Monday, 5 October 2015
Jefferson Airplane/Starship: Non-Album Songs 1966-1984
(Don't worry we haven't finished with Janis just yet! We planned to have Lindisfarne's 'Back and Fourth' out this week but due to the sad death of Si Cowe last week we've straight swapped the intended pair of reviews for today with two meant for a month's time; it was easier to do it this way than re-do five different sets of artwork! We'll go back to the Jeffersons again once Janis is finished so think of this as a 'sneak preview' - or a test flight!)
 'High Flying Bird' is one of the first recordings the Airplane made, originally intended for 'Takes Off' but left unreleased until Airplane rarities compilation 'Early Flight'. The band will return to this song many times, usually with Grace Slick's soaring power fighting Marty's romantic lead. The studio recording though features original vocalist Signe Andersen, whose folkier tones are arguably her best work during her brief spell with the band. Edd Wheeler's folk standard about freedom is a key song for music, mixing folk and blues in a manner loose enough to be covered in many ways (this song is the reason Noel Gallagher's current backing band are called the 'High Flying Birds' - the Airplane's is one he's mentioned in interviews as a 'favourite'; given how relatively unavailable it is this suggests he knows the band's catalogue quite well or at least more than just the 'famous albums' and 'compilations'). The Airplane's version is rockier than most versions of Billy Edd Wheeler's expressive folk song, with an aggressive tone in the vocals that must have sounded quite different at the time compared to all earlier versions. Whilst Richie Havens had had the biggest hit with the song before the Airplane got hold of it, Marty admitted that he'd learnt the song from a Judy Henske album of 1964 and had always imagined it being sung as a duet with a female co-lead. As always on the band's 1966-67 recordings Marty is the recording's star, pouring his everything into a lyric he clearly took a shine to, although the backing is excellent too, Jorma's jazz tinges hitting Paul's folk and Jack's goodness-knows-what bass head on. The band will, amazingly, improve on this in the Slick era, making the song a teensy bit faster and adding ever more dynamics between the reflective and strident passages. It still sounds pretty special even this early on, though, and really should have made the album. Find this on: 'Early Flight' (1973), 'Jefferson Airplane Loves You' (1992) and the CD re-issue of 'Takes Off' (1966). See also just about every Airplane live CD.
Intended as the explosive end to the first side of the 'Takes Off' record,  'Runnin' Round This World' was instead left to sit in a vault until 1972 (when the music scene and censorship had moved on so fast no one batted an eye). Well, apart from a very small handful of mono editions of the album, which were sent to the printers too late to be withdrawn and are now one of the rarest Airplane vinyl releases around worth several thousand dollars (if you go check your attic and discover you have one, remember you learnt it here first and yes we do take cheques!) The chorus of 'World' includes the - in context very suitable - line 'the nights I've spent with you have been fantastic trips', meaning 'adventures'. Another climate might have missed the drug parlance of the word 'trip', but this was the period when drugs were big in the news and any mention was being clamped down on - especially by an unknown band without much of a following outside San Francisco who didn't yet have the 'weight' of later years. An early collaboration between Paul's music and Marty's words, it's a loose rallying cry disguised as a love duet between Marty and Signe who are good foils for each other. The part of the song that most people miss with all the hoo-hah is that this song is arguably the most '1950s' of the lot: it's a song about wanting to settle down, get married, have children, to stay 'in' for a change. Marty speaks in awe of 'seeing you in a thousand dreams, many many days', and that when he and his missus are forced to split up (for a tour?) 'I'm going to lose my way - and you lose yours'. Recorded right at the moment the Airplane are drifting from being a folk-rock band to something more...psychedelic, 'Runnin' Round This World' would have made a fine addition to the debut: a fine and very Jeffersony mix of the traditional, the cheeky and the sincere. Find it on: 'Early Flight' (1973) and the CD re-issue of 'Takes Off' (1966)
[ ] 'It's Alright' is a sweet collaboration between Paul and Skip that would also have made a nice addition to the debut record. Nobody seems quite sure why this song was left off - unlike the above song there were no censorship issues this time around, so perhaps the Airplane just felt the song was a little more dated than some of the other songs. Wgile the credit doesn't break the song up, I'm willing to bet that's Skip's music - it has the same almost-traditional-but-just-slightly offbeat rhythm - and a Paul lyric that's one of his best early set of words and a milestone on the way towards him finding his writing 'voice'. 'I'm free so criticise me!' he demands of the censors and judging adults before denouncing their editing with the line 'Your mind has built a fence, don't you see it don't make sense?' Skip's music, however, is reserved and polite, quite the opposite of what the lyrics are trying to say - which works nicely as a sort of 'song of contrasts' although the band might have feared that would have gone over the heads of some of their listeners. The finished recording certainly has less energy and commitment about it than some others on the album, but Marty and Paul sound great together on the vocal and Jorma turns in another classic guitar solo, simple yet somehow very much in keeping with the complexity of the song. The 'Early Flight' compilation mis-titled this song 'That's Alright', a mistake that strangely wasn't corrected for the CD release; 'It's Alright' was always intended for the title. Find it on: 'Early Flight' (1973) and the CD re-issue of 'Takes Off (1966)
There are two versions around of the surprisingly heavy Kantner power-rocker [17a] 'Go To Her', which sounds more like a Marty song (especially the emphasis it gives to the singer at his breathless best). The main difference is that the first version, recorded for 'Takes Off', features Signe and the second, recorded for second album 'Surrealistic Pillow' features Grace. There are a few other subtle differences too: the earlier version is more folk-rock but does contain a fantastic psychedelic Indian raga-style solo whereas the second is more straight ahead rock and roll. Lyrically this is a rare Kantner song about people and relationships, as opposed to empires and galaxies, which sounds suspiciously like a souped up 'She Loves You', the narrator (who switches between Marty and Paul) pleading with a girl to get back with her boyfriend before it's too late. Both versions of the song are played with a fierce energy that's very Airplane, but neither melody or lyrics are all that polished by Airplane standards despite some good ideas hinting at the real reason the narrator is ready to push his ex onto someone else - he has commitment issues ('How was I to know that my leaving would hurt her so?'; the other key line of the song is 'There's something in my bed and so help me Lord, I'm afraid!' is not something you can imagine any strutting pop star other than Marty singing with such gusto in 1966/67!) Find the 1966 version on 'Jefferson Airplane Loves You' (1992) and the CD re-issue of 'Takes Off' (1966), with the 1967 version on 'Early Flight' (1973) and the CD re-issue of 'Surrealistic Pillow' (1967)
Non-Album Recordings #2: 1967
 'In The Morning' is a major development for Jorma's songwriting. Till now he's only worked with Marty, modifying his natural inclination towards blues and folk to fit Balin's more commercial sensibilities. But this, his first recorded fully solo song, is a major pointer towards the Hot Tuna years, an original that sounds so authentic it might as well have dated back to the early 20th century or beyond. Actually the song pre-dates the Airplane and seems to have been recorded for 'Surrealistic Pillow' more because Jorma was showing off the studio to some of his old friends than as a serious contribution to the record. Chances are only Jack and Spencer play on this track with Jorma, alongside a guesting Jerry Garcia and harmonica player John Hammond, an old college buddy of Kaukonen's. A simple tale about deciding to leave because a relationship isn't working - but putting the final decision off until the morning - this track is most notable for a great Garcia solo and does in fact sound more like a Dead song than an Airplane one (this would normally be their 'Pigpen' slot and sounds very like the blues covers taped for their 'Grateful Dead' debut around the same time). Find it on: 'Early Flight' (1973) and the CD re-issue of 'Surrealistic Pillow'
Early sessions for 'Surrealistic Pillow' - recorded with original drummer Skip Spence on board - suggest that the original intention was to record a softer, folkier record than what the band ended up with. Spence's  'J P P McStep B Blues' is one of those early leftovers, a charming lilting folk song that's probably his best in the drummer's short spell with the band (it's way better than the derivative 'My Best Friend' which did make the album). Despite the typically oddball title it's one of Spence's most straightforward songs, a love song for someone Marty's narrator has been admiring for a while but has never plucked up the courage to speak to ('Hope all this wheeling and dealing comes true' sings Marty at one point. The repeated 'yer' at the end of every line in the second verse is very Spence (a character trait he'll explore further with his next band Moby Grape) and ends up with such odd lines as 'Like looking in a mirror I look through yer' the 'yer' meaning both 'you' and 'yes' and another line informs us 'that this is a song in your hand'. Which is true today (when CDs exist) but isn't likely to be true back in the days of vinyl LPs. Still for the most part this is a delightful song, with some nice harmonica played by persons unknown, which would have made a nice start to a fine second LP with Spence a part of the band. Notice how low-key Grace is on one of her first recordings with the Airplane by the way, keen not to get in Marty's way and singing the way that Signe would: that will soon change!
 'Come Back Baby' is another stop off on the way to Hot Tuna, a traditional blues song (though best known through Lightnin' Hopkins' version), again seemingly with only Jorma, Jack and Spencer in the studio. However this recording is better than almost all of what's to come thanks to the fact that the band aren't too traditional about things, revving the song up to Jefferson interstellar flight levels and nagging away at the surprisingly 60s guitar riff throughout the song in quite a contrast to the laidback blues of the original. Unusually too this is a blues song not about the pain of splitting up the pain of keeping things together and Jorma turns in a great vocal, intense and petrified about being lonely. Jack and Spencer are right with him too, showing off just what a great unsung rhythm section the loudest bassist and jazziest rock drummer in music could do together on a cooking day. This song really should have made 'Pillow', especially as it was already a live highlight of the Airplane's set list at the time the trio put it down on record. Hot Tuna will turn this song into a ten minute magnum opus for their second album 'First Pull Up, Then Pull Down' in 1971. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'Surrealistic Pillow' (1967) and 'Jefferson Airplane Loves You' (1992)
Weird as 'After Bathing At Baxters' proved to be, for a time it was due to be much weirder. The Airplane always reckoned that the elongated live versions of [29b] 'The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil' worked better than the album and planned to open the album with an even more outrageous eleven minute live version of the song, whilst saving the four minute studio effort as the tie-in single. Somewhere along the line that plan changed, possibly when 'Pooneil' flopped so badly as the follow-up to 'White Rabbit', but not before a live version had been recorded at venue unknown on June 14th 1967 (it could be that the Airplane, tired of fighting over the cover and packaging they wanted, gave into RCA's protests over the recording as a peace offering - then again 'peace' wasn't something in the Airplane's vocabulary in 1967 unless the word 'world' came attached to it). For once, RCA probably got it right: though fascinating and full of some great band interplay there just isn't enough happening in this live version to sustain your interest for that long. Whilst the melody and all the lyrics are the same (apart from the addition of a new 'never been so high but I try!' second chorus), these are two very different beasts: the studio version shakes you by the head and demands you look at all these great vibrant powerful things happening, clobbering the listener over the head until they too declare 'wow - doesn't the sky look green today?'; by contrast the live version is about the psychedelic experience pushed to its limits fully exploring every avenue at a gentle trot instead of enjoying the art of exploration itself. There are some nice arrangement aspects of this sadder, lonelier version of the song however: Grace adds her own 'aaaaaah' to the feedback howl that greets the opening which for some reason makes this sound like the loneliest, saddest song on the planet, instead of one of the most exciting. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'After Bathing At Baxters' (1967)
Jefferson Airplane weren't generally the sort of band who re-recorded songs over and over to get them right. Their entire discography only includes about three alternate arrangements of songs as opposed to alternate takes - odd for a band paying for unlimited session time and could afford to 'mess about' as much as they pleased, although very much in keeping with the band's ability to harness sudden exhilarating moments of unplanned telepathy. [38b] 'Two Heads' is one of those three examples, with an early version Grace's latest uncompromising song about the male sex different from the finished version in several places. The biggest change is that only one Grace sings to us not two (she hasn't quite got hold of the 'duality' concept, or perhaps rejected this arrangement before recording a second vocal). The same loopy off-centre drum-beat is the lynchpin of the song, but everyone is re-acting to it differently: Jack plays with it rather than competing, Jorma squirrels around the riff without really breaking free and Paul just plays away in the background, keeping out of trouble. Marty's already nailed his echo-drenched harmony part but Grace is very unsure of her vocal line, often going up instead of down or vice versa. By her standards she's all over the place, in fact, sounding less than sure about her latest composition despite it being one of her best.
Marty is, as we've seen, a little under-represented on 'Baxters'. After being the de facto leader of the band as writer and singer, he basically gets a handful of co-vocals and one co-write, a major fall. How better yet might the album have been with  'Things Are Better In The East' included on it? A slow, sensitive ballad, but a philosophical one quite unlike the love songs heard on the first two albums, Marty was told that the song wouldn't fit the rest of the album - but actually I say it would, as a peaceful follow-up to 'Rejoyce' before the powerful energy of 'Watch Her Ride'. Sadly, with so much of the band uninterested, Marty never got further than demo stage so it would be hard to judge just exactly what the Airplane might have added to this musically. Lyrically, though, it's the beating heart of the album (in much the same way that 'Within You Without You' doesn't fit on 'Sgt Peppers' yet that record wouldn't work half as well without it): after the partying has ended, here's the hangover. 'You once asked me what I wanted out of life' sighs Marty, deciding 'I guess it's just the lifetime of laughter and smiles', offering a hint that he's already thinking of leaving the band after referring to himself as the 'Cindarella Man', always moving on when the clock of destiny strikes midnight. The song ends ominously 'Will I be satisfied? I don't know' - that last he;ld line would have been perfect for the long held notes and wrap-arounds that Marty and Grace's vocals used to do so well. A much under-rated, over-looked song not made available until the 21st century. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'After Bathing At Baxters' (1967)
[ ] 'Don't Let Me Down' is a Marty song from somewhere around this period, part of the band's live set with some consistency across 1967 and sort of half-attempted in the studio here. It's not really a lost gem so much as a faintly interesting curio, an early prototype of the similarly unreleased 'Up Or Down' with Marty doing a Jorma and going all bluesy. The sped up 12 bar blues doesn't really do the band many favours and spends too long locked into the same groove instead of fighting its way out, but Marty is on good voice and Jack's walking bass lines are excellent. Had the lyrics been altered from the simplistic repetitive chorus 'make love to me daddy!' and spent more time on the opening 'wish that all people could love everywhere' lyric this song might have been worth pursuing. Find it on: Jefferson Airplane Loves You' (1992)
The Airplane never did try and record [ ] 'The Other Side Of This Life' in the studio, despite the fact that it was one of their most popular songs live. One of the first songs the band learnt when Grace joined the band, it's perfect for the band's three-way sweeping vocals and is malleable enough to go in any direction from pure adrenalin rock and roll to playful psychedelia to thoughtful folkie ballad (the closest to the original version, as written by Paul's favourite folksinger Freddy Neil, half of 'Pooneil'). The song is very much in the Airplane ethos: the narrator sounds as if he's just gone on his first acid trip and discovered that life wasn't what he thought it was (capitalism and 9-5 jobs); instead life is an exotic ever-expanding creature with far too much to explore for one lifetime. For my money the floaty and slightly bonkers 'Monterey' version is best, although every version is special and a little different. Find it on: 'Monterey Pop Festival' (1967/1995), 'Live At The Filmore East' (1968/1998), 'Bless It's Little Pointed Head' (1969), 'The Woodstock Experience' (1969/2010) and 'Jefferson Airplane Loves You' (1992)
Non-Album Recordings #3: 1968
'A real slap on her spoony ass helps her sleep, dunnit?'  'Would You Like A Snack?' wins a closely fought battle for 'weirdest Jefferson Airplane moment'. We generally praise the Airplane in this book when they're at their daring, rule-breaking best but I can't help but feel that some of the outtakes from 1968 go way too far over the line. This 'song' is a spoken word collage written by Grace with none other than Frank Zappa, although it's not amongst either writer's best work. Spencer gets to play around with his beloved jazz while two Graces battle each other and mess around improvising. Presumably Grace is being sarcastic, but the sexist lines about 'get her flat on her band' are very off-putting and just sound wrong coming out of her mouth. Grace will go on to write a much better song on the subject of hungry humans and the relationship between food and sex on 'Silver Spoon' on 'Sunfighter' in 1971 - for now the answer to the question is a big loud 'NO!' Find it on: 'Jefferson Airplane Loves You' (1992) and the CD re-issue of 'Crown Of Creation' (1968)
The best of the occasional Spencer Dryden percussion instrumentals,  'Rimbumbabap Rubadubaoumoum' deserves release a lot more than 'Chushingura', although to be fair neither are the most scintillating things in the Airplane discography. This one features a nicely funky beat though and Grace, Paul and Spencer doing their best impressiions of Beaker from The Muppet Show over the top ('Mememememememe! Sockitomesockittome!') Spencer's bad cough and pig snorts from 'A Small Package' are back too. What does it all mean? Haven't got a clue. Find it on: 'Jefferson Airplane Loves You' (1992) and the CD re-issue of 'Crown Of Creation' (1968)
 'The Saga Of Sydney Spacepig' at least sounds like a proper song - one of those Jorma ones driven by a fierce guitar solo. However that's all smoke and mirrors: this is another Spencer Dryden attempt to add a bit of audio verite to the band's sound. That driving rock tune keeps being interrupted by jazz piano, 'Small Package' style screaming and a lot of chatter irritatingly close to earshot but still unintelligible for the most part (though there's something about a pig working for the CIA - or is that RCA?! (Is there a difference?) Having come to this review after writing about Skip Spence's 'Oar' I have to say - what is it with Jefferson drummers?!? Were they really all this mad? The Jefferson equivalent of The Beatles' 'What's The New Mary Jane?' fans will either love or loathe this 'song', which isn't quite profound enough to be more than gibberish or interesting enough to stop you reaching out for the 'skip' button, although it is fun to hear the band 'pigging out' on the self-indulgence that's clearly difficult for them to hold at bay. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'Crown Of Creation' (1968)
 'Thing' is the name given over to the mammoth eleven minute jam session that takes place on the 'Filmore East' gig of 1968. It's a sort of early version of what will become 'Bear Melt', but played faster and sounding like a slightly more 'normal' song. The track is slow and pretty boring at first to be frank, but does build up nicely by around the two-thirds mark and has a similar sense of free-flow and sudden alignments of the musicians via telepathy as the 'released' Airplane jamming session 'Spare Chaynge'. Well worth seeking out by fans of the bans' more out-there live performances, if not quite up to the sheer creativity of 'Bear Melt' overall. Find it on: 'Live At The Fillmore East' (1998)
Non-Album Recordings #4: 1969
 'Uncle Sam's Blues' is a Jorma orphan song, without a 'proper' Airplane home to go to. A bluesy protest song, the track manages to spoof both the format and American foreign policy all at the same time and is best heard dripping with irony while performed fur the mud-infested field of hippies at Woodstock. 'Uncle Sam ain't no woman, but he sure can take your man!' drawls Jorma as part of a series of one-liners about how, in this updated age of the 1960s, mankind might have more freedom and equality but the draft is an injustice that goes deeper than any bluesman once wailed about. Unfortunately Jorma is such a fan of the blues that he's content to make this prototype Hot Tuna song as traditional as possible and drags the tempo down to an unbearably slow crawl. Heard at speed this song might be quite fun, but when each pay-off to each gag takes a full minute to sing, the mind and ears tend to wander. Find it on: 'The Woodstock Experience' (1969/2010)
Fred Neil's much-covered  'The Other Side Of This Life' started life as a slow self-deprecating ballad about grief and upset (best heard in a version by The Animals), but the Airplane characteristically turn it into an exciting embrace of everything that's 'new' (a folky 'Wild Tyme' if you will). The song had a longer life in their set lists than anything except 'High Flying Bird' and several arrangements were adapted and altered over the years. The version on 'Pointed Head' is one of the very best (though not the best, which is arguably the Monterey Pop performance from 1967), the Airplane doing an excellent job of putting the mind-opening psychedelic experience into music. Everyone plays fast and hard (especially Jack, with one of the loudest bass sounds on record) and in tandem to each other which gives the effect of swirling sections combining and separating at will. Only the Grateful Dead were trying anything like this in pop and rock at the time and the effect of listening to it (with your ears never quite sure who to follow or what to look at next) does indeed seem like an opening to 'another side of this life'. Marty, Grace and Paul split the vocal between them - one of their few equal three-part splits and alternate between whispered secret to full-on crescendo. The result is breathlessly exciting, although it's a shame that the Airplane never recorded this song in the studio where they might have had a chance to knock off the few rough edges still heard in performance. Find it on: 'Bless It's Little Pointed Head' (1969), 'Monterey Pop Festival' (1967/1995), 'The Woodstock Experience' (1969/2010) and plenty of other places besides!
There are some people who give music a bad name. Donovan is one of them: every documentary about something to do with music there he is claiming to have 'invented' it, to have 'inspired' a particular person to exhilarating heights or given them the 'means' of playing one of their greatest songs. Given all the things Donovan claims to have had a hand in down the years it seems odd that his greatest gifts to the musical world turn out to be the derivative 'Mellow Yellow' and gormless 'Sunshine Supermen'. Donovan's songs, so twee when delivered in his faux-folk voice, are better in other people's hands however. Generally when Donovan was stuck for a lyric he'd name-check some popular trend of the day, whether band art movement or the colour yellow.  'Fat Angel' is his 'tribute' to the Airplane, with the central mantra 'fly Jefferson Airplane, gets you there on time!' It was a natural choice for the Airplane to cover in concert as a sort of 'theme tune', although they sound less than sure about getting anywhere on time, slowing the already fairly slow song down to a crawl with sudden bursts of adrenalin from Jorma's guitar throughout to wake things up. Paul takes the lead vocal, informing us that 'we are cruising at an altitude of 39,000 feet, Captain High at your service!'. but it's the interplay of Jorma, Jack and Spencer that makes this song: the sudden moment about five minutes in when all three decide to stop playing cat and mouse and start flying in tandem is one of the most exhilarating passages of any Airplane recording, spacey and other-worldly. The song itself is just downright peculiar though: who is the mysterious person who will 'be so kind'? Why does he ride a 'silver pike'? And why oh why is this song called 'Fat Angel'?!? Find it on: 'Bless It's Little Pointed Head' (1969)
 'Turn Out The Lights' is an 84 second joke which takes place when Grace announces that the band will be about to do their intimate jamming improvisation and requests the band's lighting designer to 'turn down the lights'. The Airplane had two lighting people in this period and it's not clear which one worked at this gig, but it could be Trace signing to her future boyfriend Skip Johnson here, long before the pair start dating in the mid 1970s after her split from Paul. A brief jokey aside soon turns into a fragment of a song, with guest pianist Nicky Hopkins quick to pounce on Grace's request and she's game to play along, sounding not unlike a Music Hall dame. The track quickly breaks down, though, and to be honest never really got going - it seems a strange addition to the live album although it does add a bit of flavour of the band's improvised live show I suppose. Find it on: 'Bless It's Little Pointed Head' (1969)
There's a thousand million ways that you can go. Here's one of them. In the mood for a bit of experimentation, the Airplane try to improvise a full song on-stage, leading Paul to quip to the audience that 'you can sing along if you like' - hinting that by some psychic drug-fuelled link the audience might well guess at what's coming next (a bit like the improvisatory comedy TV series 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?', on acid).  'Bear Melt', named for the sound engineer 'Bear' Owsley (more associated with the Grateful Dead - he's the reason so many fans wear psychedelic bear costumes or t-shirts to gigs) who was indeed built like a bear, is the result: an eerie spooky song that's as faltering as you'd expect but with some real moments of Airplane telepathy here and there. The backing is kind of like a slower version of 'The Other Side Of This Life' and typical for this period of the Airplane, but it's all impressively new and fresh for an improvised song. Grace must surely have come up with the lines 'there's a million ways that you can go' before starting the song - these lines are too good to just come into her head willy nilly, while the rest of the lyrics aren't far behind, touching on man's smallness (''Just a few pebbles in the middle of a stream trying to be a flowing mother'), ecology ('Don't you worry about being sentimental honey - you keep that animal alive!') before ending up at her favourite subject: sexual innuendo ('Give it to me - yeah it feels good when someone gives it to you!') While few fans would nominate 'Bear Melt' as a favourite and the second half (basically once Grace stops singing) isn't one of their better jam sessions, this song is testament to just how good and unlike anyone else the Airplane could be - after all, whatever band of the 1960s was brave enough to stand on stage and improvise a song from beginning to end? What a perfect ending too, with Grace clearly working on her final words during the last five minutes while the Airplane have been flying off to goodness knows where: 'You could listen to a thousand different reasons why you can't go', linking in the song's triple themes of mankind's destiny, animal rights and love. Of course, this being Grace she can't resist adding a deliberately less than perfect ending: 'You can move your uh rear ends now' she jokes to a crowd still audibly speechless at what's just taken place. One of those magical Airplane nights, back in the days when every Airplane night was different to the ones before and after it. Find it on: 'Bless It's Little Pointed Head' (1969)
'I got something to say now, baby!' It wasn't just Grace who got to show off her improvisational skills on stage in 1969, because for one gig at the Filmore East Marty got to make his own off-the-cuff song [ ] 'You Wear Your Dresses Too Short'. Sounding like many of the Jorma blues-rockers Marty had had a hand in over the past couple of years, 'Dresses' is funky enough but lacks 'Bear Melt's ability to go in several directions at once, sounding defiantly tethered to Earth throughout. Good as these lyrics are for being made up on the spot, Marty can't match Grace's wit or word play either and this is one of those Airplane 'you had to be there' moments. That said, there's some great interaction between Paul and Jorma as the guitars clashes - a sound the Airplane didn't do very often - and this song certainly has more life about it than the similar 'Emergency' from the following year. Find it on: 'Jefferson Airplane Loves You' (1992) - where it makes for an odd closing number, well out of sequence with the set's chronology - and 'Live At The Filmore East 1969' (2007)
Non-Album Recordings #5: 1970
Meanwhile, back on Earth...  'Up Or Down' sounds like a typical lengthy Jorma blues song but comes with two important differences. That's Marty you can hear doing his best blues hollering, despite the s lines about 'sitting underneath a big tree and playing my guitar'. And that isn't Jorma in the album credits but his brother Peter, ever so briefly the second guitarist in Hot Tuna (and a guest on 'Blows Against The Empire' in between performances with his own band Black Kangaroo. Despite its simplicity, Peter was thinking big when he wrote this noodling six minute swamp-rocker, claiming in the sleevenotes to the CD edition of 'Early Flight' that it was a song about 'the attributes of a new generation, struggling to define itself in bold and meaningful ways in a time when tradition was no longer the clear and obstacle free path from the past through the present into the future'. And there was me thinking this was just a glorified jam session about playing a guitar in a wood! An early recording from sessions that were ultimately abandoned in 1970, resulting in just the following A and B side, it's one of only three songs credited to the Airplane that year and both Paul and Grace are conspicuous by their absence. Find it on: 'Early Flight' (1973)
A rare standalone single released in the gap between 'Volunteers' and 'Bark' (a wider gap than normal what with all the Airplane's other activity)  'Have You Seen The Saucers?' is a typical Paul Kantner song that sounds like a warm-up for his 'Blows Against The Empire' project the following year. That album is very much set in the future; here though the song is about the thought that 'Blows' might be taking place now - that the aliens are really here. Based around the central and very X-Files line 'have you any idea why they're lying to you - to your faces?' Paul recounts all the stories of UFOs spotted and the American Government's increasingly flimsy attempts to dismiss them as 'missiles' (I'm surprised a scholar of the subject like Kantner didn't use their other old favourite dismissal, 'weather balloons'). The aliens, by the way are hippies, 'people out there unhappy with the way that we care', angry at 'American garbage dumped in space' and a lack of 'brotherhood'. Kantner will have learnt to tame his views down slightly for 'Blows' but there's no doubting his sincerity or that of the rest of the band (imagine taking a song like this to any other band of the 1960s, when they'd have laughed it out of the room - even as late as 1970 the Airplane are still a very solid unit backing each other up in the name of solidarity). Jorma's wah-wah guitar is the highlight of a paranoid-style backing track that keeps breaking away to return back to the chorus, sung like a mantra throughout. Interestingly Paul seems to know instinctively that 'his' generation are doomed, brainwashed too far into believing the powers that be (we're still a few years away from Watergate remember). Instead he addresses this song to the 'children of the woodstock nation'. The fact that these children - effectively the 'punk' and 'new wave' generation - would have laughed at this song far more than the hippies' own generation or their parent's one (who as a general rule thought the Russians were responsible for everything and were unusually embracing of the whole 'flying saucer' phenomenon throughout the 1940s and 50s) in no way negates the power of this song which is earnest, daring and among the better extra=curricular Airplane releases. Find it on: 'Early Flight' (1973)
Grace's B-side  'Mexico' is, neatly, a typical Slick song. It's the Airplane at their most political, a snarling put down of Richard Nixon's continued attempts to send so much time and money and ludicrous jail sentences for drug users when he's still quite happy to send young troops to die in Vietnam for nothing except empty cold war pride (he's the 'man called Richard whose come to call himself king' if you hadn't guessed). However this rant starts off playful, with two young hippies 'twins of the trade, come to the poets room'. Mowsley is presumably Stan Owsley, an early practitioner of LSD back in the days before it was illegal and who was responsible for turning many American bands onto 'acid' (here he's a 'legend for your righteous dope') - I'm not as sure about 'Charlie', but one guess is that he's Charles Manson notorious killer whose Sharon Tate murders in California sent shock waves throughout hippie-dom. Is Grace commenting that to lock up every drug user is wrong - yes some people go a little crazy on the drug, but for some it opens their minds and makes them a better person (Owsley was a scientist and LSD practitioner, well regarded by many outside the hippie community). Most of the song is about drug smuggling though, with drugs replacing gold as the main method of currency. America's response is to outlaw it altogether, pushing peddlars to more and more extreme ends. In typical Airplane fashion Grace tries to get us to rally to her cause, telling us 'it's not as if you were alone - there are brothers everywhere'. After reaching a peak the song then sadly fades away, unresolved, on a painful cry of 'no oh no' as the acid-fuelled burst of adrenalin fades away to nothing, unable to be restocked. It would be easy to dismiss this song as another hippie drug song, but the music is genuinely as inspired as Slick claims drugs at their best can be and the melody is one of her most successful songs, driven by her distinctive piano playing and a tour de force performance from Spencer Dryden - virtually his last - who never lets the tension up from first note to last. When the Airplane were truly together, as here at the end of their 'golden' period, they were truly unstoppable: what a shame, then, that they couldn't keep it together for longer or some of their promises of revolution might have come true and been better for everyone. Sadly forgotten (it's the only exclusive B-side in the whole of the Airplane's run), 'Mexico is an under-rated song that shows the band's beauty and politics entwined particularly well. Find it on: 'Early Flight' (1973)
[ ] 'Emergency' is a noisy Balin song, his last recording with the band he founded before leaving for pastures new. It was intended for the soundtrack of an unknown film that never got made before appearing in a very different sort of film, 'Go Ride The Music', the 1970 Airplane rehearsal/TV special. Written to a frenetic riff not unlike that for 'Come Back baby' twinned with 'It's No Secret', Marty improvises away over the top of it promising to be there when there's an emergency and that 'you can call on me any day - like when you're poor child!' Left unheard, that one performance aside, for over twenty years the song had taken on quite a legendary status amongst fans it probably doesn't really deserve. Find it on: 'Jefferson Airplane Loves You' (1992)
Non-Album Recordings #6: 1975
While the modern Paul Kantner-era Starship have been known to dip into the band members' solo lives,  'You're Driving Me Crazy' was the only solo track from the glory days of the 1970s that made it on stage. It's a sweet but rather forgettable Marty song from the 'Bodacious DF' period that the band performed a lot in the 'Red Octopus' period when Marty sung ballads were suddenly in big demand and as a composition it's close enough to 'Miracles' to win over many swooning fans in the audience. The Starship version, typically, is much faster and played at a really fierce pace with an aggression the laidback original doesn't come close to possessing. 'How can I love you when I don't love myself?' Marty asks, before sighing that yet again he's fallen in love when he told himself not to. Find it on: a live version taped at the Winterland Arena in November 1975 can be heard on the CD re-issue of 'Red Octopus' alongside the tracks 'Band Introductions', a rather rough sounding 'Fast Buck Freddie' and 'There Will Be Love'. This marks the only time to date that live recordings of the Balin-era Jefferson Starship have been made available; presumably the full concert exists in the vaults somewhere although it's not the most thrilling concert performance I've ever heard.
Non-Album Recordings #7: 1976
A rare Jefferson Starship cover played live which didn't make it to album was Ron Nagle's [ ] 'Please Come Back'. Sung with gusto by Marty on the 'Spitfire' tour, the song sounds remarkably like Fleetwood Mac, the band the Jeffersons in this era are often compared to although it's about the only link that I can ever hear. A little too tidy by Jefferson standards and sounding more like a solo Marty spin-off, the band still play the track with gusto and it's a good chance to hear the band stripped back to rocking basics with Johnny Barbata on particularly top form. Nice and more interesting than some of the random Jefferson one-offs out there, but don't spend too much time or money looking for this track - you can see why it got abandoned in favour of better material (although that said it's still preferable to most of the 'Earth' record!) Find it on: the 1977 Jefferson family compilation 'Flight Log' (1977)
Non-Album Recordings #8: 1978
Released in tandem with the 'Gold' compilation - and included inside the LP, free - was a standalone single 'Light The Sky On Fire'. It's a real bridge between the two very different styles of the Starship, featuring Marty's last lead for the group but in the new wave thrash metal style of the Mickey Thomas era. Grace has, for the moment, left the band as can be seen during this song's most famous performance as part of the ill-fated 'Star Wars Holiday Special' broadcast for yuletide 1978 which is abominable even by Star Wars cash-in standards (The Jefferson are the best thing about it and even then this song is so bad you wish the band would be attacked by ewok ninjas half way through). Of all theJefferson songs to get a sequel the banal obvious unintelligible 'Fire' from 'Earth' wasn't one of them but this is virtually the same song again with a few failed cosmic 'light the skies' thrown in along the way. Marty is completely the wrong vocalist for all this (is that why he quit the band, in fear at having to sing more tracks like this?) Craig wrote the song and is easily the best thing about this track, with lots of fierce guitar solo-ing and some great rock and roll riffing going on. There's a nice moment when the track backs down into a sweet cascade of piano keys too, but the melody isn't one of Chaquico's better ideas and he really is helpless at coming up with lyrics (Craig is always at his best collaborating with someone, whether it be Grace, Pete or Mickey). A horrendous extra present that nobody wanted which came close to ruining an otherwise excellent compilation, this mess of a song about a legend 'who may come back again some day' was sensibly cut down as a single from the original five minute epic (as seen in the Star Wars clip). The band were clearly hoping for some really strong sales from the Star Wars link but the song could have been flipping 'Somebody To Love' and it would have 'vanished without a trace' in the middle of that rubbish and the single duly peaked at a disappointing #66 in the States. No wonder they had to give it away in the end. One of the real nadirs of the Jefferson discography. In case you were wondering, the B-side was the 'Dragonfly' mix of 'Hyperdrive'. Light the record on fire, more like. Find it on: Given away free with the compilation 'Gold' (1979) and added to the CD re-issue as a bonus track.
Non-Album Recordings #9: 1984
The penultimate official 'Jefferson Starship' release (beating only the single 'Sorry Me, Sorry You') was the single [ ] 'Layin' It On The Line' as featured on the 'Nuclear Furniture' album, an auspicious beginning for Starship in as much as it featured that band's co-creators Mickey and Craig at their catchy best (though sadly Starship would never again sound quite as good as this). The B-side was a live version - what proved to be the only live recording currently available of the Mickey Thomas era and the only official Jefferson Starship live recording in that band's lifetime (some 1975 odds and ends have come to light since). It's a useful way of hearing how the band sounded live: kick-ass is the answer, with Mickey at his posing best and Craig as great as ever, with only the slightly leaden rhythm section letting the song down. A nonsense song like this, which means nothing but sounds great, is perfect for performing in the arenas that the Jeffersons were now playing and they get rapturous applause here. No wonder it all went to Starship's head a little...To date this live recording is not currently available on anything; when RCA re-issue the four Mickey Thomas albums on CD properly (as surely they must some day? Pretty please?) then this song would make a good bonus addition to 'Nuclear Furniture'