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The Jimi Hendrix Classic Singles Collection
by Todd Warnke
One of the worst things about becoming an audiophile after the spark of ones youth is that all those great albums you loved, after being played on changers, as the soundtrack to countless dorm parties, and with a nickel to set tracking weight, are thoroughly trashed. Thankfully the reissue market has come to the rescue. And especially for those who properly wasted formative years on sex, drugs and rock and roll, Classic Records has delivered the Holy of Rock Holies, Jimi Hendrixs finest moments on singles. Yep, this set contains 45s, ten of them to be precise, each with two time-shifting, mood-altering, youth-restoring songs.
For those whose brain cells may be suffering a bit of 60s hangover, or even worse, have never had the psychotic thrill of being immersed in the Hendrix sound, without doubt Hendrix is the nexus of rock guitar. You can argue Beatles/Stones/Who all day, or Dylan versus Lennon as songwriters, but the undisputed king of rock guitarists is Jimi. Not only did he expand and alter the entire vocabulary, he set standards so high that, unlike Hank Aaron, he has no fear of any Andro-laden, single-dimensional player in an unthinkable, pitching-starved future usurping the throne.
Even more, as a lyricist he captured the essence of 60s to a "T" (is there a more appropriate album title than Are You Experienced?), while also distilling universals such that many of the songs hold up all these years later. And like a triple-crown winner, his vocal skills, in spite of his own feelings about his voice, are the perfect vehicle for that trip to inner consciousness. Hes the complete artist then. The songs, six from Are You Experienced, four from Axis: Bold as Love, seven from Electric Ladyland and three from First Rays of the New Rising Sun, cover the range of the Hendrix legacy.
As for the set itself, the packaging is superb. Eight of the ten singles are original British couplings. The 20-page booklet (shown right) offers an overview of the songs and discusses set compilation. The reproduction of a Marshall amp on the cover is gorgeous, as are the picture covers for the singles. Even though the majority of the singles were selected from the British catalog, the picture covers were taken from releases around the world. The singles themselves use the British small-hole rather than the US big-hole 45 format. This was done, first, because so many of the singles mirror the British ones, to remain true to that aesthetic. But it was also done so that you wouldnt have to dig out an adapter and risk marring the single with it.
The history behind the set is quite interesting. Mike Hobson of Classic Records was involved behind the scenes with quality control for the MCA vinyl Hendrix reissues. The folks at Experience Hendrix, the family corporation set up to administer the Hendrix legacy, were quite appreciative of this, as well as being impressed by the Classic reissue of Band of Gypsies (which used the original master and not the digital master that MCA used in their foreign reissue program). Selecting, compiling, mastering, and printing this set took 14 months. Extra care was taken everywhere, and it shows, even down to the use of virgin vinyl, something quite unusual for 45s. The result has pleased the folks at Experience Hendrix, and they have tentatively agreed to use Classic for mono reissues of both Experienced and Axis, which are completely different mixes from the stereo albums, as well as a series of previously unavailable-on-vinyl live sets.
Finally, the sound. Played back on the affordable reference Rega Planar 25 and the supremely funkalicious Dynavector Karat D-17II Mk II cartridge, the first impression is of dynamic power. The drums have that analog fullness and kick. Bass throbs, drives and pounds. And to paraphrase Frank Zappa, the guitar leads want to give your momma a real experience. There is a bit of tape hiss, which varies from track to track, but it is obviously a recording artifact and so better left in than mastered out, along with who knows what else. Perhaps best of all, the pressing, which was done at Erika Records in Los Angeles, is pristine and consistent from platter to platter.
The only LP references I have on hand are a couple rather well-played US pressings and a much-played but well-cared-for British Electric Ladyland. Admittedly these are no longer good gauges, but at least they proudly show their usage. Anyway, side by side there really is no comparison. The stage of the Classic collection is just one example. Where the LPs give proximate room sizes, the 45s return blueprints, even of the imaginary buildings Hendrix describes. I have no doubt that mint British pressings would fare much better than LPs I have on hand, but they would also cost much more than the Classic 45s, if you can even find em. And even then, Im sure that these 7-inchers would more than stand their ground. If you have a turntable, run and get this set today.
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