A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the reissued Smash Hits LP by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I’m well-acquainted with Smash Hits by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was the first Hendrix album I ever purchased, to be honest; as a kid of (shall we say) a diminished bank account, Smash Hits looked like a wise buy because it had lots of songs on it that even the most unfamiliar and clueless potential fans were familiar with, and it happened to be on special the day I happened to have enough money to buy anything at all at my then-favorite record store.
The fates were aligned, so I bought a CD copy and it proved to be my gateway entry into the Hendrix songbook. This comp was how I came to be inspired to immerse myself in Axis: Bold As Love next, and then Voodoo Soup after that (yes, I owned a copy of Voodoo Soup, reader – some record collections exhibit a learning curve), before eventually getting my head on straight and absorbing all of the Hendrix albums proper – Are You Experienced, Electric Ladyland, Band Of Gypsys, etc. Over the years, I’ve come to dig deeply into the Hendrix catalogue, but it all started with Smash Hits – so it holds a special place in my heart.
Judging by the way this new reissue of Smash Hits has been updated, I must not be the only one for whom this ‘best of’ holds a special place because, unlike every other reissue to appear from Experience Hendrix, great care has been taken to ensure that this set SOUNDS EXACTLY THE SAME as it did so many years ago. Yes, the cover has been changed (no loss there – the original cover looked pretty budget), but the music is the same.
In this case, “the same” means not remixing, remastering or otherwise adding extra fins or frills to the music, just leaving it as it has always been on this release. At first that Experience Hendrix HASN’T made the sounds here digitally sparkle is a little jarring; it becomes perfectly self-evident early when a few minor imperfections in the sound and mix of “Purple Haze” (the first one happens less than twenty seconds in), and the levels of the different parts of the song haven’t been altered/upped to effectively just make everything louder. At first, the difference is more than a little disconcerting, but it doesn’t take long for this kind of “back to basics” change to become welcome; this kind of “Hendrix nude” presentation lets the songs and performances stand really well and all on their own.
That “nude” – or at least digital-free – presentation proves not to get old as one picks his way through Smash Hits either. The little bit of aural mud which clings to the low end of “The Wind Cries Mary” makes the song feel a bit warmer and more melancholy here, while the flaws in the panning in “Crosstown Traffic” make the frustration in Hendrix’s lyrics and the vocal take employed that much more evident. In each case, the little things that listeners will pick up as they pick their way along through this new pressing of Smash Hits begin to be the things which really make it wonderful and special; those little flaws are the proof that this production didn’t come off of a computer – it’s not sterile as it would be with digital production techniques applied.
Does this review read a bit backwards, reader / Does the fact that I’m revelling in the imperfections of a performance seem bizarre? Well maybe – but the proof is in the listening. You might be sceptical before you hear what I’m talking about, reader, but you won’t be after you sink a needle into your own copy of this reissue.