Linda McCartney’s image of the Jimi Hendrix Experience with some kids in Central Park was Jimi’s prefered image for the cover of ‘Electric Ladyland’
Although he was, during his brief and meteoric career, the highest paid live performer in the world, when it came to his album covers, Jimi Hendrix got no respect from his record labels.
First there was the dull UK cover for Are You Experienced designed by Chris Stamp, with a photo by Bruce Fleming and psychedelic lettering by Alan Aldridge. You’d think with a trio like that, and with a trio of such wild-looking subjects, for a stellar result, but no, the original UK album cover of Are You Experienced was a dud. Jimi didn’t like it at all, and for the US release, hired fashion photographer Karl Ferris (a close associate of The Fool) to shoot the band with a fisheye lens and infrared film for the iconic psychedelic cover most associated with the album.
UK vs. US art
And then there was the cover for Axis: Bold As Love. Roger Law made a painting of the band based on a photo-portrait from Karl Ferris and that image was superimposed over a mass-produced religious poster. Hendrix and the Experience were depicted as incarnations of Vishnu something many Hindus found insulting. Hendrix hated it, feeling that its appropriation of Hindu symbolism was “disrespectful” and questioning why his own Native American heritage did not supply the motif. An exasperated Jimi told the press that “the three of us have nothing to do with what’s on the Axis cover.” (It’s worth noting that this cover art is still banned in Malaysia.)
The ‘Axis’ cover Hendrix felt was “disrespectful.”
But the worst was yet to come. Around the time of his final masterpiece Electric Ladyland, Hendrix sent a very specific handwritten letter, with several drawings, to his American label Reprise Records describing EXACTLY what he wanted for its album cover. He requested a shot by his friend photographer Linda Eastman, who would marry Paul McCartney the following year. Eastman’s portrait was of the band with some children on José de Creeft’s famous Alice in Wonderland sculpture in New York’s Central Park.
Here are the pictures we would like for you to use anywhere on the L.P. cover - preferably inside and back, without the white frames around some of the B/W ones, and with most of them next to each other in different sizes and mixing the color prints at different points, for instance.
Please use cover picture with us and the kids on the statue for front or BACK COVER (OUTSIDE COVER) and the other back or front side, (outside cover) Please use three good pictures of us in B/W or color.
We would like to make an apology for taking so very long to send this but we have been working very hard indeed, doing shows AND recording.
And please send the pictures back to
Jimi Hendrix Personal & Private
c/o Jeffrey & Chandler
27 EAST 37th ST. N.Y. N.Y.
After you finish with them.
Please, if you can, find a nice place and lettering for the few words I wrote named… “Letter of the room full of mirrors.” on the L.P. cover.
The sketch on the other page is a rough idea of course…But please use ALL the pictures and the words - Any other drastic change from these directions would not be appropriate according to the music and our group’s present stage - And the music is most important. And we have enough personal problems without having to worry about this simple yet effective layout.
Reprise simply ignored these direct requests from the artist and used instead a solarized Karl Ferris photo taken in 1967. Track Records, Hendrix’s U.K. label, did even worse, using a David Montgomery photo depicting nineteen naked ladies!
The scandalous naked ladies UK cover image for ‘Electric Ladyland’ by David Montgomery
After expressing initial disgruntlement, Hendrix told Melody Maker in November 1968 that he hadn’t been informed about Track’s plans for the UK album cover:
“I didn’t know a thing about the English sleeve. Still, you know me, I dug it anyway. Except I think it’s sad the way the photographer made the girls look ugly. Some of them are nice looking chicks, but the photographer distorted the photograph with a fish-eye lens or something. That’s mean. It made the girls look bad. But it’s not my fault.”
Considering how very specific he had been, and the number of time that he’d seen his wishes brushed aside, that’s a pretty magnanimus reaction.
Which brings me to the brand new INSANE 5.1 remix of Electric Ladyland, which has Jimi’s preferred cover image restored to the cover. But first a slight digression…
If you ask a self-described “audiophile”—at least the more “old school” types—what they think about listening to music in 5.1 surround, you’ll often get a negative reaction. “I don’t have five ears” or “sound reflects off every wall, the ceiling and the floor, you don’t need it” or something along those lines. Many feel that classic rock albums are musical masterpieces that should not be messed with under any circumstances. Others object that a 5.1 surround system is optimized for movie explosions and car crashes, not music.
All valid opinions, but I personally very much enjoy hearing an album that I have long loved with fresh ears. Even something you’re totally overly familiar becomes new again remixed for surround. The way that I try to explain it—because most (sane) people have never thought about, or cannot easily listen to, music in 5.1 surround—is to ask someone to imagine what “Bohemian Rhapsody” would sound like with each voice being able to clear its throat in its very own speaker. Another way is to compare a song like “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” in its stereo and 5.1 surround mixes. It’s magnificent either way, but the difference would be that of say, viewing a circus that’s right in front of you (like on a TV screen) vs. sitting in the midst of an actual circus. That’s not an insignificant difference.
We’ve progressed from mono, which can often sound a bit cramped, to stereo imaging and its wider soundstage and now to immersive 5.1 surround. It’s still a niche marketplace, although one that’s always growing. A properly set up two-channel system (try dividing your listening room into thirds, moving your speakers away from the back—and side—walls one third into the room and placing your listening chair the same distance from the back wall in a triangular configuration) should sound absolutely holographic, but even then it’s more like something that’s sitting in your lap or hovering right in front of you, whereas 5.1 truly surrounds you. You are IN the room with the musicians. You are AT the concert, etc, etc. It’s just more than stereo, no matter how you slice it.
I wrote a review once of Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin and noted that going from the stereo mix I was long familiar with to finally hearing it in 5.1 surround and thinking it was like opening up a suitcase and a rainbow bursts out of it. That doesn’t happen here, it’s a different sonic palette for one reason, but something equally interesting does. When the processed alien murmuring of “...And the Gods Made Love” begins, Jimi slides under your front door like a swamp gas, surrounding you in some sort of aural murkiness that is absolutely stunning. Remixed for surround sound by Eddie Kramer (of course) from the multitrack master tapes, from start to finish this new iteration of Electric Ladyland turns your ordinary living room lighting into strobes and then Godzilla shows up and stomps all over your house. This is a monster. A tornado. A fucking beast. Anybody who has anything negative to say about it is an idiot.
And let’s not lose sight of the fact that for its day, Electric Ladyland was considered the absolute zenith in what you could do with stereo. When it was released rock critic Robert Christgau wrote in the pages of Stereo Review that it was “the best job of stereo for its own sake I know.” But this new version… trust me, it’s better. It’s overwhelming almost. One subtle aspect Kramer’s new 5.1 mix delivers is a sense of increased velocity, even on frenetic numbers like “Crosstown Traffic” and a sense of emerging from the blackest black silence during “Voodoo Chile” (which I just learned was not recorded live, the audience noise was added to simulate a nightclub ambiance). “All Along the Watchtower” comes at you with the full force of a live symphony orchestra playing Wagner, or a dam bursting as you stand in front of it. I mean, wow, this new super deluxe edition is THE SHIT. It’s magnificent. It roars. It soars. It will eat your face off.
I cannot recommend it enough, truly. If you have a 5.1 rig set up in your home theater and you’ve not dabbled in any 5.1 surround music, Electric Ladyland would be an impressive entry point, indeed. I’m actually thinking that it might be the best 5.1 surround mix that I’ve ever heard of a classic rock album.
The nicely packaged deluxe set also includes the full album on two CDs, a number of outtakes, demos, jam sessions and alternate versions, a live Hollywood Bowl performance from 1968 and a feature-length documentary on the making of the album.
This newly revamped version of Electric Ladyland is a motherfucker. Don’t snooze on it.
A terrible ‘Are You Experienced?’ cover for France and the Benelux countries.
Rarely encountered cover art from a French compilation from 1975 with cover art by Moebius.
A look behind-the-scenes of the “Voodoo Chile” recording session.