Musical Analysis - Jimi Hendrix

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Introduction

The Wind Cries Mary was recorded by The Jimi Hendrix Experience in the United Kingdom. It appeared on their debut release Are You Experienced in 1967. Written by Jimi Hendrix, the song is based around an altercation between himself and his long time lover Kathy Mary Etchingham.

The sixties was a defining decade for experimental music, fueled by the drugs musicians were taking at the time. Rock n Roll was a worldwide phenomenon and Jimi Hendrix became one of the main pioneers of the rock/psychedelic movement. In the sixties the hippie culture was predominant, with the long haired youth of white middle class society experimenting with psychedelic drugs and trying to change the world with peace, love, and music.

As Cross asserts, London was the capital of the entire cultural world in 1966. Hendrix’s arrival came during the height of a sixties explosion of fashion, photography, film, art, theatre, and music (2005, p.157)

Form

The Wind Cries Mary is 64 bars in length and has been composed using a traditional formula of song writing. It follows a structure of Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Solo, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Outro.

Fig.1A shows the guitar riff in the intro to the song which is four bars in length. The Intro is then followed by Verse 1 which is six bars, then the first Chorus being five bars in length.

Fig.1A

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After the first Chorus there is Verse 2 consisting of 6 bars followed by a Chorus of 5 bars (Fig. 1B) and then the guitar solo which has an 11 bar duration.

Fig. 1B
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Verse 3 follows the solo which is 6 bars long, leading into a Chorus of 5 bars, then Verse 4 which is six bars in length. The song finishes with another Chorus of 5 bars and then an Outro of 8 bars, which is shown in Fig.1C below.

Fig.1C

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Melodic Devices

Jimi’s singing in The Wind Cries Mary is typical of his style of singing a ballad. The phrasing is syncopated, and the way that the melody line is sung throughout the song doesn’t vary drastically in pitch. The lyrics in the verses are phrased to allow a guitar lick to be played at the end of each sentence which is a form of Antiphony. This is shown in Fig. 2A below.

Fig. 2A

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He sings in a way that is melodic but also using spoken phrases, a style very similar to Bob Dylan, who was a major inspiration to Hendrix. In The Wind Cries Mary his subtle singing fits perfectly with the chord progressions and voicing’s that he plays on the guitar.

Jimmy did not have the sweet, strong wide-ranging gospel-inspired vocal sound expected of singers in blues and R&B bands. Jimmy never had any confidence in what turned out to be his very evocative vocal style even when Bob Dylan proved you could busk through it with a voice like a blocked drain. (Glebbeek & Shapiro 1990, p. 67) The other main melodic part of this song is the guitar solo (Fig. 2B). Using a clean uninterrupted tone, Hendrix plays the F major pentatonic scale (F, G, A, C, D) against the I – bVII – IV – bIII chord progression in the first six bars, using notes common to this scale and the chords played underneath, similar to the way his vocal melody is during the verses. In the second half of the solo the melody takes the listener on a different path, with three key changes, the use of the G major and Db minor pentatonic scales and ends back in the key of F. This is a major contrast to the vocals and guitar melodies played previously in the song.

Fig. 2B

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The Wind Cries Mary demonstrates that Jimi could adopt an almost technical approach to the construction of chord patterns and embellishments. Where there might have been a wailing R&B sax solo, there is a clear, ringing compact guitar solo, played virtually straight with only one bend. (Cross 2005, p. 169) Harmonic devices

The Wind Cries Mary is in the key of F major. The introduction begins with an ascending chromatic movement of power chords, Eb5 - E5 - F5,...
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