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Surrealistic Pillow - Jefferson Airplane

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Genre: Rock - Classic Rock / Artist: Jefferson Airplane / Original recording remastered / Audio CD released 2003-09-01 at RCA

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

    2 Reviews
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    • More +
      25.10.2012 19:49
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      A pleasing classic album from the hippie era

      Released in 1967 but not making it into the UK top 40 album charts, Surrealistic Pillow is the second offering from West Coast psychedelic band, Jefferson Airplane (later called Jefferson Starship, then simply Starship). However, the album shot to no.3 on the USA Billboard chart, reaching gold status.

      Fronted mostly by vocalist Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane's style was a kind of folk/psychedelia fusion, greatly in tune with what was happening at the time in San Francisco, from where the band haled. Haight-Ashbury and all its elements was in full swing - the Golden Gate Park was teeming with stoned hippies, there was a 'head' shop on every street corner, LSD was the fashionable recreational drug and headband-clad youths demonstrated against the Vietnam War, proclaiming a new philosophy of love, peace and flowers.

      Surrealistic Pillow opens with She Has Funny Cars which is an odd title for a song. The intro is quite percussive with a firm, steady beat, then a very psychedelic-sounding guitar joins in, followed by male and female vocals singing this quite complicated tune. As is always the case with psychedelic music, the tune wanders off into avenues that may sound disjointed to the untrained ear, but the best thing to do is to just unhook your mind and let yourself sink into it. The words aren't too distinguishable on this song, but that is made up by its overall sound. The arrangement is perfect, the instrumentals are crystal clear and the singing is of a folk-style, with first-class, exacting harmonies. I love the way the crashing guitar chords mingle with the energetic drumming, and what seems whilst listening as if it is going to be the middle-eight, actually is the closedown to the song, playing out with a truly stunning guitar improvisation.

      The second track, Somebody To Love, is probably Jefferson Airplane's best-known song. It begins with Grace Slick's urgent-sounding voice taking the lead vocals, with the male band personnel (referring to them as male members doesn't seem quite right!!!) providing the backing. The rhythm guitar chords on this song are quite crashing, along with a steady drumbeat, and there is a lead guitar quietly playing some tricky little improvisations in the background. Like most of Jefferson Airplane's music, especially that from the 1960s, there is a well-defined 'trippy' sound, although this track is probably more commercialised than much of their work. There is a nice middle-eight where lead guitar and drums are the prominent instruments. This has quite a catchy tune, which is probably what makes it easier on the ear for people who aren't normally fans of this sort of music. When this short song closes, it tricks the listener somewhat in that you feel as though there is more to come, as it seems to end in mid-air. Although I do like Somebody To Love very much, it isn't my favourite Jefferson Airplane song but I do love that urgent, exciting, and very definite yet laid-back and classy hippie/trippy feel to the music.

      My Best Friend opens with almost military type drumming, and the band delivering the vocals in a style which could be termed as folk mixed with a middle-of-the-road feel. The harmonies are excellent on this song, the whole band vocalising perfectly, and they do have good voices. The lyrics are of a romantic nature, yet there is a message of freedom with respect in there too, which is what the hippie movement was all about. I'm not mad on this song as it's a bit too twee for my liking and there isn't a lot of capacity for the instrumentals to deliver that urgent, but very fresh-sounding psychedelic element. The song does end strangely though, with some odd, almost discordant notes strummed on an electric guitar which adds a touch of the unreal to this otherwise 'normal' sounding song.

      The next track, called Today, opens with soft guitars, one playing rhythm and the other a soft, gentle tune. One of the male vocalists then joins in, and he has a lilting, steady, clear and very pleasing voice. The tune of this song is quite complicated, with the tempo being slow, and the lyrics are lovely. This is a gentle but deep-felt love song with soft percussive backing on drums and tambourine and accompanying electric guitar quietly playing a slide contrasting riff. Even though this is a slow, almost middle-of-the-road song, it still has a psychedelic flavour, and as it continues, the instrumentals get louder, winding down to a soft close as the track ends with a little quiet lead guitar. This song is true class, very tastefully presented, having an overall wispy-ness yet simultaneously carrying great depth. This not only is one of my favourite tracks on this album, but of all time.

      Coming Back To Me, the next track, opens with soft, rolling, very quietly played guitar and some gentle, yet eerie-sounding flute which takes the main melody. A male vocalist then takes the tune which is quite complex in nature, and the words are poetic and deep with some very interesting visual images painted through those lyrics. This is a very light sounding song, but not lightweight in content....gentle, tender and thoughtful. When I first heard this album many moons ago, this was the one track that I found hardest to get into, despite it being a straightforward love song rather than a roller-coaster trip on a psychedelic white-knuckle ride, but over the years I have come to love it for its quiet passion.

      The next track is 3/5ths Of A Mile In 10 Seconds, which crashes - yet in a tasteful way - through your speakers with heavy percussion and high-pitched, heavily strummed rhythm guitar chords. The whole band takes the vocals in perfect harmony with one another. This song has quite a plodding feel to it yet is simultaneously high-energy, more in the rock genre than the others on the album, and the psychedelic aspect is right out in front. There is a strong groove present throughout this track, and a wonderful improvised middle-eight played on guitar which very much is 'head' music...you can almost smell the incense and cheesecloth (and other things!). This for me is one of the better tracks on the album, closing down with a piece of guitar work that sounds almost Beatles' Revolver-ish in content. Lyrically I wouldn't say it's all that strong, but it is a track where the concentration I feel should focus solely on the music.

      D.C.B.A.-25 is the next track on this album, another with a strange title. It begins with a few strummed guitar chords, then launches into quite a pleasant, if not a little weird tune where one male takes the main vocals and Grace Slick provides the harmonies. The psychedelic element is very present in this song, although gently so, with the tune going to some off-centre yet enjoyable places and there is an almost mesmerising guitar break in the middle. I'm not too sure what the words are about, but I get the occasional drift of it possibly being a mild rebel song....rebel in flower-power 1960s style. Towards the end, the vocal harmonies become quite complex and the song ends on a final guitar chord. It isn't easy for me to describe the overall feel of D.C.B.A.-25 due to its underlying complexity, but it is an interesting piece of what Jefferson Airplane (later as Jefferson Starship) claimed to have 'built this city' on. Definitely a track that takes a few hearings to get completely used to it, but excellent nonetheless.

      How Do You Feel begins with solo flute, and some very trippy-sounding guitar then joins in, playing quite a complex roll. The vocals are almost choral in nature, and the tune is simple, but definitely out of the ordinary. Lyrically, this is a sort of a love song although there are one or two fairly clumsy lines...sounding as though they were thrown together rather than being as well-thought-out as much of the rest of the album. This is another song which needs the listener to focus on the tune and instrumental presentation rather than try to search for any deep, meaningful messages within. I absolutely love the way a high-pitched, softly psychedelic in feel guitar duet carries the middle-eight, then when the song shifts into accapella voices closing down what is an exacting, pure piece of music with definite overtones of surrealism present in the arrangement.

      Embryonic Journey is entirely instrumental, played on I believe more than one guitar. It has a fresh-sounding, lilting tune that is very cleverly constructed and expertly played, still with a slight element of psychedelia tingeing this otherwise almost classical piece of music. Although a short track, it is extremely pleasant to listen to, with the occasional minor key thrown in adding a touch of not melancholia exactly, but perhaps wistfulness to the overall mood...especially as the song closes down. This is my absolute favourite track on the whole of this album.

      White Rabbit, written by Grace Slick, begins with some rather dark-sounding percussion and slightly fuzzed guitar, lending the song an immediate overtone of tension. Obviously about the use of the drug LSD, Grace's voice takes this rather on edge song through some strange visions, and surrealistic images as it travels on its journey of analogising the work of Lewis Carroll with the powerful mental, visual and auditory illusions and hallucinations which some people can experience during an acid trip. Part of me would like this song to be longer and to delve more deeply into the 'trippy' aspect, but on the other hand such could result in it being tedious to listen to, so it's probably ideal, lengthwise, as it stands. I'm sure most people are familiar with this song as I believe it has widely been used in TV advertising, plus I think it may also have been used as part of a film soundtrack...a film much more recent than when this album was born. The alleged 'diaries' of 'Alice' (probably fake) who was supposed to have been a 15-year-old drug casualty in the 1960s shares its title with this song, although the song came first. Having indulged a few times myself during my partially misspent youth, this song doesn't entirely hit my own 'acid experience' spot, but it has to be said that by the time I got around to using it, the substance was nowhere near as strong as that available to users during the 1960s - however, it is one of my favourite tracks on the album as I love the deliciously expectant, yet slightly darkness-tinged mood it conveys.

      Plastic Fantastic Lover begins with some strummed guitar chords and a solid bass line with very pronounced drumming. Some beautifully trippy-sounding guitar joins in, together with male vocals. This sounds (lyrically) like some sort of love song, but the words for me don't hold too much depth despite being quite poetic here and there, the whole point for me being about the mood of the music. The tune is probably stronger played by the instrumentalists rather than the main vocal line, and it has a very marked psychedelic feel, with some quietly screeching little slides up the guitar strings before the close of the song....almost pure perfection really, as is the rest of the album.

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      Surrealistic Pillow was quite groundbreaking for its time, very much tuning into the whole hippie mood prevalent during the 1960s all over the western world, with its origins rooted in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. All of the songs are very short - in fact the whole album only lasts 32:88 minutes with the longest of those tracks being Comin' Back To Me at 5:23 minutes. Many people who find psychedelic music difficult to listen to, as much of it can be quite raucous, I'm sure will find Surrealistic Pillow a breath of fresh air as it is very pretty, melodic and easy on the ear.

      Most of the songs are written by the members of Jefferson Airplane, with a tiny bit of help on one track from somebody else, and White Rabbit is solely credited to Grace Slick.

      I do believe that a digitally-enhanced version of this album is available, with a few extra tracks tagged onto the end, but I'm able to comment on those as my own copy is too old to contain them.

      This is an album that I dig out to play when I'm feeling wrung-out by the modern world (which lately is quite often), and I need to hear the purity of the music contained within, which reminds me of fonder times when there was so much light, warmth and positive expectation for the future buzzing around. The hippie dead dream aside, Surrealistic Pillow is a pleasantly tasteful collection of short, gently psychedelic-flavoured songs which elevate my mood, encouraging an inner sense of peace (albeit shortlived) that reassures me of my own sanity when all around me seem to have lost theirs.

      Although I was only 13 at the time of this album's release and too young to participate in the British version of what was going on, I did listen to quite a lot of psychedelic music, Surrealistic Pillow being an album that I almost instantly loved....and no doubt always will.

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      At the time of writing, Surrealistic Pillow (transferred to CD in its original format) can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-

      New: from £7.65 to £35.99
      Used: from £2.52 to £30.00

      There is also a digitally re-mastered version available for purchase (which I believe contains extra tracks), as follows:-

      New: from £3.09 to £33.90
      Used: from £2.49 to £29.33
      Collectible: only one copy currently available @ £13.99 (appears to be used)

      For nostalgia enthusiasts, Surrealistic Pillow can also be purchased on vinyl, as follows:-

      New: from £11.24 to £26.37
      Used: only one copy currently available @ £24.00
      Collectible: only one copy currently available @ £22.75 (appears to be used)

      A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to all of the above figures.

      Thanks for reading!

      ~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~

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      • More +
        07.06.2009 08:44
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        Cracking album

        Initially Jefferson's Airplane album Surrealistic Pillow sounds very traditional 60s sounding, in particular with a hint of merseybeat. The big hit is undoubtedly "Somebody to Love" featuring powerful yet enjoyable female vocals. It is in fact the warbling vocals of piano player Grace Slick which I find to be the most awesome thing about this album, deep yet very feminine sounding at the same time giving the band a distinct "hippy with conviction" sound.

        Unfortunately Grace isn't the regular singer and neither male vocalists quite get up to her level, although both of them have an approachable Paul McCartney like voice which perhaps makes the band more accessible than otherwise wallowing as strictly hippy fare. However, I can't help getting excited on "White Rabbit", another excellent track with Grace's vocals that depicts the effects of drug use in Alice in Wonderland!

        The vocals do get a bit too chaotic at times, especially when they are layered with one over the other. The piano playing has a psychedelic sound to it that isn't too far off The Doors sound during a similar period, I find it preferable to the brash garage guitar playing that pierces the otherwise gentle and warm sound of the band. Despite the brash sound, there are some wonderful chord changes to look out for. Lyrically despite some odd song titles and abstract lyrics, it's actually very catchy - least not on 3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds. Definitely an album worth having.

        1 She Has Funny Cars
        2 Somebody to Love
        3 My Best Friend
        4 Today 5 Comin? Back to Me
        6 3/5 a Mile in 10 Seconds
        7 D. C. B. A.?25
        8 How Do You Feel
        9 Embryonic Journey
        10 White Rabbit
        11 Plastic Fantastic Lover
        12 In The Morning (Bonus Track)
        13 J.P.P. Mc Step B. Blues (Bonus Track)
        14 Go To Her (Bonus Track)
        15 Somebody to Love (mono single version) (Bonus Track)
        16 White Rabbit (mono single version) (Bonus Track)
        17 Come Back Baby (Bonus Track)

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    • Product Details

      Disc #1 Tracklisting
      1 She Has Funny Cars
      2 Somebody to Love
      3 My Best Friend
      4 Today
      5 Comin? Back to Me
      6 3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds
      7 D. C. B. A.?25
      8 How Do You Feel
      9 Embryonic Journey
      10 White Rabbit
      11 Plastic Fantastic Lover
      12 In The Morning (Bonus Track)
      13 J.P.P. Mc Step B. Blues (Bonus Track)
      14 Go To Her (Bonus Track)
      15 Somebody to Love (mono single version) (Bonus Track)
      16 White Rabbit (mono single version) (Bonus Track)
      17 Come Back Baby (Bonus Track)