The Jefferson plane was the first spot on the radar screen to track the San Francisco buzz in the mid-1960s. With an unfortunate debut, the plane earned little credit outside of the City by the Bay, but it was enough to start a new movement. However, the band made some crucial changes to make them even more attractive. First, they replaced pseudo-drummer Skip Spence – who later spun his own psychedelia yarn with Moby Grape – with LA session ace Spencer Dryden. More dramatically, singer Signe Anderson became pregnant and went to raise her newborn. Without missing a beat, the Airplane targeted an unknown singer from an up and coming band from San Francisco called Great Society. The seductive Grace Slick not only brought her captivating voice and striking looks to the table – she also came up with two key songs that would play an important role in the success of Jefferson Airplane’s second work. Surrealistic pillow.
Recorded in Los Angeles, Surrealistic pillow is a defining moment in rock. The two top 10 singles Grace Slicks “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love” penned by Slick’s former bandmate, brother-in-law and admirer Darby, became hymns for the new generation of hippies who settled down in Haight. “White Rabbit” mixes Lewis Carroll’s images with the day’s drug-induced hallucinations – before a similar juxtaposition featured four months later in John Lennon’s Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. To cement the recording sessions, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was invited to participate. While it’s questionable whether Garcia actually played on the record (the band says he did, producer Rick Jarrard says he didn’t), his influence is evident in both the album’s title and the optimistic Arrangement of “Somebody To Love”. For this he was credited as Musical and Spiritual Advisor.
To be sure, Surrealistic pillow was more than just a showcase for slicks undeniable talents. Marty Balin blossomed as a singer and songwriter in his own right and demonstrated an uncanny feel for dealing with introspective ballads (“Comin ‘Back To Me” and “Today”) and psychedelic rockers (“3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds” and “ Plastic Fantastic Lover ”). Before starting their own business with Hot Tuna, bassist Jack Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen were the glue that held the entire ensemble together. Kaukonen’s “Embryonic Journey”, an acoustic instrumental, is proof that the guitarist was already miles ahead of the pack. Paul Kantner’s role as co-songwriter (see “DCBA-25”) and the band’s supportive avatar promised bigger and better things to come. A classic in the truest sense of the word, Surrealistic pillow has been renovated in various formats over the years. Over 50 years later, it remains a triumphant feather in the hat of the Summer of Love.
~ Shawn Perry