Jimi Hendrix got one of rock’n’roll’s prettiest lyrics when Christopher Young wrote “Little Wing” for 1967’s Axis: Bold As Love. The album version is only a couple minutes long, but back during Napster’s heyday, I found a long version with what must be three extra minutes of Jimi’s guitar work. That’s one of my favorite records of all time, and if I could find a legit copy, I’d be happy to pony up the money for it.
It’s a simple lyric, spare really, but when I say it’s pretty, I mean that in a devastating way. This, my friends, is love:
When I’m sad, she comes to me
With a thousand smiles, she gives to me free
It’s alright she says it’s alright
Take anything you want from me,
It’s one of those songs pretty much everybody has taken a whack at, too. Clapton recorded it with Derek and the Dominos, and there’s a live version with Steve Winwood from a few years ago which I just now learned of and which I’m going to buy just as soon as I’m done with tonight’s FNV. Stevie Ray Vaughn, Concrete Blonde, Santana — some of my favorite acts, and each has done something to make the song their own.
But I didn’t become aware of “Little Wing” (my entire Hendrix collection at the time was a really bad Greatest Hits on cassette) until 1987 and Sting’s second solo album, …Nothing Like The Sun. It’s easy to make fun of Sting now, or really any time since about 1990, which is when he forgot about little things like how to be entertaining. His first two solo albums though contained some fine work, some of which has withstood the test of time.
And he did up “Little Wing” right.
Sting never had very much of a voice — it’s wispier than his hair was when I saw him on TV not long ago. So instead of trying to match Jimi’s epic guitar and bluesy delivery, he took the song in a different direction. It’s breezy, jazzy, and instrumentally maybe sort-of nearly the equal of the original. If so, that’s because Sting brought cool jazz legend Gil Evan and his orchestra on board for this record.
The result is maybe a fuller sound than such a simple song requires, but it works and it works beautifully.