Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I was baby sitting whilst my wife went to a hair appointment and needed to find some form of post bath entertainment for Mystery Kid. This came in the form of Jefferson Airplane's second album. At this point he has already absorbed a fair chunk of Neil Young and Lou Reed and this seemed like a logical progression. Admitted back to the speakers, can of Tetley's in one hand and baby-rocking implement in the other is not the best way to absorb 'Surrealistic Pillow' but times are tough.

Everybody knows this record, if there is a used record shop in the US that doesn't have a copy I am yet to find it. It sits comfortably in the majority of people's 'Hottest Album's Of All Time Ever' lists. It was a significant milestone in the development of yada, yada, yada.

This is, I think my third copy of this album, not because I have a habit of falling out with it and casting it aside but because it's been upgraded. I started with a battered first press from Limelight Records in Santa Cruz (Props yo!) and then bought another, cleaner copy somewhere else along the way. Now I was more than happy with that until the above Japanese press appeared in my local store. I had them both for a while but couldn't really justify my growing multiple copy problem and got rid of the US press.

Funny that, getting rid of the original in favor of a later Japanese pressing, not the first time though. Did the same with my 'Trans Europe Express' - it's amazing what a thick stock card sleeve and an Obi can do for my vinyl libido.

Anyway, 'Surrealistic Pillow' is a really good record that stops short of being 'Great' for two reasons: It's uneven and The United States of America did it better. Maybe I am being too harsh but the other-worldly psychedelia hinted at here by the likes of 'White Rabbit' is a theme that they not only improved upon but one that they smashed out of the park and into space.

Why is it uneven? Unwanted injections of blues and guitar-noodling, in fairness to them this was recorded in late 1966 so the whole 'Psychedelic' movement was in it's infancy. RCA probably felt an end to end whacked out mission statement was not going to shift units. It's not just me that doesn't like the deviation though. As if by magic every time the boogie woogie crept in my son would cry uncontrollably (Mental note - Play Status Quo to him to observe reactions to prolonged exposure)

I should probably play up the album's strengths though as despite the above I am very fond of it. Obviously 'White Rabbit' is on it, I could write an essay about that track alone, it's cultural impact, it's use as a soundtrack to celluloid and books alike. 'White Rabbit' is a giant blue whale of a song, it's stratospheric, an anthem to anybody and everyone who ever dabbled with LSD. It has 'Somebody To Love' on it and if you can get the image of Jim Carey doing karaoke to it in the 'Cable Guy' out of your head then it's a great song. 'She Has Funny Cars' is worth a punt as well but the album's savior, it's most solid representation of the records titular umbrella - 'Today'.

Holy shit in a handbag 'Today' is epic, understated but epic and Grace Slick doesn't even contribute beyond a backing vocal. This track is probably on every mix tape I did between 1993 and 1998, it's a perfect song.

Two things I did not know about 'Today': Marty Balin, the singer of the song, and the one who got punched out by a Hells Angel at Altamont actually wrote it for Tony Bennett to perform (This never happened). Secondly, that bearded fuckwit and Ice Cream namesake Jerry 'the teddybear' Garcia plays that awesome repeat guitar part. That would normally be enough to put me off, a reminder of turtles walking to a station and tie-dye t-shirts but no. It's a killer of a song despite of his efforts.

Anyway, 'Surrealistic Pillow', yeah still pretty groovy I suppose.

*Oh and I get bonus points for writing a review of a Jefferson Airplane record without mentioning Haight and or Ashbury.

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