Jimi Hendrix

Singles Album

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This 23-song compilation was a choice European release when it first appeared as a double-LP from Polydor in 1983, partly because of the cool looking cover, but also for doing the welcome job of assembling together the A- and B-sides of all of the Jimi Hendrix singles released between January 1967 and 1983. There are a few caveats that must be pointed out before we go further, however. The first is, of course, that this was a U.K. release and, thus, represents his British singles from that period -- not that there was an enormous amount of difference between the tracks chosen for his 45s in the U.K. and the U.S. during Hendrix's lifetime; there were just more of them in the U.K., and they charted much higher there, whereas in the U.S. most of his sales were concentrated in his LPs. Additionally, and more important, is the fact that Hendrix's career and musical output are usually -- and correctly -- defined in terms of his albums and his concert recordings; the singles were an important (and necessary) but mostly secondary endeavor for him. That said, however, hearing the singles isolated in this way does present another side to Hendrix's work and, more importantly, offers us a look at the way in which it was perceived by the non-fans (which was the greater mass of listeners -- he never sold records the way the Beatles or the Rolling Stones did, after all), and the way it was presented by his management and U.K. record label Track Records to that larger public, as the most accessible side of his work at any given phase. This was the material that the guitarist and his management perceived as having the best chance of being heard on radio, and of luring the uninitiated (and those who were aware of his work without being fans) into buying at least the 7" platter, with the chance of an LP sale down the road. The pattern that emerges are A-sides that are challenging but consistently succinct and accessible within that context, and B-sides that distill down the bolder (and sometimes more disjointed) aspects of Hendrix's work. And the thinking worked, at least in England, as Hendrix had four consecutive U.K. Top 20 hits between January and August 1967: "Hey Joe" (number four), "Purple Haze" (number three), "The Wind Cries Mary" (number six), and "The Burning of the Midnight Lamp" (number 18). In the United States, by contrast, his American label, Warner/Reprise, issued one single on him during this period, "Purple Haze" b/w "The Wind Cries Mary," which reached only number 65 -- AM radio here wasn't quite ready for him yet, and FM radio...wasn't quite ready, period. The guitarist had a 14-month absence from the 45 market in England after the summer of 1967 (during which, in America, Warner/Reprise released a single of "Foxey Lady" b/w "Hey Joe" that got to number 67 in early 1968). That ended with the release of "All Along the Watchtower" in October 1968, which seemed like a double affirmation, not only of his evolving sound and range, but his ability to take a Bob Dylan song reshaped in his image, off of a not-too-well-received LP (Electric Ladyland) to the top reaches of the pop charts -- it hit number five in England and number 20 in America, his highest chart position ever for a single in the United States. Only "Crosstown Traffic," released in April of 1969, slackened a bit, peaking at number 37. That song, backed with "Let Me Light Your Fire," comprised the last single release that Hendrix ever had the chance to approve in his lifetime, and they rightfully close the first disc of this set. That makes everything on disc two, starting with "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," which was rushed out a few days after his death in September of 1970 -- and hit number one in the U.K. the following month -- a bit of a cheat, since they're implicitly archival and exploitative in nature, having no input from the artist. The second disc runs distinctly longer -- despite leaving out such repeated B-side tracks as "Purple Haze" and "Hey Joe" -- and jumps from 1971-1972, when Hendrix's estate and exploiters rushed out material to support the posthumous Cry of Love and Hendrix in the West albums, across a ten year gap to the '80s, when it was time to push a new wave of reissue albums. Of course, they were also mostly drawing on unfinished projects and live cuts, and grew bolder in their selections as radio became more open -- the guitarist's name was enough to ensure some airplay and exposure after September of 1970 -- except when they were simply recompiling available material. The latter explains why the makers reached back to "Foxey Lady" and "Manic Depression" from the first album, and why they show up near the end of this package, and then get followed by "Gloria," which is here because of its inclusion in a singles collection in the early '80s. The sound is very good throughout, alternating between stereo and mono mixes (the latter on the B-sides of three of the first four singles), and the annotation is sketchy but informative in its rudimentary way, albeit without any sessionography or recording information. This double album was available very briefly as a very good sounding double-CD set from Polydor in the late '80s, before their license ended and ownership of Hendrix' masters reverted to his estate. (Ironically, in the decades since, the estate has made a deal with Universal Music, which, in turn, also acquired Polydor's parent company, which means that theoretically this compilation could reappear in some form, but that's extremely unlikely as the philosophy behind the reissues of Hendrix's legacy has changed radically since the early '80s).

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