Saturday, June 24, 2017

50 years ago: Jefferson Airplane charted with “White Rabbit”

White Rabbit

Jefferson Airplane

Writer(s): Grace Slick (see lyrics here)

First Charted: June 24, 1967

Peak: 8 US, 6 CB, 3 GR, 7 HR, 1 CL, 94 UK, 12 CN, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 1.0 radio, 83.9 video, 199.27 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

This was “one of the defining songs of the 1967 ‘Summer of Love’” SF and “one of the crucial sounds of the late ‘60s freak scene” DT of the psychedelic rock movement. When St. Louis radio station KSHE switched from an easy listening format to rock in 1967, “White Rabbit” was the first song they played to make it clear they “were aligning themselves with the counterculture.” SF

Grace Slick wrote the “disquietingly catchy” TB song while in her first band, the Great Society. She explained that the music came to her when she “took acid and listened to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain album for 24 hours straight until it burned into my brain.” SS The “insistent, militaristic rhythms and the way the song gradually builds to its menacing peak” TB were loosely based on the classical piece “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel. SJ

The lyrics were famously inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She said, “Our parents read us stories like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz…They all have a place where children get drugs, and are able to fly or see an Emerald City or experience extraordinary animals and people….And our parents are suddenly saying, ‘Why are you taking drugs?’ Well, hello!’” RS500 She said, “I don’t think most people realize the song was aimed at parents who drank and told their kids not to do drugs.” SF It was “a metaphor for the hypocrisy of the straight world.” TC

The FCC came down on the song as drug-related and it was banished from the airwaves, but not until the Nixon administration. Slick has said the song isn’t just about drug use, but “about opening up, looking around, checking out what’s happening…Feeding your head is not necessarily pumping chemicals into it.” SJ It’s about “finding a new awareness whether that be spiritual, political, or sexual.” TC

Jefferson Airplane adapted the song for their second album, Surrealistic Pillow, when Grace Slick came on board. “Jorma Kaukonen brought his acidic, sharp guitar tones to the tune and Spencer Dryden’s staccato drumming made it very unsettling. Most of all, though, there was Slick’s caustic, banshee voice that just tore down the melody. To hear Slick scream ‘feed your head’ is to have a psychedelic experience.” TC


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First posted 4/17/2020; last updated 3/31/2023.

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