Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Jefferson Airplane Primer"
What kind of crazy world do we live in where Jefferson Starship is remembered and Jefferson Airplane is not?
SOMEBODY TO LOVE
This is where it all began. Actually, it isn't, there was a previous album with a different singer, but "Surrealistic Pillow" featured Grace Slick who was cool and tough and the girls adored her and the boys salivated over her and Madonna might be more famous, but Grace was a bigger star, and could sing better to boot! But they both featured the ability to speak their own mind, although in true sixties fashion Grace's utterances were not premeditated, there was no manipulation, it was all about her truth. She was closer to John Lennon in that way than Madge.
I'd like to tell you what a surprise it was to hear "Somebody To Love" on the radio in the spring of '67, but the truth is we were constantly surprised, the era was all about testing limits.
And this did, test limits, that is. And it got very little airplay back then, but it's the one you still hear today, yesterday's edgy is today's mainstream.
No veiled drug references like the Beatles, Grace told us it was all about pills right up front.
And really, it's the ending of this two and a half minute number that is so riveting, wherein Grace implores us to feed our heads.
And there's the change in the middle.
And I think as dated as this sounds, even a ten year old would be riveted upon hearing it today.
The magic of Marty Balin, yes the Airplane had multiple lead singers. This is so dreamy, you just remember lying on your bed as the music washed over you, ensconced in your own private reverie.
PLASTIC FANTASTIC LOVER
"Surrealistic Pillow" was not underrated then, but it came out before "Sgt. Pepper," most people really did not know the power of albums, but this one was playable through and through, this is just another track, but it's so good, they were all so good. If it was released today, hipsters from Brooklyn to Silver Lake would be singing "Surrealistic Pillow"'s praises, but all they do is talk about stuff inferior to it.
WON'T YOU TRY/SATURDAY AFTERNOON
"After Bathing At Baxter's" had no hits, but that does not mean it didn't flow, that it wasn't listenable, that it wasn't rewarding. Start here, with the number done so well at Woodstock, that was released on the concert's second album, which sank like a stone upon release in July '71, I've included the live take here, it'll bring you right back to Yasgur's farm.
It's surreal, it'll take you away, check it out.
And after failing on the singles chart, Jefferson Airplane steered its sound toward the mainstream, and failed once again.
This was the single they pushed from "Crown of Creation," and once again, it's the sound that's so enrapturing.
CROWN OF CREATION
The title track, good, but not as good as what had come before.
The apotheosis, not the single, but the album, but the single was really damn good, and first heard on the initial Woodstock album. It's only 2:03 long, but it got its message across. And at this point to be a revolutionary was not so revolutionary, but no one could accuse the Airplane of not having the courage of its convictions. Then again, the press dismissed the album because of its overt politics, but this is the one that you've got to have, it's varied and playable throughout, and you never hear it anywhere anymore.
The second song on the first side of "Volunteers," it's sung by Jorma Kaukonen and one can only describe it as hypnotic, back when not everything was made to be played on the radio, to be a hit.
Included mainly because of its intensity. Today's stars look good but have cotton candy inside, they can't talk, they stand for nothing, but not Grace Slick. You wanted to know her as much as you wanted to screw her.
Yes, the Crosby, Stills & Nash song. Paul Kantner was a cowriter. And, unfortunately, CSN's take came out first, so this one was unjustly ignored, it has its own magic, but I must admit CSN's version is better.
ESKIMO BLUE DAY
Let me just say this got our high school radio station shut down for a week. Listen to the lyrics and you'll know why. This was when there was no profanity on TV, there was no HBO, and after giving us the mic for half an hour before school started, the administration pulled it after "Eskimo Blue Day" was played, but the word is not its only salient feature, this is a great song.
PRETTY AS YOU FEEL
And from there it was downhill, ain't that the way it usually is, a band peaks and then...what?
This was written and sung by the band's new drummer, Joey Covington, and its dreamy, imperfect nature endears itself to you.
(Note: Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen, Carlos Santana and Michael Shrieve were credited as cowriters, and Grace Slick sang too...)
Another intense Grace Slick number, a bit obvious, but still satisfying.
TWILIGHT DOUBLE LEADER
And from there, it got worse. The packaging was incredible, "Bark" came in a paper bag, "Long John Silver" folded up into a cigar box, it's just that the music was not very good.
This is my favorite from "Long John Silver," although by this point I was more interested in Paul Kantner's solo work, which was billed as "Jefferson Starship." Little did we know that Paul would cast aside the space travel, Marty Balin would rejoin the troops (he left after "Volunteers") and suddenly the group would become one of the biggest in the land, with hit after hit.
So you can still hear "Miracles" and "With Your Love" and "Count On Me" on the radio, but almost all of the earlier stuff has been forgotten, unjustly.