The latest incarnation of Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland is released on CD and as a deluxe package with a bonus DVD of the 1997 Classic Albums documentary, The Making of Electric Ladyland, expanded to 85 minutes (around twice the length of the televised version).
That the album is a masterpiece is not in question. That it, along with Sgt Pepper and Pet Sounds, heralded the-way-that-an-album-should-be-made lends it a slightly dubious legacy to those who favour the get-it-down-quick approach.
The documentary consists of Ladyland engineer Eddie Kramer revisiting the original 8-track tapes song by song at a mixing desk. The bearded, pony-tailed Kramer does a good job of hosting the piece, though his resemblance to Eric Idle’s Stanley J Krammerhead III, Jr from The Rutles is uncanny. The usual suspects were interviewed, including Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding, Chas Chandler, Steve Winwood, Dave Mason, Buddy Miles and Jack Casady.
The film, however, gives insight into the necessity of this new, time-evaporating approach (Chandler quit after the 45th take of Gypsy Eyes) in this particular instance with this particular genius. Kramer sheds light on the painstaking but innovative experimentation Jimi took to get the sound exactly how he envisioned; the mandolin effect on Burning of the Midnight Lamp; the comb and cellophane kazoo on Crosstown Traffic. He highlights Hendrix’s virtuosity; arranging and layering multiple vocal and guitar tracks to make, well, beautiful timeless music.
We learn that the sessions were full of hangers-on, which pissed-off both Noel and Chas, who, with hilarious Geordie logic, observes that “if you were a car mechanic you wouldn’t take your friends along to watch you fix a car.”
The film’s gem, for me, is a hauntingly beautiful unreleased demo of Gypsy Eyes, with a completely different melody and structure from the finished version (one of my least favourite JHE tracks).
Should you be new to the album itself, it contains the awesome Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), one of the very greatest works ever put to vinyl, the full-on funky pop of Crosstown Traffic and his incendiary version of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower. You will also hear, among its 16 tracks, the lesser-known gems 1983…A Merman I Should Turn to be (well, maybe just the first 4 minutes of this 13 minute tone poem), Long Hot Summer Night, the funky commentary on civil rights horrors House Burning Down and the ethereal psychedelia of Burning of the Midnight Lamp (see below – apologies that it’s very quiet but still hope you can dig it).