The appeal of classic rock runs deep in many listeners. Powerful rock musicians like Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison brought guitar music to the youth of America and the world. In a time that was filled with prolific rockers, Jimi Hendrix, with his obvious talent and unrelenting stage presence, set the tone for an era of music. The best Jimi Hendrix songs are loaded with rattling guitar riffs and explosive rhythm, true to the artist’s style.
James Marshall Hendrix was born in 1942, and the turbulent war-plagued decades that followed would shape him as a musician. What makes his legacy all the more interesting is that the great majority of his cultural popularity and impact took place over a relatively short period of time from 1966 until his sudden passing in 1970. During that frenzied four-year period, Hendrix managed not only to capture the national zeitgeist, but also to make an indelible impact in music history. His music was groundbreaking and utterly original in its presentation of guitar riffs.
For those who experience the music of Jimi Hendrix, it can offer a window into the past. His sound, lyrics, and especially stage presence were undoubtedly influenced by the turmoil of the decades in which he lived. Hendrix served in the U.S. Military for one year before receiving a general honorable discharge in 1962. This event would mark his transition to full-time musician as he traveled the nation and dabbled in his first recordings. By the fall of 1966, Jimi Hendrix would begin to emerge as an international guitar hero.
When considering the music of Jimi Hendrix, there are numerous great tracks and performances. Our list of the top five best Jimi Hendrix songs is based on data from our trusted sources. Let us know your favorite Hendrix tunes in the comments below!
The List: Best Jimi Hendrix Songs, According to Music Experts
1. “Purple Haze” (1967)
Hendrix fans all have their personal favorite tracks, but “Purple Haze” has transcended Hendrix to become legendary in its own right as one of the greatest rock tracks of all time. “The chances are that very few people will entirely agree with our list. In fact, we would hope they didn’t. But we think it’s pretty set in stone that the archetypal Hendrix tune simply has to be ‘Purple Haze’… It has all the finer threads of what makes Hendrix a guitar genius, the shining silk of Eastern modalities, the sturdy and colourful blues mix, and rendered beauty of the sound processing,” raves Far Out.
On this day in 1967, Jimi Hendrix releases Purple Haze. pic.twitter.com/k21IcAGkp4
— Monsters Of Rock® (@MonstersOfRock) March 17, 2023
Easily the most recognizable and potentially iconic track that Hendrix ever recorded, Purple Haze is a pulse-pounding rock track where Hendrix emotes through his guitar. “This will always be the definitive Hendrix song. Recorded in early 1967, ‘Purple Haze’ contains all the elements of Jimi that blew minds back in the day and it set rock music on a whole new path. The diminished intro riff, the heavy blues-informed licks, the octave pedal solo, and psychedelic lyrics are all hallmarks of Jimi’s style. Powered by the rhythm section of Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, it became a game-changer for everyone who heard it,” says Rock & Blues Muse.
“‘Purple Haze’ is one of Jimi Hendrix’s definitive statements. It’s(sic) deceptively simple but iconic guitar riff are as legendary as its perfectly psychedelic lyrics. ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky’ is one of the definitive lines both of Hendrix’s career and of the 1960s itself. Many incorrectly think ‘Purple Haze’ is about drugs, but its author always claimed that it had a deeper, more spiritual significance,” praises Music in Minnesota.com.
2. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” (1968)
Hendrix has two nearly identical tracks named “Voodoo Chile” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” What follows is an explanation of how this came to be and why the latter is considered one of Hendrix’s greatest: “The song began its life shortly after they cut the 15-minute-long ‘Voodoo Chile.’ A film crew came to the studio to record the band working the day after that marathon session and they didn’t feel like playing the finished track again, so they improvised around some of the same images and guitar lines and came up with ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return),’ which is essentially a ‘slight return’ to ‘Voodoo Chile.’ (The near-identical names of the two songs have confused fans for decades.),” expounds Rolling Stone.
Jimi Hendrix in San Francisco, 1968. Photo by Robert M. Knight pic.twitter.com/Vi4RbgaBiq
— Classic Rock In Pics (@crockpics) June 4, 2022
This song is an example of Hendrix’s signature style. “One of the great all-time guitar riffs opens ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’, Hendrix using a wah-wah pedal to psychedelicize the Delta blues… The original jam featured Mitchell and Hendrix along with Jack Casady on bass and Steve Winwood on keyboards. The Experience recorded ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ the next morning,” adds Aphoristic Album Reviews
Like many of Hendrix’s songs, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” was so impactful that it found a second life in 1983 with Stevie Ray Vaughn’s famous cover. “From ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ to ‘Foxy Lady,’ these songs have been covered by everyone under the sun. Even [Bob] Dylan himself, after once hearing Jimi’s rendition of ‘All Along the Watchtower,’ reverted to playing it in [Hendrix’s] electric fashion,” offers Aphoristic Album Reviews.
3. “Little Wing” (1967)
Nearly every Hendrix track has an instantly recognizable opening, and “Little Wing” is an example of this. “Nailing the intro to ‘Little Wing’ is the guitar equivalent of reaching the summit of Mount Everest — you better document it or no one will believe you. The solo is a subtle show of virtuosity: built as much on rhythm as melody, sloppy in that classic Hendrix style. And it introduces the songwriter’s ultimate tune, a melancholy psych-soul daydream in which the protagonist strolls through the clouds ‘with a circus mind that’s running wild,’” says UCR.
— Peter Parcek (@peterparcek) July 2, 2021
As mentioned before, Hendrix has the unique musical ability to emote through his guitar. “Hendrix’s mastery shines through this piece as he conveys complex emotions with just the right balance of lightness and depth. The solo highlights both the guitar’s beauty and potential for intense expression. For those unfamiliar with Hendrix’s style, this track is an excellent introduction. The song’s lyrics illustrate Hendrix’s thoughts on love being more than just a physical reality; it’s[sic] transcendent and ethereal nature – something soaring high above us all. This track shows how Jimi was not only a musical genius but also an extraordinary songwriter,” gushes Singer’s Room.
“Little Wing is one of Hendrix’s best-loved songs, but this rendering live at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969 trounces the studio version. The vocals are more tender, the improvised outro is exquisite, and even the groaning open note dragged by a whammy bar mid-solo takes your breath away… The song was inspired by the warm collective buzz Hendrix felt after attending the Monterey Pop festival, where he famously set his Stratocaster alight at the conclusion of Wild Thing. ‘I got the idea when we were in Monterey and I was just looking at everything,’ he said. ‘So I figured that I take everything I see around and put it in the form of a girl maybe, and call it Little Wing, and then it will just fly away,’” details The Guardian.
4. “51st Anniversary” (1967)
This song was originally released as a B-side to “Purple Haze” but over time has grown to be considered a richly detailed hit. “The song continues a theme already explored – albeit somewhat gracelessly – in Stone Free, about Hendrix’s fear of commitment. He did err into misogyny now and again, though 51st Anniversary lays out a balanced case for and against marriage, envisioning the gold, pearl, china and tin anniversaries, and vivid recollections of the cheatin’ third, where nobody gets any presents,” posits The Guardian.
On May 1, 1967 The Jimi Hendrix Experience's debut release in the USA came in the form of the 7" single "Hey Joe" b/w "51st Anniversary"#JimiHendrix #HeyJoe #51stAnniversary #debut #vinyl pic.twitter.com/OSohte3X3G
— Jimi Hendrix (@JimiHendrix) May 1, 2022
So much of Hendrix comes through in his lyrical prose. “The song was a bit unusual for the time – over a chugging riff, Jimi sings of loving couples who have been together for twenty, thirty and even fifty years. But before it turns too sentimental, he also sings about couples experiencing problems ten, and even three, years into their marriages. He concludes that marriage isn’t for him; at least, not now,” explains WROR.
Hendrix is a storyteller whose medium is his guitar. “There is a certain subtlety to this track that makes it stand out. All of the guitarist’s songs were imbued with a sense of story but ‘51st Anniversary’ is perhaps the most easily attainable one as he details the moving relationship. Of course, the entire song is powered by Hendrix’s guitar and his sonic style is in full effect,” adds Far Out.
5. “Manic Depression” (1967)
This track is a showcase of Hendrix’s deep understanding of music theory. “The 9/8 jazz shuffle of Manic Depression is a rare time signature for a pop song, but it swings along at a fierce pace, led majestically from the back by Mitchell. If Hendrix was Chandler’s secret weapon, then Mitch Mitchell was Hendrix’s. Hendrix’s lyric is less an exploration of mental illness than a despairing ode to difficult relationships and a desire to form a physical bond with the elusive music itself,” states The Guardian.
— FIP en direct (@FipNowPlays) April 14, 2023
Matching lyrical content with musical arrangement is where Hendrix shines brightest. “The ascending and descending guitar riff mirrors mood swings, and was perfect for the song. The lyrics note that music is helpful in coping with depression, but it’s not a cure: ‘Music, sweet music/I wish I could caress, caress, caress/Manic depression is a frustrating mess!’” exclaims WROR.
Speaking of the creation and performance of the song, “Mitch Mitchell’s chaotic jazz-rock cymbal groove is the engine of ‘Manic Depression,’ a sizzling, soul-searching highlight from the band’s debut LP. ‘I’m just like any other drummer. I stole things from other drummers I could think of,’ the percussionist told Drum Magazine in 2012,” writes UCR.
You might also be interested in:
- The Guardian
- Far Out
- Rolling Stone
- Rock & Blues Muse
- Music in Minnesota.com
- Aphoristic Album Reviews
- Singer’s Room
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