"1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" is a song by American-English rock band The Jimi Hendrix Experience, featured on their 1968 third album Electric Ladyland. Written and produced by Jimi Hendrix, the song features flute player Chris Wood of the band Traffic, and at over 13 minutes in duration is the second longest track released by the group (after "Voodoo Chile").
|"1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)"|
|Song by the Jimi Hendrix Experience|
|from the album Electric Ladyland|
|Released||September 16, 1968|
|Recorded||April 22, 1968|
|Studio||Record Plant, New York City|
Hendrix first recorded demo versions of "1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" at a New York apartment in March 1968 with just guitar and vocals, the recordings of which were later released as part of the unofficial bootleg Acoustic Jams, and subsequently on the companion disc of a 1995 book entitled Voodoo Child: The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix. The first official recording of the song, by the full lineup of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, took place at New York's Sound Center Studios on March 13, 1968, before Hendrix and drummer Mitch Mitchell (along with flute player Chris Wood, then a member of Traffic) recorded five takes of the song, including the master recording, at the Record Plant on April 22. Additional overdubs were added on May 8, and the song was completed and mixed at the Record Plant on June 10.
On the Electric Ladyland recording of "1983…", Hendrix plays all guitars, vocals, percussion and bass (Noel Redding was absent from the track completely), with Mitchell on drums and Wood on flute. The track features backwards guitar and flute parts, the sounds of seagulls produced by manipulating microphone feedback, and a flexatone that makes a ringing bell sound. As with the rest of the album, production was led by Hendrix, while the engineering was handled by Eddie Kramer and studio owner Gary Kellgren.
In the book Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy, Hendrix commentators Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek propose that "1983…" is "a song of firsts and lasts", describing the music as "Jimi's first piece of major orchestration, using the full capacities of the Record Plant's studio facilities", and contrasting the lyrical content as "the last of Jimi's surreal apocalypses; despairing of mankind, he finally returns to the sea, the source of all life". They go on to note that the song contains references to "Jimi's two favourite metaphors", sand and water, and that some of the phrases within the lyrics connote his "belief in the power of positive thinking apparent in his music, lyrics and interviews through all the rest of his life". In an interview with Jane De Mendelssohn for International Times in 1969, Hendrix explained the significance of the track to be "something to keep your mind off what's happening … but not necessarily completely hiding away from it like some people do".
In reviews of Electric Ladyland, "1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" has often been identified as a highlight of the album. Writing for the BBC in 2007, critic Chris Jones described the track as a "stoned classic", praising the way it "[utilises] washes of backwards tape, jazzy timeshifts and far out fish-friendly lyrics to tell the tale of future apocalypse and return to the oceans". English music magazine Uncut writer John Robinson has summed up the track as a "brain-frying psychedelic epic", while Cub Koda of website Allmusic labels the track simply as "spacy".
The treatment of the song in American music magazine Rolling Stone, however, was slightly different. Dedicating a paragraph of his 1968 review to the track, writer Tony Glover summarised the lyrical content of the song before noting that "With tape loops, melancholy guitar and the flute of Chris Wood … Hendrix structures a beautiful undersea mood – only to destroy it with some heavy-handed guitar. My first reaction was, why did he have to do that? Then I thought that he created a beautiful thing, but lost faith [in] it, and so destroyed it before anybody else could – in several ways, a bummer".
Despite its experimental nature and length, "1983…" has been covered several times, primarily for tribute albums. The first commercially released cover version of the song was performed by the Gil Evans Orchestra for their 1975 album Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix, which was followed in 1999 with recordings by Laurie Anderson and Tracy Scott Silverman, before the Turtle Island Quartet recorded a classical version for the Hendrix-focused collection Have You Ever Been… released in 2010. The song was covered by American deathrock band Christian Death on their 1987 album The Scriptures. The Allman Brothers performed it live several times at the end of their career, several recordings exist.