Whereas Astronomy Domine started off the Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn, its twin, Third Stone from the Sun by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, also a semi-instrumental concerning outer space, was buried in the middle of the second side of their first American album, Are You Experienced. A comparison between the two highlights the fact that Third Stone from the Sun takes the point of view of an extraterrestrial being, rather than that of an astronaut. The shared intercom effect between the two recordings is taken a step further by Hendrix. Recorded at a faster speed, the intercom segment is heard at a slower pace than the accompanying music, as if the extraterrestrial being was speaking from another dimension of time. Plainsong is abandoned for the spoken word; nothing is sung in Third Stone from the Sun. The only intelligible language in the record when played at normal speed is the second part, with its warning You’ll never hear surf music again. In the context of the lyric, this is because humanity is destroyed, but in the historical context, the comment, like the allusion to She Loves You in All You Need is Love by the Beatles, serves to show how far music had come since 1964. At the time, it really seemed that surf music was as distant from contemporary music as doo-wop.
The sound that Jimi Hendrix was introducing to the public on his first album seemed a leap beyond anything anyone else had ever done. (Remember Piper at the Gates of Dawn was practically ignored in the U.S. at the time of its release.) Never had a group incorporated feedback and such diverse electric guitar effects into its repertoire. There were some precedents: The Who used feedback in My Generation, and The Who’s Keith Moon had something of the same relation to drumming as Mitch Mitchell of the Experience. Jeff Beck of the Yardbirds and Eric Clapton of Cream had begun extending the language of electric guitar effects, as had Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen. But no one had pushed so hard against what had been thought of previously as noise with such virtuosity on the instrument. Jimi Hendrix changed the main focus of critical assessments of rock music—whereas the emphasis previously had been on the composition, the emphasis began to shift to proficiency in performance. (Sometimes however, using jazz structure, Jimi Hendrix, like Pink Floyd, could construct quite an elaborate architecture of sound, as in Third Stone from the Sun.) Another aspect of the entire Are You Experienced album was Jimi Hendrix’s intuitive expertise as a technical engineer of his Experience recordings. With the assistance of engineer Eddie Kramer, Hendrix discovered startling new ways to manipulate sound to an extent only matched at this time by Geoff Emerick and George Martin in support of the Beatles’ psychedelia. Ironically, the album Are You Experienced, upon its release in England, was kept from the number one position by the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Eddie Kramer, by the way, had been a sound engineer for the Beatles’ All You Need is Love recording, and he would continue to be the engineer for Jimi Hendrix throughout his psychedelic albums under review here. Kramer would go on to produce a number of Led Zeppelin albums.
Yet another aspect of the sudden popularity of Jimi Hendrix Experience in America, after their performance at the Monterey Pop Festival (June 1967), was that the group was the first widely popular rock act to be racially integrated. Arthur Lee’s group, Love, was indeed the first psychedelic group to be integrated but they were not widely known. Jimi Hendrix pushed through a racial barrier by ignoring it. Whereas Arthur Lee sometimes reflected on his experience as a Black man, Jimi Hendrix’s art stayed away from mentioning race. Jimi Hendrix was primarily a “freak” by his own definition, and had little to expess about his racial experience in the United States. This may be a reason that he didn’t seem to be able to break through in America prior to his popularity in England and Europe. Before his “genius” was extolled by such English supporters as Paul McCartney and Eric Burdon, Jimi Hendrix’s experience as a musician in the U.S. had been on the chitlin’ circuit, as back up musician for such performers as Little Richard and the Isley Brothers. Almost immediately after the success of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, integrated groups proliferated: Sly & the Family Stone, the Chambers Brothers and Eric Burdon’s War come to mind. Before the decade was over, an integrated rock group was no longer remarkable.
Because of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, attention began to shift toward what would be called “hard rock”. Hendrix and Eric Clapton (of Cream), due to their improvised guitar playing, became more valued than the more traditional phrasing of George Harrison in the Beatles or Keith Richards in the Rolling Stones. Fashion was changing, and the psychedelic tendency to make records in the studio began to be replaced with the admiration for virtuoso live performances. Rolling Stone magazine wrote: “Jimi Hendrix was arguably the greatest rock instrumentalist of the Sixties. His blunt attack contrasted sharply with the meticulous virtuosity of Eric Clapton; Hendrix preferred an angry metal whine, molten steel to Clapton's polished chrome.” (RS July 4, 1974)
George Starostin in his blog Only Solitaire wrote: “I'm totally amazed at the way [Jimi Hendrix] practically 'straddles' his guitar. Most great (and not great) guitarists treat the guitar as a musical instrument. Some, like Pete Townshend, treat it like a sonic tool. Jimi Hendrix treated his guitar like an inseparable part of his body. Every lick he produces, every chord he squeezes out of it seems so natural, so homely, so fluent, that I'm really left wondering whether he was born with a guitar in his hand.”