What’s the best Jimi Hendrix song of all time? I mean, how do you answer that question? In four short years of recording, Hendrix achieved what many artists spent a lifetime trying to accomplish. The back catalogue that he left behind is pretty immense, full of classic songs and rarely-heard gems that are a master class in guitar playing for any aspiring riffer.
Well, earlier this year, Classic Rock magazine put that oh-so-tricky question to their readers. Over 10,000 responded, and now, in a special magazine issue dedicated to Jimi, they’ve tabulated the results:
The inclusion of Watchtower at the top spot might raise a few eyebrows. It’s not even a Hendrix-penned song. But, as the CR folks rightly argue, Hendrix’s version completey elevated the Bob Dylan original:
“Released in September 1968 as the lead single from Electric Ladyland, All Along the Watchtower was not so much a cover as a song rewritten from the ground up. To hear it was to almost forget the existence of the original, which now seemed a mere blueprint by comparison. The song reached No. 5 in the UK and No. 20 in the US, making it Hendrix’s breakthrough success in his homeland. To date, it has been streamed on Spotify almost 400 million times – more than twice the total of the song in second place.”
As for Dylan, he was magnanimous, scarcely believing what has come from his raw materials. “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.”
Of course, the folks at Classic Rock aren’t the first to try and assemble an authoritative list of Mr. Hendrix’s musical accomplishments. In September of late year, the similarly named yet entirely different Ultimate Classic Rock offered their take. In UCR’s rundown, Watchtower and Little Wing actually traded places, with the original Hendrix composition coming in at No. 1:
“Nailing the intro to "Little Wing" is the guitar equivalent of reaching the summit of Mount Everest — you better document it or no one will believe you. The solo is a subtle show of virtuosity: built as much on rhythm as melody, sloppy in that classic Hendrix style. And it introduces the songwriter's ultimate tune, a melancholy psych-soul daydream in which the protagonist strolls through the clouds "with a circus mind that's running wild."
Truth is, it’s impossible to name the definitive Jimi Hendrix track and any song in Classic Rock’s top 10 could have secured the No. 1 slot. Still, I’m intrigued to know what you folks would have put in pole position. More than that, though I want to know “why?” What do these songs mean to you, where do they figure in your life story and what are your memories of listening to the late, great. Mr. Hendrix? As always, share your thoughts in the comments!