If you ever want to look for music lists of the greatest this or that, there really is no shortage of them on the Internet. You’ll see a variety of different opinions, and while I certainly have my own sentiments, there is one subject where there is basically no debate. When it comes to determining the greatest guitarist of all time, it’s Jimi Hendrix. Anyone saying it’s anyone else is kidding themselves. Hendrix exploded onto the scene with Are You Experienced (1967) and the last of his three Experience albums, Electric Ladyland (1968), is one of the greatest double albums ever. But Axis: Bold as Love (1967), his second album, shouldn’t be overlooked. After the roaring success of Are You Experienced in the summer of 1967, his label demanded another album be released by the end of the year.
His sound doesn’t really develop much from his first to his second album as a result, so Axis: Bold as Love is just more of the same, but is there anything wrong with that? Sure, Axis: Bold as Love may not be as innovative as Are You Experienced or as sprawling and brilliant as Electric Ladyland, but this is still Hendrix at his finest. I like to think of Axis: Bold as Love as Are You Experienced Part II and of his first two albums as one double album, with Electric Ladyland being the one true sequel he ever made. Are You Experienced was released in May, just three weeks before Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band kicked off the Summer of Love on June 1. It was one of the most definitive years in rock & roll, and I believe the years between 1967 and 1971 comprise the most fertile period of awesomeness — a highly technical music term, mind you — in the history of popular music.
It’s ridiculous how good music was back then — 21 albums on my list come from those years. It’s crazy that Hendrix’s entire career is contained within that time frame. He’s just had such an impact and a commanding presence. I think one of the reasons Axis: Bold as Love often gets overlooked is that the Summer of Love was over by the time it was released in December of 1967. It definitely has a more conclusive feel than the groundbreaking Are You Experienced. Are You Experienced is an awakening; Axis: Bold as Love is a response. An acknowledgment, if you will. He opts for the clean, lean twang only a Stratocaster can provide on songs like “If 6 Was 9,” the album’s highlight, and “You Got Me Floatin,’” which is another gem. Of course, it goes without saying that “Little Wing,” “Castles Made of Sand” and “Bold as Love,” the album’s most well-known tracks, are amazing, too.
It actually took me a little while to actually give Axis: Bold as Love a shot. I bought Are You Experienced when I was in high school and loved it immediately, and I bought Electric Ladyland not long after that. I kept putting off listening to Axis: Bold as Love because Electric Ladyland was a lot harder to wrap my head around than Are You Experienced. In fact, it took me years to really listen to the whole thing and say that I “got” it with any real confidence. Naturally, I didn’t bother to pursue Axis: Bold as Love until I had accomplished that. But once I did, I realized it was yet another classic from the master.