August 17, 2021

Three Things You Didn't Know About Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit"

Jefferson Airplane pioneered the psychedelic rock sound of San Francisco from the mid- to late-1960s, being the first in the genre to achieve international success. Headliners at some of the most important music festivals of the time (Monterey Pop, Woodstock, and Altamont among them), the band released its second album, Surrealistic Pillow, in the year of the Summer of Love, 1967. Two songs from that album made Rolling Stone's list of "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" – "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love."

The lyrical themes of drug experimentation in "White Rabbit" are familiar to most, as well as its use of imagery from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but some of the song's more obscure facts may surprise you.

  1. **Lead singer Grace Slick wrote the song…but not with Jefferson Airplane. **

Grace Slick joined Jefferson Airplane after their first singer, Signe Toly Anderson, quit the band in 1966. Slick performed "White Rabbit" with her previous band, The Great Society, whom she left to join Jefferson Airplane. The Great Society's version of "White Rabbit" released one year after Jefferson Airplane's, in 1968, and spans a lengthy six minutes, compared to Jefferson Airplane's more pop-friendly length of two-and-a-half minutes.

  1. **Slick wrote the song after an acid trip while listening to Miles Davis's album, Sketches of Spain. **

The acid trip may not come as a surprise, but the song's connection to the jazz of Miles Davis is less obvious. The album's first track, "Concierto de Aranjuez," provided the primary inspiration for Slick, a sprawling 16-minute orchestral arrangement featuring Spanish-style percussion.

  1. Musical inspiration for the song came from none other than French classical composer Maurice Ravel's "Boléro."

Who knew that rock-and-roll icon Grace Slick's record collection was so full of jazz and classical music? Like Davis's Sketches of Spain, the Spanish influence continues with Ravel's most famous piece, named after a Spanish dance. Take a listen to "Boléro" and you can see how the marching rhythm of the snare drum throughout the piece bares a close resemblance to the hypnotic snare drum rhythm in "White Rabbit."

This unique choice of rhythm sets this song apart from other rock songs of the era; combined with Slick's stern, enunciated voice, "White Rabbit" conveyed an otherworldliness and became a true classic of its time.

Leila Abdul-Rauf is a multi-instrumentalist and composer based in Oakland, CA. Leila is guitarist and vocalist for metal bands Vastum, Hammers of Misfortune, and ethereal post-punk band Terebellum. She also composes and produces ambient music under her own name, with electronic trio Ionophore and synth-folk duo Fyrhtu. Leila has toured internationally and is a private guitar and voice teacher in her spare time.

"Jefferson Airplane" promotional photo by RCA Victor is in the public domain.

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