Sandy's Reviews > Electric Ladyland

Electric Ladyland by John Perry
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Aug 30, 11

Read in August, 2011

As I have said elsewhere, Continuum Publishing has a wonderful thing going with its 33 1/3 series of minibooks, each one a small treatise of sorts regarding one of the legendary rock/pop albums of the past 45 years. I had previously enjoyed Sean Nelson's book on Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark" (number 40 in the series, which series is now nudging toward the 100 mark), and decided to give number 8, John Perry's book on Jimi Hendrix' third album, "Electric Ladyland," a try. In a recent issue of "Mojo" magazine, this album was not only selected as one of the Top 40 psychedelic records of all time, but received the exalted No. 1 spot. ("Sgt. Pepper's," by the way, came in at No. 5.) A longtime personal favorite of mine, Hendrix' most ambitious recording has been blowing aging hippies' minds ever since its release in the autumn of 1968. Perry's book, to its credit, not only gives us a capsule biography of Hendrix, but recounts the author's experiences seeing him live in England (the lucky so-and-so!) and gives us a track-by-track analysis of all 16 songs on the record. Perry writes well, and his love and enthusiasm for his subject are both obvious and contagious.

I must admit that I, a fan of "Electric Ladyland" since its release 43 years ago (there are times when I honestly believe it to be the most imaginative, mind-blowing and orgasmic record ever made), learned an awful lot from Perry's work. Apparently a musician himself (he tells us that he "played the Trentishoe festival" in 1973, and has been involved in all kinds of studio work, but leaves his exact musical niche quite vague), Perry has a keen ear for detail, and points out facets of the music that this listener had never noticed before (such as Hendrix' piano accents at the 0:30 mark of "Crosstown Traffic"). I must also confess that much of what Perry discusses is a bit over my head. As a person who does NOT read musical notations or play an instrument, I found his numerous discussions of fingering technique, pentatonic scales and various chords a bit perplexing. Honestly, what is a NONmusician to make of this sentence: "The main sequence, in the key of A major, steps through C# minor 7, Bmin7, F# min7--and their respective relative majors"? These instances of musical technobabble aside, Perry's book should certainly please all fans of Jimi and his third great work. It has given me a deeper appreciation of this beloved piece of music, which I would not have thought possible after four-plus decades, even as it demystifies some of the legends surrounding its creation. It is certainly a worthwhile purchase for all fans (although, at $14.95 for a small 132-page book, an overpriced one, as are all the 33 1/3 volumes).

Having said this, I must also add that the book comes with a number of problems. Like "Court and Spark," this volume has its fair share of typos and faulty punctuation; a good copy editor really needs to be brought in for this series! Perry is often guilty of bad grammar, too, as when he writes "there's hardly a band from that era who weren't robbed blind," instead of "that wasn't." He also gets his facts wrong on occasion. For example, he tells us that he first saw Hendrix play at the Locarno club in Bristol on February 9, 1967, on a Monday night. Well, Hendrix did indeed play at the club on that date...except that that date was a Thursday. He talks about London's Marquee club on Wardour Street, but as far as I can make out, the Marquee was on Oxford Street; the Flamingo club was on Wardour. Perry mentions that on the song "Gypsy Eyes," the bass enters at the 0:28 mark; that should be 0:35. I could also have done without his gratuitous put-down of Grand Funk Railroad, a group that I feel has been needlessly maligned by critics who are largely unfamiliar with the band's 13 very solid studio albums. (Indeed, even Hendrix was a fan of Mark Farner; as the story goes, at a GFR concert at Madison Square Garden, Jimi was heard to have exclaimed, "Man, that guy can PLAY!") Quibbles aside, however, I am indebted to Perry for his loving, clear-eyed and (for the most part) lucid piece of work.

I would like to add one personal anecdote regarding "Electric Ladyland." During the last days of Tower Records, when I purchased the CD to replace my superworn vinyl, the young cashier girl asked me, "Who's Jimi Hendrix?" When I told her that he was a very popular guitarist in the '60s and had even played at the original Woodstock, she blithely asked, "What's Woodstock?" I just sighed, picked up my precious CD and walked out....
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