23
Oct 06

THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE – “Voodoo Chile”

FT + Popular105 comments • 9,381 views

#293, 21 November 1970

I was playing this song and my wife walked in.

“Who’s this?” she asked.
“The Jimi Hendrix Experience”
“Oh. Couldn’t he have got a better singer?”

I’ve never really bothered trying to get into Hendrix. Guitar heroics don’t generally interest me, and by the time I got into music the churning vitality of his stuff had got lost under layers of rock icon varnish. For instance: at school we had three options on a Sunday morning – a solemn early morning service for the actual believers, a later standard-issue service, and a secular ‘talk’ for the agnostics. At one of these talks, the trendiest of the three chaplains delivered a lecture – nay, a meditation – on Hendrix, culminating in playing “The Star Spangled Banner” over the school’s PA system. I was excruciatingly bored and embarassed by the whole thing.

At the same time, though, I was listening to music clearly inspired by “Voodoo Chile” – ‘baggy’ music had rediscovered the wah-wah, and Stone Roses guitarist John Squire’s own personal rerun of sixties pop was taking him deeper into Hendrix territory. So this single is oddly evocative of the turn of the 90s, stabs at flares and bowl cuts and trying to reconcile a love of the Happy Mondays with a puritan horror of drink and drugs. (The horror lost.) Which might go to show that music lives better when well meaning fans try to make it than when they try to teach you about it. Even so I never wanted to dig back into the sixties source material – partly because I was sixteen and affected not to care about old stuff, and partly because Hendrix’ gruff blues mumble is quite unattractive.

I’m glad this single reminds me of something, though – it grounds my response to it, stops it sounding quite so freakish in the context of this pop procession. Freakish in a good way – the strafing solos, the grinding pulse of the drums, the way the sound drops in and out like some alien radio broadcast, the aggression. And also in a less good way – after the dramatic band entrance and first verse its five minutes meander, and I can’t get much of an emotional toe-hold on it. Maybe that’s not surprising – this is a rock album track, plucked from its parent to serve as a rushed memorial. As a pop single – something it was hardly meant to be – it works best as yet another farewell to the sixties, and a slightly awkward intrusion of the musical stories unfolding outside the singles chart.

{democracy:11}

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Comments

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  1. 61

    electric hoax!! — you just reminded me i promised a random i wd dig out my ancient EH cuttings and photcopy them for his project! only i forgot

  2. 62
    Erithian on 26 Oct 2006 #

    Number 2 Watch – ironically given P^nk Lord’s reference to rural music from an impoverished region! – the record blocked from the top by Hendrix was “Patches” by Clarence Carter.

  3. 63
    DV on 26 Oct 2006 #

    Hendrix is awesome. It’s all Hendrix all the time round the vicarage these days, which leads to us saying “Yeah cats!” all the time for no obvious reason. Did you know that Hendrix loved to play Risk?

  4. 64
    koganbot on 27 Oct 2006 #

    A piledriver of a song, keeps driving and driving the same pile until he’s driven through to China. It’s got chord changes and a (slight) refrain and guitar leads, but it could just as easily not have them and still be effective, ’cause the riff is the song.

    It’s a 9.5, so it ties w/ “Rush” and “Get Ur Freak On,” slightly ahead of “London Bridge” and “It’s Goin’ Down,” slightly behind “Purple Haze” and “Since U Been Gone” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” To put it in context.

    I have NO problem thinking of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” as a single and thinking of it as a hit and thinking of it as pop, but I might have trouble explaining why. There are Frank Singles and there are Actual Singles. If it’s a genre I get, then often enough Frank Singles are also Actual Singles. A Frank Single functions as a single in my psyche; basically it grabs me in a pop hit way. “Like A Rolling Stone” grabs me in a pop hit way, “Visions of Johanna” doesn’t, though if somehow the latter had gotten to number one I’d have endorsed it as a 10.0 on this board. (Well, 9.5, anyway.) It’s too settled and noncatchy to be a Frank Single. “Search and Destroy” and “Personality Crisis,” on the other hand, grabbed me in a pop hit way, even though neither was a hit. “Bodies” and “Takeover” and “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Gimme Shelter” and “Under My Thumb” were Frank Singles even though they weren’t Actual Singles. (And the latter three ended up on Stones’ hit compilations. So there.) Those examples hardly explain anything, but let’s just say that “Voodoo Child” has a hook, and 20 seconds into it, the first time, it was a Frank Single. (And I didn’t know until today that it had ever been an Actual Single.)

    after the dramatic band entrance and first verse it’s five minutes meander, and I can’t get much of an emotional toe-hold on it

    I think that’s your crucial point, not that it’s a rock album track. If it’s a five-minutes meander, then it doesn’t work as a rock album track either, unless it’s either a really engaging meander or a really effective mood. But I don’t hear “Voodoo Child” as a meander, I hear it as more of the same, that consistent pile driver, doing what it’s doing what it’s doing what it’s doing. Enriched by other stuff going on, but not changing. So, to choose from my comparisons above, it’s not a page-turner like “Rush” or “Purple Haze” or “London Bridge” or “Since U Been Gone,” but rather a doin’ it doin’ it doin’ it song like “Get Ur Freak On” or “It’s Goin’ Down” or “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” I recall that you gave “The Last Time” a 6 and “Satisfaction” a 9, and maybe that’s a consistent choice. “The Last Time” is a doin’ it doin’ it riff song, “Satisfaction” is a page turner (it’s also a riff-based doin’ it doin it song, but has more development, variety). “The Last Time” is a 9.5 or 10.0 for me. (I don’t necessarily assume you wouldn’t be up there with 9s and 10s for “Get Ur Freak On,” but if you were I’d be curious as to your reasons for liking it more than “Voodoo Child.” E.g., better vocals, better rhythm. (In a straight up competition I prefer “Freak” to “Voodoo” for just those reasons.))

  5. 65
    koganbot on 27 Oct 2006 #

    Mark S: I’m sure that Jimi’s using the word “voodoo” for its black refs and its blues refs and its magic refs, similar to mojo hand. I can see your objection to the phrase “same well” (he probably got some of his blues education off Yardbirds and Mayall records anyway, and there are all sorts of wells), but anyway the blues superhero and the comic book superhero augment each other. Your sf reading of “I’ll meet you on the next one don’t be late” seems correct, but that doesn’t stop those words from also containing a death threat (as does “Not to die but to be reborn”); the threat is in those words, whether Hendrix wants it there are not. (Just as Debbie Gibson couldn’t decide that “Shake Your Love” has nothing to do with sex.) Just as there’s an implicit death threat in Bowie’s “Life On Mars” and Savage Garden’s “To The Moon And Back.” And conversely, actual straight-up death threats like VU’s “Heroin” and the Stooges’ “Death Trip” are also about envisioning alternate worlds.

  6. 66
    Tom on 27 Oct 2006 #

    “Freak On” reminds me of tai chi or corny film ninja moves (possibly this is the video helping) – i.e. more graceful than piledriver.

    There’s definite ‘doin it doin it’ songs I like but yes, most of my huge 10/10 favourites are page turners.

    (And I totally get the distinction between Actual Singles and Frank Singles, except of course mine aren’t Frank Singles.)

  7. 67
    Brian in Canada on 27 Oct 2006 #

    I can see your objection to the phrase “same well”……

    Meant only as the source of inspiration. No negativity implied by me.

    Brian

  8. 68

    frank is right that i was pushing back wee a bit hard there, brian — fighting demons not present on the page etc

  9. 69
    Brian in Canada on 27 Oct 2006 #

    pˆnk ~

    hope you KER-POWWED ‘ EM to the far side of the gigiverse..

    b

  10. 70
    major clout on 28 Oct 2006 #

    I LOVE HAMBURGERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    especially lately (read= past five years).

  11. 71
    Ceres on 20 Nov 2006 #

    I bought this! It was a post-death cash-in of course, with Hey Joe and Watchtower on the other side, a (great) picture sleeve and a discount selling price of six shillings (30p).

    Not all the apparent tape dropouts which appear on this single are on the LP version; either because of sloppy transcription when cutting the 45 or, perhaps, intentionally.

  12. 72
    jimi hendrix rocks on 25 Feb 2007 #

    jimi hendrix is the best rocker in the world well thats what I say im his number 1 fan

  13. 73
    Matthew on 17 Jan 2009 #

    Pop illiterate watch: for the longest time I was only really aware of this song through what had been written about it, rather than my ears. As such, I was always under the impression that it was pronounced “Voodoo Chilli”, and about some kind of incredibly exotic spicy gumbo from Louisiana or what have you.

    (My favourite Jimi Hendrix song, not unconnectedly, was “Storm Green”, which I thought was an extremely poetic and evocative title. I am given to understand that what Hendrix penned and is actually singing is “Stone Free”, alas.)

  14. 74
    Waldo on 29 Sep 2009 #

    DECLARATION IN THE MEMBERS’ REGISTER OF INTERESTS: Hendrix became and remains my big hero.

    At school in 1970, the first thing we had to do in the morning was our “diary”, a paragraph in a small exercise book. Took all of five minutes. Naturally there was little variation day by day apart from on a Monday when we were required to account for the weekend. One boy in my class, who was considered (ahem!) “slow”, practically replicated the same entry every day, beginning with: “Yesterday I went to school and I did my diary…”, which our teacher Mr Turner let pass as the work of a halfwit. The nine year-old me, however, recognised it as the ironic offerings of a genius. The boy ended up as a BT engineer. Not even Waldo can be right all the fucking time.

    Meanwhile, Jimi Hendrix choked to death on a tuna sarnie with all the fixings and “Voodoo Chile” was wrestled off “Electric Ladyland” and took its appointed spot at the top of the chart as a tribute. The more I think of it, the more I become convinced that this was the wrong choice. Perhaps the line about “I’ll meet you in the next world – don’t be late” clinched it. At school the Friday after the TOTP when this was number one, my diary ran something like: “After tea, I sat and watched Top of the Pops with Peter and Mummy and number one was the dead Jimmy. It’s funny to look at him looking alive when really he’s dead…”

    The Waldo psyche was coming along nicely.

  15. 75
    thefatgit on 29 Sep 2009 #

    *FIRST POST* As a 4 year old, the Number One passed me by. However, 10 years later, Hendrix had an immense impact on me. Let me explain that like many kids my age, I grew up listening to my parents’ records (The Who, Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, The Beatles and The Beach Boys). That was the grounding. I was given the freedom to find my own taste in music and from the age of 12, I spent pocket money on all sorts of music with a nod to the past. Rock was the foundation of my tastes, but later I found the benefits of diversifying my tastes, taking in soul, blues even folk. On top of this was a total sea-change in the charts (post-punk,new-wave etc). So as a semi-informed NME reader, I stumbled upon Jimi Hendrix.

    Voodoo Chile was the first Hendrix song I heard. From the first wah-wah I was hooked. No, you may mock but this was a life-changing moment. Hendrix underpinned everything heavy that followed. Through Hendrix, I discovered Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and the massive swathe of stateside bands that had adopted the heavy rock sound and developed it. So subsequently, heavy metal has become my first love. The electric guitar, previously the instrument of rebellion, in Hendrix’ hands had become the instrument of wonder and awe. The AXE was a weapon. It had a voice. It altered perception and connected to an amp and effects pedals, could generate tons of wonderful feedback, fuzz, sustain, attack, decay, echo. Looking back to my folks old Who and Floyd records I listened with fresh ears, tuning out Daltrey, focusing on Townshend and the same with Barrett and Waters, concentrating on Gilmour. Let me explain one more thing: I can’t play guitar, never could never will, but Jimi encouraged me to play air guitar on tons of rock records, RamJam’s Black Betty for one. Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades was another. Jimi was never “pop”. Jimi was blues, rock, soul and the godfather of heavy metal. Shame he died when I was 4 years old.

  16. 76
    wichita lineman on 20 Mar 2011 #

    I discovered a copy of this moody cover of All Along The Watchtower last week, released in March ’68 when John Wesley Harding was barely in the shops, and several months before Hendrix’s take. It’s the Nashville Teens, three years on from their last hit but still signed to Decca. They have the distinction of being the last record played in Mad Men, series 4:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBI6uM_rj_8

  17. 77
    ottersteve on 7 May 2011 #

    Would anyone be interested in starting a thread concerning song lyrics that are never repeated during the course of the song?
    The only example of this that I can think of is “All along the Watchtower” (hence putting this comment in the Jimi Hendrix slot). Be interested to know of any others.

    Cannot count “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the line “Nothing really matters” is repeated at the end of the song.

  18. 78
    Mark G on 9 May 2011 #

    DO you mean “song titles mentioned only once during the song”?

    “Nothing Really Matters” is not the song title, so I don’t follow.

  19. 79
    ottersteve on 10 May 2011 #

    Sorry about the confusion. If you read the lyrics to “Watchtower”, you will see that no phrase or line of the song is ever repeated in the course of the song. I know of no other song that does this.

    In Bo Rhap. “Galileo” is repeated along with “nothing really matters”.

    Not referring to the title of the song – just that fact that it entirely avoids any repetition of any line.

  20. 80
    chelovek na lune on 10 May 2011 #

    Ah, durchkomponiert, you mean, but with regard to the lyrics. I see. Sure I could dig out some others. Big hits? Not necessarily. Will have to ponder it over.

  21. 81
    chelovek na lune on 10 May 2011 #

    So, a little bit of thought came up with these, with several near misses. I think all of these qualify

    Ride – Unfamiliar
    Ride – Like a Daydream
    Ride – Chelsea Girl
    Depeche Mode – Somebody
    Judge Dread- Big Five
    Frank and Walters- Happy Busman
    Nick Drake – Things Behind the Sun

    Almost:
    Rod Stewart – The Killing Of Georgie – right up until the repetition of the final lines
    Jesus and Mary Chain – Blues From a Gun – ditto

    I suppose really, songs that tell a story (and don’t have a chorus with repeated lyrics) are what we are looking for. As he is one of the great “storytellers in song”, I’m sure there must be some Rod Stewart songs that do this…

  22. 82
    Mark G on 10 May 2011 #

    Oh, right I see now. Will have to think about that one.

  23. 83
    DietMondrian on 11 May 2011 #

    Lots of Arab Strap stuff, I think. Many are story songs.

  24. 84
    Tom on 11 May 2011 #

    ISTR the Frank And Walters tune repeating “what an iddly-diddly crazy world” an infuriating number of times, but perhaps that was one of their other numbers.

  25. 85
    Mutley on 11 May 2011 #

    How about Bob Dylan’s Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts from Blood on the Tracks? As with examples above, it tells a story. I should think Dylan has quite a few that qualify.

  26. 86
    Erithian on 11 May 2011 #

    “repeating “what an iddly-diddly crazy world” an infuriating number of times”

    was that just the Ned Flanders remix?

  27. 87
    Tom on 11 May 2011 #

    A lot of Dylan’s songs – LR&TJOH, Desolation Row, High Water spring to mind – end each verse with a repeated phrase, though, working as a kind of refrain while avoiding the need for a chorus.

  28. 88
    Chelovek na lune on 11 May 2011 #

    @84 – that was “Fashion Crisis Hits New York”, I think.

  29. 89
    Cumbrian on 11 May 2011 #

    I struggled with this off the top of my head. The closest I got was When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You? by Marvin Gaye which almost manages this but he repeats the title (just once) right at the end.

  30. 90
    lonepilgrim on 11 May 2011 #

    Surprised nobody has mentioned ‘Virginia Plain’.

    I feel that ‘Stardust’ should qualify. Even though the title is repeated it’s always in a different context rather than as a conventional chorus

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