Last year I posted Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland—Exposing the ‘Blue Type’ Hype, about people’s mistaken notion that the UK version of Hendrix’s masterpiece with the blue type was the true first pressing. If you’re one of the 98% of collectors who couldn’t care less about this, I invite you to move on to something more interesting.
If you care about this arcane issue read on, because the answer has emerged. To recap, there are two major variations of the UK Electric Ladyland album cover. Most copies have white type and small photos of Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell inside the gatefold, but some have blue type and larger photos of Mitch and Noel. On the “blue” copies, the type is a mottled blue, which looks like a printing problem of some sort.
Since the advent of Ebay, some have maintained that the blue text copies are the true first pressings. In my previous post, I disputed this for a variety of reasons. The vast majority of copies have the white type. Hendrix was a superstar when Electric Ladyland was released, and it was a immediate best seller. If the blue copies were the first, there would be far more blue than white ones. As I wrote last year, I own Hendrix’s personal copy of Electric Ladyland–surely he would have had an original–and his is the white type version. And well known English illustrator Edwin Pouncey (aka Savage Pencil) still has the copy he had special ordered prior to the album’s release—and it too has white type.
In late October, I had the good fortune to visit David King, the art director who designed the UK Electric Ladyland cover, as well as the covers for the single disc versions, Electric Ladyland Part 1 and Part 2. David is a hero of mine, and also designed the covers for Axis:Bold As Love, The Who Sell Out and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown–in my opinion some of the greatest album covers ever created (I look forward to writing more about my visit with David at his London home.)
Obviously David was the man who could solve the blue/white mystery for once and for all. He told me that in the 60’s recording artists were rarely involved with their album covers. They were usually on the road or in the studio, and he typically had only a few days to come up with an idea and create the artwork. In the case of Electric Ladyland, the Hendrix Experience had been touring the US for three months prior to the album’s October 25, 1968 UK release, and didn’t return until after the album was out.
King, the Arts Editor at the Sunday Times Magazine was a friend of Track Records co-owner Chris Stamp (also co-manager of The Who.) Stamp liked King’s aesthetic and hired him to design various album covers for Track. For Electric Ladyland, King recalls having only three days from concept to turning in the finished art. Stamp was enthusiastic about King’s idea to picture nude girls on the cover, and happily anticipated the controversy it would undoubtedly cause. King told me Hendrix had no involvement with the cover, and even disavowed it after its release, saying “I don’t know anything about it. I didn’t know it was going to be used.”
King hired photographer David Montgomery to shoot the nineteen nude models, and on the inside used an existing photograph of Hendrix (he’d previously hired Montgomery to shoot the photo for a Sunday Times Magazine article that never ran.) King added the small photographs of Mitch and Noel as an afterthought. His original design had the white type and smaller photographs of Redding and Mitchell; in fact King showed me his white type printed samples, stored in his flat files since 1968.
So why was there a blue type/larger photos version ? It turns out the problem was the size of the photos. King told me that when Redding and Mitchell saw the finished cover, they were very upset that their photos were so much smaller than Hendrix’s. Consequently, Chris Stamp had the printer to enlarge their photos for the next run. The printer mistakenly used blue type instead of white—perhaps because the text on the Part 2 album cover was the same shade of blue—but in the process of “fixing it” created the blotchy blue type on the blue versions. King was not involved in the “fix” and would never have approved it the way it was printed; he told me “until you mentioned it a few weeks ago, I’d completely forgotten about the blue type, that it ever existed even for a moment.”
Chris Stamp died last year, so there is no way to definitively know what happened next, but we assume that since the printing job turned out badly, and the Experience broke up in mid 1969, Stamp made the decision to go back to the original version—which at least was printed properly. The white type version on Track was still in print in the early 1970′s, and was the version later reissued on Polydor. Last month, an ‘interm version’ was sold on Ebay, with white type but bits of blue, particularly in the slashes between songs.
So for those who share my obsession with things like this, we now know the pressings were-
- White type/smaller photos
- Blue type/larger photos
- White type/smaller photos (with a bit of blue)
- White type/smaller photos (Same as #1)
- Polydor reissue; White type/smaller photos.
And there you have it—case closed !