Psych album of the week: Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow (1967)

The band’s newest member, Grace Slick, brought with her hit songs, good looks, and one hell of a voice

Jefferson-Airplane-Surrealistic-Pillow

Jefferson Airplane

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The English band Spacemen 3 once released an album called Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To, which is an amusing title and probably pretty accurate as far as Spacemen 3 was concerned. Of course, you don’t have to take any drugs to enjoy music; music is arguably its own kind of mind-altering substance. For those so inclined, however, we offer the following as a must-hear.

The year 1967 saw the release of one great album after another: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Are You Experienced, The Velvet Underground, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and Disraeli Gears, to name but a few. Surrealistic Pillow hit No. 3 on the Billboard chart that year—far and away Jefferson Airplane’s biggest critical and commercial success, and cementing its importance in the West Coast psychedelic music scene. 

Their debut the previous year peaked at 128. Biggest difference? The arrival of Grace Slick. Poached from a fellow San Francisco group, Slick brought with her hit songs (“White Rabbit”, “Somebody to Love”), good looks, and one hell of a voice. Along with Slick, the band’s other sonic secret weapons were bass-guitar marvel Jack Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, whose respective flair and talent add immeasurably to the depth and scope of the album. 

The second track and Top 5 single “Somebody to Love” showcases Slick’s powerhouse vocals and leads into the pleasant pop of “My Best Friend”, the delicate and tender “Today”, and gentle “Comin’ Back to Me”. The raucous “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” kicks things up several notches and the chimey “D.C.B.A 25” sets the stage for the back half of the album crowned by the jaw-dropping acoustic guitar instrumental “Embryonic Journey” and the unimpeachable “White Rabbit”, packed with martial drums, hypnotic vocals, and boundless Lewis Carroll references. 

Standout tracks

“Somebody to Love”, “Today”, “3/5 Mile in 10 Seconds”, “Embryonic Journey”, “White Rabbit”.

Sonic psych-out

Grace Slick’s haunting recorder part in “Comin’ Back to Me” keeps you looking over your shoulder.

Trippiest lyrics

“When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead/And the White Knight is talking backwards/And the Red Queen’s off with her head/Remember what the dormouse said/‘Feed your head.’” (“White Rabbit”)

In their own words

“The verses are disillusionment, and the chorus is looking for an answer. That feeling was a lot more common in those days than the media seemed to realize.”  (Grace Slick on “Somebody to Love”)

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