German single picture sleeve
|Single by The Jimi Hendrix Experience|
|Released||March 17, 1967[a](UK)|
|Format||Seven-inch 45 rpm record|
|Recorded||De Lane Lea Studios, London, January 11, 1967,
Olympic Studios, London, February 3–8, 1967
|Label||Track (no. 604 001)|
|Experience British singles chronology|
"Purple Haze" is a song written by Jimi Hendrix and recorded by the Jimi Hendrix Experience for their second single. It has been referred to as "one of the archetypical psychedelic drug songs of the sixties", although Hendrix described it as a love song. It features Hendrix's inventive guitar playing and a driving rhythm. On March 17, 1967, the single was released in the UK and quickly rose to number three in the British record chart. In the US, "Purple Haze" became the opening track on the American Are You Experienced album.
"Purple Haze" is perhaps Hendrix's best-known song and was a regular concert feature. Many live recordings have been issued, including his performance at Woodstock immediately following his interpretation of the "The Star-Spangled Banner". The song has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is also included on several "Greatest Songs" lists, including those by Rolling Stone magazine and Q magazine.
Background and recording
By January 5, 1967, the Jimi Hendrix Experience's first single, "Hey Joe", backed with "Stone Free", peaked at number six on the UK record chart. "Hey Joe" was not a Hendrix composition – it was written by Billy Roberts and recorded by several groups prior to the Experience. Hendrix commented, "That record isn't us. The next one's gonna be different. We're working on an LP which will mainly be our stuff." The group had recorded several demos of original material at studios in London, including "Can You See Me", "Foxy Lady", "Third Stone from the Sun", "Red House", and "Remember". However, producer Chas Chandler was pushing for Hendrix to write a song based on a guitar riff that he was toying with around the middle of December: "I heard him playing it at the flat and was knocked out. I told him to keep working on that, saying, 'That's the next single!'" Chandler claimed that after some more urging, Hendrix wrote the rest of "Purple Haze" in the dressing room of a London club during the afternoon of December 26, 1967, before a gig. In several interviews, Hendrix spoke about writing the song, but did not mention where or when he wrote it.
The Experience began recording "Purple Haze" January 11, 1967, at De Lane Lea Studios in London. According to drummer Mitch Mitchell, he and bassist Noel Redding learned the song in the studio: "Hendrix came in and kind of hummed us the riff and showed Noel the chords and the changes. I listened to it and we went, 'OK, let's do it.' We got it on the third take as I recall." Chandler recalled that the basic track was recorded in four hours, but he and Hendrix continued to develop it:
With 'Purple Haze', Hendrix and I were striving for a sound and just kept going back in [to the studio], two hours at a time, trying to achieve it. It wasn't like we were there for days on end. We recorded it, and then Hendrix and I would be sitting at home saying, 'Let's try that.' Then we would go in for an hour or two. That's how it was in those days. However long it took to record one specific idea, that's how long we would book. We kept going in and out.
Redding and Mitchell were not included in the process, because Chandler felt that it was more efficient for him and Hendrix to do it alone. To get a better quality recording, Chandler took the four-track tape recorded at De Lane Lea to Olympic Studios for overdubbing (although Hendrix had worked with eight-track recording in the US, it was not yet available in the UK). At Olympic, they were assigned Eddie Kramer, who as a sound engineer, played an important role in subsequent Hendrix recordings. Hendrix added new vocals and guitar parts between February 3 and 8, 1967. Recording for the previous songs by the Experience had used conventional techniques, but Chandler decided to try out some new effects and sounds for "Purple Haze". He enhanced background sounds (including some contributed by Redding) by playing them back through headphones, which were moved around the recording microphone, creating "a weird echo". Speeding up guitar parts recorded at half-speed (which also raises the pitch) and panning were also used to create novel effects. "Purple Haze" also saw the introduction of the Octavia guitar effects unit, which was used on the guitar solo. The unit doubles an audio frequency, thereby essentially adding an upper octave. It was developed by Roger Mayer, an acoustical and electronics engineer, with Hendrix's input.
Lyrics and interpretation
Biographer Harry Shapiro commented that "Every time he [Hendrix] was asked about this song, he gave a different answer. The likelihood was even he couldn't be positive about the initial inspiration ...'Purple Haze' was almost certainly a pot-pourri of ideas neatly parcelled up into one song." On January 28, 1967, before the song was completed, Hendrix responded to a question about his songwriting: "I dream a lot and I put my dreams down as songs. I wrote one called 'First Look Around the Corner' and another called 'The Purple Haze,' which was about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea." In an April 7, 1967, interview he offered an another explanation: "He [the song's protagonist] likes this girl so much, that he doesn't know what [state] he's in, ya know. A sort of daze, I suppose. That's what the song is all about." Shapiro adds, "Jimi often told the story about a girl who tried to ensnare him with voodoo during his early days in New York to the point where he had to see a doctor, and this is very likely expressed in the line 'Whatever it is that girl put a spell on me,' and indeed most of the first two verses":
- Purple haze all around, don't know if I'm coming up or down
- Am I happy or in misery, whatever it is that girl put a spell on me
The phrase "purple haze" appears in literature, including in Charles Dickens' 1861 novel Great Expectations: "There was the red sun, on the low level of the shore, in a purple haze, fast deepening into black" (Chapter 54). Science fiction writer Philip José Farmer used it in his 1966 novel Night of Light, which had been published as a short story in 1957. In his story set on a distant planet, sunspots produce a "purplish haze" which has a disorienting effect on the inhabitants. Hendrix was a fan of science fiction and commented in a December 9, 1967, interview:
You know the song we had named 'Purple Haze'? [It] had about a thousand, thousand words ... I had it all written out. It was about going through, through this land. This mythical ... because that's what I like to do is write a lot of mythical scenes. You know, like the history of the wars on Neptune.
So far, the only handwritten lyrics found are on a crumpled single sheet of ruled yellow tablet paper with the title "Purple Haze – Jesus Saves" and do not include any of the lyrics used in the Experience song. Hendrix also expressed frustration that he was unable to more fully develop his ideas for the song. Chandler admits that in the early stages, he helped Hendrix shape the songs and lyrics to radio single length. However, he denied that "Purple Haze" was edited and appears "exactly as it was recorded".
Hendrix and those closest to him never discussed any connection between psychedelic drugs and the song, although Shapiro admits that, at the time, to do so would have been "professional suicide".[b] Chandler, who claimed he was present when Hendrix wrote it, later denied suggestions that Hendrix did so while under the influence of psychedelics. Commenting on the lyrics, biographer Keith Shadwick concludes "the music [was allowed] to tell the larger story. Poised effectively between the twin intoxicants of drugs and desire, they could be interpreted to the listener's taste". In concert, Hendrix sometimes substituted lyrics for comic effect; "'scuse me while I kiss the sky" was rendered "'scuse me while I kiss this guy" (while gesturing towards Mitchell), "'scuse me while I kiss that policeman" (at a near riot in Los Angeles), or "'scuse me while I fuck the sky" (during a downpour in Seattle).
Music critic William Ruhlmann describes "Purple Haze" as having "relentlessly driving, if relatively slow-paced underlying music, which provides a good platform for some of Hendrix's inventive guitar playing." Beginning with its discordant opening and heavy use of distortion, Hendrix's techniques "all contributed to the dirty, raw, metallic, [and] angular sounds" heard in the song, according to Shapiro. The intro uses a tritone or an interval with a diminished (sometimes called flattened) fifth. Historically, this dissonant interval has been referred to as Diabolus in musica (literally "Devil in music") and some believe that its use was proscribed by papal bull during the Spanish Inquisition, because "to play it was like ringing Satan's doorbell". It is sounded during the first two measures by Hendrix playing a B♭ on guitar against an E played by Redding on bass, followed by the respective octaves. Mitchell on drums comes in for the third measure, when Hendrix introduces the riff that piqued Chandler's interest, and Redding continues playing the octaves in E.
After the riff, the verse sections begin, which Shadwick describe as "simplicity itself, consisting of just three chords": E7♯9, G, and A. The E7♯9, or dominant seventh sharp ninth chord, has come to be called the "Hendrix chord" and was used primarily in rhythm and blues and jazz before Hendrix helped popularize it. He also used an unconventional fingering technique for the G and A chords. Because Hendrix used his thumb to fret the roots of the G and A chords on the sixth string, his fingers were left in a position to create different chord voicings. Instead of the usual G barre chord (G–B–G–B–D–G), a G5 (G–X–G–G–D–G) is sometimes played with the major third (B) being muted on the fifth string and replaced by the open third string (G). Redding follows the chord changes mostly by playing the root with occasional passing notes, while Mitchell heightens the tension with drum flourishes that accentuate Hendrix's vocal and guitar.
Hendrix's guitar tone has been described as "at the razor edge of distort" by biographer David Henderson. However, individual notes are still clear, as well as the harmonically more complex chords, even with the use of extreme overdrive for the time. The tension is maintained until the guitar solo, which "arrives as something of a release rather than a further racking up of the atmosphere." It is also when Hendrix first introduces the Octavia, coupled with a Fuzz Face distortion unit. Whitehill describes the solo as "almost sound[ing] likes he's playing a blues raga. He starts out playing in the Mixolydian mode and then he goes right into the blues side. The Octavia has the effect of a sitar, kind of like Ravi Shankar meets B.B. King." During the song's outro, the guitar part recorded at 7½ inches per second played back at 15 ips, is combined with the Octavia, further extending the guitar's upper frequency range. Henderson describes it as "an uncanny piercing tone that takes off, Eastern-sounding beyond the range of the guitar" and, according to Shadwick, "gives the impression that the guitar notes are flying off into the ether."
Releases and charts
|Top singles charts 1967||Peak position||Weeks on chart|
|Austria Austrian Hitparade||7||8|
|Netherlands Dutch Charts||11||5|
|Norway Norwegian Charts||7||3|
|UK Official Singles Chart||3||14|
|US Billboard Hot 100||65||8|
On March 17, 1967, "Purple Haze" was released in the UK as the first single on Track Records.[a] Another Hendrix composition, the R&B-influenced "51st Anniversary" was included as the B-side. Paul McCartney, who was an early Hendrix supporter, gave the record an enthusiastic pre-release review in Melody Maker. The single entered the charts at number 39 on Record Mirror and at number 43 on Melody Maker. It peaked at number three and spent 14 weeks on the chart. During March 1967, several performances of "Purple Haze" were filmed to promote the song and used for television programs, such as Beat-Club, Dee Time, and Top of the Pops. Live performances were also broadcast on German NDR and BBC Radio's Saturday Club.
In the US, the song was paired with "The Wind Cries Mary" and released by Reprise Records on June 19, 1967, the day following the Experience's performance at the Monterey Pop Festival.[c] The single reached number 65 and spent eight weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. "Purple Haze" was included as the opening track on the American release of Are You Experienced on August 23, 1967. Because of the song's airplay on underground FM radio, the album became much more popular than Hendrix's singles.
As one of Hendrix's most popular songs, "Purple Haze" has appeared on numerous compilation albums over the years. Some of these include Smash Hits, The Essential Jimi Hendrix, The Singles Album, Kiss the Sky, Cornerstones: 1967–1970, The Ultimate Experience, Experience Hendrix: The Best of Jimi Hendrix, Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection, and The Singles Collection. An alternate version recorded at the same time, but with different vocal and guitar overdubs, is the first song on The Jimi Hendrix Experience 2000 box set. Live recordings of "Purple Haze" as performed by each of the different Hendrix lineups, the Experience, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, the Band of Gypsys, and the Cry of Love touring group, have been released. These appear on Winterland, Live at Woodstock, Live at the Fillmore East, Live at Berkeley, and several other live albums.
Recognition and influence
In March 2005, Q magazine ranked "Purple Haze" at number one in its list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Tracks Ever!" Rolling Stone magazine placed the song at number two on its list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time" and also at number 17 on the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list. In 1995, it was included as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". The song was given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2008, which "honor[s] recordings of lasting qualitative or historical significance".
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- Buena Vista Social Club from Rhythms del Mundo Classics
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- The Cure from Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix
- Dion single reached #72 in Canada in February 1969
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- When the Experience performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, underground chemist Owsley Stanley was present "freely handing out LSD to musicians backstage". Stanley colored his product purple; some had nicknamed it "purple haze" after Hendrix's song.
- The Reprise single release date is listed as June 19, 1967 by Shapiro and Shadwick; McDermott uses August 16, 1967, one week before the American release of Are You Experienced.
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