Jimi Hendrix has been dead for 43 years, but his music continues to sell at an incredible rate. His new posthumous release People, Hell and Angels sold 72,000 records last week, landing at Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100. Many fans are stunned that his vault isn't empty after all these years, but Hendrix worked like a maniac during his brief career and left behind a huge trove of songs. Last week, we asked our readers to vote for their favorite Hendrix song of all time. Click through to see the results.
"Castles Made of Sand" is a sad commentary on the futility of life. The first verse is about a formerly loving couple reduced to a screaming, drunken mess. The second is about a brave Indian chief who gets slaughtered in his sleep the night before a battle. It ends with the slightly more uplifting tale of a handicapped little girl who rolls her wheelchair to a cliff and nearly rolls it off until the sight of a "golden winged ship" makes her reconsider. Many have argued that this song is Jimi reflecting on painful memories from his childhood, including his parents' separation and his mother's illness, though Hendrix himself never confirmed that.
This traditional blues number is one of the first songs that Hendrix recorded with the Experience. It first appeared on their debut LP Are You Experienced, but Jimi had been fiddling with it for about two years by that point. Drawing inspiration from Albert King, Jimmy Reed and Curtis Knight, the song is the most straight-ahead blues song in the Hendrix catalog and was a staple of his setlist until the very end. The song grew and grew as the years went by and became a fan favorite, even though the label originally kept it off the American release of Are You Experienced because it was deemed too bluesy for U.S. rock fans.
"Hey Joe" is Jimi Hendrix's first single, though he didn't actually write it. It's a garage rock standard popularized by the California band the Leaves in 1966, though most rock fans completely forget their rendition when they heard Hendrix's take on it. It's a pretty sordid tale of a man who caught his wife cheating, shot her to death and then headed down to Mexico. Former Animals bassist Chas Chandler caught a largely unknown Hendrix playing the song at New York's Cafe Wha? in 1966 and brought him over to England to cut his debut album. The next three years were a blur of recording sessions, concerts and debauchery.
Jimi Hendrix was just about the hottest thing in rock music when he stepped into the studio to begin his second LP, Axis: Bold as Love, in the summer of 1967. The group had to work quickly because they owed the label a second disc before the year ended. "Bold as Love" is the four-minute grand finale and easily one of the highlights of the whole album.
The song is about how love can change a person "like the axis of the earth," Hendrix said in a 1968 radio interview. "If it changes, well, it changes the whole face of the Earth, like, every few thousand years. It's like love in a human being; if he really falls in deep enough, it will change him. It might change his whole life. So both of them can really go together." John Mayer covered the song on his 2006 disc Continuum.
Jimi Hendrix wrote "The Wind Cries Mary" after getting into a terrible fight with his girlfriend, Kathy Mary Etchingham. "I hit him with a frying pan," said Etchingham later. "We smashed the kitchen up. It was a horrific argument." She couldn't quite recall why they were fighting, but she thought it might have been because she cooked with a dirty pan. The band spent hours in the studio working on the song, though they eventually went with the very first take. It was the group's third single.
Jimi Hendrix's career gained a lot of traction with his first single "Hey Joe," but it was the follow-up, "Purple Haze," that truly made him a superstar. The song hit Number 65 on the U.S. Hot 100 and had kids all across the country playing air guitar in the mirror. Many people claim the title is a clear reference to LSD, but Hendrix claimed it was inspired by a dream he had in which he was walking underneath the sea. That may be true, but he had little incentive to admit any song was about drugs, since it would have been immediately banned from the radio. Whatever the truth, the song also has one of the most misheard lines in rock history. He's singing "Excuse me while I kiss the sky" and not "Excuse me while I kiss this guy."
"Machine Gun" was recorded at the height of the Vietnam War and is one of the most frenetic anti-war songs of the era. It's also one of the longest, clocking in at well over 12 minutes, occasionally going past 20 in concert. The version on Band of Gypsys was cut on New Year's Day in 1970 and contains some of the most haunting guitar work of Hendrix's career. By the end, it sounds almost like an actual machine gun, and drummer Buddy Miles' background vocals sound like the screams of a battlefield. If there were still any doubt about the song's message, it was dedicated most nights to the soldiers overseas.
Jimi Hendrix may be the most successful rock star of all time to only have a single song land in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. It's also not even a song that he wrote. It's even possible to call Hendrix a One-Hit Wonder, though that's pretty bonkers.
Jimi Hendrix cut "All Along the Watchtower" in January 1968, just weeks after Bob Dylan first released the track on John Wesley Harding. Hendrix tinkered with it for months, eventually releasing it in September. It found a much larger audience than the original, and even Dylan himself says that Hendrix took the song to a whole other place. Dylan didn't play the song in concert until four years after Hendrix died, and has since played it 2,101 times – more than any other song in his vast catalog. Each and every one of those live versions borrows a bit from the Hendrix cover.
Jimi explained the backstory to "Little Wing" in a 1968 interview with a Swedish writer. "It's based on a very, very simple Indian style," he said. "I got the idea when we were in Monterey and I was just lookin' at everything around. So I figured that I take everything I'd see around and put it maybe in the form of a girl, or something like that, and call it 'Little Wing,' and then it will just fly away." The song appears on Axis: Bold as Love and has been covered by Derek and the Dominos, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sting and many, many others.
The final song on the Jimi Hendrix Experience's final album won this poll. The song began its life shortly after they cut the 15-minute-long "Voodoo Chile." A film crew came to the studio to record the band working the day after that marathon session and they didn't feel like playing the finished track again, so they improvised around some of the same images and guitar lines and came up with "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," which is essentially a "slight return" to "Voodoo Chile." (The near-identical names of the two songs have confused fans for decades.) The song was released as a single shortly after Hendrix's death, and it shot to Number One in the UK. It didn't even crack the Hot 100 in America, but it's since been played on classic rock radio roughly 10 billion times.