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500 Greatest Songs of All Time

17

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 'Purple Haze'


The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 'Purple Haze'
17/500

Writer: Hendrix
Producer: Chas Chandler
Released: March '67, Reprise
8 weeks; No. 65

It is one of the unforgettable opening riffs in rock: a ferocious, stomping guitar march, scarred with fuzz and built around the dissonant "devil's interval" of the tritone. And it launched not one but two revolutions: late-Sixties psychedelia and the unprecedented genius of Jimi Hendrix. For the first time, Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell got to show off their acrobatic onstage chemistry on record — and they somehow managed to condense it to an under-three-minute blaze of overdubbed guitar sorcery. (The first chord of its main riff has come to be known among guitarists as the "Hendrix chord.") The song, which Hendrix wrote on December 26th, 1966, in the dressing room of a London club, also served as a showcase for his brilliant, often contradictory lyrical gifts (boiled down from a much longer initial draft called "Purple Haze — Jesus Saves"). He spiked the surging rhythmic confidence of the Experience with intimate pictorial tension: "Actin' funny, but I don't know why/'Scuse me while I kiss the sky." (Hendrix later said that he had written the lyrics after he'd had a dream in which he could walk underwater.) The Experience recorded "Purple Haze" across a series of sessions in January and February, 1967, experimenting with recording techniques such as the blitzed-out distortion on Hendrix's guitar — when the master tape was sent to their American record label, an enclosed note diligently pointed out that the distorted sound of the song was deliberate. In the closing solo, Hendrix echoed his screaming Strat with an additional shrieking guitar put through a new harmonic-manipulation device called an Octavia and played back at double speed. "Purple Haze" — the opening track on the U.S. version of his debut LP, Are You Experienced? — captured the liberating rush of Day-Glo culture just in time for the Summer of Love.

Appears on: Are You Experienced? (Experience Hendrix) 

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