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"One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small"

Class D

Main Category: Psychedelia
Also applicable: Folk Rock, Roots Rock
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years, The Interim Years




Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Jefferson Airplane fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Jefferson Airplane fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Shucks. Acid-dripping, pot-smoking, ego-driven, ambitious and talentless pop perverts. Ripping off the Byrds in 1966, ripping off the Doors in 1967, and ripping off themselves ever after. Profanating the very idea of a guitar jam by their lengthy wankfests enough to make even a hungry shark fall asleep. What are they doing on this site of mine? They belong to the wastebin of history...

Actually, no. Well, the Airplane fans need not worry: this is but a stupid joke. I really like a lot of the Airplane. On the other hand, Airplane haters who thought they'd found a similar soul and are now on the threshold of disappointment, perk up your ears: there is a percent of truth in every joke. The Airplane have certainly lost all the good reputation they ever mastered in the mid-Sixties by 1969 or so. After making several truly great records, they suddenly stopped bothering about careful songwriting at all, instead going for a kinda Grateful Dead-like spontaneity. But they never had a virtuoso guitarist in the band (although Kaukonen was good), and their jams mostly ended up sounding totally offensive. Their songs went a long way, too, from scary dark subconscience explorations to powerful political declarations to all kinds of random crap psychedelia. The effect they had on America had probably more to do with their image, lifestyle and atmosphere of the music than with the actual music itself. Unlike their more lucky Californian pals the Doors, though, they aren't really recognized as a cult group anywhere outside the States, and it's easy to see why. A large percent of their music, even some of their finest tunes, sound horribly dated now - stuff made to satisfy the needs of their time and nothing else. Jim Morrison might have followed nothing but his own inner visions, his Sixties' cult status being an entirely different matter; but I can't really say whether Marty Balin or Grace Slick really cared for art. Then again, neither did Hendrix; but Hendrix was an undisputable genius, and even if the only purpose of doing 'Purple Haze' was to get the world shakin' and goin' at the time of its writing, I mean - really shakin', it has underwent serious reassessments since then. Nowadays we listen to 'Purple Haze' as to a great work of art. Back in 1967, people listened to 'Purple Haze' as to a 'lifestyle element', one of many. Now music put out by the Airplane was for the most part a 'lifestyle element'. It had to be applied to - not listened to. Unfortunately, the time when it had to be applied has long gone by, and the time when it has to be listened to hasn't yet arrived (and probably will never arrive). It isn't that I'm accusing the Airplane of being commercial. Nope, they didn't do it for the money (at least, money wasn't their primary motivation, even if they did get one of the biggest fees at Woodstock). But they didn't do it out of love for music, either. And their life philosophy, which served as a model for so many innocent hippies, was totally primitive.

That said, there's still a lot of great tunes to be found on some of the earliest Airplane records, especially the 1966-67 ones, when they still cared for their melodies and harmonies and tried to be original. Yup, I'm not a big fan, but I do admit they were a great band... for a couple years. I still haven't heard some of their Seventies' records (the final ones before they metamorphosed into the Jefferson Starship), but, based on Volunteers, I don't hold much hope. Let's live on, folks.

I do have some concrete words of praise for the band, hard as it is to be believed. For starters, I totally adore Grace Slick. The greatest white female singer of the Sixties, period. I mean, Janis Joplin should probably hold this place, but Janis was a really special event, just like Hendrix, for instance, was a really special guitar player and never enters my personal ratings as a 'numbered' unit. Grace rules - combining an angelic appearance with a voice that could be tender and raunchy at the same time. I also love hearing Casady's bass - best American rock bass player ever, period. And finally, I do favourize the general mood of these early Sixties' records. Dark and dreary, but not a life-and-death dreariness as that of the Doors, rather a 'healthy acid' kind of dreariness. Can't understand what I'm talking about? Me neither. Go dig in the records instead.

Lineup: Marty Balin (vocals, guitar); Jack Casady (bass); Paul Kantner (vocals, guitar); Jorma Kaukonen (vocals, guitar). This is the heart of the band. Other members initially included Skip Spence on drums and Signe Anderson on vocals, but these didn't last more than one year, replaced by Grace Slick on vocals and Spencer Dryden on drums. I don't really care for their numerous lineup changes in the early Seventies - that is, not until I got 'em and reviewed 'em. And I finally did get something, so read on.



Year Of Release: 1966
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Imagine a Byrds album and make it very, very, very dark and echoey. There you are!

Best song: AND I LIKE IT

Track listing: 1) Blues From An Airplane; 2) Let Me In; 3) Bringing Me Down; 4) It's No Secret; 5) Tobacco Road; 6) Come Up The Years; 7) Run Around; 8) Let's Get Together; 9) Don't Slip Away; 10) Chauffeur Blues; 11) And I Like It.

In the beginning the Airplane was good. The album takes a long time to get into, I'll admit, but it's no surprise. It is so reminiscent of the Byrds' early sound that I can't 'elp wondering... but no, 'it's no secret', of course: many Californian groups sounded alike. So if you need to take some time to get into the Byrds, you'll also take some time to get into the Airplane. It's all right.

The album itself is really wonderful. The main difference from the Byrds is in that it's dark. It's not that the songs are evil or anything - nope, it's not Led Zep and it ain't even the doors. The songs are, actually, rather simple: love ballads, hippie anthems, old blues covers, etc. But the way they sound was something new around 1966. How do they get that gloomy, murky sound, is something I still can't explain. My guess is that it has a lot to do with Jack Casady's bass playing (technically speaking, he was the most virtuoso player in the band), as well as some tricky production that gives most of the songs a deep, echoey sound that the Byrds never had. The opening tune, Balin's 'Blues From An Airplane' might seem inoffensive these days, but I can't help wondering how on earth could such a song be approved of at that time. Balin's voice - shaky, insecure, almost paranoid, but also emotional and professional - also contributes to the atmosphere. It isn't such a sad sad song, really, at least lyricswise; but the playing, production and singing make it sound almost like a funeral lament. To my mind, it's one of the best examples of the classic Airplane sound. They've only just arrived on the scene, but they already got it going.

The majority of the songwriting is done by Balin at this point, although he rarely writes a song all by himself. The only tune that's credited entirely to him is no slouch, though: the beautiful love ballad 'It's No Secret'. The other tunes aren't worse. 'Let Me In', co-written with Kantner, is fast and romantic, dark, too, but I guess that goes without saying; 'Bringing Me Down' challenges 'Blues From An Airplane' in its desperation, and its raw sound and intentional sloppiness adds to the feeling of confusion ought to be generated by listening to it. 'Come Up The Years' is an extremely strange tune about refusing to make love to an under-18 teenager (a subject later reprised by ABBA and God knows who else). Oh, well, it was 1966, and the hippie movement hadn't yet happened, so the guys decided to push up some political correctness. 'Come up the years and love me'. Good song. Dumb lyrics. 'Run Around' is a throwaway, and 'Don't Slip Away' is only memorable because of yet another romantic refrain. The album's definite highlight, though, is the album closing tune - 'And I Like It', co-written with Kaukonen. How could it be described? As the first individualistic, but still hippie anthem, no doubt: not just the 'love one another people' vibe, but rather the 'keep your hands off me, it's my life' vibe. Hmm. Come to think of it, 'It's My Life' was a song in its own right, done by the Animals a year before. So it's not the first individualistic anthem. What the heck. It's great anyway, with the refrain 'this is my life, this is my way, you know I like it' sung with such passion and defiance that it almost seems Marty's telling everybody to fuck off right now. Groovy, brothers and sisters! How's that for the person who sang 'let's get together people, love one another right now' on the Chet Powers cover? What the hell. All of these are great songs. They mostly set the same mood, independently of the fact whether they are love songs or odes to privacy, but they're all catchy and well-written.

Signe Anderson also makes her singing debut (and finale) on here, especially shining on the odd cover of 'Chauffeur Blues'. Why she decided to quit is way beyond me: her voice, although not as eccentric or acid-tinged as Slick's, is quite mighty. Maybe she wasn't content with her, er, rather diminished role on the album (most of the time she sings backing vocals); let me just mention that Slick's role in the band wasn't that great, either. Hell, Grace didn't write no songs, didn't sing lead on maybe ninety percent of them, and didn't play anything. And yet - she's revered for eternity, while Signe Anderson is unjustly forgotten. Don't forget about Signe Anderson and 'Chauffeur Blues'! Oh yeah, they also do 'Tobacco Road', although this is probably one of the few tunes not worth mentioning...

A groundbreaking record, for sure, and a tough one to sit through all at once. But I did, and I'm proud that I managed to like it. Whatever you want to make of it, this is the record that started the whole 'grim & dark' business in the American branch of rock music; from the happiness and cheerfulness of the Byrds to the doomday pounding of Casady's bass and the menacing female vocals of Anderson. They might still be singing about wanting to get together and romantic feelings, but hey, you don't fool me. The Doors certainly took their cues from here and managed to cash 'em in with a far better profit, but you gotta recognize first when you see it, especially if that 'first' is quite attractive music-wise as well. Now, if only I managed to find some hidden charm in that Volunteers garbage...



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

One of the most influential and essential Flower Power albums, but, again, with that gloomy feel to it...


Track listing: 1) She Has Funny Cars; 2) Somebody To Love; 3) My Best Friend; 4) Today; 5) Comin' Back To Me; 6) 3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds; 7) D.C.B.A.-25; 8) How Do You Feel; 9) Embryonic Journey; 10) White Rabbit; 11) Plastic Fantastic Lover.

If you're only going to buy one Jefferson Airplane album, get a greatest hits package. If you're not going to buy any Airplane at all, buy Surrealistic Pillow. Truly, if you're not that familiar with their early period, this record can certainly re-instate your trust in the world. Nope, it ain't perfect - the Airplane were frigged up right there from the beginning, and it shows even on their best album; however, this is the closest to perfect they ever got.

Of course, this is their first album with Grace Slick - one of the finest female vocalists in American rock history, ain't no doubt about that. If you do have any doubts, just take one more listen to 'Somebody To Love'. Unfortunately, since a lot of songs were still composed by Marty Balin, and since he didn't have much to do in the band except singing, Grace isn't featured as prominently as I'd like her to be (and she wouldn't be featured more on later records, either). So she's mostly relegated to backing vocals, getting just two leads of her own. Too bad. But what leads! Two of the best cuts in American music history, 'Somebody To Love' (written by Grace's ex-husband Darby Slick) and 'White Rabbit' (penned by Grace herself) could have been taken for undistinguishable pop ditties - if not for the powerful, almost hysterical delivery of Grace. Plus, the lyrics to 'White Rabbit' are really cool, and I bet it was an ingenious idea to take Alice and her metamorphoses as metaphors for the whole drug thing, making Lewis Carroll assume the same role for the hip generation as Tolkien would assume later on for the gloomily serious Seventies' generation. The song also features one of Jack Casady's most steady, self-assured and unforgettable bass lines, and the martial rhythms of Spencer Dryden perfectly contribute to the ominous, prophetic effect - and, of course, I haven't even mentioned the song's tremendous build-up yet, from a humble gloomy shuffle to an all-out screamin' screechin' piece of musical chaos, with Grace's yells of 'FEED YOUR HEAD' (which I have always misheard as 'feed your hare') topping it off.

None of the other songs even comes close to these two absolute masterpieces, of course, but most of them are still good enough to guarantee the record a solid 10. There are some fast, mean-sounding rockers which seemed so lacking on the last record, particularly Balin's '3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds' and the angry, almost rap-like 'Plastic Fantastic Lover' (wow, kinky). Combined with the 'Airplane formula', they give a strange feeling of malignant aggression and are quite intriguing. The latter is particularly amazing - a superb, energetic rocker that's pulled off with such ease and professionalism that it's really a wonder how on Earth did they never manage to follow it up with another similar tune. If I get it right, Jorma takes the lead 'rapping' vocals on here, and together with the angry guitar breaks, Casady's elephantine bass and a solid acoustic riff holding everything in place, the tune stands out as a real proof that the Airplane knew pretty well how to rock out - to be proved for those who are still in doubt.

There are also some catchy pop songs - fast ('She Has Funny Cars') and slow (Spence's leftover 'My Best Friend'), and again, even though they seem quite friendly, one can feel there's something twisted about all those melodies that gives them a menacing edge. That's what the Airplane music really is - menacing. They always bark, but they never bite. Always on the edge, but never over the edge. Some might hate it, but I find it fascinating.

I think I should also mention a couple (three, exactly) beautiful ballads here. Actually, they do not manage to surpass the best stuff on Takes Off, but they're still fine. Balin's 'Comin' Back To Me', the lengthiest track on the album (still, it's only five minutes long, which isn't at all much, if you compare it to their later albums), can be kinda boring at times, just because it's slow, acoustic and dreamy, but it still has a beautiful atmosphere around it. It can remind one of Crosby's erratic ballads, but this one isn't erratic at all, just a little slow. Kantner's and Balin's 'Today' features beautiful harmonies and, again, it's all surrounded by that strange magic the band seemed to possess in its early days; and the cover of Mastin's 'How Do You Feel' is simply pretty, with a good flute line and, again, superb harmonizing.

For me, the album has but two really serious stinkers. Kaukonen's instrumental 'Embryonic Journey' may have a lot of philosophical sense, and I'll admit he's a pretty solid acoustic player, but there's just no valid reason on earth for my enjoying his lazy classical picking. (Fortunately, it's less than two minutes long). And the album's worst track, Kantner's murky 'D.C.B.A.-25', pretty much presages late Airplane: a melodyless, clumsy shuffle with all the singing members joining in a hellish cacophonic chorus of total dissonance and confusion. I mean, it probably wasn't meant that way, because at that point they were still more interested in filling the album up with songs rather than weird noises, but it still doesn't work. Not for me, at least: I'm sure that Airplane fans love the song dearly.

And hey! This album came out almost half a year before Sgt Pepper! Cut that crap about rock'n'roll music not achieving 'serious' status if it weren't for that album. Surrealistic Pillow is quite 'serious': a mature, full-blown 'psychedelic' album with a band clearly writing music for the soul, not for the body. The greatest Hippie album of all time. Unfortunately, this was also the last truly great album for the Airplane: at this stage, they were yet perfectly able to balance the acid streams with enough pop catchiness to provide their psycho fantasies with a solid musical backing.



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

Mostly dated acid fantasies - enjoy this if you're stoned, otherwise use it only for writing a thesis on the Sixties.


Track listing: 1) The Ballad Of You And Me And Poonell; 2) A Small Package Of Value Will Come To You Shortly; 3) Young Girl Sunday Blues; 4) Martha; 5) Wild Tyme (H); 6) The Last Wall Of The Castle; 7) Rejoyce; 8) Watch Her Ride; 9) Spare Chaynge; 10) Two Heads; 11) Won't You Try; 12) Saturday Afternoon.

If Surrealistic Pillow was the band's Sergeant Pepper, this one's their Winds Of Change. Of course, they can't be blamed for that: like I said in so many other places already, in 1967 you didn't actually care about recording music as long as it sounded weird, groovy and trippy. This is certainly one trippy record, maybe the trippiest to date, and as such it has a horrendous load of historical importance. However, trying to sit through this bunch of 'songs' in one sitting is like trying to audition a half-professional band whose members didn't get acquainted until half an hour ago. Apparently, it was the commercial success of Pillow that made the band go for this approach - an approach that guaranteed no Top of the Pops, that's for sure. It also stabilized the Airplane's position as leader of the whole American acid rock movement and in that respect made them even bigger superstars than Pillow could ever hope for. But what about the music?

The music's rotten. Nah, let me rephrase that: there's just very little music on here. For the most part, Baxter's features dreadful sound collages, lengthy, dreary Grateful Dead-like jams and reciting of spacey, twisted mantras. The only condition in which you're sure to enjoy the album is after smoking pot for at least half of the day, and since I'm no pot-smoker, I don't get a chance. I try to give these albums a cool-headed analysis, see? And all of my rational senses scream against this m uck. What reason do I have, for instance, to like the Casady-Kaukonen-Dryden nine-minute 'Spare Chaynge' jam? I do find some fun in a couple of moments, just because Casady's a great bass player, Jorma's psychedelic guitar tone is interesting and Dryden's maniac, but precise percussion attack is also entertaining; but boy, did they really stretch it. They don't even have the guts of Cream - they just drive on and on stupidly. I'd bet my life all three of them were stoned while recording it (as well as most of the other songs on the album).

Otherwise, the album's main flaw lies in Paul Kantner who eventually took the band's leadership away from Balin. He might be a good chap, but his songs just aren't that interesting. Can't argue with the fact that he gets at least one truly magnificent composition on the album - the two-part 'Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon', probably one of the two or three best anthems to the Acid Life I've ever heard in my non-acid one. Might seem paradoxal, but this is the only song which you can enjoy on here without being stoned (even if you're invited to 'try' at least a hundred times). It has a beautiful melody, goes along smoothly and, what is maybe most important of all, puts Grace and company's backing vocals to good use (just listen to her wailing 'saturday afternoooooon' and tell me it ain't stunning). However, most of Kantner's other contributions seem either pale shadows of this one (the rambling, clumsy 'Wild Tyme (H)') or plain incompetent reworkings of standard blues patterns (the tolerable, but pointless 'Young Girl Sunday Blues'). Some are vicious and violent, like the album opener 'The Ballad Of You And Me And Poonell' (who's Poonell, I wonder?), with its high level of aggression and a particularly nasty guitar line backing it up; however, this violence doesn't even seem to be directed at somebody, they just sound like they're desperately fuckin' up. The ballads ('Martha') don't hold a candle to Marty's far superior ones, and all of these songs are spiced with ridiculous sound effects, bombastic production values, cacophonic screaming and shouting and all the attributes of unlimited psychedelia. Sometimes the band just goes over the top completely, like on 'A Small Package Of Values' which is probably destined to imitate the Stones' 'Sing This All Together (See What Happens)' because it has basically the same structure: a lot of drunken prattling set to a rudimentary keyboards tune. But they fail where the Stones succeeded, just because, believe it or not, the Stones' composition had a musical skeleton, and this one has a, well, er, prattling skeleton. thank God, it's shorter than two minutes, or else it could have cost them one more point.

Occasional bursts of relief come to us in the form of a Kaukonen generic blues ('The Last Wall Of The Castle', with probably his best soloing on the whole record, and a nice, graceful vocal melody) and Grace's 'Two Heads', a self-conscious rewrite of 'White Rabbit': since the former was a perfect song, this one couldn't be better, but it's still a worthy effort. Her four-minute raving 'Rejoyce', however, is a self-conscious piece of bullshit; apparently it's labeled as one more 'experimental' tune, which in this case means that all traces of melody are abandoned in favour of rambling, incoherent, nearly dissonant piano passages and an endless stream of conscience. But Grace is no Bob Dylan, and lyrics like 'Molly's gone to mazes, Boylan's crotch amazes' or 'I got his arm, I got his arm, I've had it for weeks' are an embarrassment. Whatever be, Mrs Slick, however much I adore her powerful voice, gotta steer clear of 'experimentation'.

Seems almost amazing how the hell could this band, packed to the brink with maybe not incredible, but still competent and professional songwriters, release this piece of near-horrible crap. I say 'near' because it does have some redeeming moments, but still, you gotta understand me. Especially since both the previous and the ensuing efforts were so much better. But what am I talking about? The album's for potheads! Have you smoked a joint recently? Then get your After Bathing At Baxter's out, dude, your coolness is waiting for you!



Year Of Release: 1998
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Proof that the Airplane were NOT drugged enough to play a decent live show. Or maybe they were, and it only helped.


Track listing: 1) Intro/The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil; 2) She Has Funny Cars; 3) It's No Secret; 4) Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon; 5) Greasy Heart; 6) Star Track; 7) Wild Tyme; 8) White Rabbit; 9) Thing; 10) Today; 11) The Other Side Of This Life; 12) Fat Angel; 13) Watch Her Ride; 14) Closing Comments; 15) Somebody To Love.

Right now this is chronologically the earliest Jefferson Airplane live album, but actually it had to spend thirty years lying in the archives before those good dudes whose only aim in life is to preserve all the ragged glory of the Sixties took it out, cleaned and polished it and made it generally available. Before that, the only document capturing a live "classic years" JA show was Bless Its Little Pointed Head, recorded about half a year later and reviewed below; so, for general information on what the JA live show looked like, check that other review.

This one's definitely the better live album, though, even if only by a narrow edge - after all, you can't undergo that much changes, either in style or in the setlist, within a measly half year. Just like BIPLH, this record isn't just one entire show; it's spliced together from a series of performances in May 1968, but thankfully there are no "two versions" of the same song. The setlist is comprised mostly of numbers from the band's two 1967 albums plus a few selections from the upcoming Crown Of Creation, which they apparently were "molding" onstage before settling onto a finalized studio version, as was often the practice with adventurous bands of the time. (Especially the hard-rocking ones - the Who and Led Zeppelin did that regularly).

The apparent "loss" of the Fillmore album is that it doesn't represent the bluesy side of the band; there's nothing like 'Rock Me Baby' off BIPLH, so it's fullblown psychedelia from the first to the last track. On the other hand, Jorma does get to perform his "acid blues-rocker" 'Star Track', which he predictably extends in order to fit in all the necessary soloing, and since he's a good soloist, it works. He gets a good vibe there, and tries on different guitar tones and moods instead of just hacking away on two strings. (Did that make any sense? I'm not sure).

And now here's more good news to you. The live version of 'The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil' may be just as disconcerted as the studio original, but it's even more ferocious, and in the middle of it Jack Casady gets some sort of a rumbling bass solo which really should get you going. For some reason, 'Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon' didn't make it onto the 1969 live album, but you'll find it here in all of its hippie glory, with those creepy guitar rhythms and the band's intentionally tripped-out, out-of-tune vocals; I'm still trying to understand whether they were always making a mess out of their harmony singing intentionally or just because they weren't able to keep it up together. Most probably it all began with the latter and then ended up as the former. Even so, they would never have made it without Grace's powerhouse vocals - whenever Kantner, Balin, and Kaukonen threaten not only to fall apart themselves but to shatter the song to pieces as well, some particularly high-watt trill from Mrs Slick puts everything back into place.

Another weird thing is that there are actually no songs from Crown Of Creation on BIPLH; here, apart from 'Star Track', you'll find a rip-roaring version of Grace's 'Greasy Heart', again, easily as good or better than the studio version. 'Wild Tyme' and 'Watch Her Ride' are also given kickass arrangements. And Grace does her best so as not to screw up on the two hits - it never pleased me much how her singing was so rambling and incoherent and messy on the BIPLH version of 'Somebody To Love', but here she keeps all her cool.

Incidentally, the two main problems are absolutely the same: 'Thing' is a dated, uninteresting, chaotic eleven-minute improvisation that picks up a little heat towards the end with some redhot Kaukonen/Kantner interplay (later on it was renamed 'Bear Melt' and started dragging even more); and their rendition of Donovan's 'Fat Angel' is a great cure for insomnia all the way through. Gosh, the Airplane are really one great band upon which to demonstrate all the obvious strengths and all the equally obvious weaknesses of the psychedelic era.

Even so, the good material outbalances the bad one on here in a much better way than on the 1969 album. And, of course, it's all tied in together with lots of stage banter - thus, you'll get to hear the exact reason why Grace dislikes chocolate cookies, as well as some interesting details about a Grateful Dead bust in New Jersey and at exactly which age did Grace get the chance to compose 'Greasy Heart'. Apart from that, there seems to have been a lot of microphone troubles, and on some occasions Grace was missing her clues and so on. Oh, and, of course, it all begins with the airplane buzz, so you get to appreciate Bill Graham and his show arranging talents as well.



Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

There's a bit too much apocalyptic feel here, but the compositions are still strong.

Best song: LATHER

Track listing: 1) Lather; 2) In Time; 3) Triad; 4) Star Track; 5) Share A Little Joke; 6) Chushingura; 7) If You Feel; 8) Crown Of Creation; 9) Ice Cream Phoenix; 10) Greasy Heart; 11) The House At Pooneil Corners.

Oo-wee, I thought my page on the Airplane would turn into a bait for flamers. As it is, I suddenly see that I mostly praise the band ('cept for the poor unfortunate Baxter's, of course). Anyway, why should I scold them if I like them? I just don't adore them like, say, the Doors for instance. Never mind, just wait until I get to Volunteers...

This, the band's fourth LP, is quite a different matter from what they did earlier (and, Heaven be blessed, it sounds nothing like Baxter's, too). Their previous albums were all dark, with Casady's black-night bass dominating in the general picture and it was echoey and all that, but it was all just a matter of sound. The songs themselves were pretty light - love ballads and 'love each other people' stuff in 1966, acid trips and 'she has funny cars' stuff in 1967. This is the first album where the lyrical and vocal atmosphere begins to match the sound. It isn't just paranoid - it's scary, right from the album cover where the group's personalites are bifurcating inside an atomic mushroom.

One has to give praise to the Airplane for releasing an album like that. The year was mid-1968, and there were still few signs of fear in the air - the people were still too busy loving each other and walking naked in circles. There was no 'Gimmie Shelter' yet, and no Fish Cheer, and, what's most important, everybody still believed love and music would save the world. On Crown Of Creation, the Airplane shattered this belief and recorded a set of numbers of such horrendous creepiness that I could easily call the album the most frightening rock record on the planet... were it not for the fact that a large part of these numbers is poorly written.

Not all of them, of course. Grace is still riding her old war horse, and if the two numbers she got to compose on here, 'Lather' and 'Greasy Heart', cannot boast really strong melodies, she still pulls them off splendidly just by the power of her voice. 'Lather' is especially scary, sending shivers down my back while Grace tells the story of an ageing hippie set to various spooky sound effects; 'Greasy Heart' has some strong singing, too, this time Grace takes on a more angry, vicious tone, like in 'Somebody To Love'. Fascinating - here's one female singer I really respect and love. She also sings 'Triad', a Crosby song rejected by the Byrds and later taken on by CSN. The song is typical Crosby - an unexplainably tough perversion anthem about group sex. Okay, okay, it's really more complicated than group sex, but then again, it's always group sex at the core. (You don't have to take that remark seriously, of course - somebody of my commenters did). To hell with the lyrics, I say, there's still an interesting melody, although it's really hard for me to get used to Crosby's melodies (I still have a hard time trying to adjust to 'Everybody's Been Burned' or 'Guinevere'). And basically, Grace does a good singing job again, even though through her narration the story gets even more perverse (c'mon, two girls and a guy vs. two guys and a girl? Okay, let's not get involved with sexism).

Right. But this is where the going gets less great. I mean, the male songwriting part of the Airplane has totally lost the strength to compose. Well, not totally. The album suddenly features Kaukonen as a newly-emerged songwriter: 'Star Track' is just an old blues rip-off, of course, but a good one, with grizzly wah-wah solos and a nice psychedelic mood to spice things up. And 'Ice Cream Phoenix' is a really powerful psychedelic number with Bo Diddley overtones (although once again, it's really Grace that makes the song with her powerful backup singing - you gotta hear her battle cry of 'still not cry when it's time to go-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!').

But Kantner and Balin do little but embarass themselves time after time. Their main coauthorship on here happens to be a chaotic, long-winded and melodiless jam called 'The House At Poonell Corners': since it's the album closer, it is probably destined to represent the Apocalypsis, but for me it represents a band vainly searching for inspiration and finding none. Unfortunately, the track is really typical of late Airplane: record a lengthy suite of primitive riffing, meaningless soloing and disjointed screaming and call it 'space jam' or something like that. This one is horrible - I took care to deprive the album of one point specially for it.

And the other Kantner and Balin compositions aren't much better, obviously written with nothing but a conceptual aim (see title track). Even when they try to record a fast, energetic, Pillow-style number, they get so frigged up right in the very first seconds that you really can't understand where the hell they are heading ('If You Feel', which is actually their best effort on this record but takes a little getting used to). I don't even remember the names of the two other tracks, one was some dreary Kantner ballad, I seem to recall, but... ah hell.

In desperation they even call upon Dryden to deliver a one-minute stupid collage of electronic sounds ('Chushingura') which probably sounded dated before it was even recorded, because the Byrds in America and Pink Floyd in Britain beat them to such things at least a year ago. Pity, this: Balin and Kantner were known for creating good songs. What happened to the guys? I loved Take Off, with quite a lot of lovely Balin compositions. Now it seems he's having trouble with putting two notes together. Probably was so stoned that he really had. If I'm right in my suggestions, the Airplane are one group whose sound wasn't improved, only worsened by acid. An ironic conclusion for a group that heralded the acid rock movement, isn't it? Oo-wee, beat it. This is the last good album they ever did, anyway. Not that I heard all of them - but this is my logical conclusion.

P.S. Okay, I admit it - 'If You Feel' and the title track have grown on me, for all the dreary psychological experiences they are. Therefore, the rating of the record has been pumped up a little bit. But that's about it. 'Where had all the flowers gone?'



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

The Airplane captured live in all their chaotic glory and concentrated shame!

Best song: ROCK ME BABY

Track listing: 1) Clergy; 2) 3/5s Of A Mile In Ten Seconds; 3) Somebody To Love; 4) Fat Angel; 5) Rock Me Baby; 6) The Other Side Of This Life; 7) It's No Secret; 8) Plastic Fantastic Lover; 9) Turn Out The Lights; 10) Bear Melt.

The best thing about this album, the only official Airplane live album released in their Sixties prime, is that it can function as a perfect introduction to all the sides of the band. Recorded in late 1968, it shows that, true to legend, the band was able to kick all kinds of ass onstage - and it could also be deadly boring, maybe not to their San Franciscan audiences, but to listeners thirty years on for sure.

There's at least one side here that doesn't often get displayed on the band's studio albums, actually, the side that later split off from the band and became Hot Tuna, which is the "basic rootsy blues-rock" side. The nearly-eight-minute version of 'Rock Me Baby' they had the good taste not to cut off shows what an incredibly good guitar player Mr Kaukonen could really be. It's slow and moody, unlike the more well known fast'n'furious version of Hendrix, but there's no comparison really; Kaukonen's interpretation pays more tribute to the tradition anyway. I do suppose the band always had just about the same groove established for all of their bluesy numbers - you can check out the thrilling 'Uncle Sam's Blues' in the Woodstock movie, for instance, which is played more or less in the same way. But since these bluesy numbers are so hard to come by in the first place, I have no problem with that. What does matter is Jorma's versatility and ability to shift from scary isolated minimalistic notes to all-out electric hell (by the Airplane's measures, of course) - besides, his exaggerated "blues accent" ('ah wonchooo to rock me beibeeeooouu!') is fun, and Casady's fuzzy bass lines keep running in all directions and add to the power tremendously.

So! The Airplane were a first-rate live blues performers. But remember, they also had a poppy Surrealistic Pillow stage, how do they fare with that? One thing that kinda grates upon me, and could probably grate upon you as well, is the seeming 'vocal cacophony' that takes place every time when Balin and Slick (and sometimes Kantner and maybe Jorma) start singing in, er, uhm, 'unison'. Actually, seems like it's their aim never to sing in true unison - whenever Grace sees that she kinda hits the same notes as Marty, she just shuts up for a moment and then comes out with a 'whoaaaaa!' or a 'yeaaaaaah!' sung in an entirely different key. That's the Airplane's idea of fun at a live performance; that's just the way they do '3/5 Of A Mile In Ten Seconds', 'It's No Secret' and 'The Other Side Of This Life', Fred Neil's old folksy composition that they never put on any of their regular studio LPs but very frequently used to perform in concert. However, it's also possible to get used to this thing, unless you have a really huge bone to pick with Marty's bleating.

I guess it's more hard to get used to Grace's radical vocal reinterpretation of 'Somebody To Love', where she totally slurs the original structure in true Dylan/Joplin fashion. Well, we can forget her for this, can't we? It's their friggin' hit single! It HAD to be reinterpreted so they wouldn't give a Top of the Pops impression or anything. Besides, the vocal workout is still strong, and it's pretty amazing how Grace can wiggle her way out of all the complex vocal phrasing she gets involved with - which again proves that she was one of the Sixties' strongest female singers, want it or not. Besides, once again, the instrumental part of all the performances in question is magnificent, with Casady and Kaukonen as the main heroes.

What IS particularly unsettling about the record and can't ever be shaken off is how much time they are wasting on "stupid hippie crap". For starters, the band decides to pay tribute to Donovan by including his 'fly Jefferson Airplane, gets you there on time' "Fat Angel" song on the album. The original might have already been kinda dippy, but these stoned lads render it totally unlistenable; seven minutes of wimpy boring guitar jamming which is simply not suited to Kaukonen's needs. Why do I get the feeling he'd rather be standing there playing another seven-minute sweaty blues workout instead of this tripe? Okay, he does catch a little bit of fire towards the very end of the track, but it's not worth my effort. Even so, it's nothing compared to the 'artsy' horror that is the album-closing jam 'Bear Melt'. And I do realize that the Airplane were famous for their tripped-out lengthy beatnik ravings, but really, if there is a reason why so many people today come to despise the Airplane, it's stuff like 'Bear Melt' that's responsible for this atrocious reputation. Again, in a couple of spots you can capture some nice Kaukonen/Casady interplay that reminds the better moments of Cream jamming (and even this isn't much of a consolation if you hate Cream jamming), but mostly it's just slow disconnected guitar phrases over which Grace blurts out her usual sonic nonsense. Ridiculously dated and even worse in form than the Baxter's stuff.

And that, I guess, settles it. There's lots to love about the album, and lots to hate; if your mind is positive, you'll pay more attention to the poppier and bluesier material, if it isn't, you'll end up ranting about how that 'Bear Melt' piece of crap totally ruins your day. But in either case, don't say I didn't warn you. And by the way, is it just me or is it kinda rude to end up your show by saying 'you can move your rear ends now'? You're a bad girl, Grace.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 6

Insipid, totally forgettable tunes, only worsened by a strong political scent.


Track listing: 1) We Can Be Together; 2) Good Shepherd; 3) The Farm; 4) Hey Fredrick; 5) Turn My Life Down; 6) Wooden Ships; 7) Eskimo Blue Day; 8) A Song For All Seasons; 9) Meadowlands; 10) Volunteers.

Now this is the album that's just plain open crap. Two things happened that make it significantly worse than anything before. First, Marty Balin got totally out of the picture. He's still there, but he only gets one co-authorship credit on the whole record, the one in the title track (which was certainly a Kantner song rather than a Balin song). Second, they committed a fatal crime by shifting their status from kings of acid rock to political leaders of the youth movement, and just one look at the album cover, as well as their 'clever' responses to the question 'What is your favourite stripe on the flag?' printed on the back cover, suggests at a vomit-inducing experience. The atmospherics which used to disguise their lack of melodical strength so cleverly are now gone, the eeriness and psycho mood are on the way out, and in comes an audacious and completely undeserved self-stylization as Protest Heroes.

Indeed, Kantner's 'We Can Be Together', mostly famous for the line 'up against the wall, motherfucker', is just as rambling and melodically primitive as always; only this time it's pretentious and anthemic, and that only makes matters worse. The title track is slightly better, mainly because it's shorter; yet the melody also suffers, because the song is obviously invented on the spot and set to an almost 'nursery' style. And the same can be said about the whole album, really. Song after song goes by like yet another meaningless day in your life. At times it almost seems to me that Kantner, Slick, Kaukonen, and Dryden were holding a competition for the title of 'Worst Songwriter In The Band'. All of them (except maybe Dryden) used to write at least some good songs, but here it all seems like a wicked plot. Kantner, of course, is known for neglecting melody, song structure, and everything else, sacrificing these 'dated' notions to the 'strength of the moment'. But these wretched pieces of record-wasting can't even be explained as drug songs - they aren't, and so you won't be able to enjoy them even uder the influence of heroin or anything like that. They're either scummy political manifestos, like the two songs described above, or stupid appraises of life in the country ('The Farm'). Grace used to pen spirit-lifting, raging material like 'Somebody To Love' - where is it gone? This time, her main contribution to the album is the eight-minute horror of 'Hey Fredrick', beginning as a senseless, brain-muddling stream of cacophonic conscience and later degenerating into a lengthy jam which you're only able to enjoy if you're a fan of Jefferson Airplane jams. I'm not. I detest the song. Strange, I feel it might have sounded good in the hands of Janis Joplin, especially since some of the loud Kaukonen solo parts sound suspiciously similar to the Big Brother interplay (I could have sworn that some of the vibratos were lifted directly from a Sam Andrew passage). But that's just a suggestion, and, anyway, Grace wasn't even really trying on the number. Eight minutes! My God! But her collaboration with Kantner, the six-and-a-half-minute 'Eskimo Blue Day', is even worse, with crappy lyrics and terrifying vocal disharmonies.

Now Kaukonen could have saved the day with a couple of his by now would-be regular blues stylisations like 'Star Track'. Nope, his main contribution is the faceless ballad 'Turn My Life Down' (which demonstrates his sheer inability as a composer - the song is just as much of a tuneless, rambling mess with chaotic vocals as almost everything else on here), plus a short organ sequence that encodes the Russian folk song 'Meadowlands'. What the hell the boys were thinking about, I wonder... To top it off, drummer Spencer Dryden writes a pedestrian country song ('A Song For All Seasons') whose melody he could have stripped off just any standard country record in existence - even the Byrds did the same style far better the previous year, much as I dislike Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. The best number so far turns out to be Crosby/Stills' 'Wooden Ships' (the band appears to be a huge worshipper of David's songwriting, having recorded 'Triad' a year earlier). The song itself is a classic, of course, but the cover really doesn't do it justice and it's the best song on here just because there are no good songs otherwise. What a shame. What a letdown.

Of course, the record was a big hit in America, because by that time the Airplane have transformed into something like the symbol of a nation - some of the least deserved symbolism in history. It's easy to see why, of course - the band was always in the center of attention, always in the heat. However bad they could be, they at least partly succeeded in achieving what Pete Townshend only dreamed of, that is, becoming one with the audience. But on the other hand, that is just to say that they and their music have more historical importance than actual value. Nope, not quite. Surrealistic Pillow is still a great album. But Volunteers is prime bullshit. From start to finish. Stay away from it. Like plague.

And the year was pretty clumsy for the Airplane, too: they'd gotten into some mess at the Altamont Speedway, where dem Hells Angels bumped Marty on the head. After that he probably went nuts and quit the band alltogether. Meanwhile, Casady and Kaukonen betrayed the band's cause and installed a parallel outfit called Hot Tuna which proved to be more long-lived and well-respected than the Airplane. I don't know holy shit about it, of course. Spencer Dryden also quit the band, and was replaced by Joey Covington; add Papa John Creach on violin and there you go, the early-Seventies Airplane line-up is in place.



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

A change of direction... or a loss of direction. The new sound is kinda atmospheric, though.

Best song: WILD TURKEY

Track listing: 1) When The Earth Moves Again; 2) Feel So Good; 3) Crazy Miranda; 4) Pretty As You Feel; 5) Wild Turkey; 6) Law Man; 7) Rock And Roll Island; 8) Third Week In The Chelsea; 9) Never Argue With A German If You're Tired Or European Song; 10) Thunk; 11) War Movie.

Hmm... I don't know if I'm the ONLY person on Earth to rate this album and its follow-up as a huge improvement over the feeble dreck of Volunteers, but even if that's so, I'll carry this separatist tag proudly. It's not like Bark is a major underrated gem or something; it's just decent.

I have to guess that the band wasn't all that interested in working together: Balin had quit, Dryden had quit, and Casady and Kaukonen were already getting involved in the 'Hot Tuna' project, which eventually graduated from a 'sidelong' hobby into the main course. On the other hand, there are some positive moments here as well. Bark's sound is a really careless and throwawayish one, but it's a full, loud, and bombastic sound, as opposed to the rootsy experimentations on Volunteers. The band doesn't try to create "really solid music" this time (it has long lost that ability anyway); the band just jams along, concentrating on that dark apocalyptic sound of the past. But there are no lengthy sprawling mind-boggling jams either - the tracks are mostly within decent running times and up to the point. Plus, Papa John Creach's violin makes a really solid addition to the sound, and Kaukonen is in top form, blazing out ferocious leads the likes of which he hasn't played since Surrealistic Pillow. What else do you need? Expecting the Airplane to come out with a 'Mr Tambourine Man' or something?

Now, of course, Bark does have its share of second-hand tuneless garbage, or else I would have rated it even higher. For the life of me, I can't understand how Mr Kantner used to write really interesting songs in the past. Here, he bookmarks the album with two anthemic political rave-ups ('When The Earth Moves Again' and 'War Movie'), both of which sound exactly the same and, moreover, repeat the formula of Volunteers. The adrenaline-filled group harmonies don't help much either. His third contribution, the corny-titled 'Rock And Roll Island', is slightly more tolerable, as it's essentially just a standard piano-based rocker, but heck, it's just a standard piano-based rocker. Jorma plays some lead guitar in the background, but it sounds as if they gagged the mike.

So let's just place a big fat plump cross on Kantner's career and concentrate on the real heroes of this record, which are (to a lesser extent) Grace Slick and (to a bigger extent) Mr Kaukonen. Grace does embarrass herself as well, with yet another in a series of mindless schizophrenic rants; I challenge anybody to take a thorough listen to 'Never Argue With A German If You're Tired Or European Song' and get his or her load of pure essential enjoyment out of this one. However, she is also responsible for the impressive 'Crazy Miranda', which hearkens back to 'Lather' in that it's yet another 'character assassination' tune ('Crazy Miranda/She lives on propaganda/She believes everything she reads'), less dark and spooky, but not any less tuneful or resonant. Her voice is still strong, as she belts out the lines, and yeah, the Woodstock era might have passed, but the sentiments still remain... And 'Law Man' is pretty energetic as well, with a catchy, almost poppy, vocal melody, great lead accompaniment from Jorma, and a slightly 'childish' atmosphere, which is just the thing you need to relieve the tension.

That said, the real reason the rating is so strangely high for this album is that I thoroughly enjoy all of Kaukonen's songs. They TEAR! I don't know why, but they had never yet TORN with so much force. To use a perfectly tolerable cliche, Jorma is simply 'unleashed' on this album. 'Feel So Good' has some pretty understated wah-wah solos and another catchy vocal melody (where did Jorma get that goofy falsetto from in the chorus?), but the real gem is the instrumental 'Wild Turkey', where Kaukonen gets to perform a raw, fiery duel with Papa John Creach's violin, and it's one of those cases of 'instrument dialogues' that leaves me breathless at the end. Minor climaxes, cunning melodic twists, mind-blowing vibratos and even all kinds of speedy finger-flashing runs abound. Where was that guitar tone on previous albums? Why did they feel the need to trip us out with their apocalyptic shithouse (sorry) or stone us with their political declarations when they had this kick-ass potential in them? Beats me. Great tune. And to top it off, Kaukonen also gets a minimalistic acoustic ballad ('Third Week In The Chelsea') that feels so homely and warm I'm all up for it.

Altogether, Bark is just an exceedingly uneven album: three forgettable songs by Kantner, one forgettable song by Grace, one forgettable song by drummer Joey Covington (the appropriately titled, but melodically poor 'Thunk'), on one side, but two excellent songs by Grace, three excellent songs by Kaukonen and one decent collaboration (the mantraic, Crown Of Creation-style 'Pretty As You Feel') by three band members. That's six good against five bad! Hooray, hooray, we've won the day! Still, this 'diversity' is the record's main flaw: contrary to whatever you might hear, the Airplane in 1971 were still a band with a vast potential, both technical and compositional. Apparently, the main reason that potential wasn't realized fully was the lack of gelling in personal relations within the band. Who knows what the Airplane might have evolved into had Kaukonen and Casady refrained from splitting and not let Mr 'Politics-Before-Everything-Else' Kantner take over the band's wretched remains? God only knows. Anyway, I suppose I can only recommend getting both Bark and its followup album, throw out the dreck and splice the remnants into an awesome 'late-period Airplane' compilation. It will surely be one of the best Airplane records that ever existed.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Hardly any melodies here at all; but let us confess and say that the level of energy really drags me in.


Track listing: 1) Long John Silver; 2) Aerie (Gang Of Eagles); 3) Twilight Double Leader; 4) Milk Train; 5) The Son Of Jesus; 6) Easter?; 7) Trial By Fire; 8) Alexander The Medium; 9) Eat Starch Mom.

Long John Silver is usually considered the absolute nadir for the band, a derivative mess that only hurt their reputation and resulted in the breaking of the band. That means my expectations were set pretty low, as in the case of Bark; but boy, was I (and everybody else) really mistaken. It's not any worse than Bark; rather, just more of the same. Hey, of course this ain't no great masterpiece, and for 1972 this was rather dated, clumsy and certainly unnecessary; and anyway, whoever would want to bother buying a brand new Jefferson Airplane album in 1972? Today, though, when a presumably worthy member of the un-hip community like me prefers to take a fresh look at the record with wide opened eyes and ears, comparing it to the other Airplane releases, the sudden and unexpected merits really step through and make me speak up in favour of the album. A bit.

The flaws are obvious, of course. The Airplane always had a formula, and stuck to it pretty close; last time around, though, the lack of diversity becomes rather frightening. Quite often, I don't even exactly notice the breaks between songs. They're all mid-tempo, based on the interplay between the well-familiar Jorma 'acid' guitar tone and Papa John Creach's noodling violin, with extremely hard to discern vocal melodies that mostly dissolve into disjointed ravings halfway round; very little here is at all memorable, if anything, and it's hard to imagine any of the songs as possible hits.

That said, I really enjoyed listening to this album. Primarily because... well, to me it sounded surprisingly fresh and pulsating with sincere, existent energy. That energy can be naive and stupid, and Slick's and Kantner's anti-Christian ramblings on 'Son Of Jesus' and 'Easter?' certainly transgress the plank (isn't it a bit too late to complain about Christians shedding blood for their faith in the twentieth century?); but even so, the band chugs along finely, with, sometimes, blazing lead guitar work. My favourite point, though, is that Slick takes lead vocals on most of the tracks, and since I have a special passion for her singing style, that works. In fact, her piece de resistance on the album, the powerful, soaring ballad 'Aerie', should rank among the best creations of the Airplane, for all I care. That singing job she does there is unsurpassed, and the song takes you whirling up to the sky like no other song could (until, of course, it was surpassed by ABBA's 'Eagle' five years later). Listen to the superb harmonies on the chorus, sink into them, feel 'em, and you'll know what I mean.

Same goes for the other material, with the golden rule - if it's written by Slick, take it; if it's Kantner, dump it. Yeah, what reason there ever was to keep his stupid obsolete political rantings on 'Twilight Double Leader' and 'Alexander The Medium'? After sitting through both for four or five times, I still can't keep a single note in my head. Man, did the guy really have an anti-songwriting talent... to think that he's credited for 'Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon'! Dump that shit, please, and dump the blasphemous 'Son Of Jesus' (a song whose lyrical matter somehow predicts the scandalous Martin Scorsese's movie), not because it's blasphemous, of course, but because it's first an anti-religious statement, and only second a 'song'. A 'song'? Or should we say 'a mess of noise'? Yairs.

However, just add a touch of Slick and there you got it. 'Aerie'. Ooh, I love that one. But wait, I already discussed it. What else? 'Easter'? Well, 'Easter' has got some really pissed-off lyrics, some really goofy ones. 'No more nails in the holy legs, no more brains in the christian'. 'Pope Paul taking all your money for turning your feet into clay'. It still makes me wonder why the hell Grace was so angry at poor Christians; but in any case, she sings 'em with enough conviction to make me believe she truly thought it was so. Funny, the song could be categorized as a 'soul' number, but if one takes the lyrical matter, how can a 'soul' song be an anti-Christian one? Hmm? Rats. I'm stumped. I think I'll just say that I also enjoy the hell out of the groovy fiddle that holds up 'Milk Train' (ah, more Slick! more Slick! maybe it was a good thing Balin quit the band, after all!), and that album closer, 'Eat Starch Mom', hey, it seems to be a car song. 'Man-made mechanical mover', that's what Grace keeps singing all the time, so it must be about a car. It has a kinda boring and sloppy jam in the middle, but the song itself is okay.

Plus, there's the title track, more sloppy mess and more powerful Grace singing, and then there's the only number by Kaukonen, the bluesy 'Trial By Fire' with a lot of tasty acoustic guitarwork. Not the best one on here, though; Jorma was clearly more in Hot Tuna at the time, and it shows. All in all, though, I truly don't find the record as horrendous as it is often described, and I a-loudly proclaim that it is more fit to stand the test of time than, say, Volunteers. And - if you ever developed a passion for Grace's magnificent voice, this is an absolute must for you, as she probably sings more here than on all the 1967-69 Airplane records put together. 'Aerie' rules and will rule always, at least as long as I live. Aerie, Aerie, Aerie!

Of course, as you know, this was their last studio album until they all decided to get together and shed some nostalgic tears on their 1989 reunion album which I don't have and am not really looking for. And I don't think I'll be interested in assimilating any of their Starship records any time soon; so let this be the end of my reviews. For now. Unless, of course, something like 'The Great Lost Jefferson Airplane' comes out, which they recorded in 1973 and never released because they had better things to do and had run out of fuel anyway.

P.S. That was a hoot, of course. No 'Great Lost Album' that I know of, folks. Real sorry.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

When songs of such high quality make it onto a rarities collection, you know there's gotta be something wrong with the band...


Track listing: 1) High Flyin' Bird; 2) Runnin' 'Round This World; 3) It's Alright; 4) In The Morning; 5) J.P.P. McStep B. Blues; 6) Go To Her; 7) Up Or Down; 8) Mexico; 9) Have You Seen The Saucers.

Contrary to legend, Jefferson Airplane weren't the first "major" band to have a rarities-and-outtakes collection released - earlier precedents like Traffic definitely come to mind - but they were certainly one of the first bands to prove such collections could be more than worthwhile. This stuff was released only a few years after the band's demise, and is quite short even for an LP, but nevertheless manages to briefly touch upon every aspect of the band's existence: the early pre-Slick days, the classic poppy 1967 period, the folksy revival of 1969, the proto Hot Tuna jamming, and the rambling, formless "decline" of the early Seventies. In fact, I couldn't heave enough praise on how classy the compositional structure of the record is - with its nine songs, Early Flight could show all these latter days thirty-track long CDs where only half of the songs are worth listening to and the other half have to be picked out like lice from an inmate's hair a thing or two - not to be naming any names, that is.

Not all the songs here are great, but some are, and every single one is at least mildly interesting. From the early days of the band, the Signe Anderson/Skip Spence epoch, you get a minor masterpiece, 'High Flyin' Bird', a song that, for no apparent reason, had evaded album release before, but nevertheless turned into a live staple for the band (apparently it can be heard live performed by the Slick lineup on the Monterey Pop Festival album). That song just illustrates everything that was so great about the early band. Balin and Signe each share verses, with him enunciating everything in his takes-some-time-to-get-used-to shakey vulnerable voice and she ushering in a wall-rattling soulful delivery (a rare case, actually, when you can hear Signe singing lead - Balin was probably too jealous to let her do it more often). The other two early songs aren't that interesting, showing way too much dependence on the classic Byrds sound, but if you dig the early Byrds, you're guaranteed to dig these, two. They're just not as powerful as 'High Flyin' Bird', 'sall. Still, like I've already pointed out above, 1966-era Airplane aren't just a carbon copy of the Byrds - they've got radically different vocal stylistics, and their love for echoey production and Cassidy's rumbling moody basslines all make their approach significantly darker than McGuinn and company's.

'In The Morning' is a nice, if not breathtaking, early example of a blues jam, with Jorma (who else) taking lead vocal and John Hammond contributing harmonica runs. Then again, the Airplane's bluesmaking was never "breathtaking", but Jorma always made sure there was a little creepy swampy feel about their mucking around, and this one's no exception. His trademark vocals are already firmly in place as well. In case you're not aware, Jorma's trademark singing is in accord with a simple principle - "keep your mouth tightly shut and your nose widely open". A pretty defiant, if not all that unique, approach to singing.

The Surrealistic Pillow era is represented by the Skippy reject 'J.P.P. McStep B. Blues' (you could tell Skippy wrote the tune by merely looking at the title, couldn't you?), a decent, but not too hook-filled folksy shuffle (cool friendly harmonies on that one), and particularly 'Go To Her', the second great lost gem on here. One of the Airplane's most energetic, dazzling rockers ever, with the entire band working as one tightly oiled mechanism, something they really could only demonstrate on Surrealistic Pillow before cracking and splitting under the influence of too much acid - Balin and Slick duet on here and, once again, bring out the best in each other, and each verse climaxes in that mega-powerful 'Go to her, she lies waiting for you!' scream that, in a better epoch, could serve as the Airplane's visit card just as well as 'Don't you need somebody to love!'.

Next there's another jam ('Up And Down'), this time drifting off into more a funk/hard-rock direction - actually, it's more of a Hot Tuna number with Balin guest sitting on lead vocals, and that's the only minus because frankly, Balin isn't much of a cock-rockish screamer, he sounds like a watered-down version of Dave Coverdale on this track. Apart from that, they get a grizzly heavy rock sound going on that's almost nearly in the Led Zeppelin ballpark, and could have been right out there had Jorma simply bothered to lower the guitar tone just a wee bit more. Then again, Cassidy's elephant-herd-like-bass sort of compensates for that. And the track just keeps growing, with Jorma and Kantner getting it up, adding extra distortion and, towards the end, going funkier with the wah-wah and stuff and really getting it on. Whether you like it or not, it's inarguably the heaviest thing to bear the Jefferson Airplane moniker, and that alone deserves a listen or two.

Finally, there's a late 1970 single included - incoherent and unmemorable, like pretty much everything the band did from 1969 on, but at least energetic and inspired-sounding like the best tracks on their two last albums rather than lethargic and directionless like on Volunteers. The Grace-dominated 'Mexico' is my favourite (because the more Grace there is, the more you can count me happy), but Kantner's 'Have You Seen The Saucers' is not that bad either - particularly due to some blazing guitarwork from Kaukonen.

Much of this album has been incorporated into later anthologies and compilations and boxsets, so I've heard, but if you're a completist and don't care much for compilations, you can get this without any fear of being ripped-off. In fact, hey, I don't mind if anybody uses this as an introduction to the Airplane, strange as that may sound. Diverse, well-recorded and well mastered on CD, it will provide you with more insight into the band than the brief bits of Woodstock which usually initiate people into the Airplane mythology.


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