There’s no denying that 1967 was one of the most powerful years in all of music. The nation was divided over enormous social and political issues, and artists were an all-too-important refuge during these tough times. With the discovery of LSD, bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were making a name for themselves, especially in the San Francisco region. With their 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow, Airplane was able to cut through the malaise and energize the youth of a nation.
Jefferson Airplane formed in San Francisco in 1965, and were early favorites of promoter Bill Graham. The band’s lineup ultimately solidified in 1966 with the addition of Grace Slick, contributing her powerful vocals to a band that included Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Kantner, Jack Casady and Spencer Dryden. Surrealistic Pillow was the band’s second album, but the first to feature both Slick and Dryden as part of the band.
Written in late 1966 and released on February 1st, 1967, Surrealistic Pillow shows a band poised for greatness. Slick also contributed two songs from her previous band, the well known singles “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love.” It was her unique contralto vocals that would stand out from the pack, launching both singles into the top 10 on Billboard charts. The complete album features songs written by each band member, including Kaukonen’s “Embryonic Journey” and Balin’s bluesy numbers “Plastic Fantastic Lover” and “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds.”
Interestingly, the name of the album comes from the Grateful Dead’s own Jerry Garcia, who helped significantly with the production of Surrealistic Pillow. He claimed that the music was “as surrealistic as a pillow is soft,” thus inspiring the name. The record company would ultimately downplay his involvement as producer of the album, crediting him only as a “spiritual advisor.”
Though Jefferson Airplane would undergo many changes in their lengthy career, Surrealistic Pillow remains the symbolic pinnacle of their success. Fifty-two later, we can look back at this incredible album and recognize the pure energy that was Jefferson Airplane in 1967. Enjoy the album, below.
[Originally published: 2/1/2019