Jefferson Airplane- Surrealistic Pillow (1967): 8 July 2019

Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow (1967)

Welcome back to YDCS! I hope you enjoyed Led Zeppelin Month last month, but this week we are back to our regularly scheduled, eclectic mix of rock and roll music. There was no post last week because work got in the way, and I didn’t want to rush a post that was going to be subpar. The result is that this one had to wait a week. Apologies for that, but we’re back at it! After listening to the hard rock of Led Zeppelin for the past month, I felt like I needed a break. This week I decided to throw on one of the most influential acts in the psychedelic rock subgenre, Jefferson Airplane, and their second release Surrealistic Pillow. Jefferson Airplane was a group that was born in San Francisco and came to light during the height of the counterculture movement of the late 1960s. The band performed at the “Big 3” festivals of the late 60s; Altamont, Woodstock, and Monterey and didn’t see much success outside of their most popular releases; Surrealistic Pillow in 1967and Volunteers in 1969. Jefferson Airplane went on to produce a handful of albums in the early 70s to little acclaim before dissolving in 1974. At that point, some members of Jefferson Airplane broke away to form the band Jefferson Starship, which saw more commercial success through the 1970s until 1984 with hits like “Jane” and “Count On Me.” In 1984, the band changed their name one last time to Starship, released what is often considered the worst song of all time, “We Built This City,” and went on to perform as Starship into the 2000s. We can just pass over that last fact…

Surrealistic Pillow was one of the biggest hits of the psychedelic rock genre and some of the songs on it became an integral part of the soundtrack to the Summer of Love. I’m particularly fond of Jefferson Airplane, and this release in particular, because of how it differentiates itself from the other heavyweight of the genre like the Grateful Dead. While other groups focused on the folk roots of the genre, Jefferson Airplane was more balanced between the folk and psychedelic sounds, tending to lean more towards psychedelia than folk. This album has got a little bit of everything for everyone; amazing vocal harmonies that take you to another planet (no drugs needed), beautiful ballads, and hard rocking tracks! I hope you enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

She Has Funny Cars: For many people, Jefferson Airplane might be a name that they’re not familiar with. They were certainly influential in the 1960s, but never had the same mass appeal or staying power of the Who or the Grateful Dead. “She Has Funny Cars” is one of the band’s more popular entries and is stereotypical of the band’s catalog at this time, if slightly toned back on the psychedelia. Never a group to shy away from making a statement, the song is highly critical of consumerist culture, but the instrumentation actually carries stronger than the lyrics. In most cases, songs meld perfectly together, blending guitar, bass, and drums, but I find that on “She Has Funny Cars,” all of the instruments are very forward and easily discernable, and making it interesting to listen to in a different way than normal. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Somebody To Love: I love “Somebody To Love!” Grace Slick’s vocals are some of the best of her time, rivaled maybe only by Janis Joplin and Carole King. This is one rocking track! The vocals aren’t the only thing to love either; the guitar riffs are so stereotypically 1960s that the song transports you to a different time. They really don’t make rock tracks like this anymore!  Dad’s Rating 9/10

My Best Friend: The psychedelic rock may not have been overly apparent on the first two tracks, but it certainly starts to come out on this song if you haven’t noticed it yet! “My Best Friend” is a much more mellowed out song than “She Has Funny Cars” or “Somebody to Love,” and pulls heavier on the folk genre than most of the album, making it a bit of an outlier in the band’s catalog. There was a lot of crossover between Folk Rock and Psychedelic Rock (read early Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead albums), so the lines often blur between the two during the late 1960s. Airplane was more firmly embedded on the psychedelic side of that line, while I consider Grateful Dead to be closer to the folk side of the line, generally speaking. “My Best Friend” is interesting because it blends those two genres really well, leaning more on the folk during the verses and the harder rock during the chorus. This is an interesting song that is worth listening to to better see how those two genres play out together. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Today: “Today” is one of my favorite songs on the album and is such a great deep dive song. That’s what this blog is about, listening to music in complete album form and finding the hidden gems. I really like how stripped back and peaceful this song is. The guitar line, combined with the tambourine actually gives me a bit of a “Wild West” sensation. Where most of the band’s work combines complex vocal harmonies, I think this song would have actually been hurt by that and they made the right decision keeping it simple and crooning. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Comin’ Back to Me: “Comin’ Back to Me” is beautifully simple, but in the same vein, painfully boring. I’m convinced that this was one of the songs that the band wrote while they were high, listened back to while they were high, and said “This is great, put it on the record!” I’ll try to find something to like in every song though, and the soft flute in the background is very pleasant. You can skip this one, you’re not missing anything. Dad’s Rating 4/10

3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds: This is more the 1960’s rock sound that I’m looking for! The song is lyrically pretty weak, comprised mostly of marijuana references and proposing ridding oneself of excess. I would add that 3/5 of a mile in 10 seconds works out to be 216 mph. I’m not sure what it has to do with the song, but the story goes that the band saw the number in a newspaper and decided to write a song about it. That sounds about right… Musically, it’s not a complex song nor was it ever going to be a big hit, but it’s a fun little hidden gem, particularly for those who enjoy the harder rock psychedelic pieces or the late 1960s rock sound. Dad’s Rating 6/10

D.C.B.A.-25: There’s a neat little fact about the title of this song; the “D.C.B.A” refers to the chord progression of the song and the “-25” refers to LSD 25. Of course, by that, I mean the drug LSD. Did you expect anything else?! This song is an acid trip. I can’t make out the lyrics so if you can, then please let me know what it’s about. Because of that I’m judging it completely on the music which is pretty solid! The instrumentation is right up there with what you expect from some of the best psychedelic rock acts of the 1960s. It has a nice strumming feeling that keeps you grounded to something while the lyrics float around and into outer space. Dad’s Rating 6/10

How Do You Feel: “How Do You Feel” is a slight return to the folk rock influence of the band’s early years. The psychedelia is still lacquered on in the vocal harmonies, but the folksy guitar contrasts nicely from them. This song is a nice change of pace from some of the heavier songs on the album. Good placement on the album, but not a spectacular song. This track isn’t bad, just forgettable. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Embryonic Journey: “Embryonic Journey” is one of the highlights of the album and the band’s career. This is a beautiful acoustic piece that shows how skilled the band were as musicians. Oftentimes I think that people forget that Jefferson Airplane WERE amazing musicians. They were certainly good enough to stay around in some form for 20 years, and this shows it. There’s more to this group than acid trips and free love. Take a listen to “Embryonic Journey” and see for yourself. Dad’s Rating 8/10

White Rabbit: “White Rabbit” is one of the band’s best-known songs, and I don’t even think it’s their best work. It’s good alright, but it doesn’t show the same level of musical talent that “Embryonic Journey” or “Somebody to Love” does. I think that what draws people to this song is how stereotypical it is of psychedelic rock in general. Yes, it’s a drug song. Yes, Slick’s vocals wail and warble for the whole song. Yes, it’s steady enough that even someone who is stoned out of their mind can follow along. And yes, it references Alice in Wonderland (Which was its own drug journey), but we’ve shown that Jefferson Airplane was so much more than this song. They were musicians, they were lyricists, and they were artists. “White Rabbit” is a good song, and I love the Alice reference. That’s fantastic songwriting for me. Make sure you don’t skip this one because it is such an important part of the band’s discography, but please don’t form an opinion on them based exclusively on this song.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Plastic Fantastic Lover: Can you say “double entendre?” Jefferson Airplane was one of the best at using double entendre to make their songs stand out, and they ended up with some humorous results. This song, for example, isn’t about what you think it is. It’s about Marty Balin’s new sound system! Musically, it’s not particularly interesting, but it’s a funny song to listen to and see how the dual meaning plays out. Dad’s Rating 5/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience- Are You Experienced? (1967): 27 May 2019

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced? (1967)

Welcome back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo! This week we’re tackling one of the big ones; one of the most influential and recognizable albums in the history of rock and roll. First though, remember that next week starts Led Zeppelin month where I’m covering Led Zeppelin I-IV back-to-back, so if another couple of the best rock and roll albums suit your fancy, make sure to check them out! Now this week, we’re taking a listen to the debut album from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced?. Contrary to popular belief, Hendrix was never a solo artist, but the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was formed to place his guitar abilities in the front and center. Experienced was an immediate commercial success and landed the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Monterey Pop Music Festival two months after the album released in the U.K. and before the album even released in the U.S. This performance, amongst the likes of the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane, launched Hendrix’s career in the U.S. and generated excitement for his upcoming debut album.

Jimi only released three studio albums before his untimely death in 1970, but each one furthered the development and legitimacy of the rock genre. Specifically, Experienced features a wide variety of genres and musical influences, from R&B to jazz and contemporary rock. The album itself can be best characterized as psychedelic rock, and no song on the album sounds quite like another. Listen straight through the album and you’ll hear Hendrix’s range of ability, from straight rock songs like “Manic Depression,” to ballads like “The Wind Cries Mary,” to funk and blues inspired “Fire.” This may be one of the best albums we’ve listened to on this blog, so I hope you can take some time to listen to this piece of history from start to finish. As an aside, note that I’m covering the album as it was originally issued in the United States, not the United Kingdom nor re-issued albums that have different track orders. No matter which version you listen to, I hope you enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Purple Haze: What a way to start a song! Think about what people must have thought back in the 60s when they put this record on and they’re assaulted with this huge guitar sound and Hendrix’s filtered vocals. Are You Experienced? opens with one of my favorite Hendrix tracks and I think it will always hold up as a classic rock staple and a song that’s had a significant cultural impact on the development of rock and roll. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Manic Depression: “Manic Depression” has a much different sound than Purple Haze, and most of that can be attributed to the time signature that the song is written in. We talked a little bit about time signatures in the “YYZ” review on Moving Pictures, but the gist of it is that the song is written in the style of a waltz but performed like a rock song!  The instrumental section on this song after the second verse might be one of my favorites on the album and the frenetic drumming really adds to the manic feeling. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Hey Joe: When people think of Hendrix, they either think of bombastic guitar solos and modernization of electric guitar techniques or they think of his blues and folk roots. Those roots can be heard in most of the songs on the album and across his discography, but there may not be a better example of it on Experienced than “Hey Joe.” This track was one of the few that weren’t actually written by Hendrix on this album. Instead, it was written by a man named Bill Roberts in the early 1960s and has been covered by multitudes of artists. The Hendrix version is usually the most well-known, and I think listening to it shows why. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Love Or Confusion: “Love Or Confusion” wasn’t my favorite track on the album, but it has some redeeming qualities that I actually enjoyed. I found the song more muddied than purposeful distortion should create, and because of that, the individual parts didn’t shine so brightly. I will say that the guitar is great in the way that it builds up from the beginning towards the chorus before heading into a top-notch solo. Overall, this was a good track, that if it had been cleaned up, it would have been a stronger song. Dad’s Rating 6/10

May This Be Love: “May This Be Love” is one of the two ballads on the album, the other being “The Wind Cries Mary.” Hendrix is usually not remembered for his ballads, despite the fact that “Little Wing” is often cited as one of his best songs. With this song, I particularly like how the guitar manages to be a focal piece of the song, both in how it’s used to accent Hendrix’s voice and to accompany it, but never overshadows it.  The vocals are soft but strong, and they carry the song very well. Dad’s Rating 8/10

I Don’t Live Today: “I Don’t Live Today” is one of the songs that surprised me the most. It’s a very heavy, distorted track that doesn’t pull any punches. Hendrix is almost yelling the lyrics and his playing is equally as strong and forceful. Musically I heard some elements of the psychedelic rock that he was known for and the solo at the end is a face-melter of heavy guitar distortion and wild drumming! This is one of those deep cuts that you just have to listen to. Dad’s Rating 7/10

The Wind Cries Mary: We go from one of the most high-energy songs on the album into one of the most laid-back songs on the album. “The Wind Cries Mary” is actually one of my favorite Hendrix songs (“Little Wing” is my favorite) and it’s a standout feature on the album. “May This Be Love” is like the warmup for this song. Everything just feels tighter, more polished, and better planned out, in a way, than the former. Where “May This Be Love” has a more drum driven sound, “Mary” is much more vocally and guitar driven, and I think that makes the biggest difference in why I prefer this song over the other.  Dad’s Rating 9/10

Fire: This is a straight funk and soul inspired song here! Listen to the opening and compare the vocals to James Brown’s, for example. Hendrix has the same kind of energy in his voice that Brown does and he uses it perfectly! This is a groovy song that starts off as a soul track before launching into a solo straight out of a rock track. It doesn’t sound like anything else on the album and I’ve never heard another song like it before. This is really good stuff! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Third Stone From The Sun: How does one best describe “Third Stone From The Sun?” I offer that it’s the musical equivalent of being led through an acid trip. The vocals were purposefully slowed down to make the listener feel like they were flying through space, and it worked for me! The un-distorted guitar is like a hand reaching through the acid dream to lead the listener through to the other side. This is worth a listen once so that you can say you’re experienced, then leave it at that. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Foxey Lady: This is Garth Algar’s best performance (Thanks Wayne’s World!). But actually, this was one of the Hendrix songs that made it big, and for a good reason. That held note at the beginning of the song that leads you in to a rocking guitar riff lets you know that you’re in for something special. The guitar work is really the feature here and the solo is ah-mazing. This is still one of my favorite solos to play the air guitar on, and you have to do the Garth dance during the song too. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Are You Experienced?: The lead track on the album is a return to Jimi’s blues and folk roots with a little twist. The distorted wah throughout the song is truly unique and sounds almost like a tape was skipping during recording. Everything was actually perfect with the recording equipment, but that sound was created by running the loop backwards! This is just another example of Hendrix’s innovation behind the guitar and what he would come to influence in the future. I think we can firmly say that he was quite experienced with that guitar and continued to pass that along to future generations. Dad’s Rating 7/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.