As anyone who knows anything about rock music will tell you, Jimi Hendrix is one of the best, and most influential artists, ever. His recording career lasted less than five years; he died at the age of 27 on September 18, 1970. But his three studio albums helped to change the course of rock music and pop culture. Over the years, various record labels have unloaded all kinds of reissues and live recordings. It’s understandable if the torrent of Hendrix releases makes you say, “Another Hendrix release? Again?” But the man recorded a lot of mind-blowing music in his short life.
We’ve gone through his albums released during his lifetime, as well as a lot of posthumously released collections. So, in honor of what would have been his 80th birthday on November 27, we decided to take a deep dive into his catalog… and we also looked at his influence and his influences. So, we’re presenting a series of lists: Jimi’s 16 best covers, the 22 best covers of Jimi’s songs and here, Jimi’s 42 best original jams. We’re only including songs that Jimi wrote, so there are at least two big hits that you’ll note aren’t on this list.
Our number-one song came out of an impromptu jam (scroll down to see what topped our list). And we’re betting that this one, which comes in at #42, also developed that way. It’s a custom-made theme for BBC’s Radio One. This 90-second ditty shows a bit of Jimi’s sense of humor. “Radio One! You stole my gal… but I love you just the same!”
OK, when we talk about songs by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, we’re often just in awe of Jimi himself. But there’s a reason the Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, not just Jimi. As Neil Young said at their induction, “Lucky for me, I had Crazy Horse. And lucky for Jimi, he had the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Because without Noel (Redding, bassist) and without Mitch (Mitchell, drums), it’s hard to say what would have happened.” One thing that may not have happened: Mitch Mitchell’s amazing drumbeat on this song, which has been sampled by hip-hop and R&B artists including A Tribe Called Quest and Frank Ocean, among others. So let’s give the drummer some!
This was Jimi’s opening song from his epic set at Woodstock. It featured his then-new band, Gypsy, Sun and Rainbows, featuring Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell and future Band of Gypsys bassist Billy Cox, along with percussionists Juma Sultan and Gerry Velez, and guitarist Larry Lee. The band only lasted four performances. But this performance shows an interesting direction that Hendrix may have taken had he lived longer.
Not “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” (we’ll get to that one in a bit), but a slower, longer, bluesier song. Based on a number of Muddy Waters songs, including “Rollin’ Stone,” “Voodoo Chile” started as a studio jam with Jimi, Mitch Mitchell on drums, Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane on bass and Steve Winwood of Traffic on organ. A sprawling piece that likely included lots of improvisation in the studio, it lasts 15 minutes and you still don’t want it to end.
This song is sometimes referred to as “Power Of Soul.” ‘Band of Gypsys’ was recorded live in concert with the band of the same name, featuring Hendrix, Cox and Buddy Miles on drums and vocals. It’s an unusual case of a live album featuring all new songs. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing that, but Hendrix was nothing if not a risk-taker. And while the Experience was his best band, it’s heartbreaking to think of what else the Band Of Gypsys could have done had Hendrix lived longer and had more time to work with them.
Hendrix’s main influences were bluesmen, but here, you can easily detect Curtis Mayfield’s influence. This song is almost like a look into a variant universe where Hendrix decided to become an R&B star.
This was originally released in 1971 for the documentary Rainbow Bridge. Recorded in the summer of 1970, just weeks before his death, it shows that Jimi was not running out of ideas, even at the very end.
One of Jimi’s most sprawling jams, clocking in at nearly 14 minutes. By this point, Hendrix was producing himself, and there’s no better example of his studio mastery than this jam. It’s a weird tune, enhanced by lots of backward guitar and flute (played by Chris Wood of Traffic).
What if Jimi Hendrix became a jazz artist? “Rainy Day, Dream Away” is a brief look into that possible future. You can hear a lot of jazz influences here. On this song, Jimi was joined by saxophone player Freddie Smith and his pal Buddy Miles on drums.
It’s tough to make an argument that any song from ‘Axis: Bold As Love’ hasn’t gotten enough attention. The album is – rightfully – celebrated as one of the greatest albums of all time. But it’s still surprising that “You Got Me Floatin’” was never a hit. It’s so catchy and accessible, and yet allows Hendrix, Redding and Mitchell to all show off their chops in a less than three-minute long pop song. The sweet backing vocals come courtesy of Trevor Burton and Roy Wood of the Move, and Graham Nash.
Recorded during one of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s first sessions, it shows that Jimi had a vision right from the start.
Jimi doesn’t get enough credit for this jam, originally released on the posthumous collection, ‘The Cry Of Love,’ in 1971. For all of his experimentation, he still was writing great rock songs. And this one’s lyrics are a veiled warning about drugs: “You know you hook my girlfriend/You know the drugstore man/When I don't need it now/I was trying to slap it out of her head.”
Originally released as the B-side to “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Highway Chile” was later included on reissues of ‘Are You Experienced.’ The opening riff surely inspired legions of early hard rock and heavy metal guitarists.
Another one from ‘Axis: Bold As Love’ that should have been a bigger hit. It’s a deceptively sweet R&B based jam about a dude who wants to run away with his girlfriend. She hemmed and hawed a bit too long. And when the protagonist returns to her house to plead a bit more, he finds some trouble there. “Do I see a silhouette of somebody/Pointing something from a tree?/Click, bang!/What a hang/Your daddy just shot poor me.”
Originally released as the B-side to “Purple Haze.” The song was a bit unusual for the time - over a chugging riff, Jimi sings of loving couples who have been together for twenty, thirty and even fifty years. But before it turns too sentimental, he also sings about couples experiencing problems ten, and even three, years into their marriages. He concludes that marriage isn’t for him; at least, not now. “And then you come saying/So you, you say you want to get married/Oh baby trying to put me on a chain/Ain’t that some shame/You must be losing your sweet little mind/I ain’t ready yet, baby, I ain’t ready/I’m gonna change your mind!”
Another incredible jam that was recorded toward the end of his life. This was also originally released on the posthumous ‘The Cry Of Love’ collection.
A great soul jam, it’s a shame that Hendrix didn’t perform this one live. And it’s also a shame that none of the R&B legends of the era covered this. Solomon Burke or Sam & Dave really could have torn it up on this one.
A true counterculture anthem, but also an anthem for individuals. Jimi was already warning hippies that he wouldn’t be put into a box: “If all the hippies cut off all their hair/I don't care, I don't care/Dig, 'cause I got my own world to live through/And I ain't gonna copy you!” But then he turns his gaze towards the same establishment that the hippies rebelled against: “White-collar conservative flashing down the streets/Pointing their plastic finger at me/They're hoping soon my kind'll drop and die/But I'm, I'm gonna wave my freak flag high, high!” Had Jimi lived, would he have played high-priced concerts for “white-collar conservatives,” as Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, the Who and Eric Clapton do today? We’ll never know.
In the biography ‘Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy,’ Hendrix historians Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek described “Angel” as "arguably Jimi's finest ballad." We won’t go that far, but it is definitely lovely. Apparently, Hendrix recorded an early version of the song (a tribute to his mother) in 1967, but couldn’t get it right. He returned to it in 1970 with Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox for this version.
Jimi could have invented a new sub-genre here: sci-fi/jazz. “Up From The Skies” is one of Jimi’s most laid-back jazzy jams, down to Mitch Mitchell’s use of brushes instead of drumsticks. But few jazz cats wrote lyrics from the perspective of an alien visiting earth for the first time in a long time.
Jimi surely had the chops to be a straight-up bluesman, but he had a different destiny. “Red House” is a ‘60s blues classic though, and it’s been covered by a number of artists, including two of Hendrix’s influences: Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker each did versions of this.
One of Jimi’s wildest rock jams, it sees him backed by the Band Of Gypsys: Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums. The lyrics were weird, even by Jimi’s standards: “Rubber glass was all in my brain/Cotton screaming crying in my head/Rubber glass was all in my brain/Just the thought of my dreams cut me in my bed.” He then adds, “Making love was straaaange in my bed!” Years later, the Pretenders covered it, bringing a new version of the underappreciated song to rock radio.
A lovely psychedelic ballad, and one that features one of his simplest but most beautiful guitar solos. This is another one that the Pretenders did a great cover of.
An early example of Jimi’s psychedelic powers in the studio; he uses the studio not just as a way to record the music, but as its own instrument. The song is influenced by Indian music. It’s mostly one chord droning through the song, and the bass is inaudible on most pressings. But there’s lots of backwards guitars and drums, giving it an otherworldly feel.
Jimi wasn’t known for his acoustic playing. But this somewhat impromptu version of his blues jam “Hear My Train A’Comin’” features Jimi accompanying himself on 12-string acoustic, with no other musicians. At the end, you can hear him ask, “Did you think I could do that?” It’s a shame that there aren’t acoustic versions of his other songs.
One of the first songs recorded by the Experience. It was originally the B-side to their first single, their cover of Billy Roberts’ “Hey Joe.” Jimi was taking R&B and blues to new places here. The lyrics made the song something of a counter-culture anthem: “They talk about me like a dog, talk about the clothes I wear/But they don't realize they're the ones who's square!” Of course, it’s also something of a player anthem: “A woman here, a woman there, try to keep me in a plastic cage/But they don't realize it's so easy to break/Oh but sometimes I can/I can feel my heart kind of running hot/That's when I got to move, before I get caught!”
A tribute to a Seattle club (the Spanish Castle) that Jimi never played at, due to the fact that Seattle was a very segregated city. Jimi, of course, would move to England where he’d become a star. Integrating was easier there: Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell of the Experience were both white Brits, as was Jimi’s first manager, Chas Chandler (a former member of the Animals).
Yeah, he’s the guy who inspired legions of hard rock and heavy metal guitarists to pick up an axe, but he also wrote and sang some really pretty songs, this one being one of the sweetest. It’s hard to argue that Jimi is in any way “underrated,” but he definitely doesn’t get enough props for his singing.
This is one of the few straight-up Jimi Hendrix Experience songs on ‘Electric Ladyland’ “Crosstown Traffic” sounds like a bit of a throwback to ‘Are You Experienced.’ And by the way, that’s not a kazoo that you’re hearing. Legend has it that Hendrix put together a makeshift approximation of one though, with a comb with a piece of cellophane. But it does kind of sound like traffic (actual traffic, not the band called Traffic… even though Traffic’s Dave Mason sings backing vocals on the song).
Jimi Hendrix was notoriously popular with women, but he was also a deep guy for a twenty-something. Even on his debut album, he was questioning what was behind his relationships. “Will it burn me if I touch the sun?” he asks. “So big, so round/Would I be truthful, yeah, in choosing you as the one for me?/Is this love, baby/Or is it just confusion?”
One of Jimi’s more autobiographical songs, the “castles made of sand” is a metaphor for Jimi’s childhood. He frequently moved homes and changed schools in his youth. Each verse of this song tells a tale of disappointment. The first verse sees a man get kicked out of his house by his girlfriend or wife, who calls him a disgrace. He pleads “Oh girl, you must be mad: what happened to the sweet love you and me had?” The second verse is about “a little Indian Brave” who aspired to be a great warrior, but gets killed in his sleep in a surprise attack. The third verse might have some optimism though: a girl “was crippled for life and she couldn't speak a sound” was about to take her own life. “But then a sight she'd never seen made her jump and say, ‘Look, a golden winged ship is passing my way’/And it really didn't have to stop, it just kept on going.”
The song starts with a classic Mitch Mitchell drum riff, before it gets bum-rushed by Jimi’s overpowering guitar. One of Jimi’s darkest jams, he often introduced it in concert by dedicating it to American Indians (Jimi had Cherokee heritage). “No sun comin' through my windows/Feel like I'm livin' at the bottom of a grave,” he sang. “I wish you'd hurry up and execute me/So I can be on my miserable way!”
Jimi’s greatest posthumously released song may not have the deepest lyrics, but the psychedelic jam is musically amazing. It got something of a new life over twenty years after it was first released when ⅘ of Temple of the Dog (Chris Cornell, Mike McCready, Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron) reunited as “M.A.C.C.” to do a new version for the ‘Stone Free’ tribute album.
Lyrically, Jimi was a bit ahead of his time here: people weren’t calling depression out by its name very often in 1967. The ascending and descending guitar riff mirrors mood swings, and was perfect for the song. The lyrics note that music is helpful in coping with depression, but it’s not a cure: “Music, sweet music/I wish I could caress, caress, caress/Manic depression is a frustrating mess!”
“Happy New Year, first of all,” Jimi says, as he introduces the song. While ‘Band of Gypsys’ is a live album, all the material on it was new to the audience. “I’d like to dedicate this one to all the soldiers fighting in Chicago, Milwaukee and New York, and oh yes, all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam.” The 12-minute epic is Jimi’s finest moment with the Band of Gypsys, and was thought of as an anti-war protest song. It’s also one of his finest guitar performances ever: he mimics the sounds of war with his six-string.
A great straight-ahead rock song. When he yells, “Roll over rover, and let Jimi take over!” he was apparently actually talking to a dog. Specifically, bassist Noel Redding’s mom’s German shepherd. He and Noel stayed at her place in England and Jimi wanted to get closer to the fireplace on a chilly night, but the large canine was in the way.
An experimental song about the loneliness of being on the road: it features R&B group the Sweet Inspirations on backing vocals (they also backed up Van Morrison on “Brown-Eyed Girl” the year before). Besides playing guitar and singing, Jimi Hendrix plays harpsichord. It’s also one of the first times he used his wah-wah effect.
Jimi’s third U.S. single and one of his signature songs. Hendrix had said that he wasn’t usually happy when he wrote songs, but this one was an exception. He doesn’t waste metaphors or words here, he gets right to the point: “I'm gonna take you home/I won't do you no harm, no/You've got to be all mine, all mine/Foxey lady!!!” They just don’t write songs like that anymore!
Apparently written following an argument with then-girlfriend Kathy Mary Etchingham about her cooking. She threw some pots and pans at him and stormed out of their flat. The post-argument cleanup inspired the line about the broom that was “drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life.” When she returned, he’d written the song for her. It was recorded quickly as well: after the Experience finished recording “Fire,” they had about 20 minutes to spare. Hendrix showed the song to the band for the first time, and they cut it in the time they had left in the session.
Jimi’s loveliest ballad. Clocking in at less than two and a half minutes, it almost feels like a dream that didn’t last long enough. It’s one of his most covered songs, it’s been reinterpreted by Eric Clapton in Derek and the Dominoes (and in his solo career), Sting, Chaka Khan, Jeff Beck, Santana with Joe Cocker, Concrete Blonde, The Corrs, Pearl Jam, Def Leppard (as “the Acoustic Hippies From Hell”), the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Skid Row, Valerie June and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name a few.
Jimi Hendrix’s second single, and probably his most well-known song. It followed “Hey Joe.” There’s no doubt that “Hey Joe” (written by a folk artist named Billy Roberts) is a classic, but “Purple Haze” is what made Hendrix a game-changer. It was a completely original blues-based psychedelic rock song that sounded like nothing else. And no, it (apparently) wasn’t about drugs. Manager Chas Chandler, who was in the room when Jimi wrote it said that JImi wasn’t on psychedelics at the time. Still, it’s understandable that people would misinterpret lyrics like “Purple haze is in my brain!” and “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky!”
The final song on the final Jimi Hendrix album released during his lifetime, and also the last song he ever performed. Fittingly, it was just the Jimi Hendrix Experience on the track: Jimi, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding. Recorded after the more traditional “Voodoo Chile,” Hendrix said “Let’s do this in [the key of] E,” and this was the jam that ensued. There’s no better example of Hendrix’s ability to modernize the blues than this. He used lyrical themes that were common to bluesmen – voodoo imagery and self-aggrandizing lyrics – and made them feel totally new, giving the song a creepy, menacing vibe. The future members of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath were surely paying attention.