If there ever was a man who embodied the essence of a musical genre, it is none other than the legendary guitarist of the 1960s, Jimi Hendrix! His status as an icon of the rock and roll scene was established with the hit single “Purple Haze”. The title of the song brings to mind the counterculture of the time – encompassing drugs and the psychedelic chaos of an altered state of mind.
“Purple Haze” was the second single of the band The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The band comprised of amateurs – Mitch Mitchell on the drums, bassist Noel Redding, and Jimi Hendrix as the frontman. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was facilitated by producer Chas Chandler. Hendrix biographer John McDermott noted how Chandler was fascinated by the exceptional talent of Hendrix and was instrumental in shaping his music career. It was Chandler who decided that the “Purple Haze” would be the band’s second single. McDermott recounts the story of a day in 1966 when “Purple Haze” came into existence;
“Jimi was playing a small club date in London and was backstage toying with the riff of “Purple Haze”, and Chas, you know, being there, heard it immediately and said, ‘Write the rest of that. That’s the next single’. Because I think he had heard enough of Jimi, even in the two or three months that they were together, to know that that is something very special, work on that.”
Hendrix had returned with nearly ten pages of lyrics. The early versions of the song had multiple variations and changes, unlike the shorter version that was finally released to make it more radio-friendly. Of course, “Purple Haze” would not be the hit it is if not for the contribution of the studio engineer Eddie Kramer, who worked for the Olympic studios in which the song was recorded. Kramer was known for experimenting with ‘weird’ music and nothing could get as weird as Hendrix’s eccentric style. Kramer remembers recording “Purple Haze” as a one-of-a-kind experience;
“He [Hendrix] was very shy. When he stepped out on the studio floor and, you know, plugged in – oh, my God, it was just a revelation for me. You know, I’d never heard anything quite like it.”
What an apt way to describe “Purple Haze” and the musical force that was Jimi Hendrix! The song had multiple sound effects which contributed to its psychedelic feel. There were sped-up guitar parts, some sections recorded in half-speed, and enhanced background noises that came out as echoes which enriched the song to create a wholly unique masterpiece.
“Purple Haze” was released in March 1967, and was a hit single from The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut studio album ‘Are You Experienced.’ The album itself was an immediate commercial success. It is named by many music critics as one of the best rock and roll albums ever released. ‘Are You Experienced’ became 5x Multi-Platinum certified by RIAA on June 18, 2014.
The song itself established Hendrix as one of the most influential electric guitar players of all time. The song peaked at #3 on the UK Singles Chart. “Purple Haze” is ranked #2 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time and is also featured on their The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.
Listen to “Purple Haze” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Buy ‘Experience Hendrix: The Best of Jimi Hendrix’ Album on Apple Music & Amazon
The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Purple Haze” Lyrics Review and Song Meaning
Hendrix claimed that the song was inspired by a dream that he saw after reading a science fiction novel – where he was lost in a purple fog. This dream-like quality is present right throughout “Purple Haze”. The lyrics seem to enhance this, as they are not arranged in a coherent manner but rather sound like the ramblings of a mad man.
“Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things, they don’t seem the same”
The opening lines convey a sense of confusion. This is likened to the altered state of mind a person enters by consuming drugs and seems to be the most common interpretation. The fact that the lyrics refer to ‘acting funny’ and ‘kissing the sky’ only seems to enforce this interpretation. However, Hendrix himself saw “Purple Haze” as a love song – a seemingly far-fetched theory! But if we take a moment and look clearly, it can be seen that way too. Falling in love is a mind-altering experience and his love was unachievable, like ‘kissing the sky’.
Whatever it may be, Hendrix describes the sense of being lost and directionless, likening it to being surrounded by a purple haze. It is also interesting that the color purple is associated with many things; such as spirituality, mystery, and magic which were the cornerstones of the counterculture that Hendrix was a part of.
Watch Jimi Hendrix Perform “Purple Haze” Live at Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970
“Am I happy or in misery?
Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me”
The second verse intensifies the feeling of being lost. This verse also lends credence to “Purple Haze” being a love song. It talks of a girl that had Hendrix spellbound and perhaps that is what is making his mind foggy. He is entranced, to the extent that he cannot differentiate what is real or false anymore. And so comes a cry for help, to be saved from this existence of constant confusion. But again the other interpretation would be that it is a cry for help from an addict and the drugs are likened to a spell cast by a woman.
The final verse is heralded by a guitar solo that is punctuated by breathy vocalizations.
“You got me blowing, blowing my mind
Is it tomorrow, or just the end of time?”
The uncertainty and mystery are only complicated in this verse. The haze has him surrounded on all sides, fogging up his thoughts and clouding his sight. Truly, these are some poetic lyrics as they appeal to more than our auditory senses. This is why “Purple Haze” is considered a theme song of the counterculture in the 60s. It describes the mind-altering qualities of drugs to perfection; once you experience that high, it hardly matters what day or time it is.
The outro repeats the phrases ‘purple haze’ and ‘help me’ over and over again, almost like a person who is lost in a trance.
It could be said that “Purple Haze” is a song that is pretty hard to decipher. But whichever interpretation you may apply, it will always be a seminal work of music that revolutionized rock and roll music as we know it.