Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow

One pill makes you larger

We dip into Dave Redford’s Pop 365 to look at Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 release, Surrealistic Pillow.

Album: Surrealistic Pillow

Artist: Jefferson Airplane

Born: San Francisco

Released: 1st February 1967

Genre: Psychedelia

Influenced: Love, Fairport Convention, United States of America, Gomez

Heading to the west coast and the spiritual home of American psychedelia, San Francisco, you can see a more gentle, folk rock form of experimental music emerging, compared to the harder-rocking 13th Floor Elevators.

This was more attuned to the Summer of Love and its mellow, flowers-in-your-hair sensibility. That Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was apparently “spiritual advisor” on this album gives you a sense of the times.

My way in to the music of Jefferson Airplane was a Woodstock CD that I bought in my late teens, and White Rabbit was and still remains one of my favourite songs from that era. That wonderful Spanish guitar-tinged opening inspired by Ravel’s Bolero, offset by Grace Slick’s icy, echo-laden vocals with lyrics inspired by Lewis Carroll (“hookah-smoking caterpillar / has given you the call“), makes for one of the high points of west coast psychedelia.

Only about five years ago did I listen to the entire album, and realised it has much more to offer than a few hit singles (the other widely-known track being the heavier, Somebody To Love, which I’ve always preferred to hear Jefferson Airplane perform live).

The influence of the Byrds and Rubber Soul-era Beatles is plain on tracks like How Do You Feel, and Comin’ Back To Me is about as mellow as psychedelia comes.

Along with White Rabbit, the real standout tracks are Today, a mini-suite full of yearning, and Embryonic Journey, an instrumental of which Bert Jansch would be proud. If you ever need to summon up some flower power, this is the record you need to spin.

Don’t forget that Dave’s POP365 can be found online.

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