When a group of young, idealistic hippies came together in mid-Sixties San Francisco to form Jefferson Airplane, they couldn’t have possibly imagined they were kickstarting a saga that would continue for more than a half-century and mutate into more bizarre permutations than basically any other rock band in history. The full story would require a dense PowerPoint presentation and about eight hours to explain, but the shorthand is that the psychedelic Sixties band that created “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” splintered into two factions at the end of the decade: the blues rock combo Hot Tuna and the mainstream rock band Jefferson Starship.
Unsurprisingly, things got really, really weird once the Eighties hit. Airplane co-founder Paul Kantner quit Jefferson Starship in 1984, and after a bruising legal battle, a deal was made that the remaining members had to take the “Jefferson” out of their name. By this point only Grace Slick remained from the Airplane days, and she was eager to score hits and didn’t object to the use of outside songwriters, synthesizers and drum machines to make it happen.
The gambit worked immediately. Their 1985 debut LP Knee Deep in the Hoopla spawned the hits “We Built This City” and “Sara.” This nearly caused old-school rock critics to have a collective stroke and “We Built This City” has often been called one of the worst songs of all time, but this was the most success the group had seen since the glory days of the Airplane two decades prior. They followed it up with “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from the soundtrack to 1987’s Mannequin. (For those not around back then, this was a movie where Andrew McCarthy fell in love with a living mannequin played by Kim Cattrall.) The song shot to Number One all over the world. Check out the video right here where Grace Slick tries her best to play a mannequin.
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The hits dried up just a fews years later and in 1989 Jefferson Airplane (minus drummer Spencer Dryden) reunited for a new album and tour. It was very short-lived and once it ended Grace Slick didn’t return to Starship and opted simply to retire. “All rock-and-rollers over the age of 50 look stupid and should retire,” she told VH1 in 1998, and during the past two decades she’s held firm to that idea.
Her bandmates had a very different attitude towards rocking in old age and Hot Tuna, Jefferson Starship and an entity called “Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas” continue touring to this day even though only Hot Tuna have any actual members of Jefferson Airplane in the lineup. They’ve never once played “Nothings Gonna Stop Us Now,” but Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas proudly bust it out every night and even Jefferson Starship have recently worked it into their show. Do you know what’s going to stop them from playing that song that even though nobody in the band had any involvement with its creation? Nothing.