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The Essential Boomer Album Collection - Part 2

Surrealistic Pillow - Jefferson Airplane (1967)

If someone were to ask us what is was like during the summer of love, we’d be tempted to just give them this album, “Surrealistic Pillow” by Jefferson Airplane and leave it at that. With the possible exception of “Sgt. Pepper,” there is no other single LP that could capture the feeling of that magical summer season.

This wasn’t the Airplane’s first album. That honor goes to “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” which was released on the RCA label in August, 1966. But that album gained very little altitude, not even charting on the Billboard Hot 100 Albums. Soon after, the band’s drummer Skip Spence and female singer Signe Toy Anderson departed. They were replaced by experienced jazz drummer Spencer Dryden and the former lead vocalist for the Great Society, Grace Slick. Together with male vocalist Marty Balin, guitarist Paul Kantner, lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Cassidy, they formed the classic Airplane line-up until Dryden departed in 1970.

“Surrealistic Pillow” was the perfect blend of folk, rock and the burgeoning psychedelic movement that was taking hold in San Francisco, building on the efforts of the Byrds and the Mamas and Papas.

Propelled by an actual Top 10 single, “Somebody to Love,” the album was not only a breakthrough for the Airplane but for the entire Haight-Ashbury music scene in San Francisco. “White Rabbit” followed “Somebody to Love” up the singles chart, also cracking the Top 10. Of course, its thinly veiled drug reference made the song one of that era’s most controversial.

Perhaps because those first 2 hit singles featured Grace Slick in the lead, it’s easy to forget that most of the rest of the album featured Marty Balin on lead vocals.

There is also controversy to this day about the exact role that Grateful Dead front man Jerry Garcia played in the album’s creation. Garcia was listed on the original album liner notes as “spiritual advisor.” Producer Rick Garrard has denied that Garcia played on any of the tracks, but the band’s manager claimed Garcia played on one of the album’s unreleased tracks (“In the Morning”). Garcia himself claimed he played on that track as well as “Today,” “Plastic Fantastic Lover” and “Coming Back to Me.” He further claimed he took part in arranging and rewriting portions of “Somebody to Love.” Band member Jorma Kaukonen goes further, saying that Garcia essentially produced and arranged nearly the entire album.

All agree that it was a comment by Jerry, “the album sounds surrealistic as a pillow” that gave the record its name.

No matter who played what, whenever you want to bring back the Summer of Love, we suggest you light some incense, slip a few flowers in your hair and close your eyes as the strains of “Embryonic Journey” fill your ears. You will be there.

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