If push came to shove and I had to pick the ONE—just one—rock group whose message I most “resonate” with, I think I would ultimately have to pick Jefferson Airplane. Outside of the MC5, their lyrics were the most overtly revolutionary—as well as being deeply weird, intellectual and futuristic—of the classic rock era. Their druggy image was completely uncompromising and the way they flouted the rules of polite society was both bratty and brave for that era. The notion of a bunch of rich, indulgent hippies preaching rebellion while living in a mansion in San Francisco being driven around in a Rolls Royce on RCA’s tab was very appealing to me when I was young. The Airplane beat the capitalist system on its own terms and embraced the contradictions that went along with that.
Jefferson Airplane had a contract with the label (they and Elvis were RCA’s biggest selling acts of the 60s) giving them complete creative control, so they were able to get away with lots of things other groups couldn’t. Dig the revolutionary communiqué of a song like “Crown of Creation”:
In loyalty to their kind
They cannot tolerate our minds.
In loyalty to our kind
We cannot tolerate their obstruction!
That’s “Us vs. Them” (or smart vs. dumb, if you prefer) put as starkly and as radically as possible. Those lyrics will always be relevant, I suppose, but in the context of the 1960s, they were incendiary. When the band performed this number on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968, Grace Slick wore blackface and did the “Black Power” salute at the end. It was a completely insane thing to do. What were the powers that be at CBS thinking to let something like that slip into America’s living rooms? What was she thinking to do such a thing (and what did the rest of the group think?)? A year later, Slick would be the first person to say “fuck” on television (technically she sang “motherfucker”) when the group did “We Can Be Together” on The Dick Cavett Show.
The Airplane could be wildly erratic in concert as anyone who has listened to more than a handful of their live performances can tell you. They could be punky and powerful, sloppy and jammy or else razorsharp and inspired. Maybe it had a lot to do with the quality of the LSD on a given night, eh? Who knows? In any case, this short set, filmed at Wally Heider’s studio in San Francisco in 1970, is the group playing at near their peak efficiently as a revolutionary rock and roll unit.
Go Ride The Music includes interviews with band members and Jerry Garcia (credited as “the Guru”) between songs—you’ll note that Marty Balin is sick to death of talking about “the Revolution”—and utilizes a similar editing technique to the multi camera /multi screen thing that was so effective in Woodstock. The only complaint I have is too much Marty and not enough Grace. She looks goddamn gorgeous here and the camera is always on him. Numbers, in order, “We Can Be Together,” “Volunteers,” “Mexico,” “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” “Somebody To Love,” “Emergency” and “Wooden Ships.” (This version of Go Ride The Music has all of the Quicksilver Messenger Service material edited out. If you want to see them, I direct you here.)