Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced (UK Mono Version)

For some reason, the packaging, the running order, the difference between the UK and US version of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut album Are You Experienced has always intrigued me. So when Experience Hendrix announced the reissue of Jimi’s first trio of releases on vinyl-including the UK version of AYE-my attention was laser-focused.

I have no historical connection with the mono versions of Hendrix’ first two releases. I was raised on the running-order of the Reprise stereo versions of both, themselves reissues of the awesome old steamboat logo that Reprise used to have. I ruined perfectly good Animals records from that period, and I remember noting the big old boat version and I scribbled my name over the label.

So thank God it wasn’t a Hendrix original pressing, I guess.

And for some stupid reason, there was a time during the 80’s when I was so fixated on replacing every one of my vinyl titles on cd that I was sell them for pennies-on-the-dollar just to have it on a shiny aluminum disc.

This includes all of my vinyl of Jimi Hendrix records.

Now, none of mine were rare titles. Like I mentioned, they were all (and by “all,” I’m only talking about the first three records) reissues of Reprise titles, well before everything got sold to someone else and that someone else is now Sony records, I guess.


Point in that I sold all of that shit, and then one day I’m playing my records, like actual vinyl, and I go “Man, some Hendrix would really hit the spot!” and go over to my stack of wax and look for Jimi.

And it’s not there.
Not the badassed gatefold copy of Axis with all of its lysergic glory. Not the Columbia House edition of Electric Ladyland and not even the U.S. stereo version of Are You Experienced?

Obviously, I had to correct that problem, toot suite.

This is about the time of the Experience Hendrix reissues, of which I read about, became convinced of the item’s quality, and selected the UK mono version of AYE just to mix it up and listen to it again with fresh ears.

Let me tell you that the results floored me. Not in the manner in which you may be thinking, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

First of all, the packaging contains a reproduction of the UK cover, just standard issue quality. Mine was numbered “1697”, of how many more, I haven’t researched.

The inner sleeve is a pedestrian black and white colored sleeve, one side featuring a roll of Hendrix performing live, while the other touts the extensive manner in which Bernie Grundman mastered the release, using state of the art analog mechanics. It’s an interesting read, but I have no idea what the shit means.

What I do know is that the vinyl is thick. None more black. The fuckers at Sony replaced the more historically accurate Polydor label with a new Experienced Hendrix one.

At this point, I don’t care. Particularly after I learned that Grundman retrofitted a machine with old tubes to make it sound “accurate,” so, you know, I’m stoked about hearing AYE “as it was meant to be heard” or “the way Jimi intended it” or “You just dropped $17 for an album to once owned, so get to playing it, dummy!”

Right out of the gate, let me say that leading off the American version was “Purple Haze,” a cut that doesn’t appear on the UK version of AYE, because it was basically slopped together at the beginning of the Summer of 1967. America had to wait for its version, and when it came, it was primarily the stereo version, and it included the aforementioned “Purple Haze” and the stunning “Wind Cries Mary.” If you’re new to Hendrix, this is the album where you need to start and this is the version you need to start with. Even after hearing the UK version, the US stereo version is a vastly superior title and it stands as one of the greatest debuts of all time.

The UK version of AYE starts with “Foxy Lady,” still, a pretty swinging opener for May of ’67, and it begins a very curious visit to an old friend. Not only is the fact that “Foxy Lady” is starting things off, it’s doing so in a very muddy fashion. This is the worst mix of this song I have ever heard.

But I press on.

The UK version includes “Red House” and “Remember,” both of which give our compatriots over there a much more blues presence over the record. With England already witnessing a blue resurgence thanks to Clapton’s work with John Mayall to the Stones earlier catalog, Are You Experienced takes on a more decidedly English feel than its American counterpart, which now feels like a much more heavy rock record compared to this version.

Overall, AYE UK achieves exactly what I was hoping for. It transported me in front of a shitty monophonic record player, hearing the album as close as I could get to the exact moment when it was first issued. It’s mindblowing and it still stacks up to nearly everything that was released in the creative-filled year of 1967.

The monorail performance is a flat-eq’d barker with Hendrix’s guitar front and center. There’s occasionally a bit more reverb in some of the mix and a ton of gain present during the dynamic performances. I’m guessing this is a result of Grundman’s back to mono ethos in the mastering process. Whatever it is, it is some weird shit. It made me light some incense and feel a little creeped out, gingerly contemplating my brief crack in the time continuum.

There is a bunch of other strange sounds from differences in the mix that occur, particularly in “Third Stone From The Sun,” which easily becomes my favorite moment in this new old mix. Again, Jimi’s guitar is way up in the mix, making all of the sound effect moments and slow-speed space transmissions even more eerie. Then Jimi comes in and asks if he can “land my kinky machine” and everything’s cool again.

Except for “Fire,” which nearly had me believing that I had secured an inferior pressing of AYE. Right after Jimi’s solo, the audio suddenly drops out and sounds out of phase, if that makes any sense. It is remarkably different, like it’s a different source for the material. It’s a jolt to the listener and something that I’d think they’d put a disclaimer of if it were a regular occurrence, like The Who did on Live At Leeds with its warning of the record label of “Crackling noises o.k. – Do not correct.”

I visit the Steve Hoffman forums-the go to place for everything geek record information-and sure as shit, the issue of the dropout in “Fire” to the crappy mix of “Foxy Lady,” are all addressed and they are attributed to the defects of a hastily put together recording and mixing session are the root cause of all of these sonic issues.

The reality was that most listeners heard their records on blue collar systems, and little attention was paid to sonic perfection by pop/rock engineers as a result. There’s a natural tendency for such system limitations to mask the imperfections, combined with the reality of the limits that those primitive recording consoles had when recording a dynamic artist like Hendrix, and you get a lot of noticeable flaws on aurally visible, even today’s mid-range systems.

Given how much an original UK mono pressing of Are You Experienced is going for, and considering how there is (supposedly) no difference between the mix of it and the new Experience Hendrix reissue is, the new release is a bargain. It’s still great enough to blow minds, even in a flawed monorail mix of what is-particularly in its American sequenced stereo counterpart-one of the greatest debut albums in rock history.

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