We live in a world of progress: athletes run faster, footballers are fitter and our children grow taller. So it is an indication of Jimi Hendrix's genius that, although he died in 1970, nobody had since advanced the art of electric guitar playing beyond his singular achievement.
He married technical virtuosity to dazzling showmanship, factors that sometimes conspired to obscure that he was also a considerable songwriter. His achievement is all the more extraordinary given that his reign lasted just four years, from his arrival in Britain in 1966 to his untimely death.
When he first appeared on the London club scene, he appeared so wild it was as if he had landed by spaceship from another planet. In fact, he'd served a routine apprenticeship backing the likes of Little Richard and the Isley Brothers. But he'd put his dues-paying to astonishing effect. Fellow guitarists such as Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton turned up at his early shows and watched with open-jawed amazement. Using waves of feedback and distortion he coaxed sounds out of a guitar that had never been heard before, fusing blues, rock, R&B and psychedelic pop into an explosive sonic cocktail. With his band the Experience, he created the template for the power trio and, although his jamming ability was legendary, he also wrote tightly structured, tender pop songs such as "The Wind Cries Mary", "Angel" and - best of all - "Little Wing".
His rise was meteoric and his life turbulent. By 1969, the Experience had split-up and Hendrix was seeking new challenges. At the time of his death there was talk of a jazz album with Miles Davis, while in his last interview he spoke of creating a new sound he called 'western sky music' and putting together a big band. Just how far he could have taken it, we shall never know.
Are you Experienced?
One of the most revolutionary debut albums ever. The guitar playing is cosmic. But what is almost equally striking is the strength of the songwriting, from the frenzy of 'Foxy Lady' and 'Manic Depression' to the tenderness of 'The Wind Cries Mary'.
Axis: Bold As Love
The follow-up to Are You Experienced? was assembled in a hurry as Hendrix's fame went global. But if Axis lacked the immediate impact of its predecessor, it still contains such fine songs as 'Little Wing', 'Castles Made Of Sand' and 'Spanish Castle Magic'.
Hendrix's ultimate psychedelic experiment, with the trio format augmented by such guest musicians as Steve Winwood, Chris Wood and Jack Cassidy. Long jam-like instrumental passages float easily alongside more tightly-focused pieces such as 'All Along The Watchtower' and 'Burning Of The Midnight Lamp'.
The Ultimate Experience
As a single disc compilation, this 20-tracker makes for a hard-to-beat introduction. 'Purple Haze', 'All Along The Watchtower', 'Little Wing', 'Angel' and 'The Wind Cries Mary' are all here along with 15 others.
First Rays Of The New Rising Sun
Hendrix's final studio sessions appeared posthumously as The Cry of Love in 1971. But it wasn't until 1997 that this radical revision restored his own working title and sequence and songs such as 'Angel', 'Freedom' and 'Room Full Of Mirrors' were presented as he'd planned.