This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #81: Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix.
There are many who view “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix as being the best guitar-driven song of all-time. I think that there are credible cases to be made for many of his songs as being the best of their sort but, if the critics want to bestow that Champion’s wreath upon his head for this song then, who am I to argue? Without question, Hendrix is the Gold Standard for guitarists. Watching him play never ceases to amaze me. The complete ease with which he interacts with his guitar blows me away. If I were to handle a guitar as he does his, the screeching, caterwauling sound I would produce would be enough to threaten the integrity of every window in my house. But, in his hands, he makes the act of seduction seem effortless. In a world filled with outstanding guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Eddie VanHalen, B.B. King and so on, Jimi Hendrix rises above them all. He is, simply, the best.
The origins of the song, “Purple Haze” are convoluted. For some, they stretch back to a SciFi book called “Night of Light” by Philip Jose Farmer. In that book, there was a story about the Sun producing sunspots that caused a purple haze to form on a planet which, in turn, caused mass disorientation. There are, also, many who believe that “Purple Haze” comes from describing the effects of hallucinogenic drugs. Hendrix, himself, stated that the lyrics to “Purple Haze” come from that feeling you get from falling in love. Most critics and fans agree that the true story rests somewhere in the middle of theories #1 and #2 but, if Jimi believed in the life-altering effects of Love then, I applaud that reason, too.
“Purple Haze” was the second song Hendrix ever released. The first was a cover of an old tune called, “Hey, Joe!”. While Jimi Hendrix received lots of praise for his rendition of “Hey, Joe!”, he felt somewhat upset because it was not an original work and, that it really didn’t showcase who he was. So, he was determined to make his second release, an original work. Like many prodigies, Hendrix played and played and played, for hours upon end. He played guitar as easily as he breathed. It was during one of his improvised sessions, where he was playing around with new sound combinations and new acoustic settings and recording techniques, that the rough skeleton structure of “Purple Haze” began to emerge. Just like a writer staring at a blank page, Hendrix began weaving an aural tapestry out of thin air. His sound engineer happened to overhear him playing and thought that his jam session possessed something special and encouraged Hendrix to lay done some preliminary tracks. After, what I believe was only, four hours of total studio time, “Purple Haze” had been fleshed out into a full song. A funny aside, initially, Hendrix had ten pages of lyrics and the song was many minutes long. But, having good producers and sound engineers is worth their weight in gold because, Hendrix was talked into paring his epic poem done to a more reasonable time of around three minutes. It is because there was so much editing done to the lyrics that many fans believe the lyrics hold such a mysterious air. All that I know is that I am grateful that a line such as:
” ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky!”
didn’t end up becoming a rejected, crumpled ball tossed into the corner, upon the floor.
So, as we continue to listen to the very best of the very best songs of all-time, I present to you, “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix and The Experience. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Jimi Hendrix, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.