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Jefferson Airplane - Takes Off CD (album) cover

TAKES OFF

Jefferson Airplane

 

Proto-Prog

3.17 | 47 ratings

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4 stars Getting High

Jefferson Airplane are one of the three bands that spearheaded the psychedelic rock movement of the mid 1960s in San Fransisco, and were, rightly, one of the first to gain international recognition. Along with the Byrds and the Grateful Dead, this was a trio of bands that was to influence generations to come, and provoke the development of new and exciting forms of rock music that opened the gates for the progressive music movement to flourish, and Progressive Rock itself to emerge.

All of these bands emerged from the folk music scene, along with the likes of Janis Joplin, David Crosby et al., with what appeared to be a common goal to merge the major foundational popular music forms; Jazz, the Blues, Rock and Roll, Country and, of course, Folk - possibly as the result of Bob Dylan's then shocking decision to play using electric amplification at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.

It was Airplane founder member, Marty Balin's idea to finance and open a club called The Matrix, at which these rising folk fusion groups could play. This, along with the Grateful Dead (then The Warlocks) regular appearances at the Merry Prankster's Acid Tests as house band, were the prominent recorded moments in a revolution in music.

Naturally, it is Grace Slick who is synonymous with the voice of the Airplane, but her mesmerising tones are absent from this, their debut, as she was involved in her own project, the Great Society with whom she wrote and recorded the songs that JA are probably most famous; White Rabbit (her own) and Somebody to Love (originally Someone to Love, written by her brother-in-law), produced by Sylvester - later Sly - Stone, both of which appeared on the subsequent album, Surrealistic Pillow.

As a progressive music album, it fares surprisingly well, considering it is the band's debut. All the shades and colours of emerging approaches to rock music are in place, and it is because of, not despite, the album's feeling of typical psychedelic rock that this album is so remarkable - especially bearing in mind the release date.

The influence of the Byrds is strongly felt, but the emphasis on the rock side of the music is very strong indeed, as the growling bass propels Blues from an Airplane. This is not your standard 12-bar blues - it is a rock song that has the blues, which is a very different thing altogether. The 2:13 running time is packed with changes that all but destroy the old song form, which is made to give way to something altogether more oragnic.

Let Me In goes through several neat twists in the first 30 seconds, before ending up somewhere between the Byrds and the Monkees - with a startling descending bass line that suddenly puts me in mind of 19th Nervous Breakdown (The Rolling Stones), and suddenly a Stones influence I hadn't noticed before stomps through, before an instrumental that bears a resemblance to the sitar sound that had started to invade the music of both the Stones and the Beatles.

And so the album continues, with songs that bear a strong resemblance to the common styles of the time - all bearing a new twist that strongly marks Jefferson Airplane as a band with a genuinely new approach.

Standout tracks include;

- The unusual version of the Nashville Teens' Tobacco Road, which renders the song almost unrecognisable - an idea that was to provide Vanilla Fudge with a career.

- The strikingly Summer of Love flavoured Let's Get Together, like a more rocking version of the Byrds, with Buffalo Springfield styled harmonies, and rhythm guitar playing that appears to play games with time, interjecting odd triplet motifs - and stranger groupings - decidely not a simple case of bad timing either. Actually, this is a feature of the rhythm guitar on this album generally, but it simply seems to stand out more here.

- Chauffeur Blues, featuring the vocals of Singe Anderson, which give a clear picture of the space that Grace Slick needed to fill - without being unkind to Anderson, who has a voice that perfectly suits the music, with plenty of power and a pleasing vibrato - but somehow lacks the ultimate and dominating conviction of Slick.

On the second and subsequent release, Runnin' Round this World was removed - according to most reviews, because of the mention of the word Trip. The single version of this has been included with the CD I'm reviewing from, and I have to say that I would have removed it from the album because of the poor songwriting and execution quality - but that's just me.

Other bonus tracks, such as High Flying Bird are much more worthy, however - this is a wonderful piece of SF psychedelia, spoiled only very slightly by Anderson's somewhat excessive vibrato, which puts me in mind of a sheep... nonetheless, pure Acid Rock that makes you trip without the expense and risk of taking anything illegal. The Uncensored Version of Let Me In is also infused with a headier taste of those times than the album version.

All in all, a most worthy - dare I say, excellent - addition to the collection of anyone even vaguely interested in the history of Progressive Music. Although it's not as compelling a collection of material as Surrealistic Pillow, and seems to take more than a trick or two from the Byrd's 8 Miles High, nevertheless, this album is every bit as important as the Beatles' Revolver and Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn in the evolution of the more artistic side of popular music.

Pick up a copy of Conspicuous only in its Absence (Great Society) to go with it ;o)

Given that it was released in 1966, 4 stars - essential as a historical document, very progressive indeed for the time - but extremely dated.

There's definitely more than a small something for modern music fans to get out of it, however - it's a trip.

Certif1ed | 4/5 |

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