No surprise, really. In previous polls, Hendrix has come out on top several times. Why? Because he made you love rock music. He moved around on a guitar like Neo walked through the Matrix after he discovered he was the One. Look at a video of him playing and you’ll see what we mean. For us, when we think about the 1960’s, Hendrix embodies the voice of his generation: anti-Vietnam War, heavy experimentation with psychedelic drugs, long nasty hair and outrageous clothes. Whereas hippies and folk bands were singing about love (whatever that meant), Hendrix was blowing out speakers. What we wouldn’t give to hear him destroy then rebuild the national anthem live at Woodstock.
Hendrix was one of the very first rockers we ever heard. Just like reading Mage and The Dark Knight as our first comics and thereafter reading the bile that fills the bins at a comic book shop, hearing Hendrix for the first time assured us that a lot of the music we would listen to over the years would disappoint. He was king. Besides, he had a weird playing style – upside down – so points just for that.
Picking from his catalog is a chore since there’s so much good stuff, but we’re going to select four that really work for us. Yes, “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady” were game-changers (and we should do a separate post at some point to highlight these and some of his other tracks like “Crosstown Traffic”), but the first song we chose makes reinforces the point of a previous post that sometimes a re-do is better than the original. In this case, “All Along the Watchtower” was a track written and performed by Bob Dylan and then redone by Jimi. Yes, Dylan’s was good, but in Jimi’s hands it soared. The solo from 2:00-2:50 is just a groove that gets us every time.
In Barney’s freshman year in high school, his hippie English teacher had all of the students do a reading from their daily journals while underlining their voices with a song that resonated with them. The freshman angst has long since been forgotten, but the song he used was “Hey Joe.” Here’s a live rendering of the song. Jimi plays with his teeth and behind his head. Show off.
Hendrix played the national anthem at the beginning of his set the morning of the last day of Woodstock (1969). The violence of it embodies protesters’ feelings about the Vietnam War – horrific, chaotic, loud, complicated. This song proves the point that patriotism comes in many flavors. While we aren’t particularly keen on the Christian right’s movement that defines patriotism in a reactionary and exclusive manner, we do respect that it has a valid place and justifiable influence on the American experience. It and the ideas and ideals of other voices combine to create the milieu that shapes our nation. No one person or group lays true claim to what the United States of America should be. The disparate perspectives require at some point a collective compromise and eventually a synthesis to ensure the greatest democracy in the world still rolls along (and by greatest, we mean iconic, not most democratic). Take a listen.
The last one is as close a song to the on-the-ground experience of a firefight in Vietnam as we can imagine (we weren’t there, so we suppose that we can only imagine – if you’re a vet, your comments are welcome). The drums and bass punctuate the song perfectly with the sounds of frenzied bursts of live ammunition.
Read what Rolling Stone had to say about Jimi’s selection as the #1 Greatest Guitarist.