It’s been a damn busy day already beginning with an early morning sub-zero mountain bike ride, a visit from friends for brunch to celebrate HRH’s 11th birthday, another visit from the grandparents for dinner and, finally, a last visit from our soon-to-be “kitty-sitter” when we go away on our honeymoon in another week. So aside from approximately one hour of napping in the EZ-Boy between visits, it’s been go-go-go. FINALLY, I’m getting some quiet time to myself and my records. My choice tonight is another recent addition to my ‘Airplanes Bitches!‘* collection of airplane-themed albums, the ‘Takes Off‘ album by the Jefferson Airplane…on orange vinyl, no less! Okay, it might be pink…who knows. I do know it’s not black and cool as shit.
I always have good luck when it comes to shopping at BJ Records & Nostalgia in Barrie, Ontario and my recent trip was no let down. ‘Takes Off’ is the debut album for the band, released in August of 1966. The personnel differs from the later “classic” lineup and the music is more folk-rock than the harder psychedelic sound for which the band later became famous. In other words, this is some primo “pre-White Rabbit” shit. Signe Toly Anderson was the female vocalist and Alexander “Skip” Spence played drums. Both left the group shortly after the album’s release and were replaced by Grace Slick and Spencer Dryden, respectively.
Originally, the album’s release drew little press attention at a time when mainstream newspapers did not normally cover rock releases and the rock press was yet in its infancy. Crawdaddy! highlighted the album on the cover of its January 1967 issue, which included a three-page review by the magazine’s assistant editor Tim Jurgens, who called the album “faulted” yet “the most important album of American rock” of 1966. At the time, RCA executives found some of the lyrics too sexually suggestive. They had the band change the lyrics in ‘Let Me In‘ from “I gotta get in, you know where” to “You shut your door, not that ain’t fair”, and “Don’t tell me you want money” to “Don’t tell me it’s so funny”. In ‘Run Around‘ they had the line “Blinded by colors come flashing from flowers that sway as you lay under me” altered to “that sway as you stay here by me”. With ‘Runnin’ ‘Round This World‘ the executives insisted that “trips” in the line “The nights I’ve spent with you have been fantastic trips” referred to taking LSD, though the band insisted it was merely common slang. Even replacing the word “trips” with a guitar arpeggio did not placate RCA’s concerns with the line’s sexual connotations and refused its inclusion on the album, and the recording remained unreleased for the next eight years.
This album is dominated by singer Marty Balin, who wrote or co-wrote all the original material and sang most of the lead vocals in his heartbreaking tenor with Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson providing harmonies and backup. The music consisted mostly of folk-rock love songs, the most memorable of which were ‘It’s No Secret‘ and ‘Come up the Years‘. There was also a striking version of Dino Valente’s ‘Let’s Get Together‘ recorded years before the Youngbloods’ hit version. Jorma Kaukonen already displayed a talent for mixing country, folk, and blues riffs in a rock context, and Jack Casady already had a distinctive bass sound. But the Airplane of Balin-Kantner-Kaukonen-Anderson-Casady-Spence is to be distinguished from the Balin-Kantner-Kaukonen-Casady-Slick-Dryden version of the band that would emerge on record five months later chiefly by Balin’s dominance. Later, Grace Slick would become the group’s vocal and visual focal point and, voila!, we have our ‘White Rabbit‘ shit…good shit as it was. On ‘Takes Off‘, however, the Airplane was entirely Balin’s group.
This doesn’t mean it bad, mind you…just different. You know, in a good less trippy-‘White Rabbit‘ kinda way.