In 1967, Levi’s had a new line of white jeans it wanted young folks to know about, so they sought out three groovy acts from the West Coast and had them record free-form radio spots about the new white jeans as well as the revolutionary (har) stretchy qualities that made the jeans such an impeccable fit. The bands were the Sopwith Camel, Jefferson Airplane, and a Seattle group called the West Coast Natural Gas Co.
The Airplane had been together for less than two years by this point, and their breakthrough album Surrealistic Pillow had just come out. “White Rabbit” hadn’t been released yet, but “Somebody to Love” had been. They were basically in the act of cresting, and now they were appearing on the radio selling Levi’s jeans.
The bands were given creative control over the spots, of which there were nine in all. They’re pretty amusing—you can almost imagine the Smittys in Mad Men pridefully taking credit for the idea. Four of the tracks are by the Sopwith Camel, and four were by Jefferson Airplane.
The most memorable ends with a duck call followed by the bizarre announcement “I am a duck. I can’t wear white Levi’s. You are probably human. You have all the luck.”
In Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, Jeff Tamarkin writes:
When “White Rabbit” was released on June 6, the Airplane were already in the studio in Hollywood working on their next album. But before that, some time during the spring, they recorded something else altogether. Levi Strauss, the blue jeans manufacturer, had approached the band about creating a series of radio ads. The company promised to give the band free rein with the spots—they could go into the studio and do whatever they felt like, as long as they mentioned the product.
At least four spots were recorded. One featured Grace, wailing passionately over an Eastern-sounding improvisation, insisting that white Levi’s came in blue and black, tossing in non sequiturs about cactus, whiskey and whatnot. ...
To the Airplane, agreeing to do the spots was no big deal—they used Levi’s and perhaps they even saw this infiltration of the advertising industry as a somewhat revolutionary act.
Abbie Hoffman sure didn’t see it that way, and he let his irritation be known. This letter appeared in the May 11, 1967, issue of the Village Voice:
Interestingly, according to Tamarkin, once the Airplane learned of the exploitation, it asked Levi’s to let the band out of the contract, which it did.
Sopwith Camel, “Levi Strauss Waltz”
Sopwith Camel, “Worksong”
Sopwith Camel, “Good Morning, Old Jeans”
Jefferson Airplane, “East Indian”
Jefferson Airplane, “Duck”
Sopwith Camel, “Stretch”
West Coast Natural Gas Co., “Speed-Up Stretch”
Jefferson Airplane, “Twig City”
Jefferson Airplane, “Balloons Stretch”
For some reason there is a pause of nearly two minutes between the 6th and 7th tracks, but they’re all there, don’t worry.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
We all know The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, but what about The Sopwith Camel?