Jefferson Airplane- Surrealistic Pillow
Simplicity is a lot harder than you think. Songwriters such as Syd Barrett, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and David Gilmour would agree with that statement. All of those people play their music with such emotion, that it doesn’t even matter what chords or progression they’re playing. But if anyone understood simplicity to its full potential, it would have to be the psychedelic band, Jefferson Airplane. With pop-influenced vocals not dissimilar to British Invasion bands, and laid back, trippy music, on first listen, you could mistake Jefferson Airplane for a band from England. Who knew they were Californian. But the members of Jefferson Airplane had something that no other band of that time had tried- a female vocalist, who played piano AND organ. With the addition of Grace Slick, Jefferson released what could easily be remembered as their best album- Surrealistic Pillow. I’m going to have to jump on that bandwagon, and agree with that statement. This is an album that really proves that simplicity is really is a beautiful thing.
First off, for those of who you who make psychedelic music out to be like Pink Floyd in the Gilmour-era, guess again. This album is definitely one of the coolest, most stoned-as-balls albums out there. It is no surprise when listening to it, that the band did drugs- A lot of drugs. One song in particular, ‘White Rabbit’ sung by Grace Slick, whose booming, polished voice, which is as smooth as her last name, is about an acid trip. Furthermore, it’s about Alice in Wonderland- an obvious clue that it was written while on acid. ‘One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small’ is a lyric which tell of the hallucinations encountered while in the trance. Other songs are just purely awesome, while managing to lay off the substances, like the drop-dead gorgeous fingerpicked acoustic guitar on ‘Embryonic Journey’ which is the best acoustic instrumental I’ve heard this side of Zeppelin’s ‘Bron-Yr-Aur’. Quite on the contrary to all the drug induced music, a number of tunes are about relationships. ‘My Best Friend’ is a polished soft rocker with awesome vocal trade-offs between Slick and lead singer, Marty Balin, and the most famous song in Airplane’s catalog, ‘Somebody to Love’. Written and sung by Grace, chances are you’ve heard this song without realizing who it was. Still on the lighter side of things, there is a tender, yet fully psyched-out Latin- influenced love song, ‘Come Back to Me’. Driven by keyboards and soft acoustic guitar, Balin’s voice just soars, in a mellow way, of course, making this the longest song on the album, and easily the best to relax to.
Going back to the acid- rock and trippy psychedelic theme, I’d like to explain the beauty of this band’s euphoric high. ‘Today’ is easily the best song on the album, and the synchronization of all the instruments coexisting is just perfect. The tambourine adds the catch, and the elegantly bluesy guitar riff is to die for. The vocal harmonies of Grace Slick are absolutely gorgeous, behind Balin’s already laid back voice. And on the track ‘How Do You Feel’, Grace shows her keyboard skills. A more upbeat acoustic song, this could easily pass for a Beatle’s tune, with the backing vocals chanting ‘ hahaha’ frequently, and Balin’s voice reminiscing of Paul McCartney from the get-go. The song features a bubbly bassline as well, behind a fancy guitar lick, making the resemblance to the Beatles that much more noticeable. And the upbeat ‘D.C.B.A.-25’ rocks hard, just because of the awesome fading effect on the vocal tracking. Balin is channeled through the left ear, and Grace’s voice gradually gains volume, splitting the tracks into both ears, just before Grace is left alone in the right ear. Very cool effect. Another upbeat song, ‘3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds’ is probably my only complaint about the album, just because its loud, blues style is too dissimilar and out of place on the album. Sounds more like Cream than anything else, but it does feature one awesome guitar solo. However, some songs are purely humorous and fun, but succeed at being awesome. The album opener, ‘She Has Funny Cars’ as well as ‘Plastic Fantastic Lover’ are two psychedelic songs which feature poppy chord progressions, and some very bouncy melodies, yet break off into trippy, organ driven sections with Slick making some great impressions. The award for best guitar playing on the album goes to ‘Plastic Fantastic Lover’ for pure, kickass blues guitar riffing. Coolness!
Do I feel ashamed for excluding Jefferson Airplane from my repertoire for most of my brief life? Yes, because as much as I dislike proving myself to be wrong, this is one of the best albums ever- period. It really doesn’t matter what mood you’re in, because there is something for everyone on here. And on top of that, the song lengths barely exceed three and a half minutes, making this record much more than just ‘accessible’. Guaranteed, first listen, and you’ll like them. And who knew simplicity was that difficult….