This summer has been a nice time to look back on Jimi Hendrix. 2017 doesn’t mark any specific milestone with regard to the artist’s all-too-short life, but it feels like some kind of anniversary, for those who might be paying attention. That’s in large part because Seattle’s somewhat infamous Jimi Hendrix Park finally opened to the public, more than a decade after it was first planned. Because it was initially meant to open in 2011 (commemorating what would have been Hendrix’s 70th birthday), its unveiling still felt like an important mark.
Thinking about that this summer, it’s hard not to get some of the legendary guitarist’s tunes running through your head. For my money, diving back into Hendrix is more fun than checking out most any other classic artist. There’s just something more fun than you remembered about his music every time. In the spirit of that fun here are one writer’s picks for the five most iconic hits from Hendrix’s mind-blowing arsenal.
5. “The Star-Spangled Banner”
I’m keeping this one at number five because it’s neither a Hendrix song nor an album track. In fact it’s not close to being either. But the story of Hendrix’s rendition of the national anthem might just be the most legendary tale from his career. There are some misconceptions about it, like that he played to a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, or that he woke up Woodstock with the performance. But even if those aspects of the story are myth, the real performance was a great moment in American musical history. For my money, that makes this one of his most legendary songs.
4. “Little Wing”
It’s not as long or explosive as some of the other hits by the one-of-a-kind artist. But it’s very distinct, very different, and usually marked down as one of the best he ever recorded. Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan have put out their own versions of the song over the years, but it’s still the Hendrix one that most people know and love.
3. “All Along The Watchtower”
Many people’s favorite Hendrix song, this one has been all over pop culture for decades. It’s been covered by several prominent bands, and featured in movies like Forrest Gump, A Bronx Tale, and Watchmen. It even has a place in online gaming. One gaming site boasting over 400 desktop games including several involving classic rock has an entire Hendrix-themed slot reel. It features this among other tracks in its background. All in all, this might be considered the most iconic Hendrix song, if only he’d written it. That honor goes to Bob Dylan, but the Hendrix version has carved out a place in rock history all on its own.
This won’t make it onto everyone’s list of best Hendrix songs, but it’s definitely stood the time as one of the most recognizable and iconic. Pretty much everyone knows the lyric “let me stand next to your fire,” and the message of the song—sexual, expressive, free and soulful—has grasped a number of artists over the years. It’s been covered like the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Alice Cooper, and even features in a famous scene from Lords Of Dogtown, a movie about the pioneers of modern skateboarding (not exactly a culture one naturally associates with Hendrix, but an oddly perfect fit).
1. “Purple Haze”
I’d love to come up with an inventive pick for the top spot, but there’s just not much arguing with “Purple Haze.” Time Out ranked it as the best classic rock song of all time, and probably put it about the best way possible: there are famous riffs, and then there’s “Purple Haze.” The same description went on to muse that Hendrix played the song with so much “panache” it seemed as if he really could excuse himself to kiss the sky. That notion is all the more powerful so many years later, when we know that Hendrix would depart our world at the very height of his powers.