Jefferson Airplane: Two of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll

Jefferson Airplane 
Jefferson Airplane
Origin: San Francisco, California, US.
Genres: Psychedelic rock, acid rock, 
folk rock, garage rock 

Jefferson Airplane pioneered psychedelic rock, defined the San Francisco Sound, and achieved international success during the "Summer of Love." Their 1967 break-out album, Surrealistic Pillow, is ranked Number 471 in Rolling Stones' 2020 list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time."

Two tracks from that album were included in Rolling Stone's 2004 ranking of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time:" "Somebody to Love" at Number 279 and "White Rabbit" at Number 483. The same pair are among the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll."


Somebody to Love

The Great Society (1965)

Grace Slick, her then-husband Jerry, and his brother, Darby Slick, started The Great Society in the late summer of 1965. Their debut appearance was opening night at the Coffee Gallery in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood on October 15, 1965. They continued to perform there throughout 1966. 

The Great Society Coffee Gallery San Francisco October 15, 1965 poster

The band released only one single during its lifetime. Darby Slick wrote the A-side, then titled "Someone to Love," and its B-side, "Free Advice." Grace Slick's vocals on The Great Society track are more subdued than her Jefferson Airplane version. 



Jefferson Airplane (1967)

The Great Society enjoyed some success and started opening for more successful local bands, like Jefferson Airplane. Columbia Records offered them a contract, but before it arrived in the mail, Grace had replaced the Airplane's departing vocalist Signe Toly Anderson.

Great Society Jefferson Airplane concert poster

When Slick joined Jefferson Airplane, she brought "Somebody to Love," along with her own composition "White Rabbit," to the Surrealistic Pillow sessions. Grace muscled up her vocals.

Billboard described the brash re-recording as a "wild dance number loaded with vocal excitement," and a "hard driver, featuring powerful female vocal in the lead [which] never stops from start to finish."

The Airplane's version became the band's first and most significant success, reaching Number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was one of the first big hits of the US West Coast counterculture scene. 



White Rabbit (1967)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Grace Slick wrote, "White Rabbit" based on Lewis Carroll's 1865 children's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Like many young musicians in San Francisco, Slick did a lot of drugs. She found drug references throughout Carroll's book, including the smoking caterpillar, the mushroom, and other trippy images. 


Slick's musical inspiration for this track occurred after taking LSD. For hours she tripped, listening to the Miles Davis album Sketches of Spain, mainly the opening track "Concierto de Aranjuez." 

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