Monday, October 1, 2018

Repost: Surrealistic Pillow

Surrealistic Pillow (AM9)
Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Produced by:  Rick Jarrad
Released: February 1967
Length: 34:48
Tracks: 1) She Has Funny Cars (3:14); 2) Somebody to Love (3:00); 3) My Best Friend (3:04); 4) Today (3:03); 5) Comin' Back to Me (5:23) 6) 3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds (3:45); 7) D.C.B.A. (2:39); 8) How Do You Feel (3:34); 9) Embryonic Journey (1:55) 10) White Rabbit (2:32); 11) Plastic Fantastic Lover (2:39)
Players: Marty Balin – vocals, guitar; Jack Cassady – bass, guitars; Spencer Dryden – drums; Paul Kantner – guitar, vocals; Jorma Kaukonen– lead guitar, vocals; Grace Slick – vocals; with Jerry Garcia and Skip Spence

While the Airplane's luster has dimmed since its psychedelic heyday, more than any of their albums Surrealistic Pillow has remained fresh and crisp; here they turn the pillow over to the cool side. Not as overtly political as Volunteers or as jaggedly innovative as After Bathing At Baxter's, this album transports the listener to a particular place and time without a twinge of embarrassment at its naiveté (let's call it simplicity). The songwriting is at its most focused and the performances are free of the mannered affectations that mar later outings. Grace Slick is at her least strident, Marty Balin is at his most tender, and the rest of the band service the needs of the songs instead of their own egos while still subtly shining in their musicianship. Marty Balin's "Today" and "Comin' Back To Me" are two of the finest (and most haunting) love songs produced by any pop group in the 1960s. At the same time, the band's hardest-rocking tracks, "Plastic Fantastic Lover", "She Has Funny Cars" and "3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds," were penned by Balin as well. It was Grace Slick, however, who hit radio paydirt with "White Rabbit" and "Somebody To Love," which contains the most ferocious guitar solo to ever assault the Top 40. Naturally, she became the visual focus for the group, to Balin's chagrin. "Embryonic Journey" remains one of rock's stellar guitar instrumentals, standing alongside Steve Howe's "Mood For a Day." Surrealistic Pillow has a sleek, echoey Hollywood sheen due to commercial producer Rick Jarrard that, contrary to the band's expressed opinion at the time, contributes to its haunting, timeless quality. A definitive psychedelic LP.

Jerry Garcia is listed as the "Musical and Spiritual Adviser" on the LP's back cover. Hidden behind that vague credit, Garcia did quite a bit of work on Surrealistic Pillow, a couple months before the Dead even entered the studio for the first time – in fact, he spent more time on Surrealistic Pillow than he did recording The Grateful Dead. Kinda crazy since The Airplane were comparative veterans of the studio. They had more experience than the Dead, they'd gotten a record contract with RCA a year earlier, and they were already the most successful band in San Francisco, thanks in part to a stunning first album (Takes Off) from 1965The Dead, meanwhile, had only signed  with Warner Brothers in September '66 and wouldn't record till the end of the year. When asked about his pre-Dead recordings, Garcia vaguely replied, "I did some various sessions around San Francisco. Demos and stuff like that."

In a less modest moment, Garcia was asked about Surrealistic Pillow in a mid-'67 interview: "Yeah, I played flattop on that. I didn’t play flattop in 'My Best Friend.' Skip Spence did – he wrote the song. Let's see, on 'Today' I played the high guitar line, and I played on 'Plastic Fantastic,' and I played on 'Comin' Back To Me.' I'm fond of the songs that Grace is in: I like 'Rabbit' a lot, I like 'Someone to Love' – the original on the album is more or less my arrangement, I kind of rewrote it. I've always liked the songs she used to do with The Great Society, but it didn't have - the chord changes weren't very interesting." 

Garcia once said, "Our audience is like people who like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice." Seems The Jefferson Airplane really liked licorice.