Have you ever been--
have you ever been to Electric Ladyland?
The magic carpet waits
so don't you be late.
I want to show you the different emotions.
I want to run you through sounds and motions.
Electric woman waits for you and me.
So it's time we take a ride.
We can cast all of your hang-ups over the south side
while we fly right over the love filled sea.
Look up ahead--I see the Loveland.
Do you'll understand?
[Break: Make love (4x)]
I want to show you
the angels will spread their wings,
spread their wings.
I want to show you
Good and evil lay side by side
while electric love penetrates the sky.
I want show you. (4x)
This chapter began with Cream’s Wheels of Fire, the first psychedelic album (outside of a Beatles release) to make it to the top of the U.S. charts. I close this chapter with the last such psychedelic album, Electric Ladyland. After this point, there would be less and less chance of success in releasing music that participated heavily in the psychedelic aesthetic. Though I will be considering psychedelic songs that were placed on number one albums that came later, these successful albums (like the Doors’ Waiting for the Sun) would not rely on the psychedelic sound through the majority of the songs. Even Electric Ladyland, which in my opinion is one of the greatest accomplishments of psychedelia, shows some signs of the aesthetic breaking up. There are several cuts on the album that have more to do with the electric blues tradition than psychedelic vision. The same of course could be said of Cream’s Wheels of Fire.
Electric Ladyland was the first album to be released from Gary Kellgren’s Record Plant. (Meanwhile, Hendrix was in the process of constructing his own studio, Electric Lady. He would die before he would get much use out of it, though other recording artists have profited from the facility for decades.) The Record Plant was different from most other recording studios in that it brought hotel-like comforts and services to the artists while recording on state-of-the-art equipment and acoustical design. It was comfortable enough for Hendrix to invite other musicians to hang out and help him record the album. The previous year had seen some camaraderie among British musicians, caught on film while recording the Beatles’ All You Need is Love and the Rolling Stones’ unreleased Rock and Roll Circus. But Electric Ladyland was the first to celebrate the contributions of fellow artists to a record, providing their pictures on the inner sleeve of the double album. Three members of Traffic are on the record (with Chris Wood playing a vital role with his reed playing), as well as Jack Casady, who was the bass guitar player of the Jefferson Airplane and Al Kooper on keyboard. (Later, David Crosby would pick up on this, releasing two records that celebrate the contributions of other artists: Déjà vu and If I Could Only Remember My Name. Jack Casady was on those albums too.)
Time has served Electric Ladyland very well to date, with several critics and writers (myself included) appraising the album as psychedelic in its final, most brilliant flower before the aesthetic began wilting away. Robert Christgau wrote in Blender that Hendrix’ “spaced-out spirituality is the fullest musicalization of psychedelic ever accomplished.” Cub Koda wrote for allmusic that Electric Ladyland “expanded the concept of what could be gotten out of a modern recording studio in much the same manner as Phil Spector had done a decade before with his Wall of Sound.” When I heard this album as a kid I was blown away by the vast array of new aural delights—he was the first Black man who I considered a “genius”. He seemed to me as much a physicist of sound as a musician.
Jimi Hendrix had begun to arrive at a format for beginning & ending albums by the time he recorded Axis: Bold as Love. Like that album, Electric Ladyland begins with a short skit before entering on an introductory song. But whereas Axis began with the be-bop rhythm and simple melody of Up From the Skies, something light and akin to several other introductions to psychedelic albums from Sgt. Pepper on, Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland) is an open weave jazz- inflected piece with a structure that rarely repeats itself. The A & B verse configuration I have shown in the lyrics is certainly not a strict form, but merely a sketchy undergirding, through which the guitar and voice weave. It is reported to be one of the few vocals Hendrix recorded that he was pleased with. Matthew Greenwald, writing for allmusic, has suggested that he was perhaps influenced in his falsetto vocal style for this song by Curtis Mayfield.
The lyrics to Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland) invite the listener to a new experience (a theme that recalls the song Are You Experienced?), to an aesthetic realm beyond the reach of good and evil,where all is love. The space described is in the heavens, and includes angels, but it looks down on a “love-filled sea”, which quite probably stands for the unconsciousness of the artist. The listener, however, is being lifted by sound on a “magic carpet”. The “magic carpet” had been part of the visual appeal of the Byrd’s 1966 psychedelic album cover to 5th Dimension; but by the time of the release of Electric Ladyland, the single Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf (in my opinion, an awkward neo-psychedelic song) was high on the Billboard Top 40 chart.