Recently I was listening to “Are You Experienced” by Jimi Hendrix and observed that the droning note in the song is utterly mesmerizing.
A drone is when a single note or chord is sounded continuously throughout a piece of music. It is popular in Indian music and with Scottish bagpipes.
After hearing “Are You Experienced” I began to think about other Rock music songs that employ the technique. There are many songs with Indian Raga influences that came to mind, like “See My Friends” by the Kinks, and a few tracks by the Beatles and the Byrds. But I was fixated on songs with more prominent, single note drones.
One that came to mind was “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground. Listen to how John Cale uses his viola, varying his attack to enhance the song’s emotion.
VU’s “Venus in Furs”, from the same album, also fits the bill.
Another is the Johnny Cash version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” The piano drone in the choruses provides the tension that drives the song.
Jimi Hendrix is well known as the GOAT of rock guitarists. And I don’t disagree with that. But I will argue that he was much more. He was a total artist that had insights and sensitivities that he expressed through his lyrics.
One of the best examples is “Castles Made of Sand” from Axis: Bold as Love (1967).
(Sorry, no full Hendrix version on YouTube!)
“Castles…” is one of Hendrix’s most biographical compositions. Verse 1 describes the turmoil that led to his mother’s and father’s divorce.
Down the street you can hear her scream you’re a disgrace As she slams the door in his drunken face And now he stands outside And all the neighbors start to gossip and drool He cries oh, girl you must be mad, What happened to the sweet love you and me had? Against the door he leans and starts a scene, And his tears fall and burn the garden green
Verse 2 is about his brother Leon, who was often in and out of foster care and separated from Jimi. The “little Indian” reference comes from his maternal grandmother who was half Cherokee, making Jimi and his siblings part Native American.
A little Indian brave who before he was ten, Played war games in the woods with his Indian friends And he built up a dream that when he grew up He would be a fearless warrior Indian Chief Many moons passed and more the dream grew strong until Tomorrow he would sing his first war song and fight his first battle
But something went wrong, surprise attack killed him in his sleep that night
The familial distress of the first two verses is redeemed in the final verse where a suicidal girl in a wheelchair sees a “golden winged ship” and is inspired to have a change of heart and not go through with it.
There was a young girl, who’s heart was a frown Cause she was crippled for life, And she couldn’t speak a sound And she wished and prayed she could stop living, So she decided to die She drew her wheelchair to the edge of the shore And to her legs she smiled you won’t hurt me no more But then a sight she’d never seen made her jump and say Look a golden winged ship is passing my way
And it really didn’t have to stop, it just kept on going…
And so castles made of sand slip into the sea, eventually
The imagery of sandcastles slipping into the sea is an apropos metaphor for the fragility and impermanence of the relationships in Hendrix’s youth.
The music by Hendrix and his band – bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell – perfectly support the sentiments expressed in the lyrics.
So was Hendrix more than just a great guitarist? I vote yes!
I’m back! That is, I’m back with the next installment of my series on rock music in films. You would be on solid ground if you assumed the series was completed since my last post on the subject was back in August. That essay covered soundtracks written by Rock artists. This one covers soundtracks that use a compilation of songs by Rock artists as the soundtrack.
The granddaddy of them all is the soundtrack to Easy Rider (1969). It included cuts by a who’s who of counter-culture acts including Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds, and The Electric Prunes (yes, that was really the name of a band!). The movie also used “The Weight” by The Band, but ABC/Dunhill couldn’t license their recording for the record, so a cover by Smith was used as a replacement.
I’m going with Hendrix – “If 6 Was 9.”
In 1973, George Lucas released the classic film, American Graffiti. The movie starred Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Mackenzie Phillips, and a very young Harrison Ford. Suzanne Somers also appears as “the blond in the T-Bird.”
The ‘50s nostalgia story had a soundtrack that was consistent with the era. (It was also the inspiration for the TV sitcom “Happy Days”, also starring Howard.) The “oldies” format used recordings mostly released between 1955 and 1962 and were heavy on the doo-wop. It seems weird to me that this collection of songs was considered “oldies” when the oldest one was released only 18 years before the film’s debut. (Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was released almost 18 years ago, so I guess that’s an “oldie” now.)
One key difference of the American Graffiti soundtrack is that it was used as diegetic music – that’s music that the characters are presumed to be hearing themselves as part of the scenes.
One of my favorite songs in the movie is “Since I Don’t Have You” by The Skyliners (1959).
In his 1989 book The Heart of Rock and Soul – 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, music critic Dave Marsh slotted “SIDHY” at #36. Guns N’ Roses brought the song into the ‘90s with an excellent cover version.
Two other important Rock soundtracks were released in 1983 — The Big Chill and Dazed and Confused.
The Big Chill takes place in the early ‘80s when a group of friends that attend the University of Michigan together reunites for the funeral of their friend. Appropriately, the soundtrack skews towards ‘60s soul and Motown. The song that I always enjoy hearing is the “deep cut” “Tell Him” by the Exciters (1963).
The soundtrack for Dazed and Confused is something entirely different. This film about high school life is set in Texas, 1976. The music leans toward the hard rock of the day, and every track is a winner. I’m going with Edgar Winter’s “Free Ride.”
Another great Rock soundtrack was compiled for the movie Almost Famous (2000) and was rewarded with a Grammy award to prove it! The Cameron Crowe film’s plot centers around a young (15-year-old) Rock journalist that goes on the road with a (fictional) band – Stillwater – to get a scoop for Rolling Stone. One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is when everyone on the tour bus spontaneously starts singing along to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”
Of course, there are many more great compilation soundtracks. In the 2000s, soundtracks were often used to help launch the careers of obscure bands. But that’s the subject for a later installment of Rock Music in Films.
Guitar Slim cut a record for the Specialty label in 1953 that would play a significant role in the history of rock & roll – not only for the singular performance but also for the impact it would have on future artists. The track was produced by a then 23-year-old Ray Charles!
Slim applied his trademark distortion on “The Things That I Used to Do,” an effect that influenced guitarist legends. You can connect his sound to guitarists from bluesmen Buddy Guy and Albert Collins to iconoclast Frank Zappa. Hendrix, Johnny Winter, and Stevie Ray Vaughn recorded versions of Slim’s standard as did Elvin Bishop, Ike & Tina Turner, and countless others.
This Hendrix recording was released on the
2018 album Both Sides of the Sky. It was cut at a session that featured Winter joining
Hendrix on a second guitar, Billy Cox on bass and Dallas Taylor (who was
playing with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the time) on drums.
“The Things That I Used to Do” was voted
as one of the 500 that shaped the rock genre by former Rock & Roll Hall of
Fame curator, James Henke.
Stephen Stills had a pretty good career going by the end of 1968. He’s already scored a hit with “For What It’s Worth” and several critically acclaimed albums with the Buffalo Springfield and recorded the Super Session with Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield.
But it wasn’t until he teamed up with David Crosby and Graham Nash that he really broke through to super stardom with the release of Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1969 and Déjà vu with Neil Young joining in 1970.
By November of ’70, Stills was already trading on his brand with his first solo album, Stephen Stills. It’s a good, but not great album and contained another of his hits – the gospel infused “Love the One You’re With.” The album also holds the distinction of being the only album that both Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix play on (though not together).
Hendrix contributed to today’s SotW, “Old Times Good Times.”
The song’s lyrics trace from Stills’ youthful days in New Orleans through to his time in New York City and later California.
When I was young and needed my time alone
Jump in the pirogue, pole down the Bayou
Bogue Falaya river was dark and cold
Seven years old, I couldn’t find my way home
When I was twelve, I learned how to play the guitar Got myself a job in a jax beer bar Got myself together, went to New Orleans Found myself workin’ for rice and beans And it was good times
New York city was so damned cold I had to get out of that town before I got old California and rock and roll dream Got too high and we blew our whole scene But we had a good time
Old times, good times
Old times, good times
It’s a rocker that follows the template drawn up with songs such as the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man.” It’s a vehicle for an R&B jam session, albeit a very short one. It chugs along with Stills on organ and Hendrix on guitar trading riffs most of the way through.
I don’t know the exact date of recording session for this song, but the album was recorded in June/July 1970. Hendrix died a couple of months later on September 18th, 1970, making this one of his last sessions. (Stills dedicated the album to Hendrix on its back cover.) Too bad, I would have liked to hear them work together again, perhaps with both on guitar another time. Sadly that’s wasn’t to be. But at least we have “Old Times Good Times.”