Thursday, December 17, 2020

Jimi Hendrix - Straight Ahead (1970)


Jimi Hendrix released his third and final album, "Electric Ladyland", in October 1968. It was released some two years before his untimely death in 1970, and is considered by many his greatest achievement as a musician and songwriter. What many people don't know, however, is that in those 24 months between the release of EL and his passing, he was working on a new studio album to follow it up. Hendrix played around with many titles for said record, such as First Rays of the New Rising Sun, which is how the project is more popularly known, People Hell & Angels, which is the title of an unrelated outtakes compilation released in 2013, and even Straight Ahead, after the song of the same name he recorded during these sessions. He was also unsure about the format in which to release all of those songs, with the record being either a double or triple album, and many different configurations and tracklistings being tried by him, without ever settling on a final sequence. Throughout his recording with the Band of Gypsys, from November 1969 to February 1970, and his work with the Cry of Love Band, from March 1970 to shortly before his death in August 1970, thirty or more songs were recorded and left behind in varying degrees of completion, and slated for inclusion on the album at some point or another, in the various shapes this album took throughout its recording. All in all, his fourth studio LP has become one of the most mysterious unfinished albums of all time.

In trying to piece together what Jimi Hendrix's fourth studio album would look like, fans have come across two tracklists from sometime in mid-1970. One of them, a three-sided, fourteen-song album with "Dolly Dagger" as the opening number, has already been tackled by the great soniclovenoize a while back, so it would be futile on my part to try and improve on his work, as I honestly wouldn't be able to. So what I will do is base my work on the other tracklist: a 25 song list with no sides, titled simply "Songs for L.P. Strate Ahead". While many don't even consider it a proper tracklist, and mostly ignore it when discussing Hendrix's final recordings, I disagree with them, as listening to some of the songs in the order they're in on the list you end up with some pretty great sounding flow, and the feel of a more or less cohesive album. However, I will not just simply put together the 25 songs and call it a day for two very simple reasons: it's missing a couple of very key tracks we know for a fact were slated for inclusion on the album, and it's got two songs that hadn't even been written yet, let alone recorded. That means our work will have to be dividing the list into sides, adding the missing songs where they fit best on the sequence, and trying to keep it cohesive and making sense, as much as it is possible. Also, I will try my best to only use mixes done by Jimi himself, with obvious exceptions to incomplete songs and those he didn't get to mix, but still had overdubs done before his death.

Of course, the sheer amount of songs available to us make it very tempting to turn this into a triple LP, and that's exactly what we're going to do. Even the 25 song list by itself wouldn't fit too snugly on two discs, let alone an expanded version of it, which means we will be expanding this album to six sides, since Hendrix was already considering doing so anyway. Another positive thing that can be seen when analyzing the list is the number of songs in a finished or nearly finished state. The vast majority of those songs are available in rough mix form, with those mixes being approved by Hendrix himself, and come from the same November 1969/August 1970 period we're working with when compiling this album. That means we will be dealing with a whole lot of finished or almost finished material, which certainly helps balance out the more demo-like unfinished songs on the record, and keep this album from sounding too unfinished itself. As for the others, all but one of my selections was officially released, and only one song comes from before our November 1969 threshold. Those of course are his solo demo of "Heaven Has No Tomorrow", from June 1970, and the July 1969 take of "Hear My Train a-Comin'" we will be using in this reconstruction, since those are the two only useable studio versions of both tracks we have available. Anyway, not to keep you waiting any longer than I already have, let's take a look at what our Straight Ahead album looks like:

Ezy Ryder (The Cry of Love)
Room Full of Mirrors (Rainbow Bridge)
Earth Blues (Rainbow Bridge)
Valleys of Neptune (Valleys of Neptune)
Belly Button Window (The Cry of Love)
Straight Ahead (The Cry of Love)
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Cherokee Mist (Purple Box)
Freedom (The Cry of Love)
Stepping Stone (War Heroes)
Izabella (War Heroes)
Astro Man (The Cry of Love)
Drifter's Escape (South Saturn Delta)
-
Power of Soul (Both Sides of the Sky)
Angel (The Cry of Love)
Bleeding Heart (War Heroes)
Message to Love (West Coast Seattle Boy)
Burning Desire (West Coast Seattle Boy)
-
Night Bird Flying (The Cry of Love)
Drifting (The Cry of Love)
Come Down Hard on Me (Purple Box)
Electric Lady (Rainbow Bridge)
Getting My Heart Back Together Again (People, Hell, and Angels)
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Lover Man (Purple Box)
Midnight Lightning (South Saturn Delta)
Heaven Has No Tomorrow (Soulful Sessions)
Sending My Love (Both Sides of the Sky)
Lonely Avenue (West Coast Seattle Boy)
Beginnings (War Heroes)
-
Dolly Dagger (Rainbow Bridge)
Machine Gun (Band of Gypsys)
In from the Storm (The Cry of Love)
The New Rising Sun (Rainbow Bridge)

Billy Cox, Jimi Hendrix, and Mitch Mitchell of The Cry of Love band in early 1970

The first side of this reconstruction consists of the first five songs on the "Strate Ahead" list, plus Jimi's solo demo of "Belly Button Window", his final studio recording. It was only written and recorded after the making of this list, which explains the song's absence from it, even though it is present on the three-sided sequence reconstructed by soniclovenoize. I added it to side one in order to break the sequence of fast-paced rockers with something slower, and that's something this song does pretty well, being a midtempo blues shuffle, with only guitar and vocals. It also adds about three minutes to a relatively short side, which is certainly welcome. Our side two will simply be songs six through eleven of the list, as the songs in it flow together pretty well, and make up a nice 22-minute side we will leave intact, even though I wish Jimi's mix of "Cherokee Mist" would be released soon. Side three consists of songs twelve through fourteen of the list, plus "Power of Soul" and "Message of Love", both of them being songs given a final mix during Hendrix's last week at the studio in August 1970, and also being released in live form on the Band of Gypsys album earlier in the year. The former acts as a side opener, as "Angel" doesn't work too well in that spot, and the latter stands in between two slower and bluesier tracks, helping improve the pace of the album. Aside from the lack of vocals in "Burning Desire", all songs have been pretty much finished by now, which makes for a strong listening experience.

Side four is the more complicated one of the bunch, with songs fifteen through seventeen of the list, plus "Drifting" and "Come Down Hard on Me", two songs Hendrix worked on during the August 1970 mixing sessions and were listed in his other working sequence. The complication here stems from the fact that I think "Electric Lady - slow" is actually "Pali Gap" from the Rainbow Bridge soundtrack. Many things point to it, such as the original name for "Pali Gap" being "Slow Part", and the song being recorded at Electric Lady being enough evidence to warrant its inclusion. And it's not as if we have many other songs that could fit this description, either way. Moving on to the final disc, side five includes songs eighteen through twenty-three of the original list, with only the final two songs, "Locomotion" and "This Little Boy", replaced by "Lonely Avenue" and "Beginnings", two songs Hendrix mixed during his final recording sessions and were seriously considered for inclusion on the album. The songs we replaced are being so because they were never recorded by Jimi, and for all we know, no manuscripts of them exist either. As for side six, we simply use songs twenty-four and twenty-five as bookends for the side, and add the other two songs Jimi had available back then: "In from the Storm", which was recorded after the list's creation, and an edited, audience-less version of "Machine Gun", in order to bring this final side to a more reasonable length of 24 minutes.

As for an album cover, I used a painting Jimi had commissioned with painter Henri Martinez, with the intention of using it as an album cover for the First Rays of the New Rising Sun project. As Martinez explains it, "this painting would present him as a proud Cherokee warrior, holding his weapon of peace - an electric guitar.", which is a great concept behind a beautiful looking painting. This album is far from a finished product, obviously, but even in its rough, unfinished state you can see what great things Jimi had been doing during the final months of his life, and what a fantastic album he would've put together had he lived past 1970. Had he managed to finish the material he had available, he would've most certainly put together an album to rival Electric Ladyland and Axis: Bold as Love in quality, all that while moving in a different direction and looking for a funkier, more soul-influenced sound. The single off this album would most probably be "Dolly Dagger" with "Night Bird Flying" on the b-side, as that was already the planned single before Jimi's death, and makes for a good, funky introduction to what was supposed to be a new chapter in Hendrix's career. And for someone who spent two whole years without releasing a note of music, it's only fair that he should release a triple album to compensate for his absence, showing us the greatest guitar player of all time still had it in himself to compose great songs, before his untimely death and return to the New Rising Sun.

Sources:
Jimi Hendrix - The Cry of Love
Jimi Hendrix - Rainbow Bridge
Jimi Hendrix - Jimi Hendrix Experience [Box set]
Jimi Hendrix - West Coast Seattle Boy
Jimi Hendrix - Both Sides of the Sky
Jimi Hendrix - Valleys of Neptune
Jimi Hendrix - War Heroes
Jimi Hendrix - South Saturn Delta
Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
Band of Gypsys - Band of Gypsys

6 comments:

  1. Hey there, folks. No links for the whole reconstruction, but since "Heaven Has No Tomorrow" is pretty hard to find, I figured I'd link the song to help you people piece the album together.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/4hhv6xcza4upb9i/Heaven%20Has%20No%20Sorrow.mp3?dl=0

    Enjoy! :D

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  2. Thank you for this reconstruction

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  3. Why not use a studio take of Machine Gun? There's a couple available on this
    https://mega.nz/file/7Nsj3aRL#OjyXKgfotBY2cGwZl602RoEHwOKts_MROAkYNass6cQ

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    Replies
    1. Hey! Thanks a lot! I'll have a look into it, ahahahahah

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  4. I don't know if this helps, but a facsimile of the tracklist that you've used has been published on twitter by EH:

    https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/jimi-hendrixs-unfinished-fourth-album-how-would-you-sequence-it.741238/page-20

    Locomotion is actually Loco Commotion, which appears on the tracklisting for the Black Gold Cassette.

    ReplyDelete