Posts Tagged ‘Grace Slick’

In June 1967, The Beatles album ‘Sgt. Pepper” had just hit the US and the Summer of Love had barely began when Jefferson Airplane headed from San Francisco to L.A. The year 1967 saw the emergence of an entire new wave of American rock, much of which centered around the San Francisco scene of bands like Moby Grape, Country Joe and the Fish, The Grateful Dead and the Quicksilver Messenger Service. And within this cohort, no group showed more promise, exerted more influence or found more early success than Jefferson Airplane.

They’d spend the next four months recording ‘After Bathing at Baxter’s” It was their third album with the classic lineup. Following the smash success of the debut ‘Surrealistic Pillow” fired by two unexpected AM radio hits (“Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” they had a surprisingly big budget and creative carte blanche from their major label, RCA Records. 

They also had a radical plan: to move past the poppy folk-rock that had been the Airplane’s stock-in-trade since the band’s first version formed in 1965.

Airplane, signed to RCA, started the year with a record already under its belt, 1966’s Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. Its gently twisted folk-rock had received decent reviews but hadn’t sold much of anything. That wouldn’t hold true for Surrealistic Pillow, the group’s second album

To start with, that meant beefing up the studio sound to match the group’s live shows. As in, Jack Casady’s bass had little heft on ‘Pillow’—not at all the fat-toned omnipresent rumble my teen self witnessed at the Café Au Go Go in spring 1967.

Besides, the group’s dynamics and ambitions were rapidly evolving. Internal frictions were pivoting them in directions heavier sounds, art-rock song forms, looser vocal interplay that would define the Airplane going forward.

On ‘Baxter’s’, the creative and personal tensions that would undermine Jefferson Airplane’s cohesion over the next three years found powerful artistic balance. Despite period-piece flaws an overlong jam, some hippie-dippy lyrics it is arguably the most daring and accomplished album this trail-blazing band ever made.

When the Airplane cut ‘Baxter’s’, the San Francisco counterculture they were such an integral part of was peaking though nobody at the time knew it. The album’s dazzling array of song structures unusual, eccentric, oblique distills and reflects that scene’s trust and hope in the joys of experimentation. It sought to embody the shared feeling that the world was open to question and on the cusp of change.

As was the Jefferson Airplane itself. Their internal chemistry was deliberately shaken up to yield a sometimes uneasy democracy, where all six members contributed compositions, dialed up new sounds, and pushed at the edges of their talents. It didn’t always work; why would it? But it’s why ‘Baxter’s turns through a marvelous kaleidoscope of sounds, moods, and textures that are darker and denser, more layered and aggressive than anything they’d done to date.

Jack Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen were among the key drivers of the sonic shift. Casady honed his agile, melodic runs, which routinely spilled with jagged finesse across bar lines, while playing R&B with the likes of James Brown; he and Kaukonen had played together since high school. Back then, ironically, Kaukonen played rhythm to Casady’s lead guitar. All those years gave the duo an almost telepathic interaction (Hot Tuna,) that drummer Spencer Dryden, a trained jazz musician with years of experience, prodded and anchored with skilled finesse. They all came to ‘Baxter’s wanting to inject more jamming into the mix a la the Grateful Dead, Cream, and Hendrix.

Grace Slick joined the Airplane just in time to record ‘Surrealistic Pillow’; somewhat ironically, she brought that album’s surprisingly edgy hits with her from her old band, The Great Society. Adept on keyboards, gifted with a supple, richly timbred voice, she was catalytic, strong-minded, and far from a hippie earth mother. On ‘Baxter’s, she was determined to pursue her idiosyncratic composer’s voice and explore her fierce feminist perspective.

Airplane co-founder Paul Kantner, originally a folk singer who idolized Pete Seeger, went to a military high school which helps explain the martial rhythms and feels to many of his songs. Since ‘Pillow’, though, he had started developing his own offbeat song forms and wanted more space for them. That and his shrewd musicality and sense of the times led him to buy into the others’ ideas and redirect the Airplane’s flight plans.

That left co-founder Marty Balin, an ex-folkie with an acute pop sense who, as singer and writer, was at the center of the earlier Airplane. Watching his role diminish on ‘Baxter’s didn’t exactly elate him. But he also knew he owned one of the band’s biggest assets: a fantastically flexible, expressive, and outsized tenor that, whether out front or part of the blend, capped the group’s utterly distinctive singing.

In fact, with Balin and Slick, the Airplane had two of rock’s most distinctive and charismatic singers. Their vocal ranges overlapped, though with very different timbres that offered possibilities they soon learned to manipulate and maximize. On ‘Pillow’, Kantner’s baritone anchored their nuanced blends. On ‘Baxter’s’, though, their approach becomes looser and richer, with harmonies unwinding into counterpoint lines and offshoot solo moments; that became another Airplane signature and helped shape subsequent outfits like The Band.

Then there’s the material, ranging from grungy garage rock to cantilevered art rock. At the dawn of classic rock’s golden era, ‘Baxter’s’ surveys the teeming musical landscape and filters it through the Airplane’s hydra-like sensibilities and talents. Sure, there are clunky moments. But they’re far outweighed by the thrilling, at times purposely disorienting probes into new turf.

Still, this early “concept” album has its share of disposable pretension, like grouping tunes into “suites.” Sometimes this makes some sense. The first, “Streetmasse,” gathers the initial three songs, which share a sense of whimsy, assembling “found” materials, and youth perspectives. “The War is Over,” the second “suite,” yokes two quite different Kantner pieces that share themes of connectivity and change. “Schizoforest Love Suite,” the last, contains “Two Heads” and two songs interwoven, so that fits. For the other two, your guess is as good as mine.

“Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil”

By now Jorma Kaukonen has mastered the joys of feedback, and his opening longer and more intense live is a call to arms that starkly contrasts with the sonics and poppier feels of ‘Surrealistic Pillow’; it will be a band staple from now on. Strutting in Kantner’s favored 2/4 sprung rhythms, the lyrics, a la William Burroughs, mash up pieces of A.A. Milne’s kids’ poetry. (Slick thought folk-blues artist Fred Neil, a Kantner pal and model, resembled Winnie the Pooh and dubbed him Pooh-neil.) Its multipart structure is tight and complex; the dynamic and rhythmic contrasts create breathtaking drama between the strut and the hovering chorus. And the finale’s sly harmonies create an open-ended feeling that segues into the next cut.

“A Small Package of Value Will Come to You Shortly”

OK, this collage is definitely period-piece, but it’s also clever dada-style fun: making it ‘Baxter’s second track illuminates why the band originally asked Frank Zappa to produce the record. Dryden, who composed it, was a skilled jazz musician who took a lot of crap from “serious” players for working with these guys, and his uncle happened to be Charlie Chaplin, so maybe comic irony came naturally. That irreverence was as much a part of hippiedom as drugs and courses through ‘Baxter’s—though in Slick’s hands, it can turn more savage.

“Young Girl Sunday Blues”

This brilliant blues-rock piece navigates around almost every blues-rock cliché—no mean feat. Dryden’s preternatural ability to shift accents and mesh with Casady’s fluid, serpentine bass powers the band’s supercharged engine. The inventive craft shaping Airplane charts is evident in how each section’s instrumental colors and interaction morph. The yearning tune and emotive (if druggy) lyrics let Balin unleash his loose, rangy tenor to terrific effect while avoiding standard-issue blues moves. Ironically, it’s also the only song on ‘Baxter’s that Balin, until now the Airplane’s chief composer, penned with Kaukonen. From here on, their mutual antipathy grew.

“Martha”

Ah, the Summer of Love: this paean to Kantner’s then-girlfriend, the runaway teen daughter of Sausalito’s mayor, has its hippie-lyric moments, but also gestures toward the incipient feminism (“She does as she pleases”) that Slick’s pieces deepen and slam home. Structurally, it’s a tour-de-force, playing minor and major keys off each other to yield a Mideastern/modal feel. Its impacted syncopations are punctuated by Casady’s sudden climbs up the neck. The tonal colors rotate and mutate: Casady’s burbling bass against Slick’s breathy snake-charmer recorder, Dryden’s delicate blocks, Kaukonen’s slicing fuzz guitar. Then comes the entropy of the finale’s gradual slowdown, until there is only Kantner’s voice, intoning, evoking, remembering: the bittersweet transition between the preceding and following tunes.

“Wild Tyme”

The track lifts off like a rocket, with a hooky riff delivered by an entwined guitar army crackling with Kaukonen’s barely suppressed feedback. At times the vocals are backdrops for the Kaukonen-Casady-Dryden proto-metal instrumentals; then the mirror flips, in that patented way this band veers away from clichés just when you expect them in order to feed dramatic tension. Kantner’s often eccentric chord progressions, like Ray Davies’, swerve in unique ways that encourage the Airplane’s powerhouse instrumental core, prodded by Casady’s ever-restless rumbling, to dive headlong into openings and teeter enticingly on the edge of chaos.

“The Last Wall of the Castle”

Teetering on the edge of chaos is actually this track’s goal. Here the rough edges running through ‘Baxter’s’ experimental ethos are foregrounded, as the high-octane rhythm section, spearheaded by Casady’s frenetic bass firing off counter-rhythms and filigrees, at once drives and battles with its grooves, creating disruptive tension as it romps hungrily through its varied sections. “The Last Wall of the Castle,” whose tightly-packed, half-spoken lyrics and soul-influenced chords reveal very real connections with the Nuggets-style garage rock then bubbling out of college towns across America. Where a garage band would stick tightly, head down, to the beat and song structure, the Airplane’s rhythm section struggles to break free, pulling the band into a thrilling middle ground between jam and song, the driving rhythm fraying into a heaven of skidding, slicing guitars. The record isn’t precise because the band isn’t going for precision – instead, it’s the sound of a rough democracy in living action.

“Rejoyce”

Grace Slick’s art-rock compositions on ‘Baxter’s’ highlight the dawn of feminism. No hippie earth mother, she wields her assemblage culled from Molly Bloom’s internal monolog in Ulysses—the ur-modernist experimental novel that, like the Pooh stories, was a counterculture fave like an acerbic rapier, slicing openings for women to speak truth to a man’s world. Her music is provocatively eccentric and experimental, anchored by her limber, accomplished piano, too often overlooked as an essential Airplane ingredient. Dryden’s horn chart evokes jazz classics like ‘Sketches of Spain and the ride-out incarnates the feminist pushback lurking beyond men’s glances and desires. It remains one of classic rock’s most powerful, unsettling songs.

“Watch Her Ride”

Sure, this Kantner anthem’s lyrics are shot through with hippie clichés, but they also link up, at least tentatively, with Slick’s feminism: relationships between males and females aren’t about possession, but about the freedom to share hope and risks. But skip, if you prefer, and focus on the densely textured musical layers, far subtler and more finessed.

“Spare Chaynge”

Here’s where the boys who’ll become Hot Tuna get their wish to stretch…and oh yeah, it’s too long and meandering with sporadic jawdropping passages. So try a different angle: listen to it upside-down, focusing on Casady and Dryden. Kaukonen, the feedback maestro and fingerpicking genius, is frankly at his weakest in extended solos like this. Remember that Casady played lead while Kaukonen played rhythm in high school, that Casady plus Dryden create tension and release as casually as breathing in and out, and you’ll find half to two-thirds of this comes interestingly alive, its rawness a sharp contrast with the rest of the album. But it’s still too self-indulgent.

Freedom is also the best word to describe what is arguably Baxter’s definitive track. In an age of overly indulgent jams, the dark, minimal grind of “Spare Chaynge” is astonishing, a bass-heavy excursion that slowly builds to a crescendo of pounding drums and circling guitar. As close to “free rock” as almost anything on record, the jam has a sense of space and style that reflects the band’s ballroom-honed chops. It conjures an aggressive, almost primal minimalism, resembling something from early Can or Hawkwind.

“Two Heads”

The gated percussive shock that opens this Slick piece punches this album’s ambitions about art and feminism home with brooding menace mixed with savage humor. What can you say about a line like, “Wearing your comb like an ax in your head?” The clipped harpsichord is teamed with Casady’s now-surging, now-thumping bottom-end bombs for a disorienting study in contrasts that mates perfectly with the lyrics. Slick’s rich contralto can wail or sneer, while Balin’s ghostly soaring behind her mimics the lyric’s central conceit while reminding us this outfit boasted stronger, more unconventional vocals than almost anyone else around. All that is just part of what makes it timeless.

“Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon”

This phenomenal two-tune mashup—it’s not a medley, really knits together the album’s moods and themes into an uplifting and challenging finale; its sonics, pacing, structure, and execution recap ‘Baxter’s musical journey before releasing listeners back to reality. See, the album wasn’t meant to be a soundtrack for the LSD-laced times; it was meant to embody them in musical form. So this highly wrought composition and chart, with dazzlingly mutating mini-sections that pulsate with mesmerizing tension and release, puts you inside the psychedelic peaks of the San Francisco hippie dream, the gatherings at Golden Gate Park, where the moods were free and easy and hope was abundant and change seemed imminent and palpable. Naïve? Oh, sure. But I still listen to this cut on 11 to find reasons to believe in the future.

RCA was unhappy about how long and complicated the sessions for ‘Baxter’s were. After the gold rush of ‘Surrealistic Pillow’, with two hit singles showcased on prime-time TV shows as well as AM radio, ‘Baxter’s two singles didn’t crack the top 25; the album peaked at 17 and never went gold.

Whatever. ‘Baxter’s set the Airplane’s conceptual template for the next three years. The band, obviously, disagreed with the market. But by 1970, its internal tensions, synthesized on ‘Baxter’s into ear-opening creative leaps, would tear it to pieces.

All around them, too, things were falling apart. The Summer of Love unleashed an overwhelming influx of runaway teens, drug dealers and pimps, and cops on the fragile, insular hippie counterculture’s epicenter. In its wake, the original scene-makers regrouped and dispersed. Baxter’s is, without a doubt, a record of many flaws – its jams can go on too long, its sequencing is uneven, and those oh-so-hip-at-the-time sound collages haven’t aged particularly well. It’s also a remarkably sloppy record; vocals often run askew, full band hits are fudged and the drumming occasionally runs aground. Yet, in a lot of ways, the album is a thrilling listen because – not in spite of these problems.

Marty Balin
Marty Balin, whose tenor voice provided hits for the ’60s psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane, has died,
The family said Friday: “Marty’s fans describe him as having had a substantial impact for the better of the world: ‘One of the greatest voices of all time, a writer of songs that will never fade, and founder of the quintessential San Francisco band of the sixties.’ His music is known for being the soundtrack to all of life’s monumental moments.”
Balin’s songwriting credits for the Airplane included “It’s No Secret,” “Today,” “Comin’ Back To Me,” “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” “Share a Little Joke,” and “Volunteers”  the latter sung at Woodstock.
Another co-founder, Paul Kantner, died in January 2016, the same month the Recording Academy named Jefferson Airplane one of its annual Lifetime Achievement Award recipients at the Grammys.
Balin and the Jefferson Airplane were pioneers of psychedelic rock — their sound fused fuzzy, distorted, reverb-filled tones with influences from folk, rock and the blues.

The Airplane helped define the San Francisco music scene in the 1960s, debuting at the Matrix nightclub in 1965, about a year before its first album, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” was released.Jefferson Airplane formed in 1965 when folk artist Balin decided to create a rock group in response to the Beatles-led British Invasion. The band quickly attracted a local following – and when fledgling promoter Bill Graham opened his legendary Fillmore Auditorium, Jefferson Airplane served as the first headliner.

Signed to RCA Records for the then-princely sum of $25,000, the band scored five gold albums in the US, including 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow and 1968’s Crown of Creation in their first run of success.

Marty Balin wrote and sang some of the best-loved songs of both Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship. In memory of the singer, who passed away on September. 27th, 2018. Here are some of the great songs.

Marty Balin started his musical journey as a pop singer in the style of Gene Pitney or Paul Anka. In 1962 he signed to Challenge Records, releasing two singles that went nowhere. He then immersed himself in the folk music scene, fronting a group called the Town Criers, which also failed to ignite. While Balin re-thought his musical path, a business opportunity opened up that would tie this all together. He and friend Elliot Sazer took over a failing pizza shop called the Syndicate, and relaunched it as the Matrix, which would become a new music venue for San Francisco’s up-and-coming rock and rollers.

It was during this that he connected with like-minded guitarist Paul Kantner. The two would soon form what would become one of the most important bands of the ’60s. Jefferson Airplane would break every rule in the book, and be all the better for it. “One night we were playing this gig and Jorma [Kaukonen] just suddenly took off, you know,” Ballin recalled in the documentary Fly Jefferson Airplane. “He just flew away and played the hell out of this song. We never heard that before. So the next night, Jack [Casady] and Jorma took off, you know, and it was just great. So the next night, we all just took off and we played the song however we wanted, whatever we thought. So that became our approach.”

Balin, along with Signe Toly Anderson, would share lead vocals in the original lineup. Balin wrote and or co-wrote most of the songs on their stunning 1966 debut, “Takes Off”. Within the year, Anderson left the band to raise a family, leaving the door open for Grace Slick who would take the band up the charts with “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.” It would be, however, Balin who remained the heart and soul of the band over their often tumultuous life span.

Grace Slick, whose powerful vocals added another unique element to the band’s sound, joined the group in 1966, bringing those two songs with her from her previous band, the Great Society.

Those songs, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” became Top 10 hits the following year on “Surrealistic Pillow,” one of the defining rock albums of the late ’60s.

Multivocal harmonies were a staple of the Airplane, with Balin and Slick soaring over one another and Kantner weaving in. In a 2011 interview, Kantner said this interplay is “maybe the best thing I do in the bands that I’ve been in.”

The band performed at three of the legendary music festivals of the ’60s, including the Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock and the ill-fated Altamont. Balin was brutally beaten by the Hells Angels after he dove into the audience to help an audience member in distress. “I woke up with all these boot marks all over my body,” he told Relix in 1993. “I just walked out there. I remember Jorma saying, ‘Hey, you’re a crazy son of a bitch.’”

As Kantner and Slick would get farther out in their concepts, Balin would remain the more grounded voice in the band, but would often be out-voted by the others. His input into the band became less and less, but still potent with songs like “Volunteers” and “Share a Little Joke.” Though he left in 1971, he later would once again hook up with Slick and Kantner in Jefferson Starship in 1974, writing the band’s biggest hit “Miracles” in 1975.

Marty and I are like totally different creatures, we make different kinds of music,” said Kantner in Fly Jefferson Airplane. “Marty is extraordinarily good, particularly at writing simple songs that connect and touch you. I can’t write a simple song to save my life.”

Balin had a warm, pure and honest voice, which worked as a perfect counterpart to Grace’s more brash style. He took part in various reconfigurations of the group over the years, but never really receiving the respect he was due for starting and steering the band at the start.  In addition to his strengths as a singer, Balin was an accomplished songwriter as well, and he contributed several key numbers to the Airplane’s canon early on and later supplied several successful songs to its designated successor, Jefferson Starship. Although Starship was Slick and singer/guitarist Paul Kantner’s vehicle after the mothership’s demise, Balin’s loyalty to his former flightmates helped give that band its first hint of commercial success. Here a mere handful of Balin’s finest moments here to enjoy. There will never be another band like Jefferson Airplane.

“It’s No Secret” From: ‘Jefferson Airplane Takes Off’ (1966)

Issued as the band’s debut single, “It’s No Secret” was the sound of Jefferson Airplane circa 1966. Balin at the front with backing from Signe Toly Anderson and Paul Kantner and a straight-ahead folk-rock track. Still, despite being on similar ground to bands like the”Byrds, they couldn’t help but sound like anyone but the Jefferson Airplane. It was an understated start to an amazing catalog of music. “It’s No Secret”
One of Balin’s most indelible contributions to the initial Airplane album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, “It’s No Secret” helped define the Airplane’s oeurve, a striking sense of defiance coupled with an emphatic emotional investment. Balin seems to teeter on the brink of desperation in trying to convince a skeptical lover that he’s all in as far as their relationship is concerned (“It’s no secret, How strong my love is for you/ It’s no secret, when I tell you what I’m gonna do/ ‘Cause I love you, yes I love you”), and indeed, by the time the song reaches its soaring conclusion, it becomes a notion that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“Young Girl Sunday Blues” From: ‘After Bathing at Baxters’ (1967)

Most of the band’s third album, After Bathing At Baxters, was under the hands of Kantner and Slick, but Balin got this one gem into the mix. A stomping rocker co-written with Kantner, its style slots in between the more psychedelic start and end of side one of the album. Balin was a brilliant balladeer but could deliver on a rocker as well.

“Comin’ Back to Me” From: ‘Surrealistic Pillow’ (1967)

Balin wrote and sings solo on this incredible, haunting ballad. Perhaps more than any other song on our list of the  Marty Balin Songs, this captures him at his truest. The timber and tone of his voice fully in force is a thing of beauty. This song sounds even more striking today than it did in 1967.

“With Your Love”  –  From “Spitfire”

Written with drummer Joey Covington and an occasional collaborator Vic Smith, “With Your Love” was one of the final significant songs in the Airplane’s last years. It made its appearance on the album Spitfire shortly before their initial break-up. While the subject matter may have been of a more mundane variety, a style the group turned to in their final desperate grasp for commercial success, Balin’s vocal remains as impassioned as ever. Here was proof that even as the Airplane’s other engines were failing, he could still help them takeoff.

“Plastic Fantastic Lover” From: ‘Woodstock’ (1969)

The album closer on the classic Surrealistic Pillow, “Plastic Fantastic Lover” is a “pounding rant inspired by the most pervasive American addiction of all, television” according to the Jeff Tamakin bio Got a Revolution. While the studio version is a concise rocker clocking in under three minutes, the version the band let loose at Woodstock Festival is an amphetamine-fueled juggernaut of rock and roll fire. Showing what a great band, They could be so fierce live.

One in a series of searing duets with Grace Slick, and another highlight of the landmark “Surrealistic Pillow” album, this song was widely believed to be a euphemism for a sex toy, although Balin later insisted that it was written in praise to his new stereo set-up. The staunch drive and determination inherent in the song’s emphatic performance set a standard for the banshee wail that would come to full fruition on later albums Crown of Creation and Volunteers in particular. The song itself was ensured immortality when it was tapped as the B side of the band’s most immortal anthem “Somebody To Love.”

“Crown of Creation”  From “Crown of Creation”

Sung in the manner of a tribal chant, “Crown of Creation” finds Balin soaring above Slick and Kantner’s insistent wail, adding to the song’s irrepressible urgency and forward thrust. Taken from the album of the same name, its militancy and unapologetic verve made it a standout of their early sets and another example of their populist platitudes. Here again, there’s a menacing sense of irony and insistence at play (“You are the crown of creation/ And you’ve got no place to go”), seemingly assuring its subject that “the stability you strive for” will be found, but only in barren environs they refer to as “a place among the fossils of our time.” It’s a dismal assessment indeed.

“Miracles” From: ‘Red Octopus’ (1975)

By 1975 the Airplane were long gone and the Jefferson Starship had taken on a life of its own. Though Balin first connected with them in a somewhat tentative fashion, he soon slid right into place, providing them with their biggest hit as Jefferson Starship. “Miracles,” a three-minute edit of the seven-minute album track, hit No. 3 on the Hot 100 in early 1975 thanks to Balin’s beautiful lyric and vocal.

“Caroline”  –  From ” Dragonfly”

In many ways “Caroline” was Balin’s audition contribution to Jefferson Starship. Balin hadn’t yet committed to joining the band on a full-time basis, but this dynamic ballad, recorded for the album Dragonfly, helped transform the group from a loose conglomeration of fellow travelers with little commercial intent into a viable radio-ready entity that was well worthy of taking on the Airplane’s legacy. Shedding the psychedelic sheen for a sound well in keeping with the early ‘70s AOR, Balin helped the band make the leap.

“Come Up the Years” From: ‘Jefferson Airplane Takes Off’ (1966)

Though never released as a single, “Come Up The Years” still sounds like a hit, on which Balin and Kantner harmonize on this tale of new love. Like so much of the band’s early material, its simplicity is the key to its success. Throw in a glockenspiel for the solo and we have a song that, like so many of theirs, defines the era from whence it came.

“3/5 of a Mile In 10 Seconds” From: ‘Surrealistic Pillow’ (1967)

This rocker opens side two of the 1967 classic Surrealistic Pillow. As strong lyrically as musically, “3/5 of a Mile In 10 Seconds” was all Balin. With lines like “Do away with people laughin’ at my hair / Do away with people frownin’ on my precious cares / Take me to a circus tent where I can easily pay my rent / And all the other freaks will share my cares.” Though that may seem rooted in ’67, it sounds just as applicable well after the end of the Flower Power movement.

“She Has Funny Cars” From: ‘Surrealistic Pillow’ (1967)

Arguably one of the greatest opening tracks to an album, “She Has Funny Cars” was co-written with lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and still packs a punch like no other. The galloping drums give way to a monster guitar riff before Balin sails in on lead vocal. Soon joined by Grace Slick, this song pretty much defines Jefferson Aiplane stylistically.

“Volunteers”  From: ‘Volunteers’ (1969)

The 1969 album Volunteers certainly ranks right up there with the band’s finest material. From the opening call to arms of “We Can Be Together” through the title cut that closes the LP, it’s one hell of a ride. The song “Volunteers” was supposedly first inspired by Balin hearing a Volunteers of America donation truck out in the street. He jotted down some lyrics and, with the powerhouse guitar riff from Kantner, created a genuine anthem for the end of the ’60s.

The title track from the Airplane’s most insurgent effort of their collective career, “Volunteers” was exactly the anthem needed when dissent and desperation raged across the country throughout the Nixon era of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The emphatic rallying cry, “Up against the wall mother fucker,” emphasized the outrage and intent inherent in Balin and Slick’s banshee wail. This was indeed protest with both passion and purpose.

“Today” From: ‘Surreaslistic Pillow’ (1967)

“Today” stands as one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. A simple guitar riff dripping with haze and minimal percussion are all that is needed to accompany Balin here. Marty’s voice is so pure and bare. Eventually Slick comes in to harmonize, making it all the more beautiful. Like most of the album, it is drenched in reverb, which only adds to the ethereal nature of the songs. Legend has it that this arch ballad, which made its initial appearance on the Airplane’s defining album Surrealistic Pillow, was written on spec in hopes of securing a cover by Tony Bennett. That never happened, of course, although Balin’s emotive delivery made it an unlikely addition to an album known mostly for psychedelic suggestion. Jerry Garcia’s simple repetitive guitar figure adds to the track’s poignancy and design, but it’s Balin’s heart-wrenching vocal that ensured its searing embrace.

“The Other Side of This Life”  From “Bless Its Pointed Little Head”

A staple of the Airplane’s set during their prime, this Fred Neil composition was radically transformed as a fiery rocker by the time it made its appearance on the band’s early live album Bless Its Pointed Little Head. Another dynamic vocal duel between Balin and Slick, it acquired an undisputed urgency that turned it into one of the band’s most memorable rallying cries. “Would you like to know a secret just between you and me?” they ask in unison. It’s an entreaty the listener dared not resist.

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“RIP Marty Balin, fellow bandmate and music traveler passed last night,” Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady said in a statement. “A great songwriter and singer who loved life and music. We shared some wonderful times together. We will all miss you!!!!”

Marty and I were young together in a time that defined our lives,” Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen wrote on his blog. “Had it not been for him, my life would have taken an alternate path I cannot imagine. He and Paul Kantner came together and like plutonium halves in a reactor started a chain reaction that still affects many of us today. It was a moment of powerful synchronicity. I was part of it to be sure, but I was not a prime mover. Marty always reached for the stars and he took us along with him.”

No ’60s concert scene was better documented than the San Francisco explosion . But of the official releases that came out at the time, the one to have is this Jefferson Airplane set, recorded during October ’68 dates at SF’s Fillmore West and a month later at Fillmore East in NYC. Here in that time between Monterey and Woodstock, between the albums “Crown Of Creation” and “Volunteers” , the band was growing daily in confidence, muscle and a knack for making the most of the moment. The constantly shifting dynamic of vocal triad Grace Slick, Marty Balin and Paul Kantner was a nimble beast, but more evident than ever was how much the tandem of guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady formed the beating heart of this band.

Must-hear song: Balin’s “Plastic Fantastic Lover” has fury only hinted at on the Surrealistic Pillow studio version . But the real treasure is the version of folk figure Fred Neil’s written staunch and steely “The Other Side Of This Life” , a live Airplane staple from the early days, but never before seeing official release.

The cheat: Not only was it pieced together from several dates, some of the songs themselves are multi-date spliced jobs.

The live rock album really took flight at the end of the decade with Bay Area bands like The Grateful Dead “Live/ Dead”  Quicksilver Messenger Service  “Happy trails” , Big Brother & the Holding  Company(parts of ’68’s ) Cheap Thrills . It made perfect sense: part of the San Francisco mystique was the live experience, the sense of community and unpredictability, bands being given the space—and the state-of-the-art sound systems to take winding (and long) musical trips. With , a combination of 1968 recordings from the Fillmores East and West on both coasts,

The Airplane

Jefferson Airplane made one of the defining albums of the band’s career, with dynamic vocal interplay among its three singers (Marty Balin, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner), a blues spotlight for guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and Rock Me  , a swirling rendition of Donovan’s “Fat Angel” (“Fly Jefferson Airplane, gets you there on time,” it goes, making this a self-referential self-tribute), and a soaring 3/5 of a Mile In Ten Seconds . The Airplane were a strange amalgam, part post-folk (there’s a terrific take on Fred Neil’s “The Other Side Of Life” on ‘Pointed Little Head’), part psychedelic rock, part electric blues, and it could all get scattered, but when it locked in, they were one of the more mesmeric of the groups who came out of San Francisco scene. If you want to get a sense of what made them, on a good night, so special, you can start here.

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With a new singer, Grace Slick, who also happened to bring a pair of classic songs with her (“Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”), Jefferson Airplane’s second album in part defined the Summer of Love. The band was one of the best in San Francisco, whose scene helped shape an entire era. ‘Surrealistic Pillow,’ is a pinnacle of that period.

Surrealistic Pillow was the second album by the American psych rock band, released on February 1st, 1967, by RCA Victor. It is the first album by the band with vocalist Grace Slick and drummer Spencer Dryden

Original drummer Alexander Skip Spence had left the band in mid-1966. He was soon replaced by Dryden, an experienced Los Angeles jazz drummer and the half-nephew of Charlie Chaplin. New female vocalist Slick, formerly with another San Francisco rock band The Great Society , joined the Airplane in the fall of 1966. Slick, Dryden, lead vocalist Marty Balin, guitarist-vocalist-songwriter  Paul Kantner, lead guitarist (and occasional vocalist) Jorma Kaukonen , and bassist Jack Casady formed the core of the best-known line-up of the group, which remained stable until Dryden’s departure in early 1970.

Jefferson Airplane singer Grace Slick is also known for that powerhouse voice – responsible for classics like  ‘White Rabbit’. At a time when studio production was limited and live concerts were almost always dominated by an incredibly loud band in direct competition with an even louder audience, it made it difficult to fully appreciate voices like Grace Slick’s; but it’s in this isolated vocal track from ‘White Rabbit’ that we’re able to finally concentrate on the star of the song .

The album is considered to be one of the quintessential works of the early psychedelic rock.

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Surrealistic Pillow was the first blockbuster psychedelic album by a band from San Francisco.

Triad” is a song written by David Crosby in 1967 about a ménage à trois, a subject perfectly in keeping with the “free love” and hippie philosophies of the day. The song was written while Crosby was a member of the rock band The Byrds, who were at that time recording their fifth studio album, “The Notorious Byrd Brothers“. 

On this studio demo above of the song recorded by just Crosby and his Martin guitar its a softer acoustic demo of this song…recorded at a studio in Hollywood, he came in barefoot with a guitar straped across his back…and I set up 2 mics..one for him and one for his Martin, and he just did it . 

Although the band did record “Triad” and perform it live during a September 1967 engagement at the Whisky a Go Go, it was eventually not included on the final release of “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” album.  According to Crosby, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman felt that its subject-matter was too controversial with McGuinn allegedly deriding the song as a “freak-out orgy tune. However, this has since been denied by Hillman who has stated “I don’t think it was a moral decision. The song just didn’t work that well. David Crosby was drifting and bored and he wanted to do something else, and that song just added fuel to the fire. “Notorius Byrd Bros” would have broke big if they had kept this song and ditched that awful opening track “Artificial Energy” …..Triad was perfect for its time and would have put the Byrds right back at cutting edge status. I think the exclusion of this song from Notorious was the nail in the coffin for his days as a Byrd. And his behavior at Monterey didn’t help or his guesting with the Springield there didn’t help. Or his being adamant against ‘Goin’ Back’ being on Notorious. Regardless, David had emerged as a writer of great skill and his songs needed to be heard. They were and still are!  – Although the decision to keep this song off the Notorious LP may have played a minor role, it was the power struggle between McGuinn and Crosby that led to David’s dispatch from the group.

There had been growing animosity between Crosby and the rest of the band throughout 1967. Tensions had arisen from several factors, including Crosby’s displeasure over the band’s wish to record the GoffinKing composition Goin’ Back, his fraternization with fellow L.A. musicians, and his controversial remarks to the audience during The Byrds’ performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. These factors, along with the discord over “Triad”, contributed to McGuinn and Hillman’s decision to fire Crosby in October 1967. Crosby then gave the song to Jefferson Airplane, who recorded it on their 1968 album,Crown of Creation.  Airplane did it after the Byrds told Crosby they were not going to include it on their next album.  He got pissed off and gave it to airplane. 

A Live version of the song “Triad” was later included on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young‘s 1971 album, 4 Way Street
David Crosby certainly shone more brightly as a solo artist with CSN; but the Byrds moved on to pioneer the genre of Country-Rock which, despite the insulting lack of recognition from the industry today, ultimately shaped the future of the Country music genre.
Also here is a version of “Triad” by the Icicle Works it is great!  the band recorded “Triad” as a medley with another Byrds’ song, Chestnut Mare, on the 1989 Byrds’ tribute album Time Between – A Tribute to The Byrds.
‘Why should we all stop at three’ . Now that’s a good last line for the song!
Fantastic song.

From the LP Surrealistic Pillow, is the second album by American rock band Jefferson Airplane, released in February 1967 as RCA Victor It is the first album by the band with vocalist Grace Slick and drummer Spencer Dryden. The album peaked at #3 on the Billboard album chart,

 

Original drummer Alexander “Skip” Spence had left the band in mid-1966, replaced by Los Angeles jazz drummer Spencer Dryden, a nephew of filmmaker Charlie Chaplin. New lead vocalist Grace Slick, formerly with another San Francisco rock band called the Great Society, joined the Airplane in the fall of 1966. Slick, Dryden and guitarist-songwriter Paul Kantner formed the core of the best-known line-up of the group, which would remain stable until Dryden’s departure in early 1970. The album is considered to be one of the quintessential works of the early psychedelic rock and 1960s counterculture