Fifty years after his untimely death, there is little left to say about James Marshall Hendrix that hasn’t already been said. Since his passing, his legacy has only grown along with his catalog, as rabid fans and musicologists fervently search for even the smallest sliver of a Hendrix’s artifact—musical or otherwise. Hendrix’s brilliant playing often overshadows his compositional genius and preternatural ability to write lasting tunes. Some of his best tracks are improvisational vehicles, others are brief sketches based around simple but beautiful melodies, and a few are best described as bold journeys into the depths of sound. With all of this in mind, Blues Rock Review pares Jimi’s work down to his best ten songs.
10. “Peace In Mississippi”
Hendrix’s influence on electric guitar and its dependent genres can’t be overstated, but his imprint on heavy metal is often overlooked. “Peace In Mississippi” alternates between guttural low-end riffage and piercing overdriven leads in an instrumental call and response. Heavy and aggressive, this proto-metal grind is anything but peaceful.
9. “Red House”
“Red House” begins with its iconic, heavily electrified intro and gracefully slides into a slow twelve-bar blues structure brought to vibrant life through Hendrix’s expressive guitar work. Perhaps not as wildly original as some of his other compositions, the song displays an uncanny ability to make the old new and the pedestrian exceptional. It was a concert mainstay and modern blues staple that Jimi would revisit frequently.
8. “Bold As Love”
The epic closer to Hendrix’s second album is part introspective self-realization and part love proclamation, both lyrics and music saturated in full technicolor. After running through a rainbow of emotions, “Bold As Love” concludes with an outro sounding as if it were played from underwater in one of the early implementations of guitar phrasing.
7. “Purple Haze”
Jimi effortlessly melds a dissonant and heavily distorted two-note stomp into one of rock’s most iconic riffs, all before settling into a verse anchored by an E7#9 chord—now affectionately known as the “Hendrix Chord.” The dynamic contrasts between these sections, the raw emotion of the chorus, and the dripping psychedelia of the guitar solo cover more ground in one three-minute song than most artists can in an entire album.
6. “All Along The Watchtower”
So notorious is this cover that many listeners don’t know of the original—quite the feat considering the author goes by the name Bob Dylan. With an intro set to an imaginary Western showdown, Hendrix quickly discards its predecessor’s comparatively tame, acoustic balladry for an electrified groove that showcases Hendrix at his best, both instrumentally and vocally.
5. “The Wind Cries Mary”
Laying aside the fretboard fireworks, Hendrix delivers this timeless song of quiet resignation and acceptance. Inspired by an argument spun out of control, the simple progression and gentle solo accentuate Jimi’s lyrical poetry as he wonders, “Will the wind ever remember the names it has blown in the past? And with its crutch, its old age, and its wisdom, it whispers ‘no, this will be the last.’”
4. “Hear My Train A Comin’”
An autobiographical origin song steeped in the traditions and tales of the hard luck blues journeyman, “Hear My Train A Comin’” takes on two entirely different personalities depending on its delivery. When played acoustically, the song focuses on the “waiting,” with its languid cadence and downtrodden mood. On electric versions, it’s very clear that the train has arrived—unrestrained extended solos abound as Hendrix covers Hendrix.
3. “Machine Gun”
Unique among protest songs, “Machine Gun” relies on its music more than its lyrics to deliver its anti-war message. Aided by several effects and droves of feedback, Hendrix transforms his guitar into the sonic equivalent of a machine gun—clicks, catches, and bullets spraying from his fingers. Politics aside, the definitive Band of Gypsys cut will be best remembered for its ominous tone and legendary solo, which at its climax, explodes in a wave liquid sound.
2. “Hey Joe”
Copyrighted by Billy Roberts, recorded by The Leaves, and immortalized by Jimi Hendrix. There is a glaring difference between simply covering a song and making it one’s own. Hendrix’s ability to play anything he could hear led to an endless stream of musical recreations, but none were as personalized as “Hey Joe.” Jimi soulfully tells this tale of the All-American anti-hero in a way no one else can.
1. “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”
Another two-for-one offering, the lesser known, but equally impressive extended interpretation of this musical idea resides on the first side of Electric Ladyland. However, “Voodoo Chile” is best known as the album’s climactic closing number with the adjoined (Slight Return). Lathered in extensive wah-wah expression, this version’s legendary riff anchors one of Hendrix’s most covered and well-known songs. More rock than blues and more fire than swamp than its longer version, the seminal classic cemented his status as one of the greatest musicians of the 20th Century.