Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 6 6 May 1970

Record Review

page 23

Record Review

Photo of band Jefferson Airplane

The Jefferson Airplane came right at the beginning of the Hype over psychedelic music. Groups formed, flourished and crapped out with monotonous regularity; only the Airplane (and perhaps the Grateful Dead) have progressed away from the initial narrow musical framework and retained a following comparable to the mass adulation they received in 1966-7. The Airplane's sound is very distinctive with the superb, strong vocals of Grace Slick and Marty Balin combining with one of the tightest group sounds on record. Bassist Jack Cassidy's long flowing lines intertwine with Jorma Kaukonen's strident leads while Paul Katner and Balin provide a solid rhythm guitar line-up. The overall sound is incredibly complex Tor a rock group. The vocals are rarely allowed to stand out as the main melody line with instrumental backing; instead both Grace and Marty use their voices as an extension of the instrumental sound. Listeners must appreciate that the result is a total sound—perhaps the vocals and words become a little murky but what the hell!

This complex, individualistic sound could be the basic reason for their lack of impact on New Zealand record buyers. One could not describe them as being merely unpopular—it is worse than that because they are unnoticed despite a prolific output of excellent albums—
Jefferson Airplane Takes Off RCA LPM 3584 (Mono)
Surrealistic Pillow LPM 3766 (Mono)
After Bathing at Baxters LSP 1511 (Stereo)
Crown of Creation LSP 4058 (Stereo)
Bless its Pointed Little Head LSP 4133 (Stereo)
Volunteer LSP 4238 (Stereo)

Jefferson Airplane Takes Off and Surrealistic Pillow were recorded at the height of psychedelia and it is a tribute to the group's uniqueness that they steered clear of the gimmickry associated with the trend and consequently neither album sounds particularly dated. Takes Off has Signe Anderson as female vocalist but Grace took over soon after. Surrealistic Pillow was their most commercial album with attractive tunes such as "Somebody to Love," "Plastic Fantastic Lover," "White Rabbit" and "315 of a mile in 10 seconds"—and little space devoted to extended instrumental improvisations.

After Bathing at Baxters heralded the Airplane's progression to a -much more heavy, intricate sound with excellent melodies and lyrics interspersed with extended instrumental work. Grace contributed the fantastic "Rejoyce" with its kinky words and unusual melody line." Wild Tyme", "Watch Her Ride" and "Spare Chaynge" were the very best of the recorded Jefferson Airplane.

After such a good record, Crown of Creation was a disappointment. It was very uneven with only a few glimpses of their real sound. The Airplane seem to have had production problems in their attempts to get a more smooth sound in the studio. Even for all its faults the disc is worth buying for two tracks—Dave Crosby's "Triad" and Grace's "Greasy Heart".

At this stage it seemed as if the Airplane was about to fade out after playing it super cool. However the magnificent Bless its Pointed Little Head showed for the first time just how the group sounds live—an excellent recording of dates at Fillimore East and West in November 1968. Drummer Spencer Dryden raved enthusiastically about it being "the first record that sounds like us." They do most of their old numbers—"Somebody to Love", "It's No Secret", "Plastic Fantastic Lover" and "The Other Side of This Life"

Kaukonen's superb guitar is highlighted on eight minutes of "Rock Me Baby" played in an electric blues style. Highlight of the album is "Bear Melt". Grace has put the words to a Gil Evans line, she sings them with a very heavy march-like accompaniment and then the whole group swings in and improvises around the theme.

After the release of Bless its Pointed Little Head, Dryden said "I've come to think it's not really necessary to beat your brains playing for a couple of thousand kids a night, living in hotel rooms, travelling all over the place—these kids who've already seen five dozen light shows and heard a hundred heavy rock bands. Something new has got to happen. There's got to be more to it than this, someplace else to go, something happening, and I really hope ours can be the band to do it."

Brave words indeed. Everyone scoffed and discussed the number of times they had heard such rash sentiments. Fortunately the recent release of Volunteers has made most of the knockers eat their words. It is one of the best rock albums to emerge from America; at last Al Schmidt has managed to capture the Airplane's live sound in a studio. The sheer avalanche of sound that hit listeners on Bless its Pointed Little Head has now the advantage of the very best 16 track stereo recording. Also, the group's sound has been augmented with talented friends—Nicky Hopkins, Steven Stills, Jerry Garcia and Dave Crosby. Hopkin's piano work is such a dominant force on many tracks that it is hard to imagine the Airplane without him.

Side one opens with "We Can Be Together" a pounding rock number with Grace cutting right through the wall of sound to belt out the anti-social lyrics—

We're all outlaws in the eyes of America,
Up against the wall motherfuckers . . .

"Good Shepherd" is a Balin arrangement of the traditional tune and played in the typical Airplane manner. With the help of Nick's honky tonk piano, they swing into "The Farm." Nothing complicated about this track, a good-time number extolling the virtues of the simple rustic life—

"Bought myself a farm way out in the country,
Took to growing lettuce and milking cows ..."

Jefferson Plane album artwork

The side closes with the best track of all—Grace's 'Hey Fredrick". This is an extension of the complex style shown on "Bear Melt". The basic theme is again stated against a march-like backing. Jack Cassidy leads in with a solid fuzz bass line and Grace shows her phenomenal range by coming in underneath. After building up the whole thing suddenly breaks with Nicky coming in with a completely antithetical melody line. It then goes back to Grace for a few more bars before launching into 6 minutes of improvisation. Kaukonen and Cassidy have never achieved a better combination—their combination here is partly due to the musical stimulus of Hopkins. The track builds up to a momentous climax with Cassidy, Balin, Kantner and Hopkins laying down a solid, low bass line and Kaukonen's lead screaming out above.

Side two opens with the spiritually flavoured "Turn My Life Down". Still's Hammond organ blends beautifully with Kantner's mellow rhythm guitar. "Wooden Ships" is from the Crosby, Stills and Nash album (Paul Kantner wrote the track with Crosby and Stills). Grace, Marty and Paul handle the three part vocals so well that the tune comes out better here than on the original recording. "Eskimo Blue Day" is a typical Slick/Kantner composition. "Meadowlands" is one minute of (Steven Stills doing his thing with a Russian folk tune, completely in contrast to the final track, "Volunteers", where the full Airplane rock sound is unleashed and Grace urges everyone to create a revolution.

In summing up such a tremendous record, I can only register my disappointment in the recent news that Spencer Dryden has left the group. The group's personnel have been stable since 1967 and one hopes that this change will not lead to others.

"Don Hewitson