THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE: Are You Experienced I love Jimi Hendrix. Even the stuff cobbled together from old demos and session musicians. So it’s difficult just to pick one. But if I had to pick one it would be this one. Psychedelic experimentation, mutant blues and more than a nod to soul. A fusion of styles that would influence musicians the world over, irrespective of background or race. From the resonating vibrato opening of Foxy Lady you know this is a different proposition although this is now what people would consider typical Hendrix guitar pyrotechnics. Manic Depression is an underrated gem with Mitch Mitchell’s jazz drumming interlacing guitar and bass. Red House is Hendrix at his bluesiest, while Can You See Me and Remember reference his R&B roots but the rest of the album is unlike anything that has gone before. Every track has something to recommend it, from the mutant blues of I Don’t Live Today to the epic space trip of 3rd Rock From The Sun, showing Hendrix at his most imaginative where an alien visitor apparently judges mankind unfit to rule the planet and wipes them out in favour of the chickens. The album reaches a fitting conclusion with the title track; a manifesto for the age the like of which no-one has heard before. Truly brilliant!
PINK FLOYD: Piper At The Gates Of Dawn A bit of a hotchpotch to be brutally honest – but an enjoyable one. There are the remains of R&B workouts, morphing into full-on psychedelic freak-outs, edited versions of the sprawling soundscapes that featured in the live set and fairytale sing-songs harking back to an idealised childhood. Listened to in the right setting it can leave you with a mind like a shattered mirror. It would have been interesting to see what might have been had Syd Barrett been able to continue, A Saucerful Of Secrets has a darker, more brooding air that would have been complimented by Barrett tracks like Vegetable Man and Scream Thy Last Scream. Then it might have just pipped the Piper.
CREAM: Disraeli Gears Despite (or maybe, as a result of) its chaotic creation, this album produced the genius that had been missing rom Fresh Cream. For this album the band moved further from their blues roots and took on a heavier more psychedelic feel. Somewhere among all the tensions created by management’s pushing of Clapton to centre stage and some very hands on production a classic album was created. Before you even get to play the album, Martin Sharp’s cover lets you know what territory you are moving into. Sharp’s contribution to Tales Of Brave Ulysses is another high point. The production gives many of the tracks, including Ulysses and Sunshine Of Your Love an extraordinary denseness that overwhelms the senses which is counterposed by the fragile yet powerful beauty of We’re Going Wrong, which would not have been out of place on a Jefferson Airplane album. There is still more than a nod to the blues, the album opens with aptly named Strange Brew, an excellent version of Blind Joe Reynolds Outside Woman Blues, Ginger Baker’s rolling Blue Condition and Jack Bruce’s R&B stomper, Take It Back. However, maybe as a two-fingered salute to the perceived interference of the record company, the album closes with a very English, music hall encore, Mother’s Lament. Kind of shambolic but also brilliant – which kind of sums up the album.
JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: Crown Of Creation I could have picked almost any studio album by Jefferson Airplane from the folky debut, the transitional Surrealistic Pillow, the experimental After Bathing At Baxters or the overlooked later albums Bark or Long John Silver. But I feel Crown Of Creation shows them at their creative and confrontational best. Lather the opening tack confronts attitudes to non-conformity and mental illness, Triad deals with a polygamous relationship, Chushingura is as experimental as anything they ever released, while the title track is a call to revolution and The House At Pooneil Corners an eviscerating attack on war. There’s much to recommend the other albums they produced, if you want to hear them at their best you could do a lot worse than listen to this.
THE PRETTY THINGS: S.F. Sorrow Reputedly the first concept album – but not the work of sprawling self-indulgence that the genre became notorious for. It manages to take you through the life of the title character in around 40 minutes. Shades of light and dark permeate this most creative of all the Pretty Things albums. The recent remaster also features the singles Defecting Grey and Talkin’ About The Good Times.
LOVE: Forever Changes I never tire of listening to this album. Deceptively beautiful but also thought-provoking and barbed, betraying the turmoil in which it was made. Another album that had limited impact on its release but that has inspired generations since.
THE INCREDIBLE STING BAND: The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter It really is difficult to know what to say about this most psychedelic of all psychedelic folk albums. The childlike wonder of Koeeoaddi There, the surreal humour of The Minotaur’s Song, the sprawling, mystical and mind-expanding Three Is a Green Crown and the spiralling complexity A Very Cellular Song. This album surprises, and delights at every turn.
FAIRPORT CONVENTION: Liege & Leif Can I choose between this and Unhalfbricking? Only with difficulty (and probably inconsistency). Of course there is their mighty version of Tam Lin – but is that any greater than A Sailor’s Life on Unhalfbricking? It is probably the level of consistency on this album that elevates it from its predecessor. The British folk element was more to the fore on this album with the 60s West Coast influence fading and a number of traditional songs being added to the band’s own compositions. Probably the strongest of their many line-ups are all on top form, Sandy Deny’s vocals, as ever, are hauntingly beautiful, particularly on the likes of Renardine and The Deserter, Crazy Man Michael and the aforementioned Tam Lin, where her range and power are clearly evident. Meanwhile Thompson, Hutchings, Swarbrick, Nicol and Mattacks are equally adept at matching Denny’s fragile beauty or letting rip with the traditional Medley and the class war, sex and violence of Matty Groves.