Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow
Released February 1st, 1967 on RCA Victor
The heads have known for a lot longer than fifty years what Grace Slick sang about on “White Rabbit”: “Remember what the Doormouse said / feed your head.” It had never been put in such a way that defined an entire generational ethos. The song – the Jefferson Airplane as a whole – embodies the sound of San Francisco in the fabled Summer Of Love, 1967. There were many other albums that came out of the same place at the same time, but few nail the period quite as well as Surrealistic Pillow.
This is psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll, full stop. There’s the garage sounds that were lifted raw and steaming from the Nuggets era: “Go To Her”, “She Has Funny Cars”, and “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” go full out in competition with the Electric Prunes or the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. The Beatles get nods on “My Best Friend” and “D.C.B.A.-25”, although the Beatles themselves would soon switch gears into a different direction entirely. “How Do You Feel”, “Today”, and “Comin’ Back To Me” mirror the gentle influence of the bohemian folk scene. Three of the final four songs play with the strong blues influence of the time: “In The Morning” kicks out a languid swamp jam, driven by harp and and a deep underlying groove; “J.P.P. Mc Step B. Blues” built itself on an acoustic blues riff that was endemic to San Francisco at the time – it’s vibe would be replicated later in the year by Love; “Come Back Baby” modeled itself on the speed and hard-edged riffing of English bands like Cream.
Then there are the singles. “Somebody To Love”, benefits from a harrowing vocal take from Grace Slick and a crisp, relentless backbeat. There’s always been a kind of unsettling quality to the song, but Jim Carrey’s manic karaoke take on it in The Cable Guy brings that creepy vibe to the next level. “White Rabbit”, of course, brings us right back around again to the beginning: San Francisco, 1967. Turn on, tune in, drop out. Wear a flower in your hair. Where do these lovely visions come from? Why does my head feel so light? Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall.