Surrealistic Pillow was a commercial masterpiece that fused folk/rock roots with a west coast psychedelic sound. After Bathing At Baxter’s was equally brilliant, but less commercially successful as it was experimental with a hard edged psychedelic feel to it.
Early 1968 found the Jefferson Airplane releasing their fourth studio album, Crown Of Creation. It was their third excellent album in a row and was a compromise of sorts between their last two releases. The album would feature individual tracks that reflected the different personalities of the group members. The music would be both elegant and complex and quickly returned the Airplane to the upper reaches of the American charts.
Crown Of Creation would be almost the perfect release for 1968 and remains a wonderful snapshot of the era. The writing and the musicianship, particularly the bass work of Jack Casady, was some of the best of the group’s career and the decade.
I was a high school senior when this album was released and for me at the time it all flowed through Grace Slick The power of her voice, the sexuality in her delivery, and the strength of her songwriting all combined to present an aura that would make her a memorable rock ‘n’ roll personality. While I have come to appreciate the other parts of this album, she still shines four decades later.
“Lather” was a song about aging written for her then boyfriend Spencer Dryden who was turning thirty. “Greasy Heart” proved that she could rock with the best of the boys. It was both sexual and a commentary plus featured one of the great Jack Casady bass performances. And speaking of sexuality, there was also the David Crosby song, “Triad,” that the Byrds rejected as being too erotic. This song of a threesome would find a home with Grace Slick and company.
Marty Balin, who was reduced to authoring one song on their last release, is credited with four here. “In Time” and “Share A Little Joke” cover familiar ground and feature his clear tenor voice. His best song, “If You Feel” stays with you and remains a lost gem in the Airplane catalog.
Spencer Dryden contributed “Chushingura” which is a trip to another world with the emphasis on trip. “Star Track,” penned by Jorma Kaukonen, features some creative wah-wah guitar.
Paul Kantner would continue to develop as a songwriter. The title song was apocalyptic in nature and would hint at his still to come work with the Jefferson Starship. The Kantner, Slick, and Balin harmonies show how well their voices could come together. The final track, “The House At Pooneil Corners,” which was written with Marty Balin, ends the album in style.
Crown Of Creation finds the Jefferson Airplane at their best. It remains a powerful and lasting document of just how good American rock ‘n’ roll can be. It was and is an essential listening experience.