Vocalist Signe Anderson left the Jefferson Airplane in October of 1966. She was quickly replaced by Grace Slick of the Great Society who had been an opening act for the Airplane, and would solidify the group’s line-up. Slick also possessed one of the great female voices in the history of sixties and seventies rock ‘n’ roll.
Possibly more important was the fact that she was a larger than life character who would be a dominant figure both onstage and off. Another added bonus was that she would bring two of her songs from her former band with her. “Somebody To Love,” written by her brother in law and “White Rabbit,” which was her own composition, would be quickly recorded by the group and become their only two single releases to crack the American top ten. Rolling Stone Magazine would include both in their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
Surrealistic Pillow, released in February of 1967, was a brilliant fusion of folk/rock with a psychedelic sound. As such, it was one of the most creative album releases of the 1960’s. It was embraced by the buying public and became the group’s highest charting American album. The Jefferson Airplane would quickly become one of the superstars of sixties rock music.
Marty Balin would author or co-author five tracks. Two of his rock songs would bookend the album. “She Has Funny Cars,” which has some great, if odd, bass playing by Jack Casady, and “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” are classic examples of sixties psychedelic music. “Today” and “Comin’ Back To Me” are two of the best performances of his career. They are songs of lost love both from a losing and leaving perspective. Each song features his clear, tenor voice and here it soars away. Of added historical interest is the lead guitar work of Jerry Garcia on both tracks.
The instrumental track, “Embryonic Journey,” by Jorma Kaukonen was his guitar coming out party. It contains some of the finest acoustic guitar playing of the era and he continues to perform it live down to this day.
This all brings us back to Grace Slick. “Somebody To Love” is just under three minutes of relentless rock ‘n’ roll. Slick’s voice explodes from the speakers and quickly made their debut album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, obsolete. If you want a definition of psychedelic music, just put on your head phones and give “White Rabbit” a listen. Taken from the imagery of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, it is one of the ultimate hallucinatory rock ‘n’ roll experiences. Her vocal presents the lyrics perfectly and takes the listener on a journey unique in American music.
Surrealistic Pillow is an excellent chronicle of an era forty years ago. The music remains powerful and is an important link in the history of American rock music.