From the opening odd riff of his second single you knew it was going to be different. When the recording was sent to Hendrix’s American label, a note was attached that said, “deliberate distortion, do not correct.”
When manager Chas Chandler heard Hendrix tinkering with the song’s opening riff, he said, “That’s the next single!” Hendrix wrote as many as 10 verses to the song but Chas Chandler helped him edit it down to a radio-friendly length.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded the song two weeks later, on January 11th, 1967. After some overdubs and producing, the song was released as a single on March 17th. The Experience’s debut album, Are You Experienced? would be released a couple of months later.
In March of 1967, “Purple Haze,” the single, was released in England and shot up the charts. Three months later, the Experience gave its first U.S. performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. After that show, Jimi Hendrix became a star in America.
The song has become a symbol of the ’60s counterculture and has since lent its name to a strain of cannabis and acid.
This contains one of the most misheard lyrics ever, with “Scuse me while I kiss the sky” interpreted as “Scuse me while I kiss this guy.” Hendrix added to the confusion by sometimes singing it that way and pointing to one of his band members.
The song peaked at #65 in the Billboard 100 and #3 in the UK in 1967.
Jimi Hendrix: “I dream a lot and I put my dreams down as songs,” “I wrote one called ‘First Look Around the Corner’ and another called ‘The Purple Haze,’ which was about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.”
At one point, Hendrix wrote the chorus as “purple haze, Jesus saves,” but decided against it.
Part of the lyrics were formed from some of Jimi’s free verse ramblings that he jotted down from time to time.
This song was written under the guidance of Hendrix’ manager, ex-Animals bassist Chas Chandler. They had just released Hendrix’ first single, a cover of Tim Rose’s “Hey Joe” and were looking for a follow up. Chandler was impressed when he first heard the riff, and inspired Jimi to finish writing the song.
On the original recording, you hear the line up of the Experience with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums.
The opening chord of two riffs then an interval of flattened fifth is the d5 or “tritone,” which has long been regarded as the “Most imperfect of dissonances” and was generally avoided in composition for that reason.
Hendrix claimed this had nothing to do with drugs, but it’s hard to believe they weren’t an influence. The lyrics seem to vividly portray an acid trip, and Hendrix was doing plenty of drugs at the time.
Jimi and producer Chas Chandler used some unusual studio tricks to get the unique sound. To create the background track that sounds distant, they put a pair of headphones around a microphone and recorded it that way to get an echo effect.
Hendrix wrote the lyrics on the day after Christmas in 1966. He wrote a lot more than what made it to the song. The track was developed at a press function that he attended at East London’s Upper Cut Club, run by the former boxer Billy Walker. Hendrix launched into the scorching riff in the club’s compact dressing room and every head turned. “I said, write the rest of that,” said Chandler. “That’s the next single!” It was premiered live on 8 January 1967, in Sheffield in the north of England.
For one of the guitar tracks, Hendrix used a device called an Octavia, which could raise or lower the guitar by a full octave.
A month before Hendrix died, he opened a recording studio in Greenwich Village called Electric Lady. One of the studios is known as “Purple Haze” and contains a purple mixing board. The studios have remained active with The Clash, Weezer, Patti Smith and Alicia Keys all recording there at some point.
This song is apparently referenced in an episode of The Simpsons. Homer is shopping (for useless garbage, of course) and finds a back massaging chair called the Spinemelter 2000. Homer sits in the chair and orders the store clerk to put it on full power. As the chair begins to massage Homer, he tells his family, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky…”
The track was the penultimate song Hendrix played in concert, on September 6, 1970, days before his death.
James Ford, who is a member of the production duo Simian Mobile Disco tells in the NME column “My first record”: “The first record I remember really connecting with was ‘Purple Haze.’ I remember being blown away by its wild and unhinged energy. It was also the first thing I ever tried to work out on a guitar. Needless to say, I didn’t get very far at that age.”
Bob Rivers did a parody of this song called “Holidaze,” which is all about the mad rush of the holiday season (“S’cuse me, I got gifts to buy…”). Playing Hendrix in the parody is Randy Hansen, a renowned Jimi Hendrix tribute artist. On drums is Alan White of the band Yes.
Purple haze, all in my brain
Lately things they don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
Excuse me while I kiss the sky
Purple haze, all around
Don’t know if I’m comin’ up or down
Am I happy or in misery?
What ever it is, that girl put a spell on me
Oh, no, no
Ooh, ah, yeah!
Purple haze all in my eyes
Don’t know if it’s day or night
You got me blowin’, blowin’ my mind
Is it tomorrow, or just the end of time?
Ahh, yeah, yeah, purple haze
Oh, no, oh
Oh, help me
Tell me, tell me, purple haze
I can’t go on like this
(Purple haze) you’re makin’ me blow my mind
Purple haze, n-no, no