Hendrix’s Smash Hits–Masterful Music, Limited Scope

Smash Hits–Jimi Hendrix was originally released in 1969. The album has since been remastered, but the version that I’m reviewing is the one originally released on cassette tape. While this album presents some great music by one of the greatest guitarists of our time, it has its shortcomings, so I have mixed feelings about this collection.

Most “greatest hits” albums are collections of the most popular and well-known hits of a particular performer or group, usually pieced together over a career or at least an extensive period of time, and with the intention of providing a good, definitive look at the musical catalogue of the performer or group. Smash Hits, while musically superb, disappoints me in a couple of ways.

First, Hendrix really had no “smash hits”–in 1969, FM radio was largely a wasteland, and most AM stations wouldn’t play the Hendrix brand of psychedelic blues. Although I don’t know for sure, I’d guess that Hendrix didn’t have any songs that cracked the Top Ten list at any time, so to define the songs on this collection as “smash hits” is really a misnomer. In fact, mainstream acceptance of Hendrix’s music didn’t really occur until after his death–that’s a sad statement, considering his enormous talents, but white America just wasn’t quite ready for him when he was in his prime.

Another quibble that I have with Smash Hits is that it only contains material from his first two albums, Axis: Bold As Love and Are You Experienced?. Inexplicably absent are his more mature, seasoned work from Electric Ladyland and his jazz-blues explorations with Band Of Gypsies. The resulting product is a haphazard collection of twelve songs, and considering that the album was originally released in 1969, it’s pretty easy to see it for what it is–another record company ploy designed to get one more Hendrix product on the shelves in the hope of squeezing a few more dollars out of the music previously released on his first two albums.

But What About The Music?

It’s pure Hendrix, and there’s really never been any bad Hendrix music. Songs like Stone Free, Crosstown Traffic, and Manic Depression typify the frenetic pace that Hendrix and his band would pursue, while Red House shows what a great bluesman Hendrix could be. Foxy Lady, Fire, and Purple Haze were some of his most well known songs, and The Wind Cries Mary and Hey Joe show his contemplative approach to rock music. His jumped up cover of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower far outshines the original, and tunes like Remember and Can You See Me reflect more than superficial and modern musical roots.

As I said, I have no complaints about the music–just the music, mind you. Each song has those strong, trademark Hendrix riffs so deeply based in the blues, and his casual, almost conversational vocals seem to fit his musical style perfectly. In short, the music is divine, sublime and immaculate. I just really think that the way it’s packaged is sort of a rip-off–I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone for that reason, but I do have some other suggestions.

If you want these songs, buy Axis: Bold As Love and Are You Experienced?–you’ll get all these songs and about twenty more that aren’t on Smash Hits. If you’re intent on a “greatest hits”-type collection, pick up a copy of The Essential Jimi Hendrix–it’s a collection that has a lot more breadth, and much more music.

Thanks for reading.