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Jefferson Airplane - Takes Off CD (album) cover


Jefferson Airplane



3.18 | 73 ratings

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4 stars It's hard to believe a half-century has passed since distinct but somewhat related folk music revivals exploded in both the UK and the U.S. In Britain folks like Ewan MacColl and wife Peggy Seeger were resurrecting long-forgotten folk ballads of their ancestors and encouraging others to do the same, while on the East Coast in the States beatniks gave way to authentic folk-music rediscovery in coffee houses and on campuses from Cambridge to Greenwich Village. Out west the folk was a bit more modern and interpretive, as opposed to traditionalist with pockets of interest in activity around San Francisco as well as emanating from enclaves like Laurel Canyon in the south. In between of course Bob Dylan was about to spring free of the frozen tundra of Hibbing, Minnesota and Gram Parsons was immersing himself in a half-century of backwoods country music and hard- scrabble American western, especially the pill-popping kind that grew out of the 'outlaw' Bakersfield, California sound.

Nearly everything we recognize as modern rock music has at least some connection to that swirl of activity between the late fifties and the British Invasion.

And somewhere early in 1965 some of that new generation of folk revivalists started shaping those classic folk standards around contemporary rock and pop arrangements and instrumentation as well as crafting new songs and sounds inspired by what they'd been listening to and emulating for several years. Folk-rock was born, and Dylan plugged into an amp. Within three or four years the folk revival was all but dead and Altamont was about to put the final nail in the coffin of the peace generation, but in between that wispy twig of folk-rock grew some pretty powerful branches including psychedelic, bubblegum pop and even easy-listening. And this is where Jefferson Airplane came in.

Anyone who mistook Starship's 1985 cheeseball hit 'We Built This City' as the remnants of Jefferson Airplane selling out failed to recognize that the band's original shtick was really not much more than an attempt to capitalize on a sound for personal profit. In their case the sound was (briefly) popular folk-rock and the profit was to come from Marty Balin's hipster new club The Matrix in San Francisco's Fillmore District. Balin's newly formed band debuted at the opening of the club and thanks to great media connections both the club and the band quickly developed a following.

While the Airplane would morph into one of the seminal psychedelic bands of the sixties, there debut album gives very few hints as to the direction the band would take less than a year later. The songs here are all firmly rooted in the folk-rock sounds of the era, including three folk-standards: 'Tobacco Road' by Louvin Brothers cousin John D. Loudermilk; 'Chauffeur Blues' by Lester Melrose; and Dino Valenti's 'Let's Get Together' which was originally recorded by the Kingston Trio but was made famous Jesse Colin Young's one-hit wonder group the Youngbloods a year after Jefferson Airplane recorded it. The others are all original tunes, mostly written by Balin but with some support by other band members, especially Paul Kantner.

'Blues from an Airplane' is co-credited to drummer Skip Spence who was clearly signed by the band mostly for his looks and musician swagger since he had never even played drums before joining the group. And really this is the one song that has even the slightest glimmer of a very early psychedelic sound with slightly trippy vocal harmonies and a disjointed rhythm that was more likely a result of Spence's inexperience than an intentional sound.

Kantner sings on 'Let Me In' and later on 'Run Around', both coming off sounding more like post-Beat tunes with brief blasts of electric guitar riffs and wacky bass from the recently signed East Coast transplant Jack Casady. These two aren't very folksy really, but certainly not close to the tripped-out psych that would dominate 'Surrealistic Pillow' the following year.

Signe Toly Anderson offers complementary harmonies to Balin's tenor on 'Bringing Me Down' and 'It's No Secret', two quintessential folk-rock numbers that have both appeared on countless compilations and retrospectives of the mid-sixties over the past several decades. The latter became the first single from the album but like the others ('Come up the Years' and 'Bringing Me Down') failed to chart, although the album itself ended up going Gold in the U.S. thanks again to some key connections between band supporters and key regional music critics.

On 'Don't Slip Away' Balin and Anderson pair up for sort of a modern take on a dysfunctional love song ('now that you're here, we should just let it happen') that surprisingly was one of the songs that could have, but wasn't, edited by RCA when the album was reissued nationally in late 1966. 'Run Around' was, and for some of the same sort of blandly suggestive lyrics as this one had.

The last two tracks are both steeped in the blues, 'Chauffeur Blues' being an obvious one given its origin on the south side of Chicago, while 'And I Like It' was a Balin tune that was clearly tampered with in the studio by lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, whose love for the blues would become quite apparent once he left the band to form the erstwhile jam group Hot Tuna.

This is certainly not the greatest Jefferson Airplane album, and definitely not the most famous. But for fans of folk-rock who are interested in a taste of that brief period of time when folk-rock ruled the music scene it is a great sliver of amber of those days. As a historical piece and an innovative (though somewhat derivative) album I have to give 'Takes Off' four out of five stars, and recommend it to any serious fan of modern rock music regardless of your genre preference.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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