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Author Topic: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)  (Read 2727 times)

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Hombre_de_ningun_lugar

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Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« on: April 13, 2012, 02:05:21 AM »

I want to do another Microscope, this time about the best record of one of my very favourite bands: Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane. Released in early 1967, between their Byrdish debut Jefferson Airplane Takes Off and the extra-acidified After Bathing At Baxter's, it has an equitative mixture of folk and acid rockers. Certainly one of the best pre-Sgt. Pepper's albums and in my opinion the best record that came out from the San Francisco scene.

She Has Funny Cars. A great opener, with a wonderful drumming intro by new drummer Spencer Dryden. Good use of fuzz bass, sounding almost like a car running. Fine vocals by Marty Balin and Grace Slick. The song ends with a short but magnificent acidified guitar solo.

Somebody To Love. One of the two hits of the album, and probably the most well known song of the band. Great lead vocal by Grace, no wonder why she's my favourite female singer (sorry Janis). Drums don't sound very inspiring, but maybe the song didn't need more. Jack Casady's bass is thunderous as usual and Jorma Kaukonen's lead guitar almost makes the song, especially at the end with another superb solo.

My Best Friend. This time a folkish song, written by the Airplane's ex-drummer Skip Spence (who had left the band and went to play guitar in Moby Grape). It's a nice tune and the performance is good as usual, but it never was one of my favourite songs.

Today. The great ballad of the album. It captures some of the best things of the band's debut album. Sweet tambourine. Love the ascending volume of the psychedelic drumming. A highlight.

Comin' Back To Me. The longest song of the album (5:24), and at first listen it may be pretty boring because of its slow melody and the absence of drums. But this is Balin's special moment in the album, with delicious flute and acoustic guitars.

3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds. Back to the acid rock sound again. I needed some time to dig this song, but now I really like it. Bass is awesome, Casady is up there with the best ones; and Kaukonen smokes on his guitar solo, he deserves much more credit than he usually gets.

D.C.B.A.-25. The only song 100% written by Paul Kantner, who at this point had a secondary role but later became the main songwriter of the band. Good bass intro, beautiful vocal duet of Paul and Grace, excellent guitar solo and suitable tambourine. I love this nice folk rocker.

How Do You Feel. The only cover of the album, another pleasant folk tune. Here we can hear the fine vocal harmonies of the band along with jangly guitars.

Embryonic Journey. This is just Kaukonen on acoustic guitars. A marvelous instrumental.

White Rabbit. The other hit of the album, written and sung by Grace. Lyrics are heavily inspired by "Alice in wonderland". The classic bass intro is like a fingerprint of the song. The song volume is constantly increasing, with those marching drums and ascending vocals. A classic 1960's song.

Plastic Fantastic Lover. A pretty funky song. Balin sings almost like rapping. Lead guitar is again very solid. A plastic fantastic closer.

Easily one of my Top 10 favourite albums. Highly recommendable for those who haven't listened to the band and much more accessible than their next records, which only fans like me seem to enjoy.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2012, 02:36:56 AM by Hombre_de_ningun_lugar »
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Ovi

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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #1 on: April 13, 2012, 07:37:27 AM »

Great review, Hombre. I own this album but I haven't heard it yet. I am familiar with 'White Rabbit' and 'Somebody To Love' and I love them both. I'll give it a listen and I'll come back with opinions sometime on Monday, I think.
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Hombre_de_ningun_lugar

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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2012, 01:59:23 PM »

That's great 5th Beatle. If you enjoyed the Doors I think you will like this album; it also has a dark sound, but Jefferson Airplane had much more virtuosism than Jim & friends. Thanks for your response.
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tkitna

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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2012, 03:34:18 PM »

Great review. I'm embarrassed to admit that I dont own this one, but I was never knocked out by the stuff i've heard from them. Ironically, I love Jefferson Starship and own a bunch of stuff from them. Who would a thunk it?

Hombre_de_ningun_lugar

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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2012, 05:24:50 PM »

Thanks tkitna. Wow! I can't stand Jefferson Starship at all, it's like the Beatles turning into Wings! ;D

Actually I didn't find many Beatles fans that really like Jefferson Airplane, don't know exactly why. I was very interested in their stuff since I listened to them for the first time on a Woodstock movie, but I can understand that some of their excesses annoys some music fans.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2012, 05:34:49 PM by Hombre_de_ningun_lugar »
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Ovi

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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2012, 05:13:36 PM »

I still need to give the album a few more listens. But I like it so far. Wish Grace would've taken more leads though.
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Hombre_de_ningun_lugar

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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2012, 09:46:40 PM »

I still need to give the album a few more listens. But I like it so far. Wish Grace would've taken more leads though.

Yes, Grace Slick only sang lead vocals on two songs (and what two songs!), but she also can be heard as a backing vocalist in most tracks. We have to consider that she was a new member of the band at this point, replacing Signe Anderson. Nevertheless, she never had more than two or three lead vocals on Jefferson Airplane albums, because Marty Balin, Paul Kantner and even guitarist Jorma Kaukonen were songwriters and sang lead vocals in the band as well. But the band is usually associated to her singing because of the hits and her great talent.

It's good to hear that you liked the record, thanks for your comment.
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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2012, 09:56:22 PM »

Yes, Grace Slick only sang lead vocals on two songs (and what two songs!), but she also can be heard as a backing vocalist in most tracks. We have to consider that she was a new member of the band at this point, replacing Signe Anderson. Nevertheless, she never had more than two or three lead vocals on Jefferson Airplane albums, because Marty Balin, Paul Kantner and even guitarist Jorma Kaukonen were songwriters and sang lead vocals in the band as well. But the band is usually associated to her singing because of the hits and her great talent.

It's good to hear that you liked the record, thanks for your comment.

That's good to know. I basically know very little about the band. I was only familiar with those two great songs sung by Grace because of a Woodstock CD I own which, among other artists, includes those performances.
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Hombre_de_ningun_lugar

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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #8 on: April 17, 2012, 11:39:54 PM »

That's good to know. I basically know very little about the band. I was only familiar with those two great songs sung by Grace because of a Woodstock CD I own which, among other artists, includes those performances.


Those Woodstock performances were the first ones I saw about the band. I began to be interested in Jefferson Airplane from that point. Here's another Woodstock performance that I like:

Jefferson Airplane - Won't You Try-Saturday Afternoon (The video's owner prevents external embedding)
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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #9 on: April 21, 2012, 11:11:10 PM »

For many of us, the Woodstock performances were notable for a first look at Hot Tuna formed earlier that year when Grace Slick was recovering from surgery and couldn't perform with the band...

Uncle Sam Blues

Uncle Sam Blues - Jefferson Airplane (Live at Woodstock 69') (The video's owner prevents external embedding)
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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #10 on: April 21, 2012, 11:17:37 PM »

Embryonic Journey. This is just Kaukonen on acoustic guitars. A marvelous instrumental.


Embryonic Journey is regularly performed by Hot Tuna...

Hot Tuna: 104 Embryonic Journey


Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen
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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #11 on: April 21, 2012, 11:33:34 PM »

Somebody To Love. One of the two hits of the album, and probably the most well known song of the band. Great lead vocal by Grace, no wonder why she's my favourite female singer (sorry Janis). Drums don't sound very inspiring, but maybe the song didn't need more. Jack Casady's bass is thunderous as usual and Jorma Kaukonen's lead guitar almost makes the song, especially at the end with another superb solo.


Written by Great Society guitarist Darby Slick and first performed by that band, which included his then-sister-in-law Grace Slick on vocals, the song made little impact outside of the club circuit in the Bay Area. The song was originally called Someone To Love and was recorded in 1965...

The Great Society, Someone to Love



Here's a live version...

Great Society & Grace Slick





White Rabbit. The other hit of the album, written and sung by Grace. Lyrics are heavily inspired by "Alice in wonderland". The classic bass intro is like a fingerprint of the song. The song volume is constantly increasing, with those marching drums and ascending vocals. A classic 1960's song.


White Rabbit was also performed by The Great Society.  Here they are live at The Matrix in 1965...

The Great Society - White Rabbit



Two great songs which Grace Slick brought with her when she replaced Signe Toly Anderson.
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Hombre_de_ningun_lugar

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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #12 on: April 25, 2012, 01:51:31 AM »

Written by Great Society guitarist Darby Slick and first performed by that band, which included his then-sister-in-law Grace Slick on vocals, the song made little impact outside of the club circuit in the Bay Area. The song was originally called Someone To Love and was recorded in 1965...

The Great Society, Someone to Love


Here's a live version...

Great Society & Grace Slick




White Rabbit was also performed by The Great Society.  Here they are live at The Matrix in 1965...

The Great Society - White Rabbit


Two great songs which Grace Slick brought with her when she replaced Signe Toly Anderson.


The original versions of "Somebody To Love" and "White Rabbit" are interesting, and I've always found it curious that the two biggest hits of Jefferson Airplane came from the Great Society. However we must give the Airplane some credit for making them national hits in the USA; and I don't see in the Great Society the virtuosism and talent found in Jefferson Airplane, especially in the names of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady. I also think that Marty Balin, Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen (also Skip Spence in their debut album) were good songwriters themselves, and the band had an special synergy.

About Hot Tuna, I've listened to some of their recordings and liked them despite not being a big fan of blues. I think that they carried on the true spirit of Jefferson Airplane instead of Jefferson Starship.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2012, 01:55:44 AM by Hombre_de_ningun_lugar »
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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #13 on: April 25, 2012, 06:30:07 AM »

Thanks tkitna. Wow! I can't stand Jefferson Starship at all, it's like the Beatles turning into Wings! ;D



Heck, even Grace Slick doesn't like Jefferson Starship:

@ 4:09

Grace Slick Profile - CBS 08/03/09


She's a riot!
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Hombre_de_ningun_lugar

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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #14 on: April 26, 2012, 07:36:33 PM »

Heck, even Grace Slick doesn't like Jefferson Starship:

@ 4:09

Grace Slick Profile - CBS 08/03/09

She's a riot!


I admire her sincerity!
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Hombre_de_ningun_lugar

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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #15 on: April 26, 2012, 10:26:42 PM »

This is a not very known fact: Jefferson Airplane did a rooftop concert in New York, December 1968, shortly before the Beatles did that during the filming of Let It Be. I always wondered if the Fab Four took the idea from them. Nevertheless, the Airplane were allowed to play only one song before the police took them out.

Jefferson Airplane - House at Pooneil Corners - Manhattan Rooftop Concert (1968)
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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #16 on: May 05, 2012, 01:56:07 PM »

First of all, I must apologize to Hombre for the huge delay. Second, this is my first "microscope", but they will get better.

She Has Funny Cars - The album kicks in with a bombastic drum intro, then accompanied by a wonderful and energetic guitar riff that stars at 0:10. I agree with Hombre about the fuzz bass sounding like a car running. My favourite part of the song comes at 1:10 (and then again at 2:22) with the repeated "and I know" sung higher and higher by Marty Balin backed up greatefully by Grace. The guitar solo is great and puts end to this great, great rocker.

Somebody To Love - Grace takes lead on this one and I personally couldn't imagine anybody else performing it so good. Her singing is very energetic and full of life. The very catchy and good to sing-along-to chorus is another great aspect of the song. Another tune that ends with a guitar solo, this one sounding even better. Overall a great song, with redeeming quailities of a succesful single, which it actually was.

My Best Friend - A very pleasant and relaxed song. The line "Ah, you're my best friend" sung in a very warm and sweet manner and then repeated by Grace is the best part of the song in my opinion. Once again, Grace proves us what a great backing vocalist she was.

Today - My favourite song on the album. The poignant guitar riff is excelent. The tamburine add is nice enough. I love the fact that the song seems to be picking up things on its way : at 1:03 the drums are slowly fading in and at 1:49 * the backing vocals are added. The two - part harmony is very tight and the lyrics are also great. Brilliant song.

*I'm not really sure if that's the exact moment Grace can be heard. I listened to it many times but it's really hard to tell the exact moment.

Comin' Back to Me - This song is appearantly written during a marijuana trip and I guess the atmosphere really fits the state. A very mellow and laid-back tune. The recorder gives it a dreamy atmosphere and the lyrics are probably the best on the album. Hombre said it better than I ever could, "this is Balin's special moment in the album". Overall, an interesting song that can be definitely placed in my "like" category.

3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds - This is the exact kick the album needed after the previous song. Another catchy rocker and a great sing-along. The guitar solo is also great. There's also a funny part here, at 3:20 when somebody seems to be yelling the song's name. Nothing to add, really. Good song.

D.C.B.A.—25 - I really like the bass-driven intro on this one. Grace's voice sounds great at the 1:12 mark. I also like at 2:22 how they sing different lyrics at the same time. A cross between a rocker and a folk song which works pretty good.

How Do You Feel - A good folk tune that for some reason, sounds very pastoral to me. Probably because of the recorder/flute/pan-flute(?) playing. Great backing vocals at 2:02-2:17. Decent song, but not really a highlight.

Embryonic Journey - I've never been a big fan of instrumentals, but this one truly fulfills its purpouse. Sort of like 'Passing By' by The Beach Boys, but in a smaller manner, the atmosphere keeps switching between a calm one and an abrupt one. A very interesting acoustic piece.

White Rabbit - I've known this song for a long time and I've always thought of it as being a bit scary. I love how it slowly builds itself up from the mystical bass intro to the beautiful climax at the end, with Grace yelling "Feed your head!". I also like how the guitar stars at 0:09. The lyrics are great, and though inspired by a kids story, seem a lot more terrifying accompanied by this song's atmopshere. My second favourite song on the album  and I've always loved it when performed live.

Plastic Fantastic Lover - I've always thought 'White Rabbit' would work great as an album closer, but after hearing this song, I don't know anymore. This is yet another great song with a highly energetic vocal delivery (almost rapping, like Hombre said). Great guitar and bass work and the fuzz bass makes another short appearance at 0:53. Very interesting ending and what's that high-piched sound? Sounds almost like a thermin. A very good way to put an end to the album.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the album. Every single song is good, the album really stood the test of time and I'm now willing to explore other Jefferson Airplane albums.
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Hombre_de_ningun_lugar

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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #17 on: May 07, 2012, 08:46:46 PM »

Great review 5th Beatle. And you don't have to apologize, it's great that you took time to explore this record and write what you think about it.

You wrote some interesting notes. Now I'm willing to hear some things you noticed that I may have missed.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the album. Every single song is good, the album really stood the test of time and I'm now willing to explore other Jefferson Airplane albums.

If you're looking for more Jefferson Airplane records, these are their other classic 1960's albums:

Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966). Their debut, and probably my second favourite album of the band. It's essentially a folk rock record, similar to the Byrds but with a darker sound. Grace Slick was not a member of the band yet, but the girl she replaced, Signe Anderson, was a very good singer as well. Key songs are "Blues From An Airplane", "It's Not Secret", "Come Up The Years" and their cover of "Let's Get Together".

After Bathing At Baxter's (1967). In my opinion, an underrated album, but I can understand that because it's easily the most experimental record of the band. Released after the great Surrealistic Pillow, we must give credit to the band for not repeating the successful formula. Most songs are wild acid rockers, with blistering guitar solos, powerful bass and weird drumming. High points are "The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil", "Martha", "Wild Time", "The Last Wall Of The Castle", "Rejoyce" and "Won't You Try / Saturday Afternoon".

Crown Of Creation (1968). This record follows the line of the previous one, but it's more carefully produced and easier to dig. It also was the second most successful album of the band. The best songs are "Lather" (a classic Grace's song) and "Crown Of Creation", but the great musical talent of the band can also be heard in tracks like "Star Track", "If You Feel" and "Greasy Heart".

Volunteers (1969). This seems to be a come back to the original sound, but only in part because some songs are still a little acidified. Maybe the weakest studio album the band released during the 1960's, but it still has some classic songs that every fan must have: "We Can Be Together", "Good Shepherd", "Wooden Ships" and "Volunteers".

Those are the other essential albums of the band. If you really like them, you can also check out Early Flight which is a good brief compilation of rarities recorded during the best years of the band. If you like live stuff, Bless Its Pointed Little Head (1969) may be the best record you can get. And I recommend you to avoid their early 1970's albums, they really suck, Balin had left the band and the group was not very stable at that point, until they finally broke up (and I'm not just saying it because I'm a 60's nut!).
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Ovi

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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #18 on: May 08, 2012, 06:36:42 AM »

Thanks for the suggestions. I'm definitely going with 'After Bathing At Baxter's'. I've always been more into the adventurous stuff and the record, as you described it, seems like one.
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Hombre_de_ningun_lugar

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Re: Microscope: Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane)
« Reply #19 on: May 08, 2012, 03:06:51 PM »

Thanks for the suggestions. I'm definitely going with 'After Bathing At Baxter's'. I've always been more into the adventurous stuff and the record, as you described it, seems like one.

At the time it was released (December 1967) it may have been the most acidified rock album ever recorded. So it's a bit messy at points, but it has several great moments.
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