So I’m trying out a new thing where I write about albums on their birthdays. I’ve compiled a, by no means exhaustive, list of albums that came out 10, 20, 30 etc. years go, and it has already inspired me to listen to some music I had never heard before, which is reason enough to keep at it. One such album was Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane. Other than iconic songs like, “White Rabbit,” and “Somebody to Love,” I hadn’t listened to this album all the way through before, despite having seen the cover in my Dad’s record collection several times.
What is so great about Jefferson Airplane is the high level of musicianship from every member of the band. The harmonies and layers of vocal counterpoint between Marty Balin, Grace Slick, and Paul Kantner add a surreal dimension to their music. Jorma Kaukonen’s guitar playing is also a huge selling point for this record, between his lead playing on tracks like “Somebody to Love,” and “She Has Funny Cars,” and his instrumental solo acoustic composition “Embryonic Journey.”
Brb. Listening to “Somebody to Love,” and GETTING MY LIFE
Yas. Ok, I’m back.
While songs like “Somebody to Love,” “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds,” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” make their proficiency as a rock band clear, they also showcase their folky side quite a bit on Surrealistic Pillow. The last three songs on side A, “My Best Friend,” “Today,” and “Comin’ Back to Me,” get quite mellow in stark contrast to the two fiery opening tracks. This versatility is found in other acts of the ’60s, like Simon & Garfunkel, and The Beatles, but I’m not sure if anyone else made this shift as seamlessly as Jefferson Airplane.
“D.C.B.A. 25,” and “How Do You Feel,” sit somewhere in between the Airplane’s sonic extremes, blending psychedelic rock with their trademark atmospheric vocal harmonies. The former contains these beautiful vocal lines from Slick, trading off from Kantner on lead vocals, both of whom soar over a laid back drum beat and intricate guitar arpeggios. “How Do You Feel,” is another song that features the great vocal chemistry in the band, and is somewhat reminiscent of The Mamas and The Papas.
And then there’s “White Rabbit,” one of the most iconic songs from the psychedelic rock era. It’s only two and a half minutes long, but the way it builds up to the climax at the end makes it a truly captivating piece of music. The different tonalities it uses are great too, especially how it begins in F#, and then moves to the bII chord, G. The song revolves around the key of A, but doesn’t feel fully resolved until the very end. You can both rock out mindlessly to this song, and also nerd out about the theory behind it, which is the perfect mix for a pop song, in my opinion. And Grace Slick’s voice is phenomenal, obviously.
In short, in all of my years being a fan of classic rock, I deeply regret not getting into this band sooner. What was I doing with my life?! Gah!!! I highly recommend checking this album out if you haven’t yet. And what better time to do so than on its 50th birthday?
Songs from Surrealistic Pillow you should listen to: (besides like… all of them)