Wednesday, September 12, 2007

No. 146: Surrealistic Pillow

Band: Jefferson Airplane
Album: Surrealistic Pillow
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Airplane were one of the preeminent bands of the "Summer Of Love" largely because of this album. The two songs you probably know from the record -- "Somebody To Love" and "White Rabbit" -- have been played countless times on the various 60s retrospective TV specials.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Outside of a two-ish year period, the Airplane mean nothing to no one.
Best song: Well, duh. The two songs you know.
Worst song: "3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds" isn't very good.
Is it awesome?: I don't think so.

The Jefferson Airplane went through two big changes between the band's first and second albums. The more minor change was the replacement of original drummer Skip Spence by Spencer Dryden. Spence -- known as a songwriter -- only had a hand in writing three songs from the band's debut and barely helped create the band's sound.

The larger change, of course, was the replacement of the band's female singer. The band's first singer, Signe Toly Anderson, left the band soon after Spence did, so the band poached Grace Slick from a band called The Great Society. Slick, a college graduate and former model, was just about what the band needed; A smart, powerful, sexy voice for the "Summer of Love."

And thus came the Jefferson Airplane (and, to some extent, Jefferson Starship) we've come to know. And "Surrealistic Pillow" is the Jefferson Airplane we all know. Save for "Volunteers," every song you know by the Airplane is on here. Of course, Slick's two great songs are here. "Embryonic Journey," Jorma Kaukonen's acoustic guitar piece featured on the final episode of "Friends," is on here (thank you, Wikipedia!). "Today," the band's hippie ballad, is here. "She Has Funny Cars," a bluesy riff about conformity and hypocrisy, is on here.

Listening to it again, I'm just not totally impressed. Like Moby Grape, I think the Airplane is a band buoyed as much by boomers' memories as anything. It's as not as though "Surrealistic Pillow" doesn't deserve to be on this list; It does. It's probably a 400-500 type album. But, at 146? I don't think so.

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