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13 November 2017

Jefferson Airplane - 'Surrealistic Pillow' (RCA Victor)

OK, here's a bit of seemingly intentional nonconformity, but I don't think Surrealistic Pillow is all that great. Which leads to the followup question of why do I own a copy then, to which I cannot really provide an answer. This copy is beat to shit and the stereo pressing, and I love their subsequent release, but I think the record's notoriety probably stands in the way of me truly evaluating it, truly appreciating it maybe. Which is what I tried to do when it came up today, next in this project, another surprise of 'Oh do I have this still?' as happens so often here. I guess given the surreal, truly psychedelic sound of After Bathing at Baxter's I find the tepid folk-pop songs on here hard to sit through; the recording is also done in that too-echoey way that makes it sound particularly dated, the same way Moby Grape records sound to me, which is maybe just the 'psychedelic sound', at least the San Francisco variant. Speaking of Moby Grape, Skip Spence wrote 'My Best Friend', which is one of the more forgettable numbers here; it, along with 'Today' and 'How Do You Feel' steer Surrealistic Pillow far closer to sounding like a slightly amped up Mamas and Papas than the cabal of psychedelic visionaries they're supposed to be. The two towering songs here are of course 'Somebody to Love' and 'White Rabbit', and I don't know what I can really say about them that is an original take. The latter is of course a ridiculous work of music, immortalised by Hunter Thompson, and the former is, to me, merely a pretty good pop song of the era. That both of these are Grace Slick's contributions and that they have endured so much longer than anything else on Surrealistic Pillow probably indicates that having her join the band was a good idea. 'Plastic Fantastic Lover' is pretty good and 'She Has Funny Cars' is good music to play in a documentary when you're talking about the swinging sixties. Otherwise the pick of the litter for me is Jorma Kaukonen's beautiful 'Embryonic Journey', a bit of melting Vanguard/Takoma magic that works extra well before 'White Rabbit'. I know I'm being a bit hard on this because it's considered a psychedelic classic, but it hardly sounds like the Cold Sun LP. And better grooves are around the corner, for sure.

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