Read my reviews of albums by Jefferson Airplane:
1966: Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (???)
For some reason I’ve never listened to Jefferson Airplane’s debut album.
Jefferson Airplane albums from 1967:
Surrealistic Pillow (9/10)
This may be the first serious record I ever consciously listened to. I had Weird Al tapes. I had Nylons tapes. (I am trying to pretend those Nylons tapes weren’t serious.) My dad had this on tape and he would play it in the car all the way through. Before I had bought a Beatles tape, I was listening to Surrealistic Pillow, my dad’s favourite album from his youth.
So there’s a part of me that just assumed this was an absolute classic. This was before I realized that my dad has kind of terrible taste in music – taste which, like many men his age, is in part dictated by the attractiveness of the female singer. I recognize that the songs were memorable and that the playing was good (even if I didn’t know it at the time) and so I figured it was an absolute classic – one of the best albums of the ’60s or something.
Well, it’s not. It’s very good but, like so much music made on the cusp of the Summer of Love, it’s stuck between two genres. (It reminds me a bit of where The Yardbirds and The Byrds were at this point, even if the music is quite different.) There are a bunch of quite strong folk rock and folk songs, and then there is one definitive, all time classic Psychedelic rock song (“White Rabbit”) and another that usually gets lumped in as “Psychedelic” (“Somebody to Love”) though I’m not sure how psychedelic it really is (compared it to, says “Strawberry Fields,” which had just come out).
All of this is to say that it’s a strong album caught between two trends. The Airplane would go on to make far more radical but less consistent music as the decade wore on. This is probably their best record, but it’s just not innovative enough for me to acclaim it as an absolute classic, at a time when innovation was The Thing.
After Bathing at Baxter’s (7/10)
It’s been ages since I’ve listened to the other Airplane records from the era but, from memory, this is their most overtly psychedelic and experimental record, with a “freak out” and some jams (and more than a little Hendrix worship).
It’s the weakest of their classic records in my mind, and they don’t quite find a balance between wanting to write accessible, political songs and wanting to expand my musical consciousness.
That being said, everyone was doing stuff like this, and this has dated better than some of the other albums from the era.
2023: It’s worth noting that this is far more “psychedelic” than Surrealistic Pillow which means that they had at least joined everyone else in the party.
1968: Crown of Creation (7/10)
I forgot to write a review for this album the first time I heard it.
The thing I love about this period in Airplane history is how great a band they were. They are able to wring a lot of dynamics and interest from songs that are, well, not among the best of their era to put it mildly.
This is a collection of songs that really doesn’t hold up to Surrealistic Pillow, for example. That’s not to say they’re bad, but they’re the kind of songs it takes a while to get into, in part because the melodies are not super strong.
But the band:
- Casady is one of the great bass players of his era and I could just listen to him and ignore everyone else.
- Kaukonen remains one of my favourite guitarists from this scene, even if his skill is basically always more audible when he’s playing acoustic.
- And there has always been something appealing to me about the multi-headed singing of the Airplane, giving a lot variety where it is necessary.
The record is too “psychedelic” in the production of some songs, though not as bad as the Airplane sometimes got but most of the time manages to avoid that.
But I still think they are just a great band in need of better songs.
1969: Volunteers (8/10)
For me, this is probably the Airplane’s best album after Surrealistic Pillow. None of their records have ever approached that one in terms of the quality of the songs, but this record comes the closest of their purer psychedelic records, as the jamming and freaking-out is far more restrained and far more in the service of songs than on the last two records. As such, it’s almost a marriage of those two divergent strands in the band – the desire to sing meaningful songs and the desire to jam.
I still don’t absolutely love it. And I can’t quite articulate why. The Airplane are just one of those bands where I like component parts – and love two of their band members as musicians – but something about the finished product never quite completely works for me. I always wonder why the band that produced so many exquisite songs on their second album never seems to have been able to do that again, at least with any consistency.
But still think this is a pretty great record and, for me, their second best album I’ve heard. That feels like a pretty meek “8/10” but I do think it’s quite good, it’s just not up to that initial standard they set that, to the best of my knowledge, they never met again.
1971: Bark (???)
I don’t particularly love the Airplane – I haven’t listened to any of the above records in years – so I have never bothered with any of their ’70s records.
1972: Long John Silver (???)
1974: Early Flight (???)
Oddly, this compilation album is classified by RYM as a regular release. Read my reviews of albums released in 1974.
1989: Jefferson Airplane (???)
I think this is one of the reunion albums that gave reunions a bad name, but I’ve never listened to it. Read my reviews of music from 1989.