293. ‘Voodoo Chile’, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Our last number one had the title ‘Woodstock’, but didn’t really get going in terms of capturing the feel of the planet’s biggest ever music festival… But now… Now we have a song that people actually heard. At Woodstock. Performed by one of the weekend’s most famous acts…

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Voodoo Chile, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 15th – 22nd November 1970

It starts with a riff – a riff that everyone has heard – and a tickle from the drum kit. And then, the moment when the twangy, chicka-chucka intro to ‘Voodoo Chile’ cuts out and we slam into the brutally simple main riff is genuinely one of the most thrilling seconds in any chart-topping single. Hard rock from the ultimate rock star. A brilliantly heavy, undiluted record at the top of the pop charts.

Well I stand up next to a mountain, And I chop it down with the edge of my hand… If you’re ever feeling down, ahead of a tough day, I’d recommend putting this on in your headphones and stepping out of the door just as Jimi sings that line… Cause I’m a voodoo child, Lord knows I’m a voodoo child… It’s a badass song, with a badass message. I didn’t mean to take up too much of your sweet time, I’ll give it right back to ya one of these days… Haha… What exactly is a ‘voodoo child’? Dunno, but it doesn’t sound like something you’d want in the house.

Not that the lyrics make up much of this song. There’s an electrifying solo between the first and second verses. And then the whole second half is given over to some serious head-banging and wah-wah pedalling. It might sound like Hendrix showing off, if it didn’t sound so damn good. It’s controlled chaos, a record that sounds like a live-recording, bottled lightning. And it really makes use of your stereo speakers, with the riffs chasing one another left to right, back and forth…

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(coolest single artwork so far, by far!)

God this is good. I knew ‘Voodoo Child’, of course, but it’s not in ‘overplayed’ territory for me. I really should listen to more Hendrix. By November 1970, when he grabbed his one and only week at #1, he was already dead, having joined the 27 Club two months earlier. The line: If I don’t meet you no more in this world, I’ll meet ya on the next one, And don’t be late…! makes it a very appropriate posthumous hit. It’s a shame that it took his death to get him to the top, though he had scored big, Top 10 hits consistently following his debut in 1966 with ‘Hey Joe’.

But who cares why this got to number one. Let’s just rejoice in the fact that it did. It ends abruptly, ricocheting to silence all of a sudden, and you get the feeling it could have been much longer. This ‘Voodoo Chile’ was based on a fifteen minute long, much more laid-back and bluesy, song of the same name that featured on his ‘Electric Ladyland’ album. This version was a reprise – the very last track on the LP – hence the ‘Slight Return’ on the track listing. It should actually be ‘Voodoo Child’, but the record company misnamed it when they released it.

While we wonder just what else 1970 has in store for us in this most schizophrenic of years, we should probably make a confession. At the start I billed this as the pinnacle of Woodstock, by its biggest star. Only problem is… Thanks to bad weather and technical issues, Hendrix actually went on stage at 08:30 on the Monday morning, after most people had begun to pack up and head home. The 500,000 strong crowd had dwindled to around 40,000. But what the hell, who cares. Let’s rewrite history, and imagine him playing this as the sun set, half a million extremely high people swaying along…

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292. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews Southern Comfort

As far as I know, I have never, ever heard this song before. I know Woodstock, the music festival, obviously, and I know Southern Comfort, the whisky flavoured liqueur that I haven’t drunk since an unfortunate incident when I was nineteen… Combining these two things in my mind, I begin to picture a Country & Western, smoke-tinged ballad…

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Woodstock, by Matthews Southern Comfort (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 25th October – 15th November 1970

…and I’m not a million miles away. It’s a soft record – a soft voice, uber-soft rock – a comfy blanket that wraps itself around you and lulls you to sleep in its echoey rhythm. We are stardust, We are golden, And we’ve got to get ourselves, Back to the garden… The singer is a hitchhiker, on his way to Woodstock. His companion is a child of God, off to join a rock and roll band, looking to set his soul free.

It’s a song for fans of imagery. He feels like a cog, stuck in something turning… At one point he dreams of bombers in the sky that turn into butterflies above our nation, which works both as a trippy picture and as a ‘make love not war’ kind of statement. The garden could be the farm where Woodstock was held, or it could be the Garden of Eden, with the singer hoping for a return to innocence. It’s a melancholy sounding song, though; not one that sounds terribly hopeful. The sixties are over, after all, and the hippy dream has died. Contrast ‘Woodstock’ with the hope of If you’re goin’, To San Francisco, Be sure to wear, Some flowers in your hair… and All you need is love… from just three years ago.

Actually, maybe this #1 officially marks the end of the sixties. 1970 has wandered around without really knowing where it’s going – a year of eclectic chart-toppers. This record could be the gunshot that puts us out of our misery, that leads us into a bold new decade, ten months late… Or not. I have to confess that midway through my first listen to this song, I checked how long was left and my heart sank to see a full minute and a half remaining…

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It’s a bit limp. A little Simon & Garfunkel, a little Eagles, a little Fleetwood Mac, a little meh… I do like the sinister, mournful reverbing solo, though. That bit can stay! Matthews Southern Comfort were a British band, led by singer Iain Matthews, who had previously been in folk band Fairport Convention. He did not, to the best of my knowledge, play at Woodstock. Neither did Joni Mitchell, the writer of this song, which surprised me. She based the lyrics on what she heard from her then boyfriend, Graham Nash of The Hollies (Crosby, Stills & Nash also did a version.) Mitchell’s original – listen here – isn’t as warm or as chart-friendly as Matthews’.

It’s cool that Joni Mitchell has a number one single by proxy, and that one of the biggest pop culture moments of the twentieth century gets a belated mention at the top of the pop charts, but I can’t really warm to this song. It’s just floated past me… And, actually, if you want a proper taste of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, then you would do well to hang around and catch our next number one single…

Follow my Spotify playlist with all the #1 singles so far here.