Electric Ladyland At 50: An Inside Look At Jimi Hendrix's Most Progressive Album

One of rock's most innovative records turns 50.

October 17, 2018

(Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)

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Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladlyland celebrated the 50th anniversary of its release on October 16th.

The album is a personal favorite of mine and is one of my "desert island" records. It takes you on a sonic adventure utilizing forward-thinking production and recording techniques in the late 60's to create a sound that sounds contemporary to this day.

Ambitious is an understatement when it comes to this record. Hendrix's perfectionism caused tension amongst his associates leading his manager/producer Chas Chandler to quit and bassist Noel Redding to temporarily leave his duties as bassist. Redding said in his autobiography, "there were tons of people in the studio, you couldn’t even move. It was a party, not a session."

Part of that chaos can be heard in some of the music. There's a lot going on, but everything has its place. It works.

Even with the departures and frustration in play, Hendrix was reportedly unsatisfied with the final product telling Hullabaloo magazine, 

"So some of the mix came out muddy — not exactly muddy but with too much bass. We mixed it and produced it and all that mess, but when it came time for them to press it, quite naturally they screwed it up, because they didn’t know what we wanted. There’s 3D sound being used on there that you can’t even appreciate because they didn’t know how to cut it properly. They thought it was out of phase.”  

Imagine what the album would have sounded like had Hendrix had his way over the final product. 

Hendrix described his guitar playing on the album in a 1968 interview prior to a Vancover concert agiving insight to his progressive mindset. He said,

"I'm just playing the way I feel. If it sounds like blues then call it anything you want. But it's no revival, because why go back into the past? Why go back there and drag out blue suede shoes? Because it's supposed to be hip to revive rock? Which is a drag in the first place because those people aren't offering you anything this very instant.

Aside from his artistic ambitions, the engineering of the record was innovative for the time. Engineer Eddie Kramer utilized odd mic techniques, echo, backward tape, flanging, and chorusing, all new techniques during the time. It makes you wonder what Hendrix's sound would have evolved to had he not passed away at 27. 

Another testament to his innovation can be found on "Crosstown Traffic." Hendrix made his own kazoo to match the physical sound to what he was hearing in his head. His friend Velvet Turner explained (via Rolling Stone),

"Jimi said, 'Do you have a comb on you, man? Give me a comb. Somebody get me some cellophane.’ If you take a comb and put cellophane across it and blow through it, it gives a kazoo sound. So the guitar solo on ‘Crosstown Traffic,’ the guitar is laced by the sound of a kazoo, and that’s Jimi with this particular comb. Which I just thought was amazingly brave for someone to do. Jimi would reach out and grab anything he possibly could get his hands on if he thought it could produce the desired sound for him.”

Part of the success of Electric Ladlyland comes from bringing together the sounds of psychedlic, funk, soul, blues, and rock all the while laying the groundwork for what those genres would become in the future.

Additionally, his version of Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" remains the standard to which all covers are held to.

A special 50th anniversary box set of the album is due out on November 9th and will feature remastered audio, previously unheard demos & alternate takes, and much more. You can find out more information about the box set here.

The question remains, have you been to Electric Ladyland?