No. 41: ‘EXP,’ ‘Up From the Skies’

jimi hendrix up from the skies“A rather peculiar-looking gentleman” arrives for a radio interview.

When asked to comment about “this nonsense about space ships and even space people,” he responds by melting, elevating, transforming, transcending … and then departing on the intergalactic vessel cloaked as Jimi Hendrix’s guitar.

After all the sonic fireworks, another alien addresses mankind on the topic of our planet, this time bopping along on a relaxed jazz beat:

“I just want to talk to you, I won’t do you no harm.
I just want to know about your different lives,
on this here people farm.”

So begins the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s second album, “Axis: Bold as Love.”

In May 1967, Hendrix’s first album was released, quite likely the most startling record debut in history. The left-handed guitarist immediately become one of the biggest stars in rock. Seven months later came the hugely anticipated “Axis.”

The radio skit, “EXP,” opened the album, a 1:55 prelude to “Up From the Skies.” Drummer Mitch Mitchell and Hendrix play the talk show host and alien, respectively. As Hendrix’s extraterrestrial speaks (“You just can’t believe everything you see and hear … can you?”), his voice slows to a slur as the effects-drenched guitar swirl begins, chasing itself from speaker to speaker.

As the turmoil subsides, we’re left with another major surprise from Hendrix: “Up From the Skies” begins immediately, with a sprightly Mose Allison jazz feel. Mitchell plays cocktail lounge-friendly brushes on his drums. Hendrix’s guitar streams through a wah-wah pedal, no doubt a first for jazz rock (pretty much an oxymoron in ’67). The song was recorded two days before Halloween 1967.

The cosmic one-two punch of “EXP” and “Up From the Skies” was an early sighting in what was later dubbed “Alien rock.”

Hendrix’s mystical qualities included a good deal of prescience, as “Up From the Skies” anticipates the eco-nightmares to come — this a year before the release of “The Whole Earth Catalog”:

“I have lived here before, the days of ice.
And of course this is why I’m so concerned,
And I come back to find,
the stars misplaced and the smell of a world that has burnt.
The smell of a world that has burnt.”

“Up From the Skies” has inspired a galaxy of covers, including those by Rickie Lee Jones, Gilberto Gil, Joan Jett, Kenny Rankin, jazzmaster Gil Evans and various crossover classical outfits such as the String Quartet.

Hendrix continued to use his alien as a narrator for songs and sometimes told friends he was sent to Earth from another place. Who’s to say?

Further reading: “Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix.”
“Up From the Skies” chords

“Up From the Skies” lyrics, by Jimi Hendrix

I just want to talk to you, I won’t do you no harm.
I just want to know about your different lives,
on this here people farm.
I heard some of you got your families,
living in cages tall and cold,
And some just stay there and dust away, past the age of old.
Is this true? Please let me talk to you.
I just want to know about the rooms behind your minds,
Do I see a vacuum there, or am I going blind?
Or is it just a remains from vibrations and echoes long ago,
Things like ‘Love the world’ and ‘Let your fancy flow’,
Is this true? Please let me talk to you.
Let me talk to you.
I have lived here before, the days of ice.
And of course this is why I’m so concerned,
And I come back to find,
the stars misplaced and the smell of a world that has burnt.
The smell of a world that has burnt.

Yeah, well maybe, maybe it’s just a change of climate.
I can dig it, I can dig it baby. I just want to see.

So where do I purchase my ticket,
I just like to have a ringside seat.
I want to know about the new Mother Earth,
I want to hear and see everything (3x)
Yeah. Aw, shucks, If my daddy could see me now

Comments

  1. Hard to believe, but Up From The Skies was released as a single.My favorite from Axis, no doubt. He put on a wah wah “clinic” on that tune.

  2. Rapewta says:

    EXP/Up From the Skies was so trippy. Once it got going it was on. I liked it. Still do. “Aw …… shucks.” “If my daddy could see me now.” That is Hendrix at the top of the game. Ain’t No Telling is awesome. She’s So Fine is not so fine. Noel’s song anyway.

    • I always thought of “She’s So Fine” as filler, but have come to appreciate it due to frequent play on the satellite radio station Underground Garage — which doesn’t play a lot of Hendrix. Go figure …

  3. Astroman says:

    “EXP” and “Up From The Skies” were a very interesting kick-off to a very interesting album. Axis: Bold As Love is quite a different animal than Are You Experienced. There seems to be an incredible sense of urgency to the LP. It’s very concise; only three songs run past the 3-minute mark. But it’s a great album. It couldn’t have been easy going in to do your sophomore LP when you shot out of the gate with an album like Are You Experienced.

    • Astroman: I always liked the second better — not to take anything away from the amazing debut album. Equally strange & mysterious, but wiser.

      • Astroman says:

        Yeah, Abel, Axis seemed to be largely ignored by classic rock radio (at least it was on the stations where I grew up), whereas several songs on Are You Experienced got SERIOUSLY overplayed. I finally got to the point to where I didn’t even want to hear “Hey Joe” ever again. Axis has some of Jimi’s most beautiful guitar work (“Little Wing,” “Castles Made Of Sand,”), as well as my favorite Hendrix song, “If 6 Was 9.”

        I don’t know if I could say I like one album over the other, but Axis seemed to fly a little bit under the radar, sandwiched between the amazing debut and the epic third album, Electric Ladyland. And I could be mistaken, but I don’t think he played a lot of stuff from Axis live, either. The only one I’m sure he did play live was “Spanish Castle Magic.” Does anyone know of any others he played live?

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