Jimi Hendrix & the Lost Note of “Little Wing”

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…)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Little Wing (1986 Japanese CD version, 2:27, right-click to download)

The Lost Note, as seen by my sound editing software


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”!

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17 Comments

Filed under Music, Plucked from Obscurity

17 responses to “Jimi Hendrix & the Lost Note of “Little Wing”

  1. illy c

    weird. That would’ve freaked me out too. It does sound like a mistake. Maybe the japanese were handed an unfinished mix of the album, between that extra note and the missing backwards intro. It’s all worthwhile for the japanese lyric sheet.

    Meanwhile, not sure how I feel about all the post-Jimi Jimi albums, unless its live material. For the record, my kid still listens to Hendrix on vinyl!

  2. I love the phonetic lyrics! Man, I wonder what the Japanese lyric sheet would look like for “Purple Haze.” 😉

  3. Jansen

    Yeah baby,
    Axis was my favorite Jimi album. Guess it still is. I know it backwards and forwards from many aimless burned out drives through the suburban night in my VW bug. I had it on vinyl and transferred to tape. Got a lot of play. I don’t think I’ve ever had it on Cd.
    To this day I still don’t think I’ve ever been able to match the audio warmth and beauty of fresh vinyl transferred to a high quality cassette, I would basically only bust out the vinyl to make recordings in an effort to preserve the vinyl. My dad had some absurdly expensive Phillips turntable and a Nakamichi Cassette deck.
    I forget what year Hendrix’s estate finally reverted back to his family, but they’ve done nothing but great stuff since. They’ve taken great pains to preserve his legacy and be true to the original material. ( I think they call themselves Experience Hendrix) About ten years ago they released an interesting album called “First rays of the new rising Sun” Which was an album he was working on at the time of his death. Many of the tracks were later released released on other albums.
    They Put em back in the intended order and got all the original players and engineers together to “finish” as best they could the tracks that weren’t completely done. It’s a great album.
    Those japanese lyrics are hysterical. Makes me think of trying to read Chinese (badly translated) instructions for all the various knock of electronics I end up using at work.
    I’m sure those missing parts and that extra note are simple screw ups..But i love the mystery it created for you. sadly, I completely understand when you say “barren social calendar”. I’m sure that’s something many of us Purchase alums have in common..

    • You said a mouthful, Jansen. Driving and Jimi is a marriage made in heaven. And since I got into him before the days of CD players in cars, then, yes, it goes without saying that those cassettes of Jimi were very important.

  4. illy c

    ah yes, the cassette… actually, my intro to Jimi was on a cassette a friend of a friend made for me, with a whole bunch of different songs on it, from the Experience albums to New Rising Sun. I still have that cassette, it’s about 25 years old. (older, because I think he taped over something else that was on it). In fact, I don’t know if I ended up screening my freshman film to “New Rising Sun”, but I certainly edited to it. Come to think of it, although I never made titles, I think I called the film “New Rising Sun”. Funny.

    • Y’know, since the post was getting to be so wordy, I didn’t include anything about my Jimi cassettes. But, yes, a good friend put Are You Experienced? on Side A, and Axis on Side B, and that was a Perfect Tape. I distinctly remember getting a TDK Metal tape–the really expensive kind–since it was going to be a special tape.

  5. Dig, brother. Well you know…those cats in Tokyo, they got their scene all together with their kimonos and fish music, raw fish music you dig, heh heh! At the mixing shrine you know. And the woman walks in with chopsticks in her hair and a smile that cascades like a little waterfall down the sliders, you know. And the cat at the board knows the score. And so dig, these two beautiful cats get it together, the little wings flapping away, and at the moment where she is in her high place, she cries out “Omikuji” and his head falls back and hits a button. And a little magic spell goes through the wires and squires and drops a little blessing in the mix. And one day a gangly brother with activated ganglions will open it up in his ear goggles and get the message in his membranes and cellophanes.

  6. The subject is fully clear but why does the text lack clarity? But in general your blog is great.

  7. Ross

    Wow!! I remember u sharing this with me in 1987. Not so much the differences, but the tonal quality of the CD itself. I think I have a cassette copy around here somewhere. U were the only one I knew with a surround channel setup!! Classic album. Great find.

  8. biz

    I have been on a Hendrix kick lately and I stumbled on this blog.

    I have a similar version of Axis Bold As Love and I always knew it was unusual because of that funny note in Little Wing. It was also unusual in the U.S. because it was Polydor and not Reprise or MCA. My version says it was made in West Germany and says “pol 899”. It doesn’t include any lyrics inside.

    I actually don’t know the full story of this cd because my friend gave it to me. It was actually his brother’s, so in a way he stole it and gave it to me, so i guess that makes me a knowing accomplice to the crime. I had always intended to return it, but it quickly became my favorite cd and I was never able to let go of it. Seriously, I think I started playing guitar shortly after I started listening to that cd, so it had a bit of an influence on me.

  9. Will B

    Hah. A friend at work had this Japanese CD version of Axis at work. He offered to loan it to me and I should have copied it but since I already had it on CD I passed. I do have a CD-R of the 1989 Japanese CD version but never listened that closely.
    My friend commented on the lyric sheet and remarks on the back cover that said something like Jimi plays guitar and tries to sing.

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