Saturday, 27 June 2020

John Lennon

"A part of me would like to be accepted by all facets of society and not be this loudmouthed lunatic poet/musician. But I cannot be what I am not ... I was the one who all the other boys' parents – including Paul's father – would say, 'Keep away from him'" - John Lennon 

John Lennon was never my favourite Beatle - he came across as cynical, sneering and often unnecessarily bitter to me, he just never endeared himself (not that he needed to, of course). However, I find his solo work disarmingly honest and touching as well as melodically appealing. I have to admit to having a great love for Imagine, Mind Games and Walls And Bridges in particular. I return to them with a surprising regularity and enthusiasm. Like George Harrison, I miss him a lot, musically....

The Plastic Ono Band (1970)

This is a raw, edgy and angst-ridden solo album from John Lennon, his first "proper" solo piece of work. Lennon explores all sorts of mother and parental issues, anxiety about relationships and some cynical, political protest thrown in. It is musically basic - guitar, bass and drums for the most part with occasional piano and keyboards. Its sparse sound adds to its appeal for me, I always found parts of Imagine to be somewhat over-orchestrated. Old mate Ringo Starr is on drums throughout, giving it considerable gravitas, however. I listen to this material and think how much better it is than that which can be found on, for example, The Beatles' Let It Be album or the early Paul McCartney solo offerings, Despite the many criticisms of Lennon's early solo work, it does sound to me as if he has got his mojo back - this is bristling stuff that is alive.

Mother is a yearning, heartfelt opener with anguished vocals and a great backing sound to it. Hold On has an absolutely sumptuous bass on it from the talented Klaus VoormanI Found Out is bluesy and confrontational and has Lennon shocking the world when he sings of "some of you sitting there with your cock in your hand...". This was pretty racy stuff for 1970. This was Lennon at his most scathing and world-weary. Working Class Hero continues the mood brilliantly, as Lennon channels his inner Dylan and produces a superbly cynical protest song. There is no doubt by now the Lennon's world is not a particularly happy one, despite his apparent bedroom bliss with Yoko OnoThe bleak ballad, Isolation, only serves to reinforce that feeling. The album's cover shows a pastoral, peaceful scene, much like WingsWild Life. This was anything but a relaxed album. Remember is musically upbeat, with a pounding drum sound, augmented by a clunky piano. Again, though, it is a questioning song, one of disillusion. It actually has hints of McCartney about it, for me. As indeed does the tender Love, the first chilled-out love song on the album. 

The buzzy guitar-driven Well Well Well has echoes of The White Album in some ways. Maybe it is Ringo's muscular but rhythmic drumming. It is supposed to be a song about Lennon's daily life with Yoko. It ends with him screaming. Read into that what you will about his state of mind. He was always an impossible person to read. Look At Me is acoustically beautiful, Beatles-esque, but is deeply self-analytical once more. Having questioned his entire existence and his life, there can be only one more thing to question - God. The track bearing the deity's name is a marvellous slice of Lennon cynicism sung over a stark piano, bass and drum backing. "God is a concept by which we measure our pain...". Heavy stuff. Lennon then proceeds to list everything he doesn't believe in, incredibly convincingly and aggressively, eschewing, amongst other things, all the guru stuff, then Elvis and Dylan, until finally saying "I don't believe in Beatles...". This was possibly Lennon's most powerful, post-Beatles song of all. "I was the walrus, but now I'm John...". What a great line. What a moving song. Personally, I find the short, painful My Mummy's Dead to be unlistenable, so I do not include it when playing the album digitally, replacing it with the two chanting, tub-thumping protest songs, Power To The People and Give Peace A Chance. So, for me, God is followed by the fist-pumping unity of Power To The People. I find that quite apt. I do understand, though, Mummy's vital position on the original album, ending it on a starkly disturbing, anguishing note.

** The two great non-album singles, Cold Turkey and Instant Karma! are both Lennon classics, full of edgy, searing, riffy attack. The latter, in particular, has become on of his most iconic songs, up there with the very best post-Beatles solo material.

Imagine (1971)

Lennon deals with all sorts of feelings on this seminal album - peace, putting an end to war, declaring undying love, idealistic utopian dreams and, lest we forget, having a nasty snip at his once best mate. Whatever, it makes for a beguiling and provocative mix.
The utopian daydream of Imagine is what is is - iconic. It needs no further comment. Yes, I know a multi-millionaire is asking us to imagine no possessions but to concentrate on that line for those reasons is to seriously miss the song's idealistic point. Crippled Inside is an enjoyable slice of lively, country-ish rock. It has received a fair few criticisms over the years, but I have always quite liked it. It is catchy and lightweight but still carries enough of Lennon’s cynicism to fit in with the album’s overall mood. Jealous Guy is another one known to everyone, Lennon’s original version being far more stark than Roxy Music’s big, full-sounding eighties cover of it.

It's So Hard is a pulsating, blues-based number. Personally, I feel it would work better without the lush string orchestration at the end. It is a good one, though, full of energy and enthusiasm. Cynically convincing too, is the bassy grind of the anti-war I Don't Want To Be a Soldier Mama. I love the bass, saxophone and guitar improvisation parts near the end. 
Gimme Some Truth continues the political comment with some killer guitar and a thumping rhythm. This is Lennon in full-on accusatory, cynical mood. He was a man with a lot of pent-up anger. It was a dissatisfaction that produced bristling pieces of work like this. however.

Oh My Love sees a switch to a plaintive, tenderly romantic song dedicated to the fulfilment Lennon was experiencing with Yoko Ono in his life. Just when he was getting a bit loved-up, however, the old spiky Lennon returns with the embittered How Do You Sleep?  - his notoriously venomous attack on Paul McCartney. He obviously had a lot of suppressed vitriol, but this all seemed a bit over-the-top to me. Naming some of McCartney’s songs as examples of his faults was just a cheap shot. Musically, the song has a deep, muscular sound, some great guitar interjections and again, some string orchestration I feel it could have survived without. Regarding how he slept, I am sure McCartney slept the sleep of the somewhat bemused. How shows Lennon at his most vulnerable again, questioning himself and his feelings. Despite his apparent romantic bliss, he always seemed to be battling with various issues. Snap yourself out of it, John. He did just that with the jaunty Oh Yoko!. This is another one that has attracted opprobrium. Again, I have always quite liked it its melodic piano coda and touchingly sweet feel. Overall, the album is a perplexing one. It has several mood swings within its songs. Like Lennon himself. Enigmatic.

Some Time In New York City (1972)

A much-derided album, but one with incredible passion and depth of feeling, this was John Lennon and Yoko Ono in full-on protest mode. They take on a myriad of causes - sexism, feminism, the prison system, unfair incarceration, legal and governmental corruption, Northern Ireland, drugs laws and civil rights. Phil Spector produced the album - badly in my opinion, for such a genius ten years earlier. The sound is muddy and indistinct throughout.
The opener, Woman Is the Nigger Of The World, is incredibly hard-hitting, particularly in 1972, but it is bang on the money. The sound is muffled and dull, like that produced by Phil Spector for both George Harrison and later for Leonard Cohen. It has that blaring saxophone sound and damp uncrisp-sounding drums. I have to say that I find it a bit odd hearing the old sixties sexist Lennon now championing women’s rights, however. The feminist anthem, Sisters, Oh Sisters, has its moments. Some catchy saxophone and a rocking feel to it, though Yoko’s input is a bit grating. The singalong Attica State, about the New York prison, reworks the refrain from Yellow Submarine - “we all live in an Attica State”. Yoko’s similarly-themed Born In A Prison is one I have always liked. Some great saxophone on it too.

New York City is a marvellous, vibrant number, almost ruined by the awful production, but its good enough to still ride over that. It has some great cynical Lennon lyrics, killer guitar and saxophone too. It pulsates, from beginning to end. Quite why Lennon lived in New York is a mystery. He loved it, but the authorities were hounding him on a daily basis at this time. He should have come home. Sunday Bloody Sunday possibly needed to be sung, as indeed did Luck Of The Irish. However passionate and totally justified they were, though, they both sound more than a little naive in Lennon and Yoko’s hands, particularly the latter. The former was hard-hitting, as it should have been, and works the better of the two. John Sinclair was about a man unfairly jailed for a (comparatively) minor marijuana offence, while Angela was about black human rights campaigner Angela Davis
The effervescent We're All Water explores the Dylanesque concept of everyone being the same, naked, even the President. It is a madcap romp, with Yoko wailing for all she’s worth, but I can’t help but like it.

The live set that formed the second disc of the original double album is an appealingly raw affair. Cold Turkey burns with a pure, visceral energy. The rambling Led Zeppelin-esque Don't Worry Kyoko has a few good points - namely the heavy riff and the overall groove, but Ono’s incessant screaming makes it pretty unlistenable for most of it. Thankfully, some blues is on the menu next with Well (Baby Please Don't Go). It features some searing guitar but Ono still manages to get some screaming in there somehow. The remaining three tracks were recorded at Fillmore East in New York City with Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of InventionJamrag (aka King Kong) is an interesting instrumental, funky in places, but once more blighted by Ono’s vocals. Scumbag is a lively, organ-driven rhythmic with some inventive lyrics (not). The title is repeated incessantly. It segues straight into  which is basically Yoko wailing again and Lennon and Zappa sending their guitars into feedback mode. It is pretty much unlistenable. Overall, this is undoubtedly Lennon’s worst album but, despite that, worthy of an occasional listen, and it certainly has its chronological and cultural importance.

Mind Games (1973)

Released in 1973, this is a quite underrated John Lennon offering. I have long been an admirer of this album. Although Imagine will always be the critics' favourite, there are some fine compositions to be found here. Do not dismiss it lightly.

So, on to the album in more detail. Mind Games, the track, is often not discussed as one of Lennon’s greats, but I love it, with something irresistibly catchy in its strange keyboard sweeps. The lyrically clever Tight A$ is an appealing, upbeat rocker and, despite its somewhat sickly sentiments, (Lennon rather pathetically begging forgiveness from “Yoko San”) Aisumasen (I'm Sorry) is still a good song, featuring a searing guitar solo, as is One Day At A Time which has a great chorus and a fine saxophone outro. 

What is instantly clear on this album is that Lennon has scaled back on the primitivism, the political protest and the rancorous snipes at McCartney in favour of reflective, tender sentiments, inspired by Yoko, of course, albeit expressed in a slick, upbeat poppy style. Having said that, the cover shows a tiny Lennon, bags packed, walking away from a giant Yoko’s head, indicating that this was an album that reflected considerable inner turmoil between the two. Many of the songs would seem to back that up. Lennon is apologising with regularity and attempting to explain himself - classic lovers’ tiff stuff. His legendary eighteen-month “lost weekend” and his romantic dalliance with May Pang was coming up, so these signs proved portentous. 

Back to the songs - my own personal favourite is the chugging protest vibe of the oddly-titled Bring On The Lucie (what, exactly, were the “lucie?”. The track is actually the album's only radical number, so it sort of sticks out from the rest a bit. The bassy, powerful ballad Out The Blue is just one of those songs that just says “John Lennon” when you hear it. So typical of his seventies solo output. As also is the beautiful and quirkily catchy Intuition. In fact, they are all good. There isn’t a duff track on this album, in my opinion. Meat City is a raucous, pounding rocker to end the album with. Big booming bass on it. Listen to the 2002 version then the 2010 to hear the superiority of the former. No comparison. Nowhere is the difference better exemplified than on this particular track. The tracks I have not mentioned thus far are the chunky but poppy, vaguely funky Only People, the powerful, emotional I Know (I Know) and the rhythmically appealing, breezy love song to Yoko in You Are Here. It has an almost Hawaiian sound to it at times. Check out that lovely bass line on it too. 

A lot of people have said that this album contains maybe just a few decent songs. I have to disagree with that. In a year that saw so many excellent albums released, this one is more than worthy of standing up there with them. It is a fine album, one I have always liked. The fact that Lennon’s artistic reputation was at its lowest ebb at this point makes it an even better album. Indeed, it rescued his standing somewhat. At a time when the airwaves were choc-a-bloc with former pal Paul's Wings output the fact that this album flew above the clouds somewhat did it no harm, critically, over subsequent years. Many people are attracted to an undervalued nugget and time has served to soften quite a few opinions of this album. Lennon's friendship with Elton John and David Bowie at the time was helpful too. 

Walls And Bridges (1974)

It has been a thing, since this album’s release, to criticise it, like its predecessor, the underrated Mind Games, by saying “it only has a few good tracks on it”. I disagree, there is some good material on here. I actually like all the first phase of Lennon solo albums a lot. Apart from Some Time In New York City, Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Mind Games and this one are all excellent pieces of work, easily up there with anything else released by an ex-Beatle during the same period. In the mid-seventies, the critical kudos was all going McCartney's way and it remained so until Lennon's  unfortunate demise led to an equally unfortunate raising of him to the role of the world's untouchable guru of peace, love and spiritualism. What we had here was a Lennon alienated from the rock media not caring much and putting out a good album. Their lack of interest seemed to spur him into producing his best work.

Going Down On Love is lyrically sparse, I guess, but it has a quirky appeal, with Lennon showing what a naughty lad he was by referencing a sex act and hoping no-one would notice, and a good bongo percussion bit. It has a pleasingly thumping beat to it as well. The rousing, saxophone-dominated Whatever Gets You Through The Night was a fine choice for a single (a number one in the USA). Old Dirt Road is a typical slow, thoughtful Lennon song, that would have fitted in well on the previous album. What You Got is a heady, funked-up and horn-powered number with Lennon in trademark throat-straining voice. Bless You is a beautiful, slower number, as indeed is Scared. Lennon has been criticised on this album for lacking direction and conviction. These two tracks would seem to disprove that theory as they are full of sensitive, personal lyrics and are very musically mature, too. Use the jazzy brass bit on Bless You as a fine example of the latter.

The hit single #9 Dream is a stimulating, ethereal piece of classic 70s Lennon, with a great vocal, Beatles-style string-heavy orchestration and a bizarre, non-sensical unknown language chorus - “ah bawakawa pousse, pousse”. It works, though. I always find myself singing along to it. 
Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox) is a rock and saxophone romp with the sort of sound George Harrison used on his All Things Must Pass album. It is a bit of an underrated gem. Steel And Glass sees Lennon railing at someone (hopefully not McCartney again! Apparently it was a rant at an ex-manager) Indeed, it sounds like it would not be out of place on the Imagine album, sounding a bit like How Do You Sleep? in places. It features some impressive wah-wah guitar, percussion and sweeping strings. What was often overlooked, particularly after Lennon's post-death deification, was that he was a man who didn't suffer fools (or indeed many People) gladly. He liked nothing more than to dish out a bit of bitter stick to someone for some perceived past slight. He seemed to be a man who bore a grudge for a long time. Beef Jerky is an instrumental jam, but an invigorating one at that. It reminds me of George Harrison's Savoy Truffle with slight bits of McCartney's Let Me Roll It in there too. Nobody Loves You When You're Down And Out, although evocative, is somewhat self-pitying and indulgent, as Lennon was certainly not down and out, he just lost a weekend (or several). No big deal, get over it. I have always had a bit of a problem with the original sound on this album - too tinny in my opinion. However, the 2000 remaster is much bassier and full than the thin, jarring 2010 remaster. It has a delightfully resonant bassy thump and that is always fine by me.

Rock 'n' Roll (1975)

Recorded as part of a legal agreement resulting from the "here come old flat top" line in The Beatles' Come Together, John Lennon revisits his old rock 'n' roll favourites. Produced by Phil Spector, it does not have the muffled, muddy production that Some Time In New York City or George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, although the 2012 remaster is far more trebly and tinny than its 2002 predecessor, which is far warmer and bassier, which suits my taste.
I have always found it a totally enjoyable album to listen to. Whatever the circumstances of its conception or the stresses of the recording process, (apparently they were chaotic and, at times, fractious) Lennon sounds as if he was having a good time. That can only be a good thing. He could sing rock 'n' roll with his eyes shut, but, to me, he sounds rapturous on some of these recordings. You certainly can't tell if he was in a bad mood. This upbeat feel has always made me wonder why the album was so badly received at the time. In retrospect, in later years, it has received some better assessments.

The highlights are plenty. I like all of it, basically, and it is well played by Lennon's faithful band, but Be-Bop-A-LulaStand By Me, the Chuck Berry song You Can't Catch Me that contained the "flat top" line, the downright unbridled fun of Slippin' And Slidin' and the bluesy, slow grind of Bony Moronie are favourites of mine. 

The "medley" songs - Rip It Up/Ready Teddy and Bring It On Home To Me/Send Me Some Lovin' are excellent, effervescent and rocking too. The mega slowed-down Do You Wanna Dance doesn't quite work, for me, although Sweet Little Sixteen comes off as a slow saxophone-driven groove. Buddy Holly's Peggy Sue is played pretty straight.

Lennon undoubtedly sounds more upbeat on here than he had on any of his previous solo albums, particularly the earlier ones. I never fail to enjoy this album. I always liked the old cover photo of Lennon loitering in a Hamburg doorway too.

* Another reviewer who agrees is the always eminently readable and informative Mark Barry :-

Double Fantasy (1980)
Upon this album's release a couple of weeks before John Lennon's murder, it was not well-received critically. After his death, of course, it sold by the bucketload. Retrospectively some have praised it, although many have criticised it as indulgence on both their parts - telling the world how loved-up they are and how at peace. They did, it has to be said, have an irritating quality of seeming to think the world cared about how happy they were, when, actually, before Lennon's unfortunate demise, the world had grown a little apathetic to them. Furthermore, the years 1976-80 saw a fractiousness in their relationship that the ambience of this album overlooked. Unfortunately, Lennon's tragic murder has given this album (and Lennon himself) a deification it and he didn't really deserve. Lennon is best remembered, for me (and many others) as an acerbic, cynical, often rude and difficult creative genius (at times) as opposed to a beatific spiritual guru. Lennon himself would have been appalled at being labelled thus.

Anyway, back to this album in question. Personally, I have always quite liked it. It has an excellent sound quality, particularly on the warmer, bassier 2002 remaster. I would say, though, that the first half of the album is better than the last. The album follows a Lennon song-Yoko song pattern. Many just programme their systems to play the Lennon material. Admittedly, the Lennon stuff is excellent, and the superior of the two, but I quite like the Yoko tracks. They are appealing in a punky, Lene Lovich sort of way, as opposed to the unlistenable screaming that is on much of her seventies material.

Lennon's late fifties pastiche (Just Like) Starting Over is well known as a catchy hit single. Yoko's Kiss Kiss Kiss has a staccato, quirky appeal, but could do without the lovemaking noises! Lennon's Clean Up Time is a punchy, brass-driven upbeat number with a big, thumping bass line. The punky, Grace Jones-influenced Give Me Something is most underrated. I'm Losing You is a soulful Lennon mid-paced, muscular rocker and one of his best on the album. Yoko's I'm Moving On is one of her best too, featuring a killer guitar riff and a convincing sound overall. No need for the monkey impersonation at the end, though, Yoko. While Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) is a tender song from Lennon to his son, it is a bit syrupy, to be honest. Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart subsequently recorded songs like this to their young children. Not very rock 'n' roll. 

The Lennon-Yoko pattern is halted with Lennon's excellent Watching The Wheels with its typically catchy hook line. Yoko's quality unfortunately deteriorates with the throwaway, jazzy Yes I'm Your Angel with its awful "tra-la-la-la" part. Woman was a huge posthumous hit, deservedly so. It probably would have been a success anyway. It has a great refrain and guitar riff. One of Lennon's best, despite its blissful romantic nature. Beautiful Boys has Yoko utilising some traditional Japanese music to back a song to her son. Her vocal is a bit discordant, however. Do we need another song to their son? Probably not. It was quite clever in the way it switches to address her for year-old "boy" though. Dear Yoko is an update on Oh Yoko!, with a guitar relaxing a piano on the same catchy musical refrain. Yes, I know these songs to Yoko are somewhat irritating, but I actually like both of them, enjoying their jaunty melodies. Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him is another Grace Jones-ish haunting number from Yoko. I really like this one. A poignant end to the album drives in Hard Times Are Over. Unfortunately, as we know, they were not, tragically.

** (The bonus track, Walking On Thin Ice from Yoko is one of her best. It was also covered impressively by Elvis Costello on his Out Of Our Idiot compilation in the late eighties. Lennon's stark, piano-based ballad Help Me To Help Myself isn't so good, however).

Related posts :-
George Harrison
Bob Dylan
Elton John

Jefferson Airplane

Legendary psychedelic rockers turned blissed-out hippies here....

Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966)

This was Jefferson Airplane's debut album and it has flown under the radar somewhat in comparison to the next one but that shouldn't detract from its ground-breaking effect. It dates from 1966 and at the time garnered little attention in the music media but it has retrospectively gained more of a reputation. Incidentally, the female lead vocals are delivered by Toly Anderson as opposed to Grace Slick, who joined for the next album.

There is a youthful vibrancy and energy that comes through when listening to this album and the stereo sound is superb for 1966. It was promoted on the album's rear cover as a "jet age sound".

Blues From An Airplane is a convincing piece of blues given a weird, psychedelic update. The guitar parts are very much like those that The Velvet Underground would come to use so much over the next few years. Let Me In is also very representative of embryonic psychedelic rock. The Beatles would have loved to have come up with something like this at the time. The rhythmic blues of Bringing Me Down has echoes of The Rolling Stones' material from the same period and It's No Secret is also very infectious in its mid-sixties avant-garde pop sort of way. It is a sort of vibe that is pretty impossible to describe but I know exactly what it is when I hear it. The guitar solo on this is also very Byrds-esque.

Tobacco Road is a bluesy rock standard that seemed to be covered by many artists at the time. The Airplane make it their own with a psychedelic veneer. 
Come Up The Years is dreamily hippy-ish, with swirling psychedelic instrumentations and lyrics about how much she turns him on, delivered in airy, folky tones. Once more, the stereo on this cooks to boiling point. Run Around is a beefier, druggy rocker with lyrics about being blinded by colours (man) and having had enough of your hands round my brain.

The hippy anthem, composed by Chet PowersLet's Get Together, has a most winsome stereo sound and another folky, harmonious shared vocal. The song was much covered as an anthem of peace and love during the 1966-1969 period. The most famous was probably by The Youngbloods. Don't Slip Away has a superb Byrds-style guitar riff and a sonorous, slightly haunting vocal. The upbeat blues rock of Chauffeur Blues has echoes of Janis Joplin about it while the Joplin vibes continue on the bluesy soul of And I Like It.

Prudish RCA executives demanded that certain innocuous words and phrases (that contained slightly druggy or sexual suggestions) were removed from both Let Me In and Run Around, while the carefree pop of Runnin' Round This World was not allowed on the album at all, because it contained the word "trips".

** Of the other non-album tracks High Flying Bird is a very psychedelic number while It's Alright is a very Stonesy circa 1966 song. 
Go To Her is in the same vein, with a great drum, guitar and bass break.

Surrealistic Pillow (1966)

This was Jefferson Airplane's second album, released in December 1996, and the one that saw them "break through". It was as much the sound of 1967's "summer of love" as Scott McKenzie's If You Go To San Francisco was. It is adventurous, bubbly, poppy but also druggy and innovative and fully deserves its strong reputation. By the way, was it obligatory to have at least one band member wearing dark shades on the cover in 1966-68?

She Has Funny Cars is one of those jaunty, upbeat folky sixties rock numbers that merge breezy vocals and light jazzy touches with a rhythmic, rocky backing. It has some great solo drum breaks on it and some searing guitar too. One of the group's two big hits was the bluesy, grinding rock of Somebody To Love, which brought vocalist Grace Slick's powerful voice and persona to people's attention. It is an absolute copper-bottomed classic piece of late sixties in-your-face rock. Great guitar solo near the end too. One of the earliest examples of proper ROCK music. It is 1967, so some airy hippiness has to creep in and duly does so in the carefree, summer morning vibe of My Best Friend. It bulks up a bit towards to end, however, finishing far more powerfully than it had begun.

Today is a gentle love song with some subtly appealing guitar, bass and percussion backing. Comin' Back To Me finds the group going all laid-back and gently flute-backed, very hippy, like the sort of stuff Traffic would soon be dabbling in. It was an early example of folk-progressive rock. There is a an easy-going, beguiling appeal to it, almost like medieval folk. 3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds has the band rocking again on a superb piece of psychedelic summer of love rock, full of pounding organ and guitar, rubbery bass and muscular drums. It has a mod-ish liveliness and attack to it that pre-dated punk-new wave by ten years. D.C.B.A. -25 presumably refers to its introductory bass chords and is a harmonious Mamas & The Papas-sounding poppy number. Lots of summery West Coast vibes here. 

How Do You Feel has a folky flute backing, "ba-ba-ba" sixties backing vocals and an all-round folk rock feel to it. The guitar solo at the end is excellent too. The short instrumental Embryonic Journey also displays a folkiness in its acoustic guitar picking while the other big hit, White Rabbit, is an Eastern-influenced druggy number ("...and you've just had some kind of mushroom...") that captivates, hauntingly with its perplexing lyrics and rat-a-tat drum sound. It is an odd single in that it has no hook at all, indeed precious little traditional structure. While I like the song a lot, I often wondered what it was about it that attracted the single-buying public. This impressive, ahead-of-its-time album ends with the avant-garde groove and risqué suggestions of Plastic Fantastic Lover, a delicious, swirling piece of psychedelic rock.

The album deserves to be up there with output from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, The Doors and The Velvet Underground from this oh-so-fertile period for inspirational, ground-breaking rock music.

** Check out the wonderful harmonica-driven blues of the non-album track In The Morning too. It should have been on the album, there was easily room. 
The oddly-titled J.P.P. McStep B. Blues was also mysteriously groovy. Go To Her is a robust, guitar-dominated serving of psychedelic, pounding rock and Come Back Baby is a mix of contemporary rock and riffy blues.

After Bathing At Baxter's (1967)

This was Jefferson Airplane's third album, from November 1967, and was druggily experimental (the title was the band's euphemism for tripping on acid). It was less successful than the previous two and had no hit single. It is very much a tripped-out product of its hazy time, but not without its good points. (The drugs clearly affected the group's spelling too, as some of the song titles show).

It was one of psychedelic rock's most uncommercial, pure albums, containing no pop influenced material. Basically it is proof that drugs produced some weird, indulgent music, but within that, some really inspired stuff too. It stands as one of the rock's most drugged-up albums ever, even the inner sleeve artwork was the product of narcotic stimulus, it seems. Thinking about it, was there any creative late sixties album that wasn’t the result of liberal drug use? It is a bit of a difficult listen at times, especially when compared to the more accessible psychedelic pop/rock of the previous two albums, but it is certainly worthy of occasional attention.

The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil is a hippy meets psychedelia, drugged-up nonsense classic, full of wailing vocals, reverberating bass, mystifying lyrics, Eastern-fashion vocal wailing and tabla-style percussion. Great for a far-out sixties party, man. Get those stroboscopes working. 

The strangely-titled A Small Package Of Value Will Come To You, Shortly begins with some Beatles-style sound effects and remains that way throughout its short running time. To be honest, it is pretty much a waste of time. It is soon forgotten, however, as Young Girl Sunday Blues sees a dense, buzzy, psychedelic rock sound return, with a bit of a Somebody To Love feel about it. Grace Slick's vocal is rampant and soaring, but although the production is a bit murky, it somehow suits the album's ambience.

Martha was a single and is an ethereal folky number that sounds like Pentangle or Fairport Convention in places. The harmonies are excellent, as is the electric guitar interjections (and solo). Listen to that big bass sound too. Again, it has a very stoned feel to it, unsurprisingly. Wild Time (H) is a solid, bassy rocker with some pounding drums and killer guitar, it is one of the album's best tracks. The Last Wall Of The Castle is a storming number too, the sound getting bassier and heavier as 1968 approached, the track was probably the heaviest the group had been thus far. Check out the drum-guitar interplay half way through, man. (I have to say "man" at least once during this review, by the way. It is a pre-requisite, man). rejoyce is a weird, haunting piano, bass and haunting vocal number. You can almost feel vocalist Slick's trippy discomfort as she sings. The backing becomes infectiously jazzy half way through, but it is a challenging listen, shall we say. Having said that, its appeal grows with each listen. The psychedelic rock of Watch Her Ride had a saucy sexual undertone to it as the seventies beckoned and things got even more relaxed. 

Spare Chaynge was a nine-minute plus piece of instrumental jam indulgence or inspired genius, depending on your point of view. Its cutting guitar and freaked-out drums beat Revolution 9, The Beatles' equivalent record company executive-annoying trip from the following year, for me, anyway. The stereo sound on it is excellent too. It is also another track that grows on me. Try telling me Siouxsie Sioux never listened to Slick's vocal on Two Heads. This was industrial, slow punk, 1967-style. Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon is one of the few numbers that recalls the band's previous pre-"summer of love" harmonious hippy pop-rock. Even this is given a bass-vocal experimental workout, though, in the "saturday afternoon" part. There is some seriously impressive guitar on this one too.

"Acid incense and balloons...on saturday afternoon..." goes the lyrics. That was a San Francisco saturday afternoon. One in the UK was watching football surrounded by old men in overcoats as the drizzle came down. On a different train of thought, I also feel this song must have acted as a slight inspiration for David Bowie's Memory Of A Free Festival.

Sgt. Pepper had shown that a "chocolate box album" of wildly differing styles, side by side, could succeed, and The Airplane went for that to the max, producing a strange, but oddly entrancing offering. It is a classic example of its intoxicated genre.

** The non-album tracks include an indulgent, way too long version of The Ballad Of You, Me & Pooneil, a staccato, intriguing acoustic version of Two Heads and the folky, acoustic number Things Are Better In The East, a folk ballad that was totally incongruous in comparison to the actual album's material. Hidden at the end is a nice bit of heavier, full band instrumental. There is nothing that you really need here, to be honest, move on.

Crown Of Creation (1968)

This album, from 1968, finds Jefferson Airplane building on the drug-fuelled experimentation of their previous album in many ways, but at the same time honing the sound somewhat to make it more accessible, albeit in a very psychedelic folk sort of way. This is their folkiest album to date, and their most laid-back, tapping into the contemporary folk rock thing. There is still some rock, though, getting more apparent as the album progresses. You can feel prog-rock stylings creeping in here, as that particular genre underwent its genesis. Groups such as Curved Air owed a lot to this album.

Lather is a bizarre, almost Gaelic sounding folk number full of weird background spoken noises and sexual groaning. It finds Grace Slick singing in a plaintive folky voice and almost sounding Scottish at one point. It is a most unusual song, I have to say. In Time is a low-key, mainly male vocal, once more folky number powered by a beautiful bass line. Some excellent electric guitar arrives near the end, together with some fine drums too. It is an excellent track, and a grower. Triad is a David Crosby song about a ménage a trois, rejected by The Byrds for being too risqué, sung plaintively by Slick over an acoustic, gentle drum and bass beat. Slick was amazed at The Byrds' prudishness, saying "what the hell, it's 1968...". Either way, the song is beautifully delivered.

Star Track is the first rockier track of the album, although the beat is still a slow burning one and the male vocal a quietish one, but the guitar is full of attack and the bass is just out there, man. 
This vibe is continued on Share A Little Joke, with its Beatles-esque drum rolls and mysterious ambience. Cushingura is a brief, ambient electronic instrumental (notable for being one of the first of its kind) before the bassy, rhythmic rock of If You Feel arrives. Check out that wonderful wah-wah guitar and Jack Casady's bass line too, which is thoroughly intoxicating. In fact, Casady's bass was one of the most memorable things about the album. It hits you between the ears on pretty much every track.

The very psychedelic Crown Of Creation and the quirky rock of Greasy Heart are both very redolent of 1968’s heady underground scene. There is something seriously credible about the latter, with its superb guitar parts that puts it way ahead of its time. 
Ice Cream Phoenix is also a solid rock number and adds to the afore-mentioned rockier feel on the album's second half. The House At Pooneil Corners is a brooding, sombre, drawn-out and somewhat schizophrenic affair, featuring some impressive guitar and a bit of post punk industrial ambience, all those years earlier.

For many people, this was the height of The Airplane's creativity, for me, though, I find there are a bit too many folky-proggy parts for my liking. I prefer the psychedelic rock-pop of the first two albums. It is an album that demands several listens, however. With each listen I get more into it, so there you go. What is not in doubt is that it is the band’s most accomplished work, musically.

** The non-album tracks include the short, rhythmic instrumental fun of Ribumbabap Rubadubaoumoum, the throwaway goofy studio demo nonsense of Would You Like A Snack and the pretty much unlistenable ten minutes of The Saga Of Sydney Spacepig. Yes, the guitar's ok on it but it offers little else. It is just studio doodling and irritating silly noises. None of these tracks are essential at all, comparing most unfavourably with the non-album material from the first two albums.

Volunteers (1969)

This was Jefferson Airplane's protest album, the one where anti-Vietnam sentiments replaced freaked-out druggy visions on some of the songs. It has its notable heavy moments, its excellent rock parts, but there is a lot of the influence of folk rock around, unsurprisingly, as it was 1969. It has country influences too, for the first time. It is different in character to their previous work, and certainly a long way removed from their first two albums.

We Can Be Together is a sort of heavy serving of folk rock, with chunky electric riffs, solid drums but airy, dreamy, harmonious folky vocals and lyrics in praise of peace and unity. It is notable for the use of the phrase "up against the wall motherfuckers...", presumably in protest against police brutality in support of the Civil Rights Movement, but sounding rather odd when sung in folky, tuneful fashion. 

Good Shepherd is a more gentle, very folk rock-sounding number, merging acoustic and electric guitars together with some perfectly tuned CS&N vocals. It features a great guitar solo in the middle too, and some wah-wah. Good stuff. Some of that guitar reminds me of Paul Weller's output in the nineties. The Farm is a country, twangy number in praise of the bucolic life. The Airplane have gone the same way as The Byrds and Dylan , it seems. No more freak out parties, man, just take in the fresh country air. Probably the closest thing to The Airplane's previous drugged-up material is the lengthy, intense Hey Frederick. It contains the album's heaviest piece of rock in the duelling electric guitars half way through. Lou Reed used the same style on his Rock & Roll Animal live album in 1974. 

Turn My Life Down is an almost funky (in its organ sound), soulful number with a great, rumbling Jack Casady bass line. They are mixing rock with soul here, most effectively. It is back to breezy folk on David Crosby & Stephen Stills' (with Airplane's Paul KantnerWooden Ships (later to be included on CS&N's debut album, but it was done here first). It is all very Woodstock in feel, and 1969 in general. Guess what? It was part of the group's set at the iconic festival. Although this album was released in November 1969, after the festival, it was recorded in March-June of that year. The song expertly merges folk and heavier rock once more, featuring some killer lead guitar near the end.

Eskimo Blue Day is a heavy rock meets prog rock workout with ecologically-aware lyrics - "it doesn't mean shit to a tree..." which raised consternation of record company offices at the time, no doubt. Country rock returned on the Nashville barroom tones of A Song For All Seasons. It seemed that everyone had to dabble in country sounds between 1968 and 1972. This sort of thing is totally unrecognisable from the bands 1966-1968 material, it is as if Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris had come in to the studio. Not that I don't like it, but it is just a complete change in direction. A short instrumental interlude in the Russian folk tune, Meadowlands, merges into the short-ish but upbeat and vibrant Volunteers. This was a laudable album that managed successfully to integrate several styles of music - folk, folk rock, country, country rock, heavy rock, prog rock and even a few tinges of soul. It definitely showed just how far the group had developed in three years.

The album is included as the studio album in The Woodstock Experience series (also featuring Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, Santana and Johnny Winter). It is good to listen to the studio album followed immediately by the Woodstock set. The sound is a little "in and out" but considering the fact that is outdoors on a farm in a chaotic festival in 1969 it is remarkably good. The Airplane play a fine mix of material from across their albums and three songs from Volunteers (Wooden Ships, Eskimo Blue Day and Volunteers).

There is some good stuff here. The grinding blues rock of Uncle Sam Blues is very Rolling Stones influenced and The Other Side Of This Life is a great opener. Of course, as it is 1969, the storming version of Somebody To Love contains a drum solo. Although the set captures the whole free and easy feel of the festival, songs such as Wooden Ships and Pooneil are ridiculously extended, becoming live jams. The former is twenty minutes long and not without many listenable points. A young Patti Smith must have been into it, I'm sure, getting inspired by Grace Slick's vocal delivery.  Bulking everything out to the max was the way it was, though, and the album, full of atmosphere, is still highly recommended.

Bark (1971)

This is an often-overlooked album in the Jefferson Airplane canon, from 1971, after some line-up changes. It has received considerable critical negativity over the years and some have seen it as the band's White Album, a collection of contributions from individuals, but that album didn't turn out badly, did it? This one is ok too, very much a product of its era, but not without positives. It deserves a bit of attention. It sort of reminds of me of Led Zeppelin's In Through The Out Door in its position within the group's work, or The Doors' Morrison Hotel. Sadly, the end was near. It was also the era of albums released with paper bag outer covers - always a sign of trying to make something appear better than it was.

When The Earth Moves Again is a strong rock opener, with a rousing Grace Slick vocal and some great guitar and drums. Jorma Kaukonen's Feel So Good is also powerfully rocking albeit with a slow-ish tempo. While it carries airs of the group's psychedelic sixties material, at least lyrically, it has a deep, bassy seventies rock feel to it. As with the previous couple of albums, it is Jack Casady's beautifully rumbling bass the catches the ears. Crazy Miranda is a typically quirky, semi-folky Grace Slick song. Much female post punk material owes quite a debt to stuff like this. The electric violin of new member Papa Jon Creach enhances the song.

One of those afore-mentioned positive moments is the beautiful, haunting Pretty As You Feel, with its almost jazzy, laid-back bass and drum interplay. This song is the great drug indulgers of the sixties still getting a bit far out, but much more relaxed this time and coming up with something altogether different. It is a really good track. The instrumental Wild Turkey is a fine mix of piercing rock guitar and a blues beat. Yes, it has a bit of a feel of a studio jam about it, but it is a good feel. Creach adds some superb violin too. I actually really like this track.

Law Man is a surprisingly muscular rock number from Slick. It has country airs about it, but they are robust rocking ones. 
Rock 'n' Roll Island is one of the album's most upbeat numbers, full of chugging riffs and an uninhibited vocal. Third Week In The Chelsea is an acoustic, folk rock-ish Kaukonen song detailing how reflectively disillusioned he is becoming. Like the others, he had only one more album left in him. It is a nice, evocative song, very 1971 in its gentle, folky feel. From the sublime to the ridiculous finds Slick singing in schoolgirl German on the utterly pointless bierkeller beat of Never Argue With A German If You're Tired. This, unfortunately, is a typical piece of idiotic, early seventies indulgence, and it wastes over four minutes, stomping along. Think it couldn't get any worse? Think again. 

Thunk is a two minute slice of unaccompanied vocal nonsense. I guess the presence of these clunkers on the album helped get it a bad press and garnered accusations of the group having totally run out of ideas. I have to say it is hard to disagree. War Movie redeems things slightly on a harmonious, vaguely proggy rocker but you can't help feeling that the album petered out very weakly. Play the first eight tracks.

Long John Silver (1972)

This was the last studio album by sixties psychedelic rockers Jefferson Airplane. I knew nothing of it back in 1972, other than flipping past the sleeve in a record shop as I hunted for David Bowie and Mott The Hoople. The group were never my thing but, ever the retrospective explorer, I am giving this the once-over. Please also bear in mind that I initially wrote the basis of this review before revisiting their earlier albums. Having listened to all of those in detail now, though, I can confidently say that this is one of their folkier albums, as the group revisit the folk roots that were always around, merging it with a solid rock-prog rock early seventies style. It may seem a bit dated in places but each track has its good points - something that is the case on all the Airplane albums, particularly the later ones.

Long John Silver is a corker of a rocker, featuring some absolutely stonking guitar, killer bass, pounding drums and a shrieking vocal from the enigmatic, part sexy part slightly unnerving Grace Slick which continues on the slower, but equally muscular Aerie (Gang Of Eagles). It is Slick’s overwrought voice that gives me most of my problems with Jefferson Airplane in general. The music is at times stunning early seventies rock fare, however, being neither glam, heavy or prog but probably influential on all of them. The drug-addled psychedelia of the group’s sixties output had morphed into a more typically seventies thumping rock sound and this is further exemplified on the rousing Twilight Double Leader. Check out that wah-wah guitar and overall rock vibe in general. These are pretty good tracks, although the sound, as on the whole album is just a little muddy, sort of Goat's Head Soup-sounding.

Milk Train is another gutsy rocker, enhanced by some madcap electric violin (played by the marvellously-named Papa Jon Creach) but again Grace overdoes the histrionic vocal as she rants on about no-good men and the effects of drugs on her body. Maybe don’t take them, Grace? She’s powerful in her vocal delivery all right, but give me Janis Joplin or Sonja Kristina from the same era. 

The Son Of Jesus is an unfortunately typical piece of pretentious early seventies quasi-religious hokum. It is this sort of thing that dates the album considerably. Great guitar on it, though. There is always something to to redeem each track, I have to admit. If you thought the religious stuff was over, however, then think again as The Pope is the target for talking in Latin on the clunking Easter?

Trial By Fire merges acoustic and electric guitars to great effect on one of the album’s better tracks. This sort of material influenced early material by Queen and Bad CompanyAlexander The Medium has a folky lead male vocal from Paul Kantner, some almost Steeleye Span-Fairport Convention-esque harmonies and more excellent electric violin. Once more, it is very representative of its era and is probably better off left back in 1972, save the excellent guitar solo. Having said that, there is something about it that grows in me. Eat Starch Mom redeems things considerably on a guitar-driven, robust and fuzzy rocker to end this very 1972 offering with.

Would I re-visit this very often, however. Probably not. Oh look, it’s ok but it is not one of those albums that makes you think it still sounds great today. Listening to it is the aural equivalent of going to a museum. Now here's a surprise, though, I have listened to it a few more times since and have warmed to it considerably. It is always worth giving albums a few chances, isn't it? Hell, I'm now quite into it, as indeed I am with Jefferson Airplane overall - it has only taken me over fifty years....

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