Friday 4 July 2008

Jefferson Airplane "After Bathing At Baxters" (1967) ('Core' Album #15, Revised Edition 2014)

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Jefferson Airplane "After Bathing At Baxters" (1967)

Track Listing: i) Streetmasse: The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil/A Small Package Of Value Will Come To You, Shortly/ Young Girl Sunday Blues. Ii) The War Is Over: Martha/ Wild Thyme (H). iii) Hymn To An Older Generation: The Last Wall Of The Castle/ Rejoyce// iv) How Suite It Is:  Watch Her Ride/ Spare Chaynge. v) Schizoforest Love Suite: Two Heads/ Won’t You Try?-Saturday Afternoon. (UK and US tracklisting)

A lot of fans aren't too sure what they think of it, but personally I adore 'After Bathing At Baxters'. No other album in my collection manages to be quite so outrageous, so daring or unique and no other record goes off in quite so many directions at once.  Whenever somebody asks me what psychedelia was all about, I shall steer them past the usual suspects ('Sgt Peppers' 'Their Satanic Majesties' 'The Who Sell Out') and point them instead straight to this masterpiece, released in the dying days of the year (extraordinarily tight for the festive market) and a perfect summary of perhaps the most crucial year in rock and roll: 1967 (and if you want a single track to sum up the year than what about 'Wild Thyme'? 'I'm doing things that haven't got a name yet!') 'Baxters' is playful yet scary, uninhibited yet worried, surreal yet earthy. At times 'Baxters' sounds like six stones twenty-somethings who know that they are now so big and powerful no one can say 'no' to them and that they are left free to twiddle as many knobs and come up with as many curious sounds as they like. At times 'Baxters' sounds like the greatest psychedelic jamming session on Earth. At others 'Baxters' sounds like the deepest Airplane record of them all, full of the last great mutterings about the wisdom of life from the ends of the Earth if only you can hold on to all the fragments long enough to put them together by the end of the album (I still haven't by the way - 'Baxters' is a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a mystery trapped in a house of doors with a psychedelic lightshow playing throughout). It could mean everything. It could mean nothing. It probably means both.

To be honest 'Baxters' was probably just that little bit too 'out there' for most fans to take. Compared to 'Surrealistic Pillow' there are no yearning Marty Balin ballads (indeed, there's only co-written song from the band's founder across the entire record), no Grace Slick hit songs (although of both of her songs for this could easily have been), no pretty Jorma Kaukanen instrumentals, no tight rocking performances reeled off inside three minutes. Instead the elastic has broken, the rulebook has been re-written and the merry-go-round has gone into hyperdrive; the result is a sound you'll either love or hate. It's the kind of 'what the?' response many people had after seeing 'Magical Mystery Tour' after expecting another 'Sgt Peppers' (both of which were released about the same time as 'Pillow' and 'Baxters'): the same ideas taken that bit further down the psychedelic road and leaving a few of the band's fans behind on the road behind them, looking lost. Personally I love how daring this record is and how carefree the band are about their career, after having one of the hit records of the year just a few months before. I'd have loved to have been a fly on the wall of the RCA office when the band handed this album in - the record they'd spent RCA's time and money on and which the record label - who'd signed the band more to keep up with their peers than any real faith in the band - were expecting to be a big seller. All feedback, weird ideas, shrieking vocals, confrontational lyrics and instrumentals, it was exactly the sort of thing guaranteed to make the men in suits start sweating. 'So what's on it?' some bigwig with a cigar would have puffed. 'Oh a few things' the band would have said. 'We start with 30 seconds of feedback on a song with a gibberish title which combines the name of folk singer Freddy Neil with AA Milne's Winnie The Pooh in which we sing about death and the sky turning green and then after that we have a psychedelic collage full of in-jokes before moving on to discuss gender roles, turn James Joyce's Ulysses into a four minute ballad and for good measure tell the youth of the day to rise up and destroy 'the last wall of the castle'. By the way, that's you'. In the end, perhaps surprisingly, the only bit that RCA objected was one of the doodles the band had carelessly drawn on the all-band doodle that filled up the original gatefold sleeve. Paul Kantner drew round the cupcake he's been eating. RCA thought it looked a little, erm, feminine. The label asked the band to change it even though Paul (never one to shy away from a revolution)  is to this day adamant that it was just a cupcake. Of all the arguments they were prepared for, this wasn't one of them (thankfully the drawing has been 're-instated' for the CD booklet. And yes, it looks like a cupcake shape, which makes you wonder what shape certain body parts of RCA executives and their wives look like - Grace added later that to have genitalia that size you'd have to be 'a horse, or something').

There were a lot of these types of albums back in the late flower power era (roughly dated as being post-Sgt Peppers in June 1967) and most of them haven’t worn very well, sounding a little bit pretentious and rather un-listenable to modern ears and I bet they weren’t half as much fun to listen to as they were to record. Like many other things, however, that stereotype never fitted the Airplane who were always at their best when flying at higher altitudes - the further out they go, the more exciting and groundbreaking they seem. And unlike most bands who sang about how peace and love and goodwill to all men might be quite nice for the planet, really, sometime in our future, if you don't mind, the Airplane were out there on the barricades demanding peace and love. By force if necessary. As a result their records have a militancy and muscle that many of their contemporaries lack, despite the fact that they never stray far from their free love ethics at any point. That contradiction might not make a lot of sense unless you’ve heard the group, which sang their anti-war pro-love lyrics over a backing track of spiky guitar, rumbling bass, torrential feedback and threeway soaring, powerful vocals – the 60s spirit of punk without the bad vibes or the spitting.  Just take the man-baiting 'Two Heads' - to modern ears this is a 'punk' or 'grunge' song depending on your age; it's certainly not a natural entry on a psychedelia LP. Had Hazel O'Connor or Siouxsie Sioux released this song in the early 1980s it would have turned heads; in 1967 it's a revolution! In fact only the two Kantner songs that bookend the album are truly psychedelic: the rest compromise folk ballads, a jazzy instrumental, pop and avant garde. Usually when we say that a psychedelic record is 'flouting the boundaries' what we really mean is there's less melody and some very odd lyrics. But 'Baxters' isn't even the 'totally weird' album fans might have been half-expecting: instead it's an album that tried over and over again to trip you up with what's coming next. In a way every argument has been catered for. Think the Airplane can only do complex and weird now? 'Watch Her Ride' is based around less chords than any song since the first album. Think the band are too stooopid to write proper lyrics? Try 'ReJoyce' - Grace's re-telling of Ulysses there to show off just what a cultured and well-bred lot the Airplane were (and how, unlike some lesser bands, they didn't throw everything from the past away; instead they kept the best bits and built on them).

The general consensus on 'Baxters' (after 'where is the Marty Balin ballad I was looking forward to' and 'arrrgh, turn that thing off I've got a headache') is that it's a second division album, lacking the hit singles of the previous record to make it truly peerless. That is clearly nonsense. Like many other fans I fell in love with the Airplane from a compilation (the simple 'Best Of') which included 'The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil' straight after the well loved 'Somebody To Love' and 'White Rabbit'. Great as those tracks are, it was the feedback of 'Pooneil' that was ringing in my ears long afterwards. What's more, unlike some albums where particular songs hook you but the rest of the album does nothing, 'Baxters' was well worth the ten year wait till I tracked down the album proper and all the songs make 'sense' having had my interest piqued by that first one. Far from being a song short of a classic, every song on this album is a classic (more or less: even I must confess to skipping nine minute instrumental 'Spare Chaynge' a few times down the years) and what's more 'Baxters' is a very unified album in a way that none of the other Airplane records (except the Christianity-baiting 'Long John Silver' perhaps) is. Every song seems to be coming from a similar place - perhaps because Kantner has such a hand in this record, unmatched before or since - all songs are slightly different twists on the idea of looking at the world through new eyes and making the most of all that is there instead of getting 'hung up' on prejudices.

Which makes it curious that 'Baxters' was divided into five different 'suites'  on first release. The first three songs are titled 'Streetmasse' even though two of them take place in their narrator's heads ('Pooneil' is an acid trip, 'Young Girl Sunday Blues' schizophrenia where 'one side of me is filled with brightness' and the other with rain, while 'A Small Package' is a collage). 'The War Is Over' makes more 'sense' as a name: both 'Martha' and 'Wild Thyme' are about overthrowing the last great bastions of power and going your own way - 'Martha' does so quietly, while the glorious 'Wild Thyme' thrills in the fact so many old 'rules' are becoming obsolete, seeing 'changes' and delighting that 'it's all so new'. 'Hymn To The Older Generation' pairs two very unwieldy bedfellows: 'The Last Wall Of The Castle' is about toppling faded institutions even if it also tries to look for understanding and even apologies at one stage for going too far; ''ReJoyce', however, is a song that many a parent would have been proud to hear their son or daughter listening to: Joyce's tale of Ireland round about the time that they'd have been young, a tale of generational rebellion that could be current. 'How Suite It Is' is a bad pun that has nothing in common with 'watch Her Ride' or 'Spare Chaynge' (the weakest segment of the LP by far). We then end with the gloriously titled 'Schizoforest Love Suite' which is certainly schizophrenic in terms of 'Two Heads' (Grace's feisty song of gender role-swapping) but less so in terms of 'Won't You Try?', two glorious Kantner songs stuck together that tries to rouse the world in one great show of unity (the song goes down particularly well with the Woodstock crowd in 1969, as well it might). A lot of these 'suites' look random to me, but equally there must be some form of careful planning going on because the running order for Baxters is one of the album’s most overlooked plus points. Other late 1967 albums shove so many loud shrill songs together that they inevitably lose impact by about 20 minutes in, but the Airplane were always masters at controlling dynamics, even when recording pure noisy feedback, and this album’s stop-off points at sweet ballads, nervy pop and James Joyce-like wordplay are as delightful as the album’s main journey across hazardous cavern-filled plains. By the way, the title of the album is derived from an unused song-lyric hastily scribbled down by Gary Blackman (Marty's occasional writing partner) and included on the original LP’s inner sleeve (though it was probably never actually set to music). By the way a 'Baxter' is the Jefferson's in-joke for someone who'd dropped acid and so knew what drugs were like with the 'After' of this title basically meaning what the band (and audience) now sound like 'after' they've taken drugs (though goodness knows why they chose that name; perhaps it's better that way actually - it's nice that a record as odd as 'Baxters' should still retain some of its mystery after all these years!)

One of the things that I love most about this album that can't really be put into words is its sheer sound. RCA were always better than most record labels in actually knowing how to record pop/ rock musicians rather than just sticking a microphone built for classical musicians and hoping that'll work just as well. However even compared to other sonically excellent Airplane records 'Baxters' leaps out the speakers at you: Jack Casady's bass rumble is an extraordinary threatening menace running throughout most of the album; working alongside Jorma's guitar stings are the lightning strikes, both of them pushing and pulling the world into shape across most of these songs (although at the same time both prove that there is more to their playing than pure noise: check out the tour de force bass playing on the light ballad 'ReJoyce' or the flashes of guitar-feedback droning that glide in and out of 'Pooneil). Neither of them should be able to play that loud: imagine any other band trying to harness that much power (or include a bass as high in the mix as Jack's): it just couldn't be done. Drummer Spencer Dryden is at his best across this album too with a drum rattle that sounds like the soothing rain clouds falling after the thunder and lightning, drizzling his way across the kit in spectacular style, goading on the other musicians to keep up with him without taking anything away from the havoc going on around him. More than any other Airplane record, 'Baxters' is the one that shows off just what the 'back row' of the band can do and how integral they are to the Jefferson sound; other albums will 'forget' this occasionally - they tend to be the ones that don't work very well.

There've been a few changes in the band's 'front row' too. Marty Balin, for two albums now the band's lead figure (even with Grace Slick in the band) and their founder member, loses his confidence and will never be quite so prolific again as he was across 1966-67. This sudden change is a mystery: 'Surrealistic' was one of the era's must-have albums and while Marty as a composer was 'beaten' to the hit single the band needed, many of the critical plaudits for that album rightfully focussed on his contributions. From this album on, Marty makes just token appearances, going from writing five of the last album's eleven songs to co-writing just a single song on this record ('Young Girl Sunday Blues') and never writing more than tweo for the rest of his run with the band. You might expect Grace to fill the gap: she's the member of the band everyone wants to talk to (or better photograph) after singing lead on two of the biggest singles of the summer ('Somebody To Love' and 'White Rabbit', if you hadn't already guessed). Instead she gets merely two songs: the light as a feather educated 'ReJoyce' and the grungy, snappy 'Two Heads'. Instead, against all odds, the band's quiet bespectacled rhythm guitarist suddenly comes into his own, modifying his folk roots to fully embrace the psychedelic spirit and Paul Kantner's life will never be the same again. Paul 'knows' the audience, his quick eyes have studied them at concerts for two years now and after testing the waters on 'Pillow' he truly 'gets' what his audience want: songs of unity, brotherhood, change and newness. 'Pooneil' is his breakthrough song, a composition quite unlike anything the band have ever done before and one that's truly personal (like many a song written on acid, as this one surely was, it manages to fuse a present surreal experience with suddenly awakened memories of the past: in this case reading AA Milne books on the 'middle' of his staircase at home, at a 'level' no one has experienced). However 'Won't You Try' and 'Wild Thyme' aren't far behind: two other terrific songs about celebrating the 'new' that are perfect for their times and even now - fifty years after we know the summer of love didn't change anything one iota and the world went back to its usual chaotic war-filled state the year after - the power of the message is so strong that I find myself half-believing. I don't live in a 'wild thyme', I grew up in a boring one where everything sounded the same and people were too afraid to break the rules. But I only need to hear 'Baxters' and I still feel like a member of the communal 'party' this album was written for; it was just a few decades, perhaps a few centuries early, that's all; but such is the conviction over mankind's better future across this album that I can't help but believe. It also goes without saying that all three Airplane leads are in superb form - and there's a lot more cases of them singing lead all together across this record, as Paul isn't quite as confident a singer to go out on his own just yet, three very different aircraft flying rolling around each other in full flight before suddenly joining in glorious tandem.

There's one hell of a lot going on in this LP: more than can be written ecen in one of my lengthy reviews. A record full of swirling feedback, love songs to teenage runaways and some of the loudest examples of rock and roll on record, somehow 'Baxters' still manages to be a 'pretty' and 'poetic' album that never loses sight of tune or melody. In short, Baxters sounds like no other album ever made: even other psychedelic freak-outs can't hold a candle to it and it's been ignored (often in favour of the excellent but not quite as original 'Surrealistic Pillow') for way too many years. Perhaps it's time has yet to come because goodness knows this record still feels 'modern' enough - too modern anyway for a record made half a century ago. More than anything, Baxters is a brave album from a band who prided themselves on giving their fans the unexpected, the high watershed point of improvisatory exploration which proves they were right to say no to everything everyone expected from them. The Airplane weren’t the first band to completely junk their original sound when they became successful – heck, Neil Young is still doing that 40 years on – but they might well have been the first group to make their slightly more unconventional and much more abrasive material sound even more enticing than the perfectly crafted songs of their early career. 'Go on, I dare you', Baxters continually says. 'You can you know'. And 'Baxters' is right. Hearing this album anything is possible - and that's the true secret of 'psychedelia', not the sitars, the bells, the chants or the wigged out album covers.

The Songs:

[29a] The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil was a dopey choice for a single, especially following the ear-catching White Rabbit, with a fade-in on a good 30 seconds of uncontrollable feedback, the sound of three criss-crossing vocalists literally yelling over a chaotic backing track and lyrics that must have had more than a few people scratching their heads – the sky coloured green? Pooneil corners?! Armadillos?!? Of course, all that last sentence refers to the use of Pooneil’s as a single. When this song is heard as the cornerstone of the Baxters album it is a thrilling example of everything that made psychedelia the exciting unruly period it was, acting as a gateway to a brave new world of songwriting that’s opening up endless doors of possibilities within its three minutes, In many ways this is the Airplane’s theme song that sums up everything that made them great – the emotion in the vocals makes it an extremely intense recording even though the lyrics are obscure surrealist fragmented wordplay, the way the feedback that drenches the song merely hides the Pooneils’ rather fine and conventional verse-chorus-bridge structure and very 60s guitar riff and the way that the song verges from being tight and crisp to wayward chaos in the time it takes an on-the-edge guitarline to whistle out of tune. This structure suits the song’s rather tortured narrator(s) - so far out does he/she/they go in explaining his/hers/they’re grief to the listener that the words began to make less and less sense and end up as the acid experience from hell, with every one of the narrator’s senses packed up and unusable due to the overload of emotion passing through his veins. An edgy song that plumbs the depths of soul-searching and a long-term relationship gone sour, the song teeters on the edge of mayhem throughout, only just keeping upright every time the singers stop caterwauling and cut back into the song’s angular ugly-yet-beautiful riff. All of this is punctuated by one of the loudest guitars in history, bursting from feedback to the song’s main riff and back into noise again, exploding with tears every-time the narrator is hit by yet another reminder of his past. The narrator might rally – the song physically falls about ten layers and several keys to reach the calm reflective middle section – but grief is only a chord away throughout this song, as the narrator musically kicks himself about his lost opportunities, that ‘ I didn’t know I needed to have you around’. Never has a song about heartbreak been more, well, heartbreaking. Not to mention ear-breaking. Classic stuff. Note: In case you’re wondering, the title of this song isn’t complete gibberish. One of Paul Kantner’s biggest influences was AA Milne, especially the Winnie the Pooh stories with their tale of an imaginary best friend who lives his own life just tantalisingly out of the reach of his human companion. Pooh’s ‘house’ at pooneil corners here becomes a place that exists in its narrator’s mind, imaginary to anyone else but far more ‘real’ to the narrator than the real world. This seems especially true given this song’s quote from another AA Milne poem Halfway Down The Stairs – even inside this imaginary house, the narrator isn’t up or down but sitting midway up the stairs – a ‘nowhere’ place to be in a ‘nowhere’ house. See Blows Against The Empire) for more on this subject.

The short link [30] A Small Package Of Value Will Come To You Shortly then shows what a truly bizarre place Baxters is, a cut-up collage of various short improvised ‘jingles’ (no section is long enough to be called a tune) and rattles of percussion with some voices saying things just out of reach. The song has a peculiarly ear-catching tune running through it, even though most of the pieces seem to be cut and pasted in willy nilly and by the end of the short piece seems to be leading to a semi-serious debate about whether man really is ‘an island’ (The ad-libbed punch-line is ‘he’s a peninsula’ if you happen to miss it or give up playing the track 10 seconds in). Funny – once – this track is just as impressive as Pooneils in the way it completely destroys the Airplane’s formerly cultivated image – but sounds a lot less convincing somehow. Pass me the aspirins.

[31] Young Girl Sunday Blues is Marty Balin’s big chance to shine on the album and even then its only a co-write/co-vocal, performed with typical breathtaking panache by the group’s founder. The staggering, lopsided gait of the song’s peculiar rhythm shuffle suits the song’s half-strutting half-apologetic lyrics, as the narrator tries to control his mood swings so that he can help a new-found love overcome hers, working out if he really can sacrifice his ‘side filled with brightness’ for the sake of consistency and whether he actually believes in her enough to stop ‘believing’ in himself. Finally giving in to his feelings of love, the singer seems suddenly glad to surrender the twists and turns of his life, turning his back on the feeling that ‘yesterday and tomorrow’ could go in several different directions at once – from now on each day will be the same. Marty’s vocal is spot-on, torn between love and anxiety, and Jorma’s guitar solo somehow manages to put all of this emotional debating into music. Elsewhere, the song’s hook ‘let yourself wander free and easy’ is the first of many celebrating the Airplane generation’s new found freedom on the album and its casual invitation sounds light years away from Pooneil’s frenzy. Never has innocent excitement sounded as enticing as it does on Baxters. The song ends with a steal from the Beatles’ Please Please Me – possibly Kantner and Balin’s reference point to the group who started the ball of freedom rolling!

[32] Martha is a much more conventional recording – the closest this album ever comes to being quiet in fact! - but even then it features a very odd construction, with the lead melody and harmony lines swapping over several times during the course of the song. Martha is often referred to as a ‘runaway’ on literature about the band, but if that’s true then its hard to hear that fact in the lyrics, which seem to be more about an ‘intellectual’ running than a physical one. There’s no doubting, however, that the young girl in question is excited rather than horrified at being part of the flower power generation and the song’s hook - ‘She does as she pleases’  - spell out Martha’s newfound philosophy. The performance of the song is lowkey, with Kantner and Balin’s harmony chasing each other up the scales verse by verse, while instrumentally Grace Slick’s recorder ebbs in and out of the mix giving the song an almost folky feel, although Kaukonen’s spiky guitar still seems to give the song something of an angry growl.

[33] Wild Thyme is perhaps the album’s most notable song, the ultimate example of the energy, excitement and innovation of the 60s that underscores this album, with the glad-to-be-alive teenager exuberance of the Merseybeat years mutated into the slightly more adult we’re-going-to-save-the-world ecxhileration of thew flower power generation. ‘I’m doing things that haven’t got a name yet!’ the Airplane cry, as they spell out their free love message to an infectious riff and a song structure as innovative and creative as the subject matter. ‘Its new and its new and its all so new’ might not be the greatest couplet ever written, but hear it in the context of this song, with the band taking music as far out as it can go, and its nothing short of breath-taking. Wild Thyme is a joy, one of the best songs on this list about the optimism of the Summer of Love days and the younger generation’s conviction that they would be about to build a better world, based on love not war, hope not despair and help not hindrance. Bands like the Airplane are often laughed at for coming up with lyrics like these in our more sniping and cynical age and thematically this music is just as much a relic of the past as any Victoriana music-hall couplet or World War Two fighting song. But forget the time period you’re living in, turn the CD up loud and close your eyes and squint a bit and you too can feel what it is like to be standing on the edge of a brave new world of democracy, equality and hope. In many ways Wild Thyme is very much a time capsule tied forever into a forgotten past, but like many songs from its age its also pretty timeless.

Most bands would take a break and back off a bit here, but the Airplane are already fighting another fierce instrumental battle on. [34] Last Wall Of The Castle. As the band’s songs go this rocker is almost conventional, pulled together by a pulsating Casady bass riff that plays more notes in this short song than most bassists do in their entire career. Kaukonen’s screaming guitar-weaving mixes well with Kantner’s typically philosophical lyrics about taking love to another dimension and the pair’s harmonies go rather well together too on their joint song, making one wish that they had done more co-writing in the Airplane’s six years together. The surprises aren’t over yet, either. Just as this doowop-heavy metal hybrid rocker seems to be slowing down and coming to a natural end, suddenly a god almighty noise erupts out the speakers, sounding like a psychedelic traction engine coming off the rails and exploding with a screech to wake up the dead. This short burst of aggression sounds like nothing heard on tape before or after (although the Big Brother and Neil Young records coming up on this list cut it close) and still catches you by surprise even when you know this album really really well. Special warning unless you want an ASBO: Even when you play this album at a low volume, passages like this one are enough to wake the neighbours!

[35] Rejoyce, by contrast, ends the first side with one of the most delicate and fluffy songs the band ever put together – musically if not lyrically. Nothing less than a four-minute condensed version of James Joyce’s Ulysses, no other band would have dared to put such a complex, descriptive book into anything less than a double-album concept suite and yet somehow the whole thing works a treat. Most psychedelic-era bands are dismissed as illiterate and – just as with any other era of music – the reverse is probably true: most of the Airplane’s elders have probably barely heard of Joyce and yet Grace’s revised version of Stephen Dedaluses’ Irish journey resonates well with the heart of the book. Slick wasn’t the first sub-hippie to see a link between the free-wheeling anti-censorship expression of Joyce at his best (Lennon, sick of being told he had been copying Joyce’s works on his own books of wordplay and doodlings allegedly bought one in the late 60s and said it made him feel as if he had found ‘daddy’) and Rejoyce somehow fits perfectly on this album despite being an early 20th-century vision of Ireland that was itself an update or allegory of the country’s mythical past. Amazingly Rejoyce loses nothing in terms of poetry – nor does it try to mangle the words by rhyming or fitting a metre – and the resulting lyric should sound like a garbled mess, but instead gives the song a pretty lopsidedness, fitting the central character’s impatientness at the slow pace at which his life is moving while mimicking his detailed observations in the slow drawn-out sections of the song. Casady’s bass – mixed to drown out the other instruments – gives the song much of its edgy atmosphere, although Grace’s piano playing is pretty creepy here too. Many psychedelic albums that promise to deliver the ‘unexpected’ in truth do nothing of the sort, giving you ever moiré sojourns out into some risqué territory, but by back-pedalling into an icon of modern literature Baxters makes seconf-guessing the listener an art form. 

[36] Watch Her Ride is more traditional territory, with Kantner’s booming bass vocal competing with the twin guitars, bass and drums to see who can make the most noise. Casady’s bass solo runs (who needs a guitar?!) is a great example of Airplane creativity at its peculiar, off the wall height: circling higher and higher with every run until an unexpected fall into a major key pulls the piece back to the beginning again, breaking just about every pre-conceived idea about 60s music along the way. What is unusual about this track in the Airplane’s discography is the narrator’s detachment (‘I’ll just sit here and watch you blow my mind’) and its admittance that actually the brave new world might not be so new or brave after all (‘Times don’t ever change and I know…’).

With the rest of the band mulling over that last puzzling observation, Kaukonen Casady and Dryden busy themselves with the sort of improvisations that made up a great deal of the Airplane’s live shows. [37] Spare Chaynge badly needs the atmosphere of a small club to give it breathing space – and this is exactly the sort of thing Kaukonen and Casady end up doing in the clubs with their band Hot Tuna after the Airplane dissolve – but even stuck slap band in the middle of side two its easy to succumb to this track’s nine-minute hypnotic rumblings. The build up to the halfway point of this song, when all three musicians suddenly decide to stop rehearsing what they will do and start really going for a take, makes you think half-believe that you really have been transported to another dimension. Spare Chaynge is, in many ways, the closest you can get to psychedelic jazz and that reference is left to the listener to decide whether this track is the greatest thing in the world or an excuse to go out and make a cup of tea.

Grace’s [38] Two Heads demolishes any idea Rejoyce may have given you about the singer growing soft. A curious and rather aggressive cymbal-led song, which gives way frequently to some very brief reflective verses from Marty, Two Heads tries hard to be a rocking early feminist anthem. With the male replacing the female stereotype of beauty and long hair in the 60s (‘Wearing a comb like an axe in your head’ as Grace puts it) and Grace and singers like her swiftly taking the place of the rock-band fronting male in the 60s, Grace lives up to the male stereotype on this song, being loud, macho and aggressive in her delivery. However she's defiant in overthrowing the role of genders in society, where in a memorable image Grace delivers her sarcastic Victorian advice: 'breasts and jewels - keep them polished and shining - put a lock on her belly at night!' Still, analyze the lyrics and the debate of Two Heads is a bit more subtle than that – all of us have both masculine and feminine thoughts, Grace seems to say, and should be free to express them both, with Grace’s rather Frankenstenian wish that her partner could have ‘two heads’ actually a wish to see both sides of a more three-dimensional character. This clever song manages to juxtapose Grace’s most deranged vocals with Marty at his most feminine and peaceful, letting the two vocals parts work in counterpoint to each other, demonstrating to the listener what a better world it could be if we all really did go in two directions at once. Still, any newcomer who believes the Airplane to be a twee hippie band must be really confused by now, as this song’s aggressive double-whack on the cymbals and two cacophonous multi-tracked Graces circling their victim on the song’s fade make Two Heads sound more like punk rock than psychedelia.

Things are wrapped up neatly with the medley [39] Won’t You Try/ Saturday Afternoon, Kantner’s painting of a new society away from the dull grey working week which like much of the album sounds like an invitation you can’t refuse. Like many an Airplane song, it sounds like a mess at the start as the band gets warmed up to the song’s complex structure, but something magical happens partway through as the band’s three singers and four players find that the different lines they have been playing suddenly mesh together as a magnificent whole. The song’s lovely tune, a fantastic walking bass from Casady and a sudden nose-dive into extended chords in the final section make for a thrilling end to the album, although this is another song that actually worked better live than in the studio (dig out the Director’s Cut version of Woodstock for a good example). As a last return to side one’s glorious feeling of optimism, its hard to beat, spelling out all the wonderful things to come after the watershed year that was 1967.

Sadly, as the next few albums on this list will tell you, 1968 was a militant year, full of unrest and disappointment and back-to-basics rock as artists stopped making the progressively progressive sounds heard here. What a great shame. As Baxter’s magic, excitement, beauty and feedback (what more could you want to sum up the summer of love?!) show you, 1967 really was a Wild Thyme when anything could happen – and was much the better for it. After bathing at Baxters you might never feel the same way about music ever again. 

Other Jefferson related reviews from this website you might be interested in reading:


'Takes Off!' (1966)

'Surrealistic Pillow' (1967)

'After Bathing At Baxters' (1967)

'Crown Of Creation' (1968)

'Volunteers' (1969)

'Bark' (1971)

'Blows Against The Empire' (Kantner)  (1971)

‘Sunfighter’ (Kantner/Slick) (1972)

'Long John Silver' (1972)

'Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun' (Kantner/Slick/Freiberg) (1973)

'Dragonfly' (1974)

'Red Octopus' (1975)

'Spitfire' (1976)

‘Earth’ (1978)

'Modern Times' (1981)

'Winds Of Change' (1982)

'The Empire Blows Back'# aka 'The Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra (Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship) (1983)

'Nuclear Furniture' (1983)

'Jefferson Airplane' (1989)

Non-Album Songs 1966-1984

The Best Unreleased Recordings 1966-1974

Surviving TV Footage 1966-1989

Tribute Special: Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson

Live/Solo/Compilation/Hot Tuna Albums Part One 1966: 1978

Live/Solo/Compilation/Hot Tuna Albums Part Two 1979-2013

Essay: Why Flying In Formation Was So Special For The Jeffersons

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