We continue to approach the infamous “Summer of Love” in 1967, when counter-culture expanded their broad-based rebellion against the norms of society, the Vietnam War, and lingering battles against hatred and racism. Centered in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, California, the most commercially successful and visible band within this movement was Jefferson Airplane. Today we listen to their signature album, “Surrealistic Pillow”, the #448 album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Fronted by Marty Balin, Paul Kantner and the legendary Grace Slick, this album included two standard hits from this era and movement. “Somebody to Love”, featuring Slick on lead vocals, set the stage and laid the foundation for their substantial success. As great as that song is, I think their defining moment from this album is “White Rabbit”. Tied to the fantasy novel “Alice in Wonderland”, the song builds with power and passion. Again featuring (and written by) Grace Slick on lead vocals, this song drips with the double-entendre of mystical childhood fantasy and psychedelic hallucinations. To this day, this song is one of my all-time favorites. Simple, yet urgent, Grace Slick and her band takes us on a journey deep inside her mind (and perhaps our own), filled with the curiosity, anxiety, and amazement of exploration.
The rest of the album is a diverse mix, with sounds inspired by folk, electric folk rock i.e. The Byrds, with even a mix of blues and country blended in. “Today”, “My Best Friend”, “Embryonic Journey”, and “J.P.P. McStep B. Blues” all stand out as great representations of their diverse but linked sound. Listening to this album, it is very time specific and an essential soundtrack for understanding this important moment in our musical and societal history of the late 1960s.