 70s-sad-sack-sap-spewers Bread notwithstanding.)

Despite the universal appeal of fun, and despite the fact that it’s a standard topic of song, musical artists devoted to fun are not typically held in the same regard by critics as those artists with a more serious worldview. The most-admired rock and roll artists from the Turbulent 60s® had at a bare minimum at least one phase, or important work, that touched on universal human and political themes. Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan did, of course, as did The Beatles, James Brown and Marvin Gaye … even good time party-boys The Rolling Stones had their “Street Fighting Man” era. Through the 70s, gravity reigned: The Who wrote operas; Led Zeppelin wrote serious-sounding songs about serious-sounding subjects; prog rockers like Yes and Genesis and Rush demonstrated a serious devotion to virtuosity and Grand Ideas; and earnest dudes with acoustic guitars became unlikely pop stars. Then punk came – and while its pogo-ing fans were having fun, what The Critics™ responded to was the bands’ anger and passion. Fun was certainly a big part of the 70s Disco Movement, but the music itself wasn’t taken very seriously.

The 80s were a heyday for fun-themed music, from Madonna and Michael Jackson to the scourge of Hair Metal. MJ was always a critics’ favorite, and Madonna eventually got there, but the music of the 80s that The Critics tended to love – more serious artists like Tom Waits, The Smiths and Hüsker Dü – weren’t really all that popular in the U.S. in the 80s; they were niche acts. Popular, fun acts like Huey Lewis and The News and Bon Jovi and all the other Hair Metal acts were already starting to sound tiresome to critics (and record buyers) by the time the 90s dawned. The lasting 80s rock bands – U2, R.E.M. – were serious bands with some (at times embarrassing) fun thrown in.

Fun mostly took a backseat in 90s pop music. Sure you had some goofballs out there, and the decade’s “Swing Revival” tried to encourage us that fun could be had for a mere 2 years of dance lessons and a few $500 Zoot Suits. But from Gangsta Rap to Grunge to College Music, the 90s were not really an era of much musical fun. Just ask Cher, from Clueless. (Although, to be fair, inter-genre pairings in the decade did produce a pretty fun soundtrack album for Judgment Night.) The music of the 2000s may have had some fun – I was having my own fun with a couple of young kids, so I kind of missed a lot of what happened in that decade. But I’m going to take it for granted that once again, fun was an afterthought for most of what was considered critically-acclaimed music.

I sort of understand why Fun wouldn’t be more critically-appreciated as a musical topic. The fact is, nobody experiences fun the same way, and what’s Fun for one person probably isn’t for another. For example, statutory rape, mass murder and poorly-conceived-and-unsubtly-executed-double-entendres aren’t everyone’s idea of a good time, so it might be difficult for some folks to just accept “hey, it’s fun!” as a reason for finding redeeming qualities about the music. Also, part of what is expected from the arts – any of the arts – is a reflection of the human condition by an artist. The more complete that reflection is, the more deeply a listener will respond to an artist. So, if only the sunny, fun side of life is being reflected by an artist’s work, it may make the listener feel like the artist is either disingenuous or lazy.

However … some musical artists have been celebrated for their achievements in Fun. The recent death of Rock and Roll architect and future only-Rock-and-Roll-name-in-Music-History (according to Chuck Klosterman) Chuck Berry elicited heaping mounds of rightfully-deserved praise on the man.

 

And something that stood out to me in all of the obituaries, memorials and tributes to the man was how much FUN his music was. Of course, there was a lot of talk about his impact on the sound of Rock and Roll, and about his lyrics, which were the first in rock and roll to express stories poetically about people. But the fact is that his music was always FUN, as well!

He wrote about driving around, about school being boring, rock and roll, the USA, and cars – both fast and not so fast. He had a few serious songs, like “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and “Memphis, Tennessee,” but even they sounded fun. He had a signature guitar sound and performance style that wowed audiences, and nobody expected him to get very philosophical with his songs. Nobody clamored for “a different side of Chuck Berry,” in which he plumbed the depths of his mind and soul for multi-layered reflections on life’s true meaning. Listeners wanted Chuck Berry to kick ass, and ass is what he kicked.

It’s in this ass-kickin’, fun-havin’, let’s-just-rock-and-roll, Chuck Berry spirit that I love the band Van Halen. They can be as goofy as that duck-walk, and as dumb as a song about playing guitar, but they have a signature sound and performance style I love, and guitarist Eddie Van Halen is an innovator and sound-generator who stands apart even in a crowded field of rock guitar virtuosos. They are my Chuck Berry

I remember hearing and seeing Van Halen as a middle schooler in the late 70s. There was a pair of brothers who lived up the street, the Starrs, and they LOVED Van Halen. I was still in my disco/pop phase, so I thought the band – with its scarves and poofy hair and loud guitars and tight pants – were just silly. (Somehow, grown men dressed as a Cowboy, Indian, Biker, Construction Worker, Cop and Army Man didn’t seem all that silly to me. Go figure.) As I moved through high school, Van Halen videos would turn up on MTV, and I sort of shrugged. They weren’t really my thing. But that changed when they released their 1984 album in my junior year of high school, and – pop music fan that I was – I bought in. My good friend and high school music guru Rick immediately told me that 1984 was lame, and brought to school the Van Halen Canon to that point, all on cassette tape. I bought in big-time, and was just becoming a super-fan when lead singer David Lee “Diamond Dave” Roth left the band in 1985. Neither his new schtick nor the band’s new direction interested me much, so I kept delving into those cassettes.

Being a fan of the “classic” DLR-era Van Halen is a bit like being a fan of The Three Stooges, an act I also greatly enjoy. With both acts, you’re just going to have to accept that a) much of the stuff they do is ridiculous; b) some of the stuff they do is going to miss the mark; and c) you’ll meet as many people who hate the act, and judge you for your love, as you will those who understand. But fuck them. An interesting thing about being human is that you can’t really control what it is that’ll make you laugh or tickle your music-receptors. Both tastes, all tastes, evolve, for sure, but I find that certain stimuli abide, and never lose their power to excite. And the opening of the Fair Warning album, the song “Mean Street,” excites me every time.

It opens with some weird, fabulous guitar nonsense from Eddie. This album was the band’s fourth in four years, and fans were expecting guitar histrionics and brand new sounds from Eddie every time out, and it sounds like he wanted to get some of it out of the way right off the bat. Then its a simple, driving riff that propels the entire song. I’m not going to get into D.L. Roth’s lyrics just yet, but I will say that I doubt that this son of a wealthy ophthalmologist, from a long line of wealthy doctors, has really only ever known the Mean Streets, as claimed. One of the finest, and least-appreciated, aspects of Van Halen albums has always been bassist Michael Anthony’s harmony vocals. They are perhaps the “Larry Fine” of the band, if we’re going with a Three Stooges analogy; always providing a small, key piece to lift group performances to a higher level. At about 2:20, above, Eddie begins a really cool guitar solo that almost sounds Arabic in places. He’s known for playing very fast, but it’s not just the speed that’s amazing: it’s the style and the sound, as well. His brother, Alex, pounds a great drum track throughout, especially during the nice little breakdown part, at about 3:15, and then it’s on to the end of the song. Just as The Three Stooges were smart enough to make short films, Van Halen knows that it’s in their interest to keep songs compact, and I rarely hear a song of their’s that I think “Okay, time to end it, boys.”

Van Halen appreciation is easiest if – regardless of gender – you are at peace with your inner 13-year-old-boy. You’ll need that comfort to fully comprehend the genius of a song like “Dirty Movies,” allowing you to either laugh off or fully embrace the song’s juvenile reflection on pornography and its performers.

But as with every goddamned song Van Halen ever made, the focus should be squarely on Eddie and what he says with his guitar, instead of what any lyrics might say. (And I’ll get into lyrics soon … I swear.) This song opens with a nice, gentle swing beat courtesy of the terrific Alex Van Halen, and cool bass harmonics by Anthony. Eddie’s guitar squawks give way to a fluid solo, about 0:40, and the entire thing builds to a very strong intro riff about 0:49. The band often throws interesting little song-structure things into songs, like, for instance, at 1:18, when they end the verse with a little syncopated run, or the syncopation behind the pre-chorus, heard about 1:29. It’s things like this that elevate them above other “flashy guitar” bands of the 80s. Anthony’s bass line is particularly nice in the chorus, where – once again – his strong harmonies help lift the song. We Van Halen fans awaiting a scorching solo actually have to look elsewhere, as Eddie confines his histrionics to background wails and runs.

I remember reading a quote from David Lee Roth – who, during those wild and woolly early MTV days was always good for a hilarious quote – regarding his lyrics. I scoured the internet looking for it, but I couldn’t come up with it. But I recall him stating words to this effect: “nobody comes to Van Halen because of the lyrics. I write them during time-outs watching football on TV.” However, this lack of effort hasn’t left him as a lyricist without personal style. It’s hard to think of anyone else who could pull off such lyrics as “Who’s that babe with the fab-oo-lus (sic) shadow?/It’s only one scene but to me it don’t matter.” Just as some people will never find Moe poking Curly in the eyeballs funny, some people will never appreciate the ridiculous humor of Roth’s lyrics. But I still find myself laughing when I hear lyrics like those in “Sinner’s Swing.”

Couplets such as “She looked so fucking good so sexy and so frail/Something’s got the bite on me I’m going straight to hell” crack me up. And Roth can perform the lyrics well, too; I won’t use the term “sing,” as his delivery varies between singing, speaking, barking and laughing. He doesn’t try to be earnest about thrown-together lyrics such as “No one is above suspicion, no one’s got it wired/I’ll eat it with my fingers want my iron in that fire,” but unleashes them with an implied wink, as if to say, “come on, we’re just having fun!” Alex again shows he’s one of the more inventive drummers in rock, even in the first few seconds as he doubles the main guitar riff on drums. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album, even though – once again – Eddie’s role is mostly left to background runs, although at 1:40 he unleashes a seemingly Galaga-inspired solo that is both impressive and typical. The signature vocal harmonies on the chorus’s “G- g- g- g- g-/Get out and push!” (I do believe Roth when he says he doesn’t spend much time refining the lyrics) are also terrific.

But goofiness aside, just as you’ll find that The Three Stooges are actually far more clever in their wordplay than one would expect given all the slapstick, Van Halen songs are often more interesting musically than expected. A great example of that is the song “Hear About It Later,” a piece that begins with a cool, subtle build-up to a Dave scream. But at the end of the verse, at about 1:18, the band throws in some nifty triplets as Roth sings “tried and convicted, it’s winner take all.” It’s little things like this that elevate their songs beyond the standard hard-rock, guitar-wanking BS.

Similarly, about 2:25, the song smoothly transitions to a nice minor chord in the bridge – again unexpectedly. Then there’s a breakdown at 2:40, and Eddie begins his solo, which sounds like it could be part of a different song. But that’s not a knock – it’s a fantastic bit of playing, and it makes the song interesting, especially when he leaves the solo and the band enters the bridge again. Also, for all I’ve said about Roth and singing and lyrics, he really does have a knack for writing catchy melodies. The song’s got a really great ending, with Eddie playing quintuplets as it draws to a close. Look, it’s not The Brandenburg Concerto, but it is a step or two beyond what one expects from a Guitar God band. And I love it.

Another song I love is the (sort-of) “hit” from the album, the fun, propulsive “Unchained.” It’s classic VH, with excellent guitar, cool harmonies, great drumming, unexpected musical nuggets, and silly-terrific lyrics by Diamond Dave.

This is a song that I think I could listen to just as the isolated Eddie Van Halen guitar track, and I’d be happy. The entire time he’s making simple stuff sound cool with squawks and flanges and other inventive sounds. Musically, the syncopated rhythms during the pre-chorus – about 0:40 to the descending syncopation around 0:53 – once again show there’s more to the songs than just “4/4, play chords.” At 1:49, Eddie unleashes a weird, noisy solo. Lyrics such as “blue-eyed murder in a satisfied dress” are classics. Plus – as with the entire album – there’s a depth of sound on this (and every DLR-era) Van Halen album. My high school chorus director loved the sound of Van Halen albums, and credited their richness to producer Ted Templeman, who gets a vocal credit on this song during the breakdown section, beginning about 2:15. Whatever the case, the entire production is perfectly suited to hold and feature Eddie’s guitar heroics.

The band does a few other things on the album. “Push Comes to Shove” is a subtle, nifty guitar feature, with a disco beat and DL Roth’s crooning about the vagaries of love, while Eddie creates some excellent, angular, reggae-inflected gems and blasts off a terrific, guitar-hero solo. “So This Is Love?” is a shuffling, good-time boogie with – you guessed it – phenomenal guitar. “Sunday Afternoon In The Park/One Foot Out the Door” is a punk song (the latter) with a weird, blobby, guitar-generated introduction (the former). Alex kicks some double-bass drum ass on it, but overall it’s a pretty weak song on which to end a great album.

So, anyway, listen: these are some pretty scary, lousy times in the USA. Your life could use a little more fun, so why not get some from the music you’re listening to? I find it fun being impressed by Eddie’s guitar and Alex’s drums, and enjoying Michael’s harmony vocals and “Diamond” Dave’s ridiculousness … Maybe you’ll find fun somewhere else. But try to make a place for it in your music listening: life’s really too short not to!! In the immortal words of Diamond Dave: “Don’t waste time/g-g-g-g-g get out and push!”

Track Listing
“Mean Street”
“Dirty Movies”
“Sinner’s Swing”
“Hear About It Later”
“Unchained”
“Push Comes To Shove”
“So This Is Love?”
“Sunday Afternoon In The Park”
“One Foot Out The Door”

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Filed under Albums 50 - 41

50th Favorite Album

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Axis: Bold as Love. The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
1967, Track Records. Producer: Chas Chandler.
Purchased, 1997.

IN A NUTSHELL: Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding are in fine form on songs both heavy and light, each song bursting with the unmistakeable virtuosity of Hendrix’s guitar – sometimes subtle, sometimes bombastic. He plays a few pop songs, too, and always makes them sound like Jimi. He also displays an under-appreciated, soulful singing voice that particularly stands out on the lighter, slower songs.
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Everyone wants to be a VIP. All over the internet, folks are using the allure of VIP status to entice you to buy yoga apparel, car washes, cameras, and sporting goods; access to restaurants, zoos, muscle-car clubs, pinball museums and places that aren’t even real. And while it’s probably true that nobody really thinks their longterm commitment to buying quality socks online actually makes them more important than they were when they were simply buying Kirkland socks at Costco, it’s also true that if the letters “VIP” didn’t actually help sell things then vendors wouldn’t use them.

It is well-established that people want to feel important. But we also like to acknowledge those people who are important in our own lives. Many of us, it seems, need a little help letting those people know how special they are to us, but we all (mostly) recognize those important people are out there. (If you don’t know who they are, there are several online quizzes to help you figure it out!)

Of particular interest to humans seems to be those people we think are “most important.” Schoolchildren of all ages have likely written at least one essay on the topic “The Most Important Person in My Life.” And if they can’t think of someone, there are plenty of example essays for sale on the topic! It’s not just teachers who like a good “Most Important Person Essay,” either. Many websites post such features for all their readers to enjoy. It’s also a popular topic on websites devoted to particular religions.

These essays and stories and blog posts all tend to focus on longtime relationships that are obviously important. The singular fact that your mother carried you inside her for nine-plus months immediately renders her important, whether or not her laugh is all that great. If you’re a big-time athlete, you’re bound to have a coach or two with whom you’ve developed a special bond. Most of us probably have several of these types in our lives making it quite difficult to pare a list of important people down to one single “most important.” (And remember: when thinking about those “most important people” in one’s life, always keep in mind – as we children of the 70s learned on TV – that the most important person is YOU!)

Parents, coaches, teachers, mentors, friends, grandparents … these are all obvious types of important people. People in your life who fall into these categories have earned a claim to the title of Most Important Person, I am sure. “For fifty years, my sister has been there for me.” “I learned so much more than World History from Mrs. Meyer in 10th grade.” However, there is a type of Important Person that I find far more interesting. It’s a type of Important Person who perhaps hasn’t had such a broad or philosophical influence on your life, but who had a direct, specific, turning-point-facilitating impact. When you ask yourself “How did I get here?” and follow the thread of your actions and decisions back through the twisting maze of your past, you will come across a person or two without whose words or deeds a significant turn in your path would have been missed – even though you Don’t Remember Their Name! This is The Forgotten Person in Passing. Better-known as The ForPerInPass. Or maybe the Forg-Pip. Or F-PIP. Whatever, I suck at nicknames and acronyms.

FPIPs are often only recognizable if you allow your memory to step back through the stages of your life and consider how each link between stages was made. For example: I’ve had a 25-plus year career in the biotech/pharma industry. How did I get there? Well, I can easily walk back through the various jobs I’ve had at different companies in New England and California … and before arriving in California, I can go back in my mind to Pennsyltucky… where I can remember getting my very first pharma job at a Bayer Aspirin factory … a job I got because I had a minor in Chemistry … which was a degree I took only because of … Some Guy. An FPIP.

In 1989 I was days away from graduating college with a degree in Biology Education. As with everything pre-internet, the administrative process of graduation involved filling out a lot of forms and getting a bunch of signatures on these forms. One of these forms was to be signed by the Department Chair (a terribly Important Person, no doubt), who, having reviewed the paper copy of my college transcripts would, by signature, assert that indeed I had fulfilled the requirements to receive a Bachelor’s degree.

My transcript included grades from two years spent at PCPS, a college of science whose hefty, science-packed course-load included about 23 credits of Chemistry in my two years of study – which is a shit-load of chemistry. As I walked through a science building on my way to get a signature, some FPIP took a look at my transcript and said, “Holy crap! You have enough Chemistry credits to get a minor!” (or words to that effect.) “Why should I do that?” I asked. “Why not?” he replied. “It couldn’t hurt!” So, on my way to get the Biology chair’s signature, I stopped in at the Chemistry chair’s office for his signature, and voila!! I had a Chemistry Minor! If I hadn’t gotten that Chemistry minor, I probably wouldn’t have gotten my first pharmaceutical job. And since I wasn’t looking for a career in pharmaceuticals, but only took the job (which was supposed to be temporary) so that I’d have some flexibility to tour with my band, I probably wouldn’t have had a successful career in what has turned out to be my field if I hadn’t bumped into that FPIP.

In terms of my life’s path, that dude who gave me the tip about obtaining a minor was WAY more important than any advice-giving coach or hand-holding aunt could ever be! And he’s just one of several such FPIPs.

Other FPIPs in my life include this wacky, effervescent, middle-aged dancer/actress/singer I met in San Rafael, CA, soon after I moved there in 1993. She was a friend of a friend, and I met her once, at a lunch with our mutual friend during a break in rehearsal for some cabaret show she was hoping to mount, and during that one meeting she told me that of all the acting programs in San Francisco, the only one worth attending was the Jean Shelton Acting School. On that advice I started taking classes, and one of the first friends I made there introduced me to the woman who would become my wife. If not for the wacky FPIP, I might still be single.

Another FPIP – who I definitely can picture, and who I knew pretty well at the time, but whose name I can’t recall – was the guy who said “Axis: Bold as Love was a life-changing album for me.” He was an improv teacher at Sue Walden & Co., (now ImprovWorks) a school in San Francisco where I trained and performed for years. He played guitar, and in the mid 90s he was in his 40s. As a teen-aged guitar player living in the Bay Area in the 60s, he was a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix, and as I recall, he told me that Axis: Bold as Love had been released just as he was starting to get really good at guitar. But, he explained, when he heard that album he realized just how hard he was going to have to work to become the type of guitarist he wanted to be. I don’t remember the details of what he said, but I recall the reverence with which he spoke, the deep connection he had with the work, not just as an album of rock songs but as a true work of artistic expression that had left an impression still palpable some 30 years later. It was like hearing a Catholic priest speak of seeing St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time.

I was already a fan of The Jimi Hendrix Experience album Are You Experienced?, so I knew immediately that I had to get Axis: Bold as Love. In this case, the chances are likely that I would have purchased this album at some point – so maybe he doesn’t precisely fit the FPIP definition. But I still can’t hear this record without thinking of that guy, and feeling lucky to have met him, and in a way I still consider him responsible for my love of this album, and deepening my appreciation of Jimi.

I was already familiar with this album’s cover because my high school buddy, Josh, had used it to decorate our room in 11th grade World Cultures class when we had “India Day.” The story goes that Jimi didn’t particularly care for the artwork, as nobody in the band had any Indian heritage (apart from Jimi’s Native American “Indian” lineage). And although depicting the band members as gods of the third largest religion on Earth is undoubtedly offensive to many, it’s still a pretty cool-looking album.

Cool-looking though it may be, Axis: Bold as Love starts off rather cornily with a sort of amusing, kind of pointless, though maybe sort of wild-for-its-time skit, called “EXP,” about aliens that allows Hendrix to make some futuristic sounds with his guitar. But more importantly, it serves as a prelude to the cool groove of “Up from the Skies.”

It starts with a jazzy, brush-stick intro from fabulous drummer Mitch Mitchell, and Jimi begins singing right away. This is perfect because it allows me to state immediately that Hendrix’s acknowledged guitar virtuosity has overshadowed the fact that he’s actually a terrific singer! On this song he’s expressive and controlled as he takes the voice of the alien in “EXP” to ask us all about our life here on Earth, and why it’s so degraded since the last time he visited. Behind the outer-space words is some fantastic wah-wah guitar that subtly distorts the sound of the entire song – giving me a feeling of bobbing in water. The drumming – I can’t say enough about Mitchell. Hear for yourself just 15 seconds of brilliance, between 0:30 and 0:45. Jimi’s solo beginning at 2:25 – I need better words to describe his playing. Those who think Hendrix was only about guitars lit on fire and playing with his teeth must listen to this solo: restrained and lovely, incorporating both the wah pedal and studio panning to achieve its full effect.

Next up is a song in a heavier vein, the type for which Hendrix is perhaps more well-known: “Spanish Castle Magic.”

It sounds like early heavy metal, based around one chunky riff doubled by bassist Noel Redding. The lyrics are purported to be about an old rock club on the outskirts of Seattle, called The Spanish Castle, where Hendrix played as a high schooler, but I’m thinking they might also have to do with Jimi’s use of LSD. Regardless of their content, I’m always amazed at how Jimi can sing and play guitar so well at the same time. In this and many songs, the melody he sings is a different rhythm than what his hands are playing – and sometimes his hands are doing additionally crazy things. I recognize that in a studio overdubs are used to make this task easier, but Jimi pulled off this shit live, too!

These two songs are examples of the two main styles in which The Jimi Hendrix Experience traffics: 1) gentle, subtle grooves; and 2) heavy riffs; both based in the blues and both with brilliant guitar. One of the most well-known Type 1 songs is the beautiful “Little Wing.”

It’s a song loved by guitar players, with a sound lifted by many artists over the years. When I listen closely to what Hendrix is playing, I understand why my FPIP was so overwhelmed. At first listen, it sounds rather simple. But when you focus in on his subtle bends and arpeggiated strumming you recognize how advanced the playing is. For example, the 20 seconds before the solo – at about 1:20 to 1:40. His playing doesn’t even sound like fingers and a pick on strings – it sounds like it’s just emanating from him. (By the way, he also played the glockenspiel on the piece!) The lyrics were apparently inspired by “… a very sweet girl that came around that gave me her whole life and more if I wanted it,” Hendrix stated. “And me with my crazy ass couldn’t get it together.” As with many Hendrix lyrics, the meaning isn’t immediately apparent from the actual words … but who cares? It still sounds beautiful.

I love “Little Wing,” and am in fact drawn to all the mellower songs on the album. Perhaps my favorite is the evocative “One Rainy Wish.”

The guitar in this song is wonderful. Much has been made of Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and his ability to make his guitar sound like rockets and bombs. In “One Rainy Wish,” his guitar doesn’t sound like rainfall, but it conjures rainfall imagery, with its cascading descending runs and wavy bends, giving the listener the feeling of standing in the rain. The mellow 3/4 time of the verse kicks into a more raucous 4/4 in the chorus (at about 1:13), and Jimi solos through the whole thing. Drummer Mitch Mitchell plays a distant-thunder roll on his tom at about 1:57 to bring it back to the drizzly verse, a seamless transition of the type the band makes easily throughout the songs on the album. I get chills at the guitar in this song, and it makes me wonder if I have ASMR. It’s another Jimi-style, dreamy love song, with lyrical content (“you were under the tree of song / Sleeping so peacefully / In your hand a flower played”) that could only be written by one man.

Another magical piece – and the more I think about it, “magical” is a great way to describe this album. It seems to get better and better and reveal more and more with every listen! – is the spiritual “Castles Made of Sand,” with its slice of life lyrics that together urge the listener to seize the day – for it all could wash away tomorrow. This song features some backwards guitar, and once again Mitchell’s drumming is tight. But come on: just go back and listen to his guitar playing during the “castles made of sand” sections – 0:47, 1:25, 2:13 – tell me that’s not just otherworldly brilliance? I get carried away – I almost forgot to post the song.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience only had one Billboard Top 40 song, but it is useful to remember that the band WAS a POP BAND, writing songs contemporaneously to artists like The Grass Roots and The Cowsills, and some of the songs on Axis: Bold as Love clearly seem to be Jimi’s attempts at writing a pop song. Of course, being Jimi Hendrix, the result isn’t exactly “Sugar Sugar.” “You Got Me Floatin’” has too much Jimi vocal style and overdriven guitar, wild Mitch Mitchell drumming and a Noel Redding bass solo to ever be mistaken for Neil Diamond. “Ain’t No Tellin’” is a radio-friendly one-minute-fifty, but it has those triplets the kids can’t dance to, and a section (beginning about 0:46) of jazzy chord changes, and so much smoking guitar that Cousin Brucie would’ve blown out his headphones. The weakest of these pop songs is the one written by bassist Noel Redding, “She’s So Fine,” which actually sort of sounds like a 60s pop song. Mitch and Jimi do what they can on it, including Jimi’s soloing (about 1:30 and 2:12), in which he seems to be saying, “Fuck that shit, Noel, let me take over.”

One song I find really interesting on Axis: Bold as Love is the rather humorous offering, “Wait Until Tomorrow.” It tells the tale of our hero wooing the lovely Dolly Mae, who continues to ask him to wait … until Dolly Mae’s dad’s gun finally puts an end to the relationship.

It’s got a terrific riff, some excellent Mitchell fills toward the end, and is one in a long line of songs (“Hey Joe,” “Machine Gun”) Hendrix played that featured gun violence, and they each approached the topic differently. “Little Miss Lover” at first seems like a throwaway song, until about 1:07, when he plays a killer riff and a solo that – frankly – deserves a better song behind it!

The only songs left to discuss are two serious songs, key in the Hendrix Canon (in my humble opinion.) First there’s the trippy journey of “If 6 Was 9,” not one of Hendrix’s best lyrical outputs, but I couldn’t give a hoot about that.

This entire album is very “headphone worthy,” offering more sonic tidbits with every listen. But “If 6 Was 9” is particularly great on headphones, with a guitar that almost sounds like it’s inside a tin can – but in a really cool, positive way. Right around 1:40 the guitar builds, and then Noel Redding gets to play some scales on the bass that whirl and expand, and provide a kind of tether for Jimi’s guitar atmospherics. Jimi gives a little chuckle at about 2:52 that – coupled with all the guitar on this record – always makes me think he knows a lot more about everything than I’ll ever know … That’s the best I can explain it. Even Mitchell’s drum solo afterwards can’t beat that feeling out of me. At 3:56 Hendrix begins to bring it all home, creating flutes, industrial sounds, outer space chirps … it’s the kind of song I’d have HATED as a Middle Schooler, because it would’ve scared the shit out of me. But I love it now.

The album closes with “Bold as Love” – a sort of poetic salute to rainbows, whose lyrics I don’t try to understand – I just sit back and enjoy them because they create something beautiful.

“They’re all bold as love,” he sings – and who can argue with that? I’m glad this is the last song to write about because I don’t know how many different ways I can say “Boy, he’s a really excellent, moving guitarist!” Listen at 1:46 how he approaches the solo with a run, and how the solo seems to end the song at 2:40, until a coda begins that takes the song to a new level. It’s one of the most perfect album-ending tracks I know. Satisfying, it somehow says “goodbye,” not so much in words, but just as plainly as the alien in “EXP” said “hello.” As the track fades, I’m always left feeling like The Jimi Hendrix Experience may have actually been from outer space, and may have arrived here for the sole purpose of guiding us listeners to a very, very happy place.

It’s not unlike those FPIPs in your life, who seem like they were visiting you and only you to direct things, to set you on your course. You don’t need to know their names, you don’t need to know how they knew to give you that important information. All you need to do is hold them in your memory, and hope you can be as helpful to others as they were to you. If you can get someone to become a fan of Axis: Bold as Love, you’ve done something wonderful.

Track Listing:
“EXP”
“Up From the Skies”
“Spanish Castle Magic”
“Wait Until Tomorrow”
“Ain’t No Telling”
“Little Wing”
“If 6 Was 9”
“You Got Me Floatin'”
“Castles Made of Sand”
“She’s So Fine”
“One Rainy Wish”
“Little Miss Lover”
“Bold as Love”

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