Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow CD (album) cover


Jefferson Airplane



3.63 | 203 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Prog Reviewer
3 stars Since prehistoric times the music business in the USA had been, for the most part, firmly entrenched in New York and Los Angeles. If someone wanted to land a record deal that's where they had to go to be discovered. But starting in the mid sixties a new Mecca of talented, unorthodox songwriters/musicians was starting to take shape in San Francisco and the head honchos in the "biz" had no choice but to take notice. Jefferson Airplane was the first of many groups based in that city to be snatched up by the major labels who didn't want to miss out on the "next big thing" and they became one of the frontrunners of the counter-culture movement more or less by default. (Having two hit singles on AM radio just as the infamous "summer of love" was changing the world as we knew it in 1967 didn't hurt, either). Recorded in only two weeks time, this rushed but surprisingly well-crafted album hit the shelves just as suburban America was starting to realize that Bob Dylan was right as rain when he sang ".something is happening and you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?" We all desperately wanted to know and "Surrealistic Pillow" provided an important clue.

Right off the bat you hear the psychedelic strains of "She Has Funny Cars" with its progressive folk harmonies and uncomplicated jungle rhythm. It has male and female voices singing together but this ain't Peter, Paul & Mary in any way, shape or form. The next song, the unforgettable "Somebody to Love," introduces us to Grace Slick and her anything-but-subtle voice half-shouting "When the truth is found to be lies/and all the joy within you dies..." Well, let me tell you, that kind of stark reality grabs your attention right quick. The tune has Spencer Dryden's pulsing, signature double-time snare beat that characterized so much of their music and made it perfect for phantasmagoric light shows. It was the ideal soundtrack for the burgeoning hippie phenomenon. One of the biggest chart-busting groups at the time was The Mamas and the Papas so it's not surprising that "My Best Friend" sounds like it could have easily been covered by them. In fact, it was the first single released by RCA from this LP for that very reason but its lack of anything original ensured that it would go nowhere.

"Today" is an excellent folk ballad they retooled in the studio with a more modern arrangement that brings the guitars up front and places the rest of the band reverberating far in the background. But it's Marty Balin's emotional lead vocal in harmony with Paul Kantner and Grace that makes this poignant love song shine. Following right behind, however, is one of the most haunting tunes they would ever record, the gorgeous "Comin' Back to Me." A more moody, serene and sad composition you will be hard-pressed to find. Balin's lonesome voice layered over acoustic guitar and bass with only a flute for accompaniment is so effective that I consider it to be the best song they ever put together. It is spellbindingly wistful and morose.

The psychedelic rocker "3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds" jars you right out of the reflective stupor the previous tune invoked with Jorma Kaukonen's trippy guitar and Jack Casady's booming bass pulling you up to dance around the room uncontrollably. Next up is the very Byrds-like "D.C.B.A. - 25" that falls short of being memorable in any way. It defines the word "filler." Jorma's magical "Embryonic Journey" is a bright, cheerful solo acoustic guitar ditty that thoroughly showcases his fluid ability on the instrument. One can easily imagine strolling through the Haight-Ashbury district on a warm summer afternoon without a care in the world as this plays.

If "Someone to Love" is the call to join the peaceniks then "White Rabbit" is the siren song of the hallucinogenic drug culture that beckons you to follow Alice into the hole. It's difficult to imagine another tune that so completely envelopes the aura and mystery of the forbidden fruit with its Bolero drum track and the band's relentless, steady buildup underneath Slick's powerful words and vocal. It is still arguably the most unique 2:27 in rock and roll history. The album ends with another danceable rocker, the cosmic "Plastic Fantastic Lover" that twirls abstract lyrics around a tight groove and ushers you out on a suitably "high" note.

I recently reviewed an album by Spirit and I was struck by the contrast between them and JA. That band started out composing very progressive music and then became more and more commercial. Jefferson Airplane did the opposite. They began by conquering the Top 40 with their radio-friendly music and then got increasingly weird and spaced out with each new LP. In the grand scheme of things I can't say that this group was all that influential to what became progressive rock. They were definitely a big part of the non-conformist, bohemian rebellion that grew out of the northern California scene but their constant immersion into the cesspool of drug and alcohol abuse robbed them of true perspective in the long run. In my mind this slightly flawed but historically important album is the acme of their career.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this JEFFERSON AIRPLANE review

Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives