Here’s a conundrum for you, can you be said to truly love an artist if you rarely play his/her works?  Like most like-minded organisms above the level of amoeba* I love Jimi Hendrix, I was raised on his music and then decided to like it for myself anyway when I became a surly teenager.  He was quite good at playing the guitar, I decided.  I used to listen to my Electric Ladyland tape over and over in the dark, cranking the volume up as high as it would go to try and decipher the studio chat before/after some of the tracks; I’m a big fan of studio chat.  I own most of the Hendrix worth having but I so very rarely actually reach for an LP, as opposed to hitting individual tracks, that it was a bit of a shock to spend this week with Axis: Bold As Love glued to my turntable and actually listen and re-evaluate it as an album.  It isn’t at all bad for their second LP in 6 months!

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I picked up a cheap second-hand copy in Leeds Market in 1994, it’s a flimsy 1983 Polydor reissue that totally dispenses with the gaudy gatefold loveliness of the original that I knew from my dad’s copy; maybe that’s another reason I haven’t spent as much time with this platter, that reek of half-assed product that infuses mine.  Another reason is that I find opener ‘EXP’ a bit embarrassing, okay chaps I know it was the ’60s and Aquarius was rising, there was a heady whiff of patchouli in the air and UFOs are just plain groovy AND I like the sound of a swirling, stereo panning guitar as much as the next rube, but … did Mitch Mitchell have to sound so much like me in the (not sped up) talkie bits?!** I really do find it embarrassing.  True story.

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Listening to Axis: Bold As Love I’m struck by how un-far-out*^ a lot of it is and by that I mean most of the song writing here is of quite a conventional kind, with a few great exceptions which we’ll come to.  Tracks like ‘Ain’t No telling’ and ‘You Got Me Floating’ are positively run-of-the-mill in writing terms, but it is the charisma of the band and the fact that they’ve got quite a good banjo player on board that carries it all through – not that there’s a thing wrong with any of these tracks; it would just have been an interesting exercise to substitute Hendrix for another, perfectly good, but not spectacular player and see whether people would still have been celebrating them 49 years later other than as exemplars of good 60’s rock and pop.  Mind you anyone who doesn’t respond and groove to the mutant go-go beat of ‘… Floating’ would be sentenced to a lifetime of listening to Mantovani in any country I ran.

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The first live round fired on Axis: Bold As Love is ‘Spanish Castle Magic’, which has a heavier, denser more meaningful sound right from the off^.  If the lyrics are doggerel (‘Hang on if you want to go / You know it’s a really groovy place’) that’s fine, Hendrix’ lyrics are not the reason why anyone has ever forked out for this, or any other, LP.  What he does give though is a really good vocal performance and some absolutely blistering playing with that magic mix of virtuosity and feeling that so many fail to balance.  This rocks.

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I remember a very heated conversation in school, which ridiculous as it seems almost got to the pushing each other and the ‘come on then!’ stage^^ with a pair of two guys who were insisting that Steve Vai was the best guitar played in the world ever, I was blindly asserting that Hendrix was, that was the established wisdom in my house and every music magazine ever.  Being a rocker I was insisting that ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)’ and the non-slightly returned version for that matter, proved it incontrovertibly.  They didn’t see my point of view and I mocked Vai, whom I like but couldn’t admit liking (the argument had gone too far), as ‘a meaningless widdly-widdly merchant, who’s best moment was in that shit film with Karate Kid’, I was a level-headed sort back then.

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Put me in a similar argument now and I’d listen to them, shake my head in an entirely patronising manner and press play on ‘Little Wing’.  Argument = won, no need for undignified scuffling.  Hell, I’d have the argument won before the first drum beat.  Everything about ‘Little Wing’ is perfection, I hear it and I feel home, safe and warm, it just sends me.  Just the right notes, played with a feeling for the space around them, played in the service of the song.  A great, soft vocal and at 2:26, just the right length.  It fits the 1537 definition of perfection easily, you could neither add, or subtract anything from ‘Little Wing’ to make it better***.

This may be the single greatest thing I have ever done in my life.
This may be the single greatest thing I have ever done in my life. Click to read properly.

But enough about me, more about Axis: Bold As Love.  I’ve always loved the punchy, hip sneer of ‘If Six Was Nine’ and the rhythm section really excel on this one, playing, umm, stone free and hazed-up purple throughout.  I also think that the woozy, bluesy, progressive ‘One Rainy Wish’ should be a better known part of Hendrix’ canon and I have almost forgiven ‘Little Miss Lover’ for inventing Lenny Kravitz^*, because it is so damn funky, fine and rocky.  The title track is just the sort of psychedelic confection that I don’t have too much tolerance for but bearing in mind that more than half of it is taken over by a truly sublime solo, arguably Hendrix’ best, then my views on the song are moot – this is the greatest rock guitarist ever, playing at his very best {INSERT superlatives as-yet-undiscovered that are capable of describing how good this is, HERE}…

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I have really enjoyed spending some proper time with Axis: Bold As Love over the last week and I’ve listened my way into a new appreciation of it as an album, it will never push it’s follow-up off the podium as my favourite Hendrix but it does have a flavour all its’ own.  It is a lighter, looser, rockier version of the Experience and all the better for it.

When I’m sad, she comes to me,
With a thousand smiles she gives to me free.
It’s alright, she says it’s alright,
Take anything you want from me,
Fly on little wing.

627 Down.

PS – Having waited quite long enough to inherit a nice gatefold copy of this one I’ve taken matters into my own hands, reluctantly let it be said and … found a decent copy for a reasonable amount of cash.  Ah well, maybe Mr Superficial here will like it even better now.  Hendrix really didn’t like the sleeve (a recurring theme for him) but I do and that’s what counts.


*I may be flattering myself here and one day there is a possibility I might be called to account to answer to our amoeba overlords for the insult.

**at least when you record my voice, it does.

*^ is ‘far in’ the correct term?

^in fact Mr H would borrow the first flurry of notes for the intro of ‘Crosstown Traffic’ next year.

^^I had hormones and stuff back then.

***if you doubt what I’m saying just ask Pearl Jam, by far their best track is a, very good, reheating of it.

^*apart from his first LP, which I do like.

30 thoughts on “Axis: Bold Ass Love

  1. Strangely, my relationship with the band’s music is different from yours. When it comes to Hendrix I usually go for the albums, not for individual songs. I rarely listen to them like that.

  2. This is my favourite Hendrix album. I had kind of the opposite experience from you, I was totally obsessed with Axis as a teenager and didn’t really get into Electric Ladyland until later. A lot of my favourite tracks were the later stuff though like Angel, Drifting and Ezy Ryder.

    Anyhoo, I find it quite hard to get much out of Hendrix now. He’s one of those artists I’ve just kind of burned out with. Bought the box set last year thinking all the live versions and alternate versions might give his stuff a new lease of life with me. But it didn’t really work. Ah well, file alongside Led Zeppelin!

  3. Great post. Enjoyed this one a lot. Happens to be my second favourite Hendrix album (no prizes for guessing #1) and was actually tempted by the ‘Legacy’ reissue I spotted the other day. Put off by the slightly saturated looking artwork (what’s the deal with such things?)

    … as for the single greatest thing you’ve ever done in your life: that’s gonna take some beating. You shouldn’t have thrown that out there so early in the year, cause you’re under huge pressure to deliver the goods on a regular basis now.

    1. Thanks J, appreciate your kind words. I like to think Hendrix isn’t the only genius who has touched this album now!

      I know what you mean about the ott colours on some new re-releases, it makes them look cheaply done.

      1. I’m sure he’d acknowledge that being the case.

        It seems record labels ditched every high resolution image file they had. Probably laughing about “those stupid big records”. Eejits.

  4. Really enjoyed this one; as the best posts do, it has me immediately reaching for my copy of the album to reinforce the reading “experience” (see what I did there…).

    This was my first “proper” Hendrix after buying the US version of Smash Hits in my early teens. I actually found my gatefold copy at a thrift store circa 1978. Who would have donated this I’ve never understood, but as with most of my best, cheap finds back then when lack of funds kept me from buying “new” at the rate I do now as a responsible adult, I’ve always imagined I benefited from the sad, motorcycle-accident death of some slightly older teen that resulted in grief-stricken parents hauling an orphaned record collection down to the Salvation Army. Morbid I know, but it’s the only way I can wrap my head around the idea of someone intentionally getting rid of a masterpiece such as this.

    1. Thank you and I liked what you did with the whole ‘experience’ thing, you need to teach me how to do that.

      Wow – there’s a whole mini-series to be written right there, a different episode tracing and dealing with whoever bought which LP from the Salvation Army. The psychiatric nurse who bought the BOC one, the wife of the drunk driver who killed the boy unknowingly picking up his copy of ‘Fabulous Byrd Brothers’….

      ‘Axis: Trax’ coming to HBO soon.

  5. If you love someone, set them free… that could read; if you love someone you don’t need to keep playing their albums to death. With you on this one, Hendrix does it for me. Little Wing vibrates all the right strings,in all the right order up to and including the sub-atomic. There isn’t a universe that doesn’t sway in harmony, not a fundamental particle that isn’t grooving when he plays that maaan. Hendrix is cosmusical. (Cosmic/musical, y’know,I’m explaining it like one of those stoned people ) I really should lay off the mushrooms for breakfast.

    1. I thought it was ‘set them on fire’ – damnit! I wondered why no-one found me remotely endearing.

      Watch out for the (hash) brown acid, maaaan.

  6. Steve Vai is a great noodler, but he is a bit of a one trick pony, and no Hendrix.

    As for this album, some great songs, and some so/so songs. Something to say when songs almost 50 years old are still awesome, and young snot nose kids want to play guitar like that still.

    1. He’s great at what he does and he gets bonus points from me for his work with Zappa (what a helluva guitarist that man was, when he really let rip!), but he was no songwriter. It’s okay though it never, quite, came to blows.

      If I was the sort of dude who planned stuff I’d probably review it next year. Ah well.

  7. Of the ‘proper’ Hendrix, this is my favourite. Your wonderful review does do it justice, and though I agree that no-one other than Leonard Cohen fans buys albums for the lyrics, Jimi’s are not too shabby. In addition to the lovely bit of ‘Little Wing’ included above, there is ‘Castles made of sand’ as well. Sublime.

    1. Aw thank you Bruce. I sort of ran out of room to discuss ‘Castles Made of Sand’, it is a real beauty as well it just creates a perfect mood – I’m terrified I’ll go on too long and bore (what I laughingly refer to as) my public

    2. Sorry – comments really b*ggering about tonight for some reason.

      I meant to ask how often do you get your Hendrix out? (hopefully this isn’t your pet name for anything too intimate, or there could be an awkward moment here).

      1. Remarkably similar to your good self. In fact, if I wasn’t in a lovely holiday house 70m from the ocean right now, I’d break out EL and tell you why it isn’t really quite as innovative or focussed as ABAL. Then we’d see some shoving!

      2. Damn, that sounds like a tough gig. I wouldn’t disagree with you, except both Voodoo Chiles just sweep me up and away and I have a real thing for ‘Still raining, still dreaming’ – oh and the 19 unflatteringly lit ladies on the cover too.

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