Jefferson Airplane was an American rock band based in San Francisco, California, that became one of the pioneering bands of psychedelic rock. Formed in 1965, the group defined the San Francisco Sound and was the first from the Bay Area to achieve international commercial success. They were headliners at the Monterey Pop Festival (1967), Woodstock (1969), Altamont Free Concert (1969), and the first Isle of Wight Festival (1968) in England. Their 1967 break-out album Surrealistic Pillow was one of the most significant recordings of the Summer of Love. Two songs from that album, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”, are among Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
The October 1966 to February 1970 lineup of Jefferson Airplane, consisting of Marty Balin (vocals), Paul Kantner (guitar, vocals), Grace Slick (vocals), Jorma Kaukonen (lead guitar, vocals), Jack Casady (bass), and Spencer Dryden (drums), was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Marty Balin left the band in 1971. After 1972, Jefferson Airplane effectively split into two groups. Kaukonen and Casady moved on full-time to their own band, Hot Tuna. Slick, Kantner, and the remaining members of Jefferson Airplane recruited new members and regrouped as Jefferson Starship in 1974, with Marty Balin eventually joining them. Jefferson Airplane was presented with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.
Surrealistic Pillow is the second album by the American rock band Jefferson Airplane, released by RCA Victor on February 1, 1967. It is the first album by the band with vocalist Grace Slick and drummer Spencer Dryden. The album peaked at number three on the Billboard album chart and has been certified Platinum by the RIAA. The album is considered to be one of the quintessential works of the early psychedelic rock and 1960s counterculture eras.
“My Best Friend” was released as the first single in January 1967, but reached only #103 on the Billboard Bubbling Under chart. Two singles were released later in the year, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”, peaked respectively at number five and number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and are the band’s only Top 40 hits on that chart.
“Today” was not released as a single but was played often on college radio and rock stations and remains one of their most popular songs. It was also recorded by jazz saxophonist Tom Scott for his 1967 album The Honeysuckle Breeze; this version was sampled in the song “They Reminisce Over You” by Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth.
The initial line-up fell apart, after Signe Toly Anderson was replaced by Grace Slick
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, male lead vocalist-guitarist-songwriter and former of band 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.
Some controversy exists as to the role of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia in the making of the album. His reputed presence on several tracks is denied by producer Rick Jarrard, but he is credited on the RCA label copy and received credits on the Flight Log compilation and the Jefferson Airplane Loves You box set. In his sleeve notes for Early Flight, a 1974 compilation album of previously unreleased material, manager Bill Thompson writes only that Garcia was “listed as ‘spiritual advisor’ on the album cover [and] played one of the guitars” on “In The Morning,” a Kaukonen composition that was released on Early Flight and subsequently included on the 2003 reissue of Surrealistic Pillow. Garcia himself recalled in a mid-1967 interview that he played the high lead on “Today” in addition to playing guitar on two other songs (“Plastic Fantastic Lover” and “Comin’ Back to Me”) and rearranging “Somebody to Love.” He also played on “J.P.P. McStep B. Blues” (included on Early Flight and the 2003 reissue) and may have played on “How Do You Feel.” Kaukonen has opined that Garcia was essentially the producer who arranged the songs for the group. More recently, in his biography, he says, “I used to think about him as co-producer, but now that I really know what a producer is, the producer of that record was Rick Jarrard. Jerry was a combination arranger, musician, and sage counsel.” A comment by Garcia about the music being “as surrealistic as a pillow is soft” also reportedly inspired the album title.
Jefferson Airplane’s fusion of folk rock and psychedelia was original at the time, in line with musical developments pioneered by the Byrds, the Mamas & the Papas, Bob Dylan, the Yardbirds, and the Beatles, among other mid-1960s rock bands. Surrealistic Pillow was the first blockbuster psychedelic album by a band from San Francisco, announcing to the world the active bohemian scene that had developed there starting with the Beats during the 1950s, extending and changing through the 1960s into the Haight-Ashbury counterculture. Subsequent exposure generated by the Airplane and others wrought great changes to that counterculture, and by 1968 the ensuing national media attention had precipitated a very different San Francisco scene than had existed in 1966. San Francisco photographer Herb Greene photographed the band for the album’s cover art.
The album was originally released on LP record by RCA Victor in different stereo (LSP-3766) and mono (LPM-3766) editions. The stereo mixes include heavier use of reverberation effects than the mono. The mono version was deleted in the late 1960s and remained unavailable until 2001. The first United Kingdom release replaced some of the original songs with tracks from the group’s first US LP, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off.
In 2003, the album was ranked number 146 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”, maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list, and dropping to number 471 in the 2020 revised list. It was voted number 174 in Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums.
In January 2017, “Somebody to Love” received a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America, while “White Rabbit” received a platinum certification.
The first Compact Disc releases were in Japan in 1987 and the US in 1988. A 2001 re-issue by RCA was released as a limited edition gold CD and contained both the stereo and mono recordings. Both mixes were later included as part of the Ignition box set on a standard aluminum CD.
Another stereo reissue appeared on August 19, 2003, with six bonus tracks, including the mono A-sides of “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”. The 2003 reissue was produced by Bob Irwin. (wikipedia)
The second album by Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow was a groundbreaking piece of folk-rock-based psychedelia, and it hit like a shot heard round the world; where the later efforts from bands like the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and especially, the Charlatans, were initially not too much more than cult successes, Surrealistic Pillow rode the pop charts for most of 1967, soaring into that rarefied Top Five region occupied by the likes of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and so on, to which few American rock acts apart from the Byrds had been able to lay claim since 1964. And decades later the album still comes off as strong as any of those artists’ best work. From the Top Ten singles “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” to the sublime “Embryonic Journey,” the sensibilities are fierce, the material manages to be both melodic and complex (and it rocks, too), and the performances, sparked by new member Grace Slick on most of the lead vocals, are inspired, helped along by Jerry Garcia (serving as spiritual and musical advisor and sometimes guitarist).
Every song is a perfectly cut diamond, too perfect in the eyes of the bandmembers, who felt that following the direction of producer Rick Jarrard and working within three- and four-minute running times, and delivering carefully sung accompaniments and succinct solos, resulted in a record that didn’t represent their real sound. Regardless, they did wonderful things with the music within that framework, and the only pity is that RCA didn’t record for official release any of the group’s shows from the same era, when this material made up the bulk of their repertory. That way the live versions, with the band’s creativity unrestricted, could be compared and contrasted with the record. The songwriting was spread around between Marty Balin, Slick, Paul Kantner, and Jorma Kaukonen, and Slick and Balin (who never had a prettier song than “Today,” which he’d actually written for Tony Bennett) shared the vocals; the whole album was resplendent in a happy balance of all of these creative elements, before excessive experimentation (musical and chemical) began affecting the band’s ability to do a straightforward song. The group never made a better album, and few artists from the era ever did. (by Bruce Eder)
Marty Balin (guitar, vocals)
Jack Casady (bass guitar, guitar)
Spencer Dryden (drums, percussion)
Paul Kantner (guitar, vocals)
Jorma Kaukonen (lead guitar, vocals)
Grace Slick (vocals, keyboars, recorder)
Jerry Garcia (guitar on 04., 05., 11., 23. + 24.)
01. She Has Funny Cars (Kaukonen/Balin) 3.09
02. Somebody To Love (D. Slick) 2.59
03. My Best Friend (Spence) 3.04
04. Today (Balin/Kantner) 3.01
05. Comin’ Back To Me (Balin) 5.23
06. 3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds (Balin) 3.43
07. D.C.B.A.–25 (Kantner) 2.38
08. How Do You Feel (Mastin) 3.33
09. Embryonic Journey (Kaukonen) 1.54
10. White Rabbit (G.Slick) 2.33
11. Plastic Fantastic Lover (Balin) 2.39
12. – 22.
23. In The Morning (Kaukonen) 6.20
24. J.P.P. McStep B. Blues (Spence) 2.36z
25. Go To Her” (version two) (Kantner/Estes) 4.02
26. Come Back Baby (Traditional) 2.56