Are You Experienced (Deluxe Version)

Are You Experienced (Deluxe Version)

100 Best Albums Around the time he started working on Are You Experienced, Jimi Hendrix met the songwriter-producer Kim Fowley. This was London, 1966. Fowley thought Hendrix was weird and unfashionable, but people had been talking, so Fowley asked: What’s your thing? “Science-fiction rock ’n’ roll,” Hendrix said. It’s not a bad self-assessment. Like science fiction, Hendrix’s futuristic qualities—his use of feedback and noise, the extraterrestrial imagery of “Purple Haze” and “Third Stone From the Sun”—are offset by a groundedness that makes them feel tied to older forms of human expression; a blues for the computer age. He wasn’t experimenting with modern classical music (like The Beatles) or high-minded pop orchestration (like The Beach Boys); he wasn’t even tapping into the more explicitly far-reaching journeys of psychedelia, like Pink Floyd. Instead, he took the simple, gut-level sounds of the Muddy Waters and Little Richard he grew up on and transfigured them into something new, an innovation that made him a precursor both to Black psychedelia like Prince and Outkast, and the radical ordinariness of punk, not to mention almost everything blues-related that came in his wake. In the consolidation of the cultural narratives of classic rock, it’s easy to let his innovations wash over you: Hear how great and revolutionary something is often enough, and you stop hearing it at all. But of all the endlessly sanctified albums that came out of the late 1960s, Are You Experienced is one of the few that still feels like a dynamic, living thing—at the very least, the concept of hummable, three-and-a-half-minute songs tricked out with sound effects is as good a definition of 21st-century pop as it was of Hendrix’s music 50 years earlier. And that’s the real magic of good science fiction: No matter how foreign it seems, it’s always talking about now.

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