10 Best Jimi Hendrix Songs

James Marshall Hendrix was born in Seattle. After his discharge from the army he became a musician, spending years gigging with acts like Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and Ike & Tina Turner. Despite his immense talent, it wasn’t until he was spotted by Keith Richard’s girlfriend and signed by former Animal Chas Chandler that he was able to start a recording career. Moving to London, he formed The Jimi Hendrix Experience with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding. The trio were instantly successful – three terrific singles led into his 1967 debut album, Are You Experienced?.

Hendrix’s premature death in 1970 was a tragedy for music. His potential was limitless – he could have easily switched into funk or jazz fusion in the 1970s. He’s rightfully celebrated as a guitarist, but he was also a compelling showman, a talented producer, and an adept songwriter.

Hendrix only enjoyed a short recording career before his death. His core catalogue is a lot smaller than that of other classic rock legends, and I suspect that this best song list looks like a lot of other Hendrix lists. Despite the short timeframe, there’s a lot of great material and any of the top five would be a worthy number one.

10 Best Jimi Hendrix Songs

#10 Machine Gun

from Band of Gypsys, 1970
Hendrix dissolved the Jimi Hendrix Experience in mid-1969 – he’d continue to work with Mitch Mitchell, but preferred his former army buddy Billy Cox as bassist. He formed Band of Gypsys with Cox and drummer/vocalist Buddy Miles to fulfil a record contract he’d signed in 1965. The power trio recorded a live album with all new material. Band of Gypsys is weaker than the Experience’s studio records as Miles’ grandstanding is distracting, but the extended track times allow Hendrix the opportunity to stretch out on the guitar. ‘Machine Gun’ is the record’s most celebrated moment, an anti-war song that features Hendrix’s incendiary guitar.

#9 Freedom

from First Rays of the Rising Sun, planned for 1970
Hendrix planned to release his fourth studio album before Christmas 1970. His premature death left a mass of recordings in various states of completion. ‘Freedom’ was almost complete – according to his notes, Hendrix planned to replace 8 seconds of rhythm guitar. Working with a core band of Cox and Mitchell, it keeps the heavy blues guitar of the Experience, but the funkier rhythm indicates the direction Hendrix was taking his music.

#8 Hey Joe

non-album single, 1967
A tale of a man on the run after shooting his unfaithful wife, the origins of ‘Hey Joe’ are clouded. It’s often attributed to folk singer Billy Roberts, but it tells a similar tale to the 20th-century folk ballad ‘Little Sadie’. It was covered by a bunch of artists in the mid-1960s, like The Leaves, The Byrds, and Love. Hendrix’s slow and intense recording has become the song’s definitive version. ‘Hey Joe’ was Hendrix’s first single, and was immediately successful – it reached #6 on the UK singles chart. I couldn’t squeeze the track’s b-side, ‘51st Anniversary‘, onto this list, but it’s an overlooked gem from Hendrix.

#7 Red House

from Are You Experienced?, 1967
When Hendrix emerged in 1967, blues rock was at the height of its popularity in the UK. Bands like Cream, Fleetwood Mac, and Savoy Brown enjoyed success. While Hendrix’s music was often infused with a psychedelic edge, on ‘Red House’ he plays a straightforward electric blues. ‘Red House’ was reportedly inspired by Albert King’s ‘Traveling’ to California’, a song that Hendrix played when as a member of Curtis Knight & the Squires. It’s a great showcase for Hendrix’s guitar – he’s a terrific blues guitarist;

#6 The Wind Cries Mary

non-album single, 1967
Hendrix is normally associated with heavy psychedelic blues rock. But he had a softer side too, as demonstrated by ‘The Wind Cries Mary’. As his third single following the rockers ‘Hey Joe’ and ‘Purple Haze’, it allowed him to show his musical range. ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ was influenced by Curtis Mayfield; it was reportedly written after a fight that Hendrix had with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham over lumpy mashed potatoes. She suggested that the line “a broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life” was inspired by the incident.

#5 All Along the Watchtower

written by Bob Dylan, from Electric Ladyland, 1968
Occasionally, a cover version transforms a song into its definitive version. Aretha Franklin transformed Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’ into an empowerment anthem in 1967. In 1968, Hendrix reinvented Dylan’s acoustic, Biblical fable into a searing rocker. In 1995, Dylan told the Fort Lauderdale Sentinel that “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.”

#4 Little Wing

from Axis: Bold as Love, 1967
‘Little Wing’ was never released as a single – it appeared as the b-side of some posthumous releases. But it’s become one of Hendrix’s most beloved songs anyway, a gentle and dreamy piece punctuated by dramatic drum fills from Mitchell. Like ‘The Wind Cries Mary’, ‘Little Wing’ was influenced by Curtis Mayfield. Mayfield was one of the many acts Hendrix played for during his musical apprenticeship; he was later quoted by Roby and Schreiber stating- “The best gig was with Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. Curtis was a really good guitarist … I learned a lot in that short time. He probably influenced me more than anyone I’d ever played with up to that time, that sweet sound of his, you know”.

‘Little Wing’ has been famously covered by other notable guitars – Duane Allman and Eric Clapton played it with Derek and the Dominos, while Stevie Ray Vaughan received a posthumous Grammy for his version.

#3 Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

from Electric Ladyland, 1968
One of the great all-time guitar riffs opens ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’, Hendrix using a wah-wah pedal to psychedelicize the Delta blues. It was derived from ‘Voodoo Chile’, a 15 minute jam that also appears on Electric Ladyland. 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 – it became Hendrix’s only #1 UK single in late 1970.

#2 Purple Haze

non-album single, 1967
Producer Chas Chandler claimed that he heard Hendrix playing the riff that would become ‘Purple Haze’, encouraging him to write a song around it. According to Chandler, Hendrix wrote the rest of the song on Boxing Day 1966, in a dressing room before a gig. It features the E7#9 chord, often used in jazz and R&B, but known as the “Hendrix chord” as the guitarist introduced it to rock music. ‘Purple Haze’ is also notable for its famous misheard lyric (or mondegreen). The line “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky” is often mistaken for “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy”.

#1 Crosstown Traffic

from Electric Ladyland, 1968
Compared to most of the singles Hendrix released during his lifetime, ‘Crosstown Traffic’ is overlooked. It didn’t crack the Billboard top 50. But it’s terrific, packed with ideas – there’s a hard-hitting guitar riff, while the backing vocals from Redding and Traffic’s Dave Mason are great. It’s almost uncategorizable, taking elements from blues, funk, and psychedelia.

Did I miss your favourite Jimi Hendrix song?

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    • I’ve never seen that podcast before. Are You Experienced? is his best record IMO – normally I prefer artists a few albums in as they get more ambitious, but Hendrix was great out of the gate.

  1. I always ignored the ‘popular’ when I was young. Still do, I guess. So I’m a (very) latecomer to the Hendrix party, having just bought The Band of Gypsies album and a Hendrix ‘Best of’ double Lp a couple years ago. So I’mm ecertainly not qualified to debate any of these.
    But I do LOVE ’em all. And it’s good to increase what little knowledge I have, with the info in your post.

    • I was never a trend follower in my younger years. I generally think now, that if you have people who are devoted fans, 50 years later, it means you were good. Thanks for reading!

  2. Excellent list. “Hey Joe” would be my number one but Hendrix is a legend so many people would have their own number one. He was a great guitarist and I put him as one of the founding fathers of heavy metal.

    • There does seem to be a core of favourites – Purple Haze, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Hey Joe, Little Wing, and Watchtower would show up on most lists, I think.

  3. 1 Hey Joe
    2. Watchtower
    3 Crosstown
    4. Purple haze

    As you said, he didn’t compose the watchtower but the cover is his greatest achievement (U2s was ok but not this quality).

  4. Well, for some crazy fans like me he is like Mozart. Not only the greatest guitar player but an excelent composer and music innovator. The list is great. Impossible not to be. I would add: a few songs but it is not the point. For all readers please go and listen all of his first álbums including the postumous The Cry of Love. By the way, his drummer is incredible too.

  5. Nice choices. You list contains some very early stuff and some quite late. What I love about the early ones is the short, sharp intros and nice use of the natural Strat sound without the distortion and effects that he pioneered: Hey Joe, Purple Haze and The Wind Cries Mary. Then there’s live performances, my favourites being Driving South and Hear My Train a’Comin’. It took me years to get into the Woodstock extravaganza of Star-Spangled Banner. In my teens I used to think it was just noise but now I love the daring, convention-busting element. Good songs on Electric Ladyland too: 1983 (A merman I should turn to be), All Along the Watchtower, Voodoo Chile (which I once heard pronounced by a Dutch radio DJ as Voodoo Chilly) and House Burning Down.

  6. I can’t argue with anything here. My personal would be Voodoo Child (Slight Return) as number one for the riff that you mentioned…I do like Crosstown Traffic as well though.
    Little Wing is a song that I have started to appreciate in the last few years. It seems like the releases never stop with Jimi…the guy had to record all of the time.

  7. Can’t argue with your picks, Graham. Like Max, and we never agree on anything! 🙂 , I would have put “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”, followed by “Purple Haze”. I also might have included “Foxy Lady.” Much of it also has to do with familiarity.

    • Yeah, I think anything in my top 5 would have been a worthy #1 for most artists – all of those are killer.

      I find it hard to take ‘Foxy Lady’ seriously after that scene in Wayne’s World – but it’s great.

  8. It’s hard to complain about anything here. Jimi was consistently incredible. I’d give a shoutout to Bold as Love, though, I have always had a soft spot for that song.

    • That album as a whole is pretty neglected by this list – it’s behind the other two Experience albums for me, but it’s still very impressive.

  9. I was gonna say Machine Gun needed to be waaaay higher up on the list but then I saw the songs in front of it and said oh, well, yeah… lol. I would also advocate for his acoustic Hear My Train A-Comin’ off the Blues album oh man. Gets me every time.

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