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Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow CD (album) cover

SURREALISTIC PILLOW

Jefferson Airplane

 

Proto-Prog

3.59 | 186 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

siLLy puPPy
3 stars After a turbulent start JEFFERSON AIRPLANE tried but fell short for "Take Off" on their debut despite the positive affirmations present in the album title. While the band got their feet wet in the gigging circuit and were a local cult favorite in the San Francisco Bay Area, the band was unsuccessful in making a dent further abroad however soon after the debut was released there were a few developments which sent the band in new directions and accidentally landed them in the worldwide spotlight as "The Summer Of Love" descended upon the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco. The original female vocalist Signe Anderson left the band only two months after "Jefferson Airplane Takes Off" was released because of her recently born daughter taking focus away from the band. Secondly drummer Skip Spence was sacked due to an unannounced vacation to Mexico but would go on to found Moby Grape. Spencer Dryden was recruited to fill the drummer's shoes.

The female vocalist role was, of course, filled by the prodigious contralto vox box of Grace Slick, whom the band had already known from her former band The Great Society which had played with JEFFERSON AIRPLANE on many occasions. Just a little trivia: Grace Slick is lineally descended from passengers of the Mayflower! The classic lineup of JEFFERSON AIRPLANE was complete and in early 1967 the band released their second album SURREALISTIC PILLOW just in time for the Beat Generation inspired movement of the "turn on, tune in, drop out" youth who were reinventing society and of course they needed a new soundtrack for a totally new way of thinking! JEFFERSON AIRPLANE were poised to be first in line to fill this new unforeseen need and soon they would find a pot of gold where no rainbow yet touched the ground!

In many ways SURREALISTIC PILLOW continues the sound laid down on the debut album. Although described as psychedelic rock by many, album number two primarily consists of Byrds inspired folk rock that take the influences of other contemporary artists like The Mamas & The Papas, Bob Dylan, The Yardbirds, The Beatles and Kingston Trio and added a touch of psychedelia to become one of the biggest hits of the entire year. The band's distinct sound of the combo vocal effect of Slick and Marty Ballin was the extra boost of mojo they needed to finally get their AIRPLANE flying high in the friendly skies. The album was released in February 1967 and shot up to number 3 on the Billboard charts in only a month and a half where it stayed for over a year and provided the only two top 10 hits of their entire career as a band. "Somebody To Love" and "White Rabbit" both hit the top 10 and became two of the biggest anthems of the entire 60s music scene not to mention the band's best known tracks.

SURREALISTIC PILLOW is one of those albums that divides my senses. On the one hand, this album is absolutely essential for a complete understanding of the hippie scene and The Summer Of Love in 1967. It is an inextricable part of a unique place and time in history and therefore has earned that mandatory placement in my music collection. However from an artistic point of view, i have never been blown away by this one. Personally i find only six of the eleven songs to be interesting and the rest are sort of throwaway tracks that do little for my senses. Secondly i find the album to be horribly paced with no rhyme or reason as to how the tracks are placed. Some of them sound like leftovers from the earlier album sessions. The album starts out quite strong with the catchy semi-psychedelic rock opener "She Has Funny Cars" which instantly shows how the band had improved over the debut as Grace Slick rocks the house with her magnetic charisma accompanied by the rockin' rhythms and fuzzed out bass. It is immediately followed by the excellent "Somebody To Love" which was actually recorded by Slick's brother-in-law Darby Slick for her previous band The Great Society." Somehow the song jumped ship with Slick and the rest is history!

Unfortunately the album derails from then on as "My Best Friend" sounds like a very bad attempt to imitate The Mamas & The Papas" which JEFFERSON AIRPLANE wasn't quite equipped to pull off. It only gets worse as the rest of the album is littered with forgettable folk ballads like "Today" and "Comin' Back To Me." Of the remaining tracks i only find "3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds," "White Rabbit" and "Plastic Fantastic Lover" to be interesting. Of course, someone could write an entire novel about "White Rabbit" which really is one of the best songs ever written and its larger than life Summer Of Love spirit completely overwhelms anything else on the album and was incidentally the only track completely written by Slick herself. Considering that the two best tracks on the album were written by humans with the last name Slick, i wish that Ballin and Kantner would have given the Queen of Acid a bit more free reign in both the lyrical contributions as well as the songwriting.

For me SURREALISTIC PILLOW somewhat lives up to its name, not for the fact that the music is trippy as hell but more for the fact that it creates the cognitive dissonance of being an album that is utterly essentially as someone interested in the peace and love hippie era but leaves me cold when listening to as a whole. It's one of those albums that someone apparently had to be there at the time to appreciate in its proper context but for someone like me who wasn't around to see the movie to which the soundtrack was playing, it just doesn't hold up very well. Musically speaking other 1967 albums ranging from "The Doors," "Sgt. Pepper's," "Are You Experienced?" and "The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" are much more suitable to my imagined Summer Of Love experience. So as an album for listening pleasure i only find SURREALISTIC PILLOW to be a good album for the six tracks and nothing more and personally find this album woefully overrated. Still though, it contains a few of the greatest tracks not only of JEFFERSON AIRPLANE's entire career but also in all the history of rock music and for that it deserves to be heard by all. For me this is only a 3 star album but i'll add an extra half star for its cultural significance but not here so rounded down!

siLLy puPPy | 3/5 |

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