It’s hard to believe that over 40 years have gone by since Jimi Hendrix passed away, far too young at the age of 27. His songs inspired a generation and have influenced countless artists since, from Metallica to Bob Dylan. He left the world with a wonderful musical legacy, and we’re going try to pare that down as much as possible and countdown his top 10 greatest songs.
10. Wind Cries Mary
Originally released as a b-side on the “Purple Haze” single, “Wind Cries Mary” easily stands by itself as a great song. It was inspired by a fight Hendrix had with his girlfriend of the time whose middle name was Mary. Like “Castles Made of Sand”, the guitar takes second place to heartfelt lyrics that speak delicately of love and loss.
9. Castles Made of Sand
Hendrix gets biblical in this deceptively simple song. Unusually, the guitar (although ever present) takes a back seat to complex semi-autobiographical lyrics that draw 3 painfully ironic vignettes for us.
8. The Star Spangled Banner
The song of a generation, famously played live at Hendrix’s set at Woodstock in ’69. His version of the American national anthem hit such a chord that it became synonymous with the counter-culture movement and anti-war demonstrations that took place in the USA throughout the 70’s.
7. Foxey Lady
A combination of grinding melodic feedback and Hendrix’s playful flirtatious lyrics makes this song one of the greats. Personally, whenever I get near any woman I am remotely attracted to, this is song that begins to play in my head.
6. Sunshine of Your Love
One of his great cover versions, this time of the hit song by Eric Clapton’s Cream. Eric Clapton and his band mates went to see Jimi Hendrix at one of his first ever live concerts in the UK. Clapton had been told that Hendrix was something of a guitar prodigy but on hearing him play for the first time he was heard to say incredulously “you never told me he was that f***ing good”.
5. Hey Joe
A traditional American folk song that Hendrix took, like many of the other songs on the list, and forcefully made his own. Many bands have recorded their own interpretation of this song but Hendrix’s is the only one that has really stood the test of time.
4. Purple Haze
Surprisingly, Hendrix was adamant that this song was not about drugs. He only wanted it to be known as a love song. The “Purple Haze”, he explained, only relates to Hendrix attempting to describe the feeling he got in a dream in which he was walking underwater. As odd as it might seem, this song never charted in the US; proving that you can never account for taste.
3. Cross Town Traffic
An extremely high energy tune about a man comparing his girl to Manhattan traffic, like “Wind Cries Mary”, probably inspired by an argument with his girlfriend at the time. Not the smartest way to get back on her good side, if you ask me. The song is powered by Hendrix’s trademark thunderous guitar work but also features a prolonged cameo from a homemade kazoo that Hendrix made using a comb and tissue paper.
2. Voodoo Child (slight return)
Hendrix’s genius can be summed up in the fact that one of his most enduring and successful songs was a tune he and his band improvised to give a TV crew an idea of what they’d been working on recently. Having recorded the full version of Voodoo Chile the day before, Hendrix grabbed whoever was in the studio and played a shorter version for the visiting crew from what they could remember. This “Slight return” would prove to be one his most recognised songs and a staple of his live sets for years to come.
1. All Along the Watchtower
Voted one of the greatest cover versions of all time. Hendrix took Bob Dylan’s song, which was released only 6 months earlier, and super-charged it in his own inimitable way. Dylan has even stated that he prefers Hendrix’s interpretation, and has altered his rendition slightly to match Hendrix’s more closely as a type of tribute after his untimely death.