MUSIC REVIEW | Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow (1967)

Can I think a band is synonymous with something, without really knowing anything about them or the music?  Because if I had to name every 60s band I could think of off the top of my head, Jefferson Airplane might get mentioned in the first five.  But if I had to name as many of their songs as I could think off the top of my head, I might get White Rabbit, and that’s about it.

I think I regard them as synonymous with the 60s based on two specific events where they appeared; Woodstock and the Altamont Speedway gig when the Hells Angels killed a dude during the Rollins Stones headlining set.  But surely they’re bigger and better than those two events?  A theory I’m putting to the test by listening to Surrealistic Pillow.

Only two tracks in, and I get a rock classic with Somebody to Love.  I may not have known who performed it, but I have known this song my entire life.  It’s the kind of song has been used to establish a certain hippy, trippy version of the 60s in dozens of movies.

When combined with album opener She Had Funny Cars, I’ve already found something very specific to love about the Jefferson Airplane sound.  While Grace Slick’s voice is undeniably amazing, it’s the combination of her voice with the various males of the band that really brings these songs to life.

If songs had feelings, My Best Friend would be jealous and resentful that Somebody to Love is the obvious choice for lazy movie soundtrack selections to set the tone of the 60s.  Because My Best Friend might be the most Forrest Gump sound track song I have ever heard that’s not on the Forrest Gump soundtrack.  And since Forrest Gump is tied with The Big Chill for laziest, most obvious soundtrack selections in the history of motion picture, that’s really saying something.

While everything to this point is a version of the 60s I really dig, Comin’ Back to Me is the kind of soft, wet, iron deficient version of the 60s I hate.  Just grow a pair and sing your song!  But luckily, it’s back to the jangled guitar, dancing organ and harmonised rock vocals with 3/5 a Mile in 10 Seconds and it’s awesome.

And don’t I just feel like a real A-grade prick once How Do You Feel kicks in?  Because in every conceivable way, it’s completely in the same vein as Comin’ Back to Me, but I don’t hate it.  In fact, I kind of like it.  Did I have a massive mood swing in the five minutes between songs?  Or am I just inconsistent.  Buggers me, alls I know is, one song made me want to replace my earbuds with knitting needles, while the other is a trippy, acoustic delight.

As things start to wind down on Surrealistic Pillow, we get to the one and only Jefferson Airplane song I could name before today.  White Rabbit is as trippy as the Alice in Wonderland story that inspired it.  It might also be the best showcase of Grace Slick’s vocals.  Starting ominous and dark, moving to restrained passion, to just good old fashioned belting one out.

While I didn’t love Surrealistic Pillow enough to all of a sudden declare myself a Jefferson Airplane fan and seek out their entire back catalogue.  I did really like it.  And I now know, for sure, that they are bigger and better than the couple of songs I already knew, and appearances at a couple of events like Woodstock and Altamont.

Jefferson Airplane

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