Top 10 Paul Kantner Songs
For many music fans, the whirlwind of pop culture of the ’60s came to a head in the fabled year of 1967. The look, the attitude and the sounds being made in the world of pop music had been dramatically altered. In the middle of all of it all stood San Francisco’s Jefferson Airplane. With their singular presentation and their “jet-age sound,” the Airplane perfectly captured an important era in American music. Formed by guitarist Paul Kantner and singer Marty Balin in 1965, the band became the center of a media feeding frenzy on all things San Francisco within two years. Not only did they have the music to back up the hype, but they were truly one of the most revolutionary groups of all time.
In a 1967 appearance on American Bandstand, host Dick Clark asked Kantner, “Older people worry. They see the way you’re dressed, they hear your music, they don’t understand. Do parents have anything to worry about?” Kantner pulled no punches, replying, “I think so. Their children are doing things that they didn’t do, and they don’t understand.” A new era had been born. Though the spotlight was often on singer Grace Slick, Kantner was almost always in the pilot’s chair throughout their career, even as the Airplane became a Starship. It was often his vision guiding things, as you’ll see in our list of the Top 10 Paul Kantner Songs.
Jefferson Airplane’s second album, Surrealistic Pillow, was a touchstone of 1967 rock ‘n’ roll. The album not only spawned the huge hits “Somebody to Love and “White Rabbit,” it also helped create a template for other bands to draw upon. From razor-sharp rockers like “Plastic Fantastic Lover” to this beautiful folk rocker, written and sung by Kantner, it remains one of rock’s most significant LPs.
A folk rock gem from Jefferson Airplane’s 1966 debut, “Run Around” was co-written by Kantner and Marty Balin — an early collaboration that proved to be a great pairing over the years. Kanter also takes the lead vocal here and shines — not an easy thing in a band that included powerhouse singers Balin and Grace Slick. His spotlight turn here is one of his best.
Kantner wrote the beautiful “Martha” on his own, but sings it with Grace Slick, whose voice entwines with his throughout. The ballad sits in the middle of chaos on the first side of Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 psychedelic masterpiece After Bathing at Baxter’s, creating a perfect calm in the middle of the storm.
The inward- and forward-looking psychedelia of two years earlier had given way to an angrier Jefferson Airplane by 1969’s Volunteers, their last album of the decade and a grand final statement on the ’60s. Though they would go on to make a couple more good albums (Bark and Long John Silver), Volunteers was, in many ways, the last blast of that original ideal. The title song, written Kantner and Marty Balin, captured the mood of the country and the group at that moment in time. It’s a powerful rocker and one of the era’s greatest anthems.
“Crown of Creation”
By 1968, the world, and in turn pop music, had turned from the flashing colors of the previous year to a darker sound and mood. Look no further than Jefferson Airplane’s 1968 LP Crown of Creation for proof. The title cut, written by Kantner, is a dark and haunting masterpiece, where peace and love can turn to anger and frustration in the blink of an eye: “In loyalty to their kind, they cannot tolerate our minds / In loyalty to our kind, we cannot tolerate their obstruction!“
“Have You Seen the Stars Tonite?”
Blows Against the Empire was released under the name Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship, following the Airplane’s breakup. It was Kanter’s way of moving forward. Grace Slick’s name was on the credits, and Airplane bassist Jack Casady contributed to the LP, but this is the start of Jefferson Starship. Kantner co-wrote this song with David Crosby, who was among the army of famous pals — including the Grateful Dead‘s Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, and Graham Nash — Kantner recruited to help out
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful ballads ever written, “Today” appears in the middle of Jefferson Airplane’s classic second album, Surrealistic Pillow, its fragile, aching beauty laid out bare. The song was co-written by Marty Balin and Kantner, and leans heavily toward Balin’s stylistic traits. But Kantner’s stamp is unmistakable.
“The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil”
Nearly 20 seconds of feedback welcomes fans to Jefferson Airplane’s third album. A mood is immediately created, and it carries throughout the brilliant After Bathing at Baxter’s. “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil” was written by Kanter and features a tour de force vocal blend by Kantner, Marty Balin and Grace Slick. Surreal lyrics and a jarring melody make this an unforgettable ride … and one of the band’s most intriguing and dynamic recordings.
“Let Me In”
Written by Kantner and Marty Balin, “Let Me In” is a wonderful blend of folk-rock jangle and beat-group urgency from Jefferson Airplane’s debut album. Yet it sounds like little else from the period. A rare solo lead vocal from Kantner, along with Jorma Kaukonen’s soaring guitar and Jack Casady’s dive-bombing bass, pushes the song into a distinctive sonic attack.
“We Can Be Together”
“We are forces of chaos and anarchy, everything we say we are, we are, and we are very proud of ourselves,” Kantner declares in the opening track from 1969’s Volunteers. One of Jefferson Airplane’s all-time greatest songs, “We Can Be Together” is a perfect storm of joy, anger, protest, sadness, hope and frustration. Kantner pens some of his best lyrics, breaking boundaries with lines like “In order to survive we steal, cheat, lie, forge, f—, hide and deal” and the infamous “Up against the wall mother f—er.” Jorma Kaukonen’s blitzkrieg guitar coupled with that distinct vocal marriage of Kantner, Marty Balin and Grace Slick is a thing of eternal beauty.