1968-69: Jefferson Airplane’s Brave New World

Bless its pointed little head1967 was the year the Airplane entered the national conscience.  Surrealistic Pillow was a commercial breakthrough, the performance at Monterey was a live tour de force, and After Bathing at Baxters became an iconic performance of psychedelic rock.

After touring Europe, the band was back in the studio recording Crown of Creation. Released in September 1968 This represented a return to more traditional format, with 11 discrete songs.  As much as anything the record was a challenge to establishment values.  Some of the songs, such as David Crosby’s “Triad” is an in your face recounting of menage a trois.  Grace Slick’s “Greasy Heart” is a searing indictment of established sexist and sexual mores.” Slick’s “Lather” challenges the accepted mores of the older generation with tale of the title character turning 30.  The title song is a rejection of those views, and holds the hope of  a better future. Paul Kantner’s dreams of a better future in space makes its first appearance in the song “Star Track.”  If the album represents the “hippie dream” of a better future through liberal drugs use, free love, scolding elders and rejecting the present, Crown of Creation is still a very good record, with some great music. One can reject the sentiment but don’t let it keep you from listening to the tunes.

In early 1969 the Airplane released their first live album, Bless Its Pointed Little Head. A collection of songs recorded live at the Fillmore East and West, The ten songs are longer than they were in the studio, and the album includes three songs, that don’t appear on any previous album.  The lengthier songs are indicative of what the Airplane could do with songs out of the studio, and the hard rocking performances show why they were so popular in the relatively small San Francisco auditoriums. The album was another Top 20 seller, and should not be overlooked. Songs include “Somebody to Love,” Donovan’s “Fat Angel,” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover.”

By the summer of 1969, the Airplane heeded the call to flock to Yasger’s Farm in upstate New York for the Woodstock music and art festival. Their memorable Sunday July 17th set was eight songs.  Slick famously introduced the band performing “morning maniac music.”  Two of their songs were captured on Michael Wadleigh’s classic Woodstock: 3 days of peace and music.” Two of the songs, Volunteers and a cover of CSN’s Wooden Ships appeared on the soon-to-be released album, Volunteers.  We also get a glimpse of traditional blues rocking, “Uncle Sam’s Blues” that will become a trademark of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassady’s side project Hot Tuna. .

If Crown of Creation was a rejection of establishment values, Volunteers, released in the summer of 1969, was a political document calling for outright revolution. It is a great record with “We Can be Together,” “Good Shepherd,” and “Volunteers.”

With Volunteers, the band began to separate into cliques.  Kaukonen and Casady began performing as Hot Tuna, exploring roots rock.  It’s a project that continues to this day. Kantner and Slick split off into another project that began to delve into Kantner’s fascination with science fiction.  The project would soon become Jefferson Starship.  Drummer Spencer Dryden left the band, dismissed by a unanimous vote of the members.  According to the band’s Wikipedia page, he was burned out by “four years on the acid merry-go-round.”  In the case of Marty Balin, the band’s founder, the band left him.  Split into two groups with nowhere to go, there was little interest in Balin’s talent for the overwrought, angst-driven, love song.  By the end of the decade, Jefferson Airplane was definitely flying a different schedule.  Not done, but clearly in a turbulent environment.

The Music

Crown of Creation

Crown of Creation: A very good record that made the top 20.  The title track, “Greasy Heart.” and “Lather” are the best songs.  “Cushingura” is an interesting, if sort of meaningless use of electronic music.

Jefferson Airplane The Woodstock ExperienceThe complete Jefferson Airplane set at Woodstock is available in this two cd set, while only a couple of songs are available on the original three-LP Woodstock soundtrack.  Don’t have this yet, but it is definitely on my list. Also includes all the songs from Volunteers.

Volunteers

If you could only choose a few Jefferson Airplane records to own, you’d want to have this one.  It speaks all  the language of the counterculture and New Left.  It is a raging political document with some great songs.

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