There is no doubt that Jimi Hendrix was one of, if not, the greatest and most influential guitar player and rock artist of all time. Almost everything he did was groundbreaking, even though (or due to) his solo career spanned about four years. Before his death, he released four albums, Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love, Electric Ladyland (all with The Jimi Hendrix Experience), and Band of Gypsys, the only live recording of the four. Of course due to this immense importance and popularity among rock music lovers, there have been numerous compilations and reissues since his death. In summation, Jimi Hendrix is a beloved rock god.
What I find interesting, however, is how the material that most people are familiar with come from Are You Experienced and Electric Ladyland, with a heavy focus on the first. This is likely due to the fact that most classic rock stations will play “Purple Haze,” “Hey, Joe,” “Foxy Lady,” and “Fire,” all from Experienced?, as well as “Crosstown Traffic,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” from Ladyland. Along with this, both of those albums were highly influential and experimental in terms of recording techniques.
Of course this could just purely be my perception.
Whatever the reason, I’m here to talk about the (seemingly) oft forgotten Axis: Bold As Love, and why it deserves more love and appreciation than I feel it gets.
I should state that this album is rarely ever thought of as being worse than the other two studio albums. If anything, it is usually thought of as being on par with them. Yet, it somehow gets forgotten (likely for the aforementioned reasons), even though it has the power, beauty, and experimentalism a Hendrix album should have.
Though not as plentiful as on Experienced, Axis has a handful of kick ass rock songs. The prime example is “Spanish Castle Magic,” which has the ferocity and energy that rivals any other song that the Jimi Hendrix Experience ever recorded. The riffs are heavy, and Hendrix’s voice only adds more weight to what is being played, especially during the chorus when he screams, “Hang on my darling!” “Little Miss Lover” is another great straight-ahead rocker. Though not as distortion-filled as “Spanish Castle Magic,” the riffs on this track are both funky and bluesy, with the right amount of aggressiveness, fueled by drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding. Again, Hendrix’s voice emits a power that few other singers can match.
There are also several tracks that are aurally mind-bending, another staple of Hendrix’s work. The album opens with “EXP,” a non-music track where a radio host interviews a man about aliens, only to find out that his guest is in fact from another world. (The song goes right into the ironically jazzy tune, “Up From The Skies”.) “If 6 was 9” combines a simple, yet hefty riff with a psychedelic sonic journey that truly captures the time period. Before truly taking off, Hendrix speaks for the counter-culture, saying, “White collared conservative flashing down the street, pointing their plastic finger at me. They’re hoping soon my kind will drop and die, but I’m gonna wave my freak flag high.” From there the journey into psychedelia begins, as Hendrix begins to paint with guitar. By the end, you can hear the sounds of birds flapping their wings and singing (which was created by some type of wind instrument).
While hard rock and psychedelic experimentation are Hendrix staples, the greatness of this album lies in the handful of truly beautifully crafted songs that it contains. The first of these songs is “Little Wing.” The guitar work on this song is beyond magical, and shows why the man is considered to be the greatest guitarist ever. Since there are few lyrics, having two verses and a brief chorus, Hendrix is essentially singing with his hands and his mouth, emitting a controlled, powerful presence through both means. The only downside to this track is its length. Clocking in at 2:27, the song seems to end as it just starts to get going, leaving the listener wishing for more.
The second is “Castles Made of Sand.” This song is very similar to “The Wind Cries Mary,” from Are You Experienced. Both songs have Hendrix singing (and this case almost rapping) over a wonderfully crafted riff during the verse, while the chorus is more open, and much more brief. The lyrics, like in so many other songs, show off Hendrix’s ability to tell imaginative, fantastical stories that capture the listener’s imagination (and sometimes makes you wonder what he was on when he was writing).
The last of these songs, and the last track of the album, is “Bold As Love.” This song is, in my mind, the best song on the album, and easily in my Top 5 of Hendrix songs. Mixing his ability to paint lyrical and musical masterpieces, “Bold As Love” has almost everything you want out of Jimi Hendrix song. But it is the passion and emotion that emits from both his voice and his axe that grabs me, particularly at the end of the second verse when he sings, “And all of these emotions of mine keep holding me from giving my life to a rainbow like you.” The solo that follows the second chorus is pure Hendrix, packing a dynamic punch of raw emotion that seemingly flows effortlessly from his fingers. The track closes with an outro filled with more amazing guitar work, but sounding like it was shot out of a laser.
Axis: Bold As Love may not be the most popular Jimi Hendrix album, but I feel it may be his best album. Though lacking radio hits and truly revolutionary songs, the record contains all of the best musical elements of Hendrix with much more focus than his other two studio albums. It just seems that there was a bigger focus on songwriting and less on experimentation, allowing the listener to truly grasp Hendrix’s prodigal guitar work and overall genius.
In reality, you cannot go wrong with any album Jimi Hendrix released. Each one has elements of genius and creativity that changed the landscape of rock music, all with guitar work that is still being copied today. The key, however, is to give each album a proper listen, because each one offers a totally unique listening experience. I mean the man is a rock god, and deserves proper reverence.