Classic rock fans know that Jefferson Airplane went through three distinct incarnations before finally calling it quits in the early '90s. They also know that Jefferson Airplane, the band that started in San Francisco in 1965 and ran for seven years, is the only one of the three that matters. Where later groups Jefferson Starship and just plain ol' blah Starship got tired of being revolutionary rock groups and turned to faceless Top 40 music instead, the original sextet unleashed some of the '60s most subversive tracks. They talked about peace, love, drugs, sex and a cultural revolution that they, and their hippie contemporaries, thought was right around the corner. When you listen to their songs, that utopia still doesn't seem so far away. Strap in while we count down the Top 10 Jefferson Airplane songs.
"Lather"From: 'Crown of Creation' (1968)
The fourth album's opening song is Grace Slick's gentle poke at people who reach the ripe old age of 30 (remember, this was back when anyone over that age couldn't be trusted – "I hope I die before I get old" and all that). Musically, it's a blend of medieval and psychedelic styles, with acoustic instruments brushing up against freak-out sound effects. It's a true hippie relic.
"The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil"From: 'After Bathing at Baxter's' (1967)
The first song on the band's third album is a reference to Winnie the Pooh. Apparently, co-founder and songwriter Paul Kantner was a fan (with help from Marty Balin, he would revisit Hundred Acre Wood on the next album's "The House at Pooneil Corners"). But Piglet would poop his striped pink bodysuit if he stumbled upon the song's feedback-drenched opening during one of his morning walks. The song is a glorious mess of guitars, drums and vocal sparring between Balin and Slick.
"Crown of Creation"From: 'Crown of Creation' (1968)
The title track of the band's fourth album is one of Jefferson Airplane's greatest group performances. As Balin, Kantner and Slick harmonize on the verses (and whatever makes up the choruses), guitarist Jorma Kaukonen fires off some scorching blues-inspired fills. The song – a sci-fi parable penned by Kantner – is buoyed by Jack Casady's springiest bass line found on this list of the Top 10 Jefferson Airplane Songs.
"It's No Secret"From: 'Jefferson Airplane Takes Off' (1966)
This quick blast from the band's debut album falls somewhere between the group's early folk-rock leanings and the later psychedelic shadings. Balin wrote and takes lead on the song, which features backing vocals by original singer Signe Anderson, who would be replaced a year later by Slick. It remains one of the band's earliest achievements and the best song on their first album.
"Embryonic Journey"From: 'Surrealistic Pillow' (1967)
Kaukonen's brief, pretty acoustic number is the only instrumental on this list of the Top 10 Jefferson Airplane Songs. It's also one of the best instrumentals ever recorded. It falls near the end of the band's breakthrough album, sandwiched between the throwaway "How Do You Feel" and the seminal "White Rabbit." It's a beautiful performance and a calming tonic to the rest of the album's druggy cacophony.
"Wooden Ships"From: 'Volunteers' (1969)
This hippie summit among Kantner, David Crosby and Stephen Stills also showed up on Crosby, Stills & Nash's debut album, which came out six months before Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers. But the Airplane's version better captures the melancholic dread facing the few survivors of a nuclear war in this Vietnam-era classic.
"We Can Be Together"From: 'Volunteers' (1969)
The opening song on the band's sixth album reflects the group's growing unrest with the world around them. It's their most political album and, in turn, their most revolutionary. This call for unity among like-minded protesters – which was the B-side of the album's first single – includes the line "up against the wall, motherfucker," a direct nod to the Black Panther Party.
"Volunteers"From: 'Volunteers' (1969)
Recorded before but released after Woodstock (where they performed the song), "Volunteers" is one of Jefferson Airplane's most aggressive tracks and a rousing anthem for the more revolutionary arm of Woodstock nation. It's the closing song on the band's most politicized album, and a fitting end to the classic lineup, which would change on the next record.
"White Rabbit"From: 'Surrealistic Pillow' (1967)
One of the band's most popular songs, "White Rabbit" hit the Top 10 when it was released at the start of the Summer of Love. It is also one of the druggiest cuts ever recorded (the crawling, hazy pace was meant to mirror the time-altering effects of LSD). The track is stuffed with imagery from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (as well as its sequel), but the trip is all provided by Slick.
"Somebody to Love"From: 'Surrealistic Pillow' (1967)
The band's best and highest-charting album includes two '60s classics. This one is No. 1 on our list of the Top 10 Jefferson Airplane Songs because it drives harder than almost anything else they ever recorded. Slick checks in with her all-time greatest vocal (she originally cut the song with her pre-Airplane band the Great Society), and the hook is bigger and brighter than most of the band's psychedelic folk-outs. It's a monumental record from a year that had many great songs.