It is entirely possible that after one eliminates certain products of the Stax-Volt house band and some combinations that Bob Dylan has brought together for his back-up group, Jefferson Airplane could be the best rock and roll band in America today.
The criteria, to list a few, are that a group be able to provide from within itself enough good original material to sustain a prolonged effort both in performances and on recordings; that a group prove its ability as a professional and capable unit in live performance (not necessarily be able to reproduce a recorded work, but to bring off to general satisfaction a live performance if the group is involved in live performance;) and that a group contain members who are able to sing and play like professional musicians.
You have Grace Slick, surely one of the two or three best non-operatic female voices in the world; Jack Cassady, perhaps the strongest bassist around outside of a blues band; Marty Balin and Paul Kantner whose words and melodies are among the best currently available, outside of the obvious exceptions; and Jorma Kaukonen and Spencer Dryden who, while not outstanding instrumental virtuosos, are certainly original and inventive within the context of rock and roll, a wide context indeed. Got it?
It isn’t very surprising that the Airplane is so good and that they have come up with probably the best, considering all the criteria and the exceptions, rock and roll album so far produced by an American group.
Hey all you out there with personal favorites which blow your heads off, listen very closely. Marty and Grace may not make love on stage, either with each other or their respective microphone stands, but “Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil” happens to be a fine song. The instrumental backing is traditional Airplane 2/4 rhythm, whiplash chording and all, brought up to date with a subtle variety of electronic and melodic refinements. The tune itself is a groove: a pretty melody with a rocking beat against a sort of atonal line.
The electronic segue is well-positioned and a nice dip into the modern classical music school. The most important use of electronics on this album, and by the Airplane in general, is not their long extended electronic jams which are oftentimes a bore, but where they use electronics — as in the superb tune “Young Girl Sunday Blues,” an excellent product of the Balin-Kantner team — for enrichment of the instrumental and vocal melodies.
“Rejoyce” is not something that’s particularly easy to hum along with, but it’s a good display of Grace’s amazing vocal control, her piano and Spencer’s jazz ear. “Watch Her Ride” has a very south-of-Santa Barbara feeling; it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that it was composed in Los Angeles. “Spare Chaynge” proves both Jorma and Spencer to be gifted musicians fully capable of sustaining an instrumental, not highly complex, but highly interesting.
“Street Masse” and “How Suite It Is” are the best sections on each side, excellent in all respects. Jefferson Airplane is still the group that’ll “get you there on time.”