Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit

Released in 1967 following ‘Somebody To Love’, ‘White Rabbit’ is arguably Jefferson Airplane’s finest achievement. It was written and performed by Grace Slick whilst she was vocalist for The Great Society (as was ‘Somebody To Love’), and was part of the reason that bassist Jack Casady asked her to join Jefferson Airplane in 1966. ‘White Rabbit’ came from their sophomore LP ‘Surrealist Pillow’, although it was only featured on the US version of the album, and peaked at number 8 on the US billboard charts.

Slick is rumoured to have written the song in an hour, as a reflection of the drug-addled sixties counterculture and based on ideas in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’. The original included an oboe solo played by Slick herself, but it was her haunting, sturdy contralto vocal in ‘White Rabbit’ that was to go some way in establishing the solo female vocal in rock music (most vocalists were male at this time) and influence numerous female vocalists throughout the seventies and beyond, including Stevie Nicks and Patti Smith.

The music itself is has a strong Spanish rhythm that Slick claims to have taken from Ravel’s famous ‘Bolero’, the idea for which came to her after taking LSD and listening to Miles Davis’ album ‘Sketches Of Spain’. The propulsive, hypnotic quality of the music climaxes in a terrific crescendo, at which point Dr Gonza demands that Raoul Duke throws the tapedeck into the bathtub with him during a nasty acid trip in Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas’. The ‘one pill makes you larger, one makes you small’ refrain is also an idea rumoured to have influenced the dilemma faced by Neo in the 1999 film ‘The Matrix’.

In reality, ‘White Rabbit’ became the soundtrack to the 1967 Summer Of Love. It represented the lysergic euphoria of a generation of young people who turned to drugs to escape from the horrors of Vietnam and Nixon, as the seventies approached and America began to rot from the inside.

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