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“Dolby’s Top 25 Jefferson Airplane Songs”

25 “We Can Be Together” (Volunteers

1969’s Volunteers is a significant album in the Jefferson Airplane history for, primarily, being their most politically subversive statement, at least explicitly, and also, marking the last band project that guitarist/singer Marty Balin and drummer Spencer Dryden would partake in. Perhaps appropriately, it’s a confusing hodgepodge of stylistic array (isn’t that just par for the course with these guys though?), with oblong epic excursions also paring down into hippie anthems like “We Can Be Together,” which opens with a wicked Grace Slick piano run and blossoms into perfect communal glee.

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24 “Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon” (After Bathing at Baxter’s)

It seems like at this point it’s pretty much impossible to actually imbibe this stuff in its original form, but not insignificantly, “Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon” was once the suite that capped off the album After Bathing at Baxter’s (1967), and did so with a second-half “Saturday Afternoon” that noodled out into almost arrhythmic obscurity, hence, of course, making it perfect for tripping to. And sure, these guys and gal are on their hippie grind preaching this “love” stuff on you all the time, but they’re pretty harmless, by and large. 

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23 “Wild Tyme” (After Bathing at Baxter’s)

“Wild Tyme” is a song credited to Kantner on Wikipedia but sung by Slick, hence, in part, making up what I guess would become a fortuitous partnership that would eventually lead to romance and even marriage and offspring, between the two band members. I’ll always remember the line Slick yowls out that goes “I’m doin’ things that haven’t got a name yet”, hence I think marking a nice endorsement of the strange and abstract, to complement the basic and primal, as it were.

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22 “A Song for All Seasons” (Volunteers)

“A Song for All Seasons” is a song that’s truly special and bizarre, arranged like an old rockabilly tune with the staunch, disciplined verses and steel guitar flanks. Sung by drummer Spencer Dryden, it’s a number that’s as disorienting in its angular sense of humor as it is basic in its phenomenological playbook, stunted from true eliteness by the lack of guitar solo or of any true musical virtuosity.

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21 “She Has Funny Cars” (Surrealistic Pillow)

If you take away what’s the spirited but really slightly amateurish debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes off, “She Has Funny Cars” is the first song that appears in their discography, towing a brisk, complex melodic line courtesy of Balin and Kaukonen and some off-the-cuff lyrics that earmark an authentic human snag, genuine enough to portray this band’s full immersion within their genre and graduate from novelty fanfare. 

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20 “Triad” (Crown of Creation

1968’s Crown of Creation, whose cover art seemed to presage the Jefferson Starship band name, is in general a pretty scattered, eclectic effort with a couple of modules of inspired songwriting, even some of the band’s best to date. “Triad” is a particularly memorable tune, a singer/songwriter ballad of sorts delivered by Slick on the topic of her tandem of boyfriends she’s got, hence on the whole encompassing a “triad,” meaning group of three items. It’s made all the juicier by the fact that both of the boyfriends are actually in the band, of course.

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19 “Come up the Years” (Jefferson Airplane Takes off)

The lone selection on this list from the band’s debut, “Come up the Years” is a charming little Balin ditty about lusting after a younger girl, a silly topic for a song and hardly anything to build an LP or band around but nonetheless a light, digestible and welcome addition to the band’s best-of package, 2400 Fulton Street.

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18 “Turn My Life down” (Volunteers)

Whether the band failed to full showcase his songwriting prowess or he just wasn’t in a prolific period with them (I’ve a feeling it’s the latter), “Turn My Life down” seems like the spotlighting of Jorma Kaukonen as a creative musician of ample character and precipitative flair. Presumably, then, it’s him on the guitar solo in the middle, arguably the best of the Airplane’s career (though they’re not a band known for typically melting your face with their solos), whirled out, according to the semi-omniscient Google, on that classic Gibson ES-345.

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17 “The Farm” (Volunteers)

“The Farm” is really a one-of-a-kind track on side A of Volunteers that’s also an undeniable victory in instrumentation, marrying this rhythmic acoustic guitar part (that reminded me of Jimmy Page on “Friends,” coincidentally enough) with some hearty piano and soaring steel guitar, toward satisfying indulgence of the rockabilly factor feeding into this whole movement. I also love the dual vocal regime of Paul Kantner and Grace Slick, with Slick’s alto roar continually sending the proceedings into a place of elevated bit**in’-ness.

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16 “Watch Her Ride” (After Bathing at Baxter’s)

I slot After Bathing at Baxter’s as JA’s primary classic album, one of the reasons being tunes like “Watch Her Ride” which establish this sort of tension and nervous energy you typically don’t get on other LP’s from them, with all the members functioning as one tight, fibrous whole. It’s also a love song from Paul Kantner more than likely directed at Grace Slick, to feed the whole soap opera appeal behind all this stuff that never seems to be in short supply.

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15 “Embryonic Journey” (Surrealistic Pillow)

I’m a sucker for good acoustic guitar instrumentals like The Allman Brothers’ “Little Martha” and Phish’s “The Inlaw Josie Wales,” to name a couple, always cottoning on to this song too for mix tape purposes or what have you, very much for the trippy way the recording has of morphing and shifting, and how, musically, Kaukonen seems to flank the primary melody with omnipresent, steady low string presence, almost as if it’s coming from a bass guitar.

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14 “Somebody to Love” (Surrealistic Pillow)

For a long time I had this big rant against this song that it’s kind of a professor of the obvious, that you should find somebody to love, and that also it maybe encouraged rape, or at least the sort of excessive force in pursuing a romantic interest that would theoretically be a breeding ground for such thinking. The older I get, though, I realize it’s just a singular achievement anyway, with Grace Slick’s superhuman pipes peeling the paint off the walls in rare form, and the militant, proud chorus that almost seems like an ironic call to arms the phenomenological foil of the bellicose messages being dispatched by our government during this time.

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13 “Comin’ back to Me” (Surrealistic Pillow)

Almost like an intra-album response to Kaukonen’s ethereal, acoustic masterpiece “Embryonic Journey,” this hazy, trippy Balin number sidles along with just gentle guitar and vocals, even ushering in dreamlike lyrics of verbose narratives juxtaposed with the simple chorus of “I saw you / I saw you”. 

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12 “Star Track” (Crown of Creation)

“Star Track” has that swaggering folk-rock twang Kaukonen would eventually make a full-time gig at with his subsequent band Hot Tuna, almost all alone on Crown of Creation as a stalwart rock tune with any focus and purpose, and what’s more, indicative of some new toys Kaukonen might have discovered between albums in the form of one funky wah-wah pedal. I’ve got this as best Jefferson Airplane guitar solo with “Turn My Life down” close behind, both Kaukonen runs.

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11 “Young Girl Sunday Blues” (After Bathing at Baxter’s)

“Young Girl Sunday Blues” is tagged as a Balin/Kantner number on Wikipedia and I think it’s got that warm, rich feel of a song that’s a communal effort rather than the Kaukonen anthems that tend to sound like the work of another band. Anyway, the bevy of band members in the Airplane allowed for busy, relentless guitar frills to fill all the “gaps” in songs like this, which, I think, goes a long way toward defining this band’s m.o. as a rocking groove, as well as a pictorial female-fronted novelty.

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10 “Plastic Fantastic Lover” (Surrealistic Pillow)

Between Grace Slick’s sanguine pleas of love and psychedelic ubiquity, Marty Balin makes at least somewhat of a case as an underdog romantic for Surrealistic Pillow being HIS album. He’s beholden the first and last track on each side, including this excellent album closeur which celebrates the glory and rhythmic efficacy of having an imaginary lover, which is the next best thing to a real one, I guess.

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9 “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” (Surrealistic Pillow)

With tunes as rocking and catchy as “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds,” it’s a wonder Marty Balin never made it on his own as a solo artist, or never made it bigger than he did, as it were. Maybe it was the frustration and excitement of this early period that fed his primary vitality as a songwriter, though, evidenced in this lively mid-album tune that’s got one of the coolest and most off-kilter chorus chord progressions in all of psychedelic rock. 

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8 “The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil” (After Bathing at Baxter’s)

“The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil” opens After Bathing  at Baxter’s, the band’s followup to the commercial breakthrough Surrealistic Pillow, beautifully, with a quick but robust swatch of guitar feedback bleeding into a bouncy, infectious six-eight groove. It’s tagged as a Kantner number but it’s got the undeniable feel of multiplicity and communal band focus, giving it an especially enjoyable sense of purpose, even in all its capricious, rhythmic originality.

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7 “Two Heads” (After Bathing at Baxter’s)

The obvious second-person statement of rancor against what’s probably some important figure like Lyndon Johnson, “Two Heads” is a vituperative rant by Grace Slick that manages to weave in this stalking, sultry sense of anger without cranking up any of the guitars any louder than “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” to its credit. In general, Slick was an egalitarian opposed to supreme, corrupting power in the hands of any one man, and “Two Heads” is ultimately a pretty solid effort toward cathartic metaphor leveling reality on a figure with no sound moral authority to answer to.

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6 “Hey Frederick” (Volunteers)

There’s an unpredictable, Wild Wild West sort of feel to the mid-section innards of Volunteers, which is ironic in a way in that it’s the band’s first album up to this point to be recorded entirely in San Francisco. But woven through the rustic imagery of “The Farm,” we come to the vast, expansive “Hey Frederick,” loose with ample tempo changes and wild, wolverine guitar splashes to keep the proceedings we with psychedelic moxie.

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5 “D.C.B.A.-25” (Surrealistic Pillow)

I’m not sure where they got the strange title to this song but it sounds like a reference to musical notes. Anyway, it seems a bit like a handicap to this incredibly pliable and pleasant folk number from Kantner that’s got the benevolent approachability of The Youngbloods’ “Get Together” and some nice, treble-y guitar timbres, flanked of course with special “grace” in the background vocals.

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4 “Martha” (After Bathing at Baxter’s)

With gentle, lilting acoustic guitar, ambient percussion, a spooky chord progression and great, clear vocals from Paul Kantner, “Martha” is built for Jefferson Airplane legend and the psychedelic rock canon, all the way. It’s a simple love song with textural sophistication, as I allude to before, and these wild, uncontrolled guitar spurts from Jorma Kaukonen just remind you guys that this ain’t no Herman’s Hermits boy band.

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3 “White Rabbit” (Surrealistic Pillow)

Absolutely one of the most iconic songs of the 1960s, “White Rabbit” is a staple of both oldies and classic rock radio and also of the entire movement, centering its discursive message on the closing mantra of “Feed your head”, full of the subversive quest for knowledge and of course delivered from those Grand Canyon-sized lungs of Grace Slick, one of the best mainstream rock singers of all time. 

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2 “rejoyce” (After Bathing at Baxter’s)

“rejoyce” (sic) opens side B of Baxter’s all hazy and uncertain, Grace Slick emitting seemingly random vocal quips over piano and sporadic, barely present percussion pendants. Soon enough, though, we unfurl a gorgeous and infectious piano groove (presumably performed by Grace Slick herself, like some sort of ’60s hippie Fiona Apple perhaps) insulated by what sounds like either an accordion or clarinet screeching it with grating catharsis and release. Through and through, it’s an awe-inspiring, full-bodied tune, particularly for the way it plays as this uncontrolled, liquid kiss-off to convention and culminating in the glorious vocal proclamation from Grace Slick of “I’d rather have my country die for me”. 

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1 “How Do You Feel” (Surrealistic Pillow)

I think I stuck my foot in it with this one because as I look at the credits for this song, I see that it wasn’t even written by a member of Jefferson Airplane, but rather Tom Mastin. Eh, let’s see, bands of whom the best song is a cover… Alien Ant Farm? The Byrds? That’s getting it a little closer to the tradition at hand, anyway. Of course, anyway, The Airplane have that penchant for delivering the goods with those gorgeous, canary-like tandem vocals. This band really like going into the studio and singing, TOGETHER, and if their finest moment happens to come in the form of mimicry, well, that only debilitates the spirit of things as far as logic goes, and as we know, “Logic and proportion / Have fallen sloppy dead”. 

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