Sunday, March 13, 2011

Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane: "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love"

There's an awful lot going on in the world that's pretty terrible right now, as there often is, what with the situation in Japan, and in Libya, and in so many other places, but let's take a short break from that now and head back to the late-'60s, when there were also pretty terrible things going on, not least in Southeast Asia, but also when some incredible music was being made.

It was well before my time, and there is a tendency among those of us who weren't there to romanticize that era, the era of Woodstock and everything it supposedly meant, but to me it still all seems fairly glorious, and among the most glorious of all, musically speaking, was Jefferson Airplane, fronted by the amazing Grace Slick.

No female singer today comes even close. Beyoncé... Katy Perry... Lady Gaga... Fergie... Christina Aguilera... Carrie Underwood... oh please. And for all the success of a Mariah Carey or even a Madonna, there was just something so authentically gorgeous and culturally significant, and so awesome, about Grace Slick. (Yes, Madonna was culturally significant, too, but she was so much a product of her manufactured times as well. I might put Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks in Slick's category, but she wasn't nearly such a towering cultural figure even when Fleetwood Mac was so popular in the '70s. (I love Vienna Teng, too, but that's different.)

This isn't to deny others their greatness, of course. Tina Turner, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Diana Ross, Barbara Streisand, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart -- all great in their own ways. Maybe it's Aretha Franklin to whom Slick ought to be compared, though she, of course, was transcendent in other ways and for other reasons, and for a much longer period of time (and with greater lasting resonance). And with Slick, it was really those few years when Jefferson Airplane made music for a generation. After that, it was never to be the same. Popularity would return throughout the '70s and '80s, but, musically, the period from Surrealistic Pillow (1967) to Volunteers (1969) was the absolute peak. (So maybe the right comparison is Janis Joplin, also culturally significant around the same time (with a much shorter career given her death at such a young age), though I'll take Slick over Joplin for any number of reasons.)

Anyway, that's enough from me. Let's get to the music. Here's Jefferson Airplane performing "White Rabbit" (one of my favourite songs ever) and "Somebody to Love" on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour not long after Surrealistic Pillow came out in 1967. (It's easy to forget how influential that show was.) I'd love to have experienced it.


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  • Jorma just turned 70, and Grace must be up there. Stevie Nicks was a goat in Afghanistan, don't you know? Janis was the greatest white singer of the 20th Century.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:02 AM  

  • True, Grace is unrecognizable these days, but then I've changed a bit too.

    But Janis -- I never got over Janice.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 12:48 PM  

  • GRACE SLICK was... the original Queen of rock. She had an amazing voice that easily sliced above the roar of the Airplane.. Comparisons between her and Janis, other than that they were in the same town and both had amazing vocal styles, is like comparing mango to pomagranite. Grace was a very controlled singer who had and utilized a killa' vibrato.. Janis was a more emotive singer, whose raspy style befit her Blues... As far as "recognizing" Grace now? Apparantly the other commentors have no appreciation or respect for a woman in her eigth decade who is a "natural" in her still, intact beauty. Botox, face peels,plastic surgery, do not.. a beauty make. Keep on going Grace.....

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:41 PM  

  • ..........and on that note, I totally agree - amazing in her prime and still just as amazing; I've performed "Somebody to Love" at karaoke and the greatest compliment I could have gotten was when I was told how similar my voice was to Grace's. Shine on forever Ms. Grace Slick!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:07 PM  

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