Last week Valleys of Neptune, a CD of previously unreleased Jimi Hendrix material, was released. And there’s been much fanfare and critical praise. Likewise, souped-up CDs of the three Jimi Hendrix Experience LPs—Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold As Love, and Electric Ladyland—were also released.
All this hullabaloo has got me thinking about my CD of Axis: Bold as Love (my favorite Jimi record). I got it in the spring of 1987, and it cost an arm and a leg. It was a Japanese import (Polydor P33P 25023, for those that care) and was the only version of Jimi’s sophomore LP available on CD. In other words, it hadn’t been released domestically.
I already had the album on vinyl, so I was very familiar with it, and it only took a few listens of my CD to notice several differences between the two versions. For example, on vinyl, “You Got Me Floatin’” begins with a 6 second, backwards guitar thingy, while the Japanese CD didn’t. And there were about a half dozen others, some major, some minor.
Understandably, given the way my mind works, this freaked me out; and with my barren high school social calendar, these differences prompted hours of headphone-wearing scrutiny.
In 1987, there wasn’t a wealth of Hendrix discography information—at least, I didn’t have it—so there was many questions on my part: Which version was the “right” one? How did this happen? Which was “better”? A few years later, when it came out on CD in the US, it was identical to the vinyl version, which made my Japanese CD all the more precious. 1
Twenty-three years—and three or four more remasters—later, I’ve yet to find that Japanese mix on any other CD. And with ten years of the internet behind us, I still can’t find any sensible explanation about why I have a version of Axis: Bold as Love that sounds different than everyone else’s. (My friend Bobby, who knows a shitload about Hendrix, helped me assemble some educated guesses, but it all seemed too confounding to include here.)
So for 23 years, I’ve had this, and now I’m going to share one special part of it today. In the great, great song “Little Wing,” the Japanese CD version has one extra guitar note, at the drum break at 1:04. A split second’s worth of guitar, that, frankly, sounds like a mistake—but, damnit, when I was in high school, that one note made me fall out of bed. It made me feel lucky. Special. Chosen.
Yet now is a time to share, and I hope there’s some teenager out there who gets his hands on his dad’s old CD of this album; then hears a different CD version; notices the difference; runs to his computer and Googles “Hendrix ‘Little Wing’ ‘extra guitar note’.” Because when he does, he’ll get an answer. (Admittedly, not the most encyclopedic one, but still…)
I welcome and encourage anyone who knows the story behind the various versions of Axis to please drop me a line. (All I’ve been able to find it the phrase “safe version,” but nothing else.)
BACK TO POST 1 You know what also made that Japanese CD precious? The lyric sheet, which was created in Japan–phonetically. That album has some pretty psychedelic lyrics, and this threw the folks at Polydor for a loop. For example, “I’m gonna wave my freak flag high,” became, “I’m gonna wave my big fat knife.” (Is that racist?) And the lyric “They overflow with cotton candy and battlegrounds red and brown,” became “They overflow with cotton candy and Pat O’Brien wearing brown”!