50 Years Ago: Jimi Hendrix Goes Out There on ‘Axis: Bold as Love’
With Axis: Bold as Love, the Jimi Hendrix Experience further explored the outer limits of psychedelic music. But where their debut album, Are You Experienced, explored the territory via rock and blues, Axis: Bold as Love incorporated sounds from all over the stratosphere: jazz, lounge, pop, R&B, outer space. It’s Hendrix’s most complex album and the middle chapter of his essential trilogy of LPs.
After the success of his debut album, Hendrix was under contract to deliver another record before 1967 ended. So he, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding quickly headed into the studio with producer Chas Chandler and recorded more than a dozen songs that were part Experience expansions and part aural experiments.
Axis: Bold as Love starts with a rambling discourse on extraterrestrials, and it only gets weirder from there. On Are You Experienced, Hendrix took the guitar to places it never ventured before; those faraway spots are even less recognizable on Axis. It’s truly a revolutionary record, both Hendrix’s most focused and scattered.
There are some great songs here: "Spanish Castle Magic," "If 6 Was 9," "Castles Made of Sand," "Bold As Love" and especially the ballad "Little Wing." But Axis: Bold as Love is just as much about the architecture of the recordings. More so than any other Hendrix record (or anyone else’s, for that matter), Axis delivers a headphone listen designed to blow minds.
The album reached No. 3 – a better showing than the debut (which made it to No. 5) but not Electric Ladyland, released in 1968 and Hendrix’s only No. 1. One single was released from the album, the jazzy "Up From the Skies," which stopped at No. 82.
But Axis: Bold as Love was designed to be taken in all at once. It’s not a collection of songs like Are You Experienced and, to a lesser extent, Electric Ladyland. It’s a masterful work that comes together as a singular piece, built on theme and tone. It’s difficult at times, but rewarding. It’s bold. And it’s beautiful.