RCA/Legacy RecordingsToday marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Surrealistic Pillow, the album that helped the Jefferson Airplane‘s career truly take off. The 11-track collection, which reached #3 on the Billboard 200, was the band’s second album, and helped define the San Francisco music scene’s psychedelic sound.
As founding Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen explains to ABC Radio, the band’s 1966 debut, Takes Off, was more of a folk-rock album, while Surrealistic Pillow, which saw Grace Slick replace the group’s original female vocalist, Signe Anderson, was “a rock ‘n’ roll record.”
Slick brought with her two songs from her previous band, The Great Society — “Somebody to Love,” written by her then-brother-in-law Darby Slick, and her own “White Rabbit.” Those tunes became the Jefferson Airplane’s only top-40 hits, peaking at #5 and #8, respectively, on the Billboard Hot 100.
Kaukonen notes that those songs were “probably the reason that we got in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and [received] the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award [in 2016].” He adds, “Thanks Grace, really appreciate it.”
Surrealistic Pillow also features many other memorable songs, including the Marty Balin-sung ballads “Today” and “Comin’ Back to Me,” and Kaukonen’s serene acoustic instrumental “Embryonic Journey.”
Kaukonen explains to ABC Radio that the commercial success of and critical response to the album was quite unexpected.
“Who knew that was gonna happen?” he says. “It was great songs and…it has a sound…And just the chemistry of everything worked, and we got very lucky with it.”
Jorma also notes that Surrealistic Pillow was made in less than two weeks with very few studio effects, “so, what you hear pretty much is what you get.”
Surrealistic Pillow includes guest guitar work by The Grateful Dead‘s Jerry Garcia, who was listed as “spiritual adviser” on the album’s back cover.
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