Airplane Against the World, Motherf*cker.
Click. Ah, there it is, that soothing sound as another piece is added to the Jefferson Airpuzzle. You’ll indulge me my strange obsession, I’m sure, peering over my shoulder to see what I’m scribbling while the tigers crouch in the corner and smile. Never mind the tigers, since I’m the only one who sees them anyway: the beggars’ banquet table as unholy altar, the empty banquet table of the dead, the empty rest-rooming place of a legend. We’ve talked before about the shifting spectrum of music in the late 60s, from black to rainbow to red, white and blue. You could hear it in the music of The Rolling Stones and on Volunteers too. Any conversation of Jefferson’s sixth should really begin and end with its two revolutionary anthems, “We Can Be Together” and “Volunteers.” But the conversation doesn’t end there. There are side conversations that must take place around the contributions of Nicky Hopkins, who gives their music a more serious dimension, and the inspired lead guitar work of Jorma Kaukonen, wielder of psychedelic lightning bolts. And then there’s that troublesome card facing us on the table, the mutinous lovers, who seem to wrest more control of the airplane with every album. Or we could talk about the band’s newfound affection for the country (“The Farm,” “Good Shepherd,” “A Song For All Seasons”), which effectively replaces the psychedelic experimentation of past albums and pre-figures the direction that the Dead would soon take. It’s a lot to discuss, more than I care to do really, and any discussion would omit some important detail anyway, as there are so many important details to capture. The band’s dark and stormy voyage through “Wooden Ships” could consume one thousand words alone. I could spend another thousand or more on “Eskimo Blue Day” and “Hey Fredrick” each. As we’ve already established, though, these reviews are merely the scratching of a nervous itch, a missing piece of discographical detail to be added, catalogued and applied as a soothing salve to an anxious mind. For your troubles, I’ll give you a short summation of Volunteers. It’s the best album from the band’s classic lineup and also their last, showing a newfound interest in the burgeoning country-rock scene, marked by the stellar musical contributions of Jorma and Nicky Hopkins (last seen at Beggar’s Banquet) and displaying an ever-increasing depth of songwriting from Paul Kantner and Grace Slick. It also contains the band’s most succinct counterculture anthems. You can lament the slow disintegration of Jefferson Airplane, but it’s unlikely they would have reached greater heights than Volunteers.
Original LP Version
A1. We Can Be Together (Paul Kantner) (5:22)
A2. Good Shepherd (Traditional, arr. by Jorma Kaukonen) (4:22)
A3. The Farm (Paul Kantner/Gary Blackman) (2:55)
A4. Hey Fredrick (Grace Slick) (8:31)
B1. Turn My Life Down (Jorma Kaukonen) (2:55)
B2. Wooden Ships (David Crosby/Paul Kantner/Stephen Stills) (6:00)
B3. Eskimo Blue Day (Grace Slick/Paul Kantner) (6:31)
B4. A Song For All Seasons (Spencer Dryden) (3:30)
B5. Meadowlands (Traditional, arr. by Grace Slick/Paul Kantner) (1:01)
B6. Volunteers (Marty Balin/Paul Kantner) (2:03)
Marty Balin (singer, percussion), Jack Casady (bassist), Spencer Dryden (drummer), Paul Kantner (singer, rhythm guitar), Jorma Kaukonen (guitarist, vocals), Grace Slick (singer, piano, organ, recorder) with Ace of Cups (Mary Gannon, Marilyn Hunt, Diane Hursh, Denise Jewkes) (vocals on A3/B1), Joey Covington (conga drums on B1, chair on B3), David Crosby (music, sailboat), Jerry Garcia (pedal steel guitar on A3), Nicky Hopkins (piano on A1/A4/B2/B4/B5), Bill Laudner (that voice on B4), Stephen Stills (Hammond organ on B1). Produced by Al Schmitt; engineered by Rich Schmitt; Pat Ieraci Mauriceman at the 16 track.
Album design by Gut, Milton Burke and Airplane. Cover photo by Jim Marshall. Back photo by Jim Smircich, photo alchemist. PB&J photo by Little Herbie Greene. PB&J eaten by Gut.
Released on elpee in November 1969 in the US and Germany (RCA, LSP-4238) and in February 1970 in the UK (RCA, SF 8076) with gatefold cover and insert; reached #13 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record) and #34 on the UK charts.
- Re-released on quadrophonic elpee in 1971 in the US (RCA, APD1-0320).
- Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1981 in the US (RCA, AYL1/AYK1-3867) and Italy (RCA, YK 13867).
- Re-issued on compact disc in 1998 in the US (RCA, 67562-2).
- Re-released on super high material compact disc on April 21, 2009 in Japan (RCA, BVCM-34408).
- Re-packaged with Bark and Long John Silver on 3CD in 2011 (Sony).
- Re-issued on elpee in 2012 (Sundazed).
- Re-released on remastered compact disc in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 540).
- Re-released on remastered 180g vinyl 2LP in 2018 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, 2-457) with gatefold cover.