The Pilgrim’s Playlist (1): David Bowie, Jefferson Airplane

blackstarvolunteersLike many of you, I have followed the call of Rock & Roll for as long as I can remember. For you and me, the music is our traveling companion on life’s long and wobbly journey. It accompanies us in and out of new places and new phases, and it plants directional signposts and distance markers along the way.

As Rock changes and grows, we try to change and grow along with it. We follow like pilgrims searching for joy, enlightenment, and maybe something to blow the top of our heads off every once in a while. Obviously such destinations are elusive and sometimes hard to find, but it’s more about the journey than the destinations anyway. And as they say, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

This regular column will feature this Rock pilgrim’s musical picks, from new album releases and current tracks of interest, to old hits and forgotten gems. It is about celebrating the positive and not descending into the negativity that can darken any journey. So fasten your seatbelts, and make sure all your baggage is securely stowed in the overhead compartment. 

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Recommended Albums

David Bowie – Blackstar

Might as well kick things off with a biggie. Blackstar is in my opinion nothing less than an album for the ages, one that is destined to settle in and claim a spot in the psyche of everyone who takes the time to become familiar with it. No doubt the album challenges the listener at times with eastern tonalities and obscure mysticisms, but if you stick with it, you will eventually be deeply rewarded.

Clearly that was Bowie’s intention, as he says, “I can’t give everything away”. He’s going to make us work for it. Take the epic title track, which begins with four minutes of medieval incantations punctuated by an insane drum track and ominous sax. But “at the center of it all” a gentle sweet melody emerges as Bowie muses eloquently about fame and mortality, and the song then morphs seamlessly and artfully back to the suddenly more palatable incantations. The song is so brilliant it makes my knees shake.

While on first listen the album sounds like a bit of a downer, on subsequent spins it starts to surprise with a tightly managed but wider range of sound and feeling. It quietly categorizes several Bowie styles over the years, with echoes of Roxy Music, Radiohead and Peter Gabriel thrown in for good measure. And although the overall mood remains on the dark side, it’s not morbid or morose. “Tis A Pity She Was A Whore” is actually pretty funny, and the final two tracks are very accessible pop numbers.

The fact that it is Bowie’s last album obviously gives it some importance right off the bat, and certainly gives one a reason to really try and savor it. But even if it wasn’t his swan song, my guess is that it would still eventually rank as one of Bowie’s great albums over time.




Forgotten Gem

Jefferson Airplane – Wooden Ships

I was saddened by the death of Paul Kantner last week. Kantner was a pioneer of the ‘60s psychedelic revolution as founder of Jefferson Airplane. The band, and the revolution, started early in San Francisco, way back in 1965 when college chicks still used hairspray and college guys still used Brylcreem. 1965 was really ground zero, and Kantner was there.

Jefferson Airplane shares a place in Rock history with fellow San Franciscans the Grateful Dead, as both became known for their epic psychedelic jams, but the Airplane was distinguished by having more political and more concise songwriting than the Dead, and also by having a powerful woman lead singer who drew all kinds of attention.

It’s fun going back to the early Airplane stuff. 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow contained the band’s only two hits, “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit”, but sounds pretty dated these days. A more interesting album is 1969’s Volunteers, which had the soul and energy of raggedy political revolt, and it also contained this song.

“Wooden Ships” was written by Kantner, David Crosby and Stephen Stills on Crosby’s boat in Fort Lauderdale. Crosby wrote the melody, while Stills and mostly Kantner wrote the lyrics. “Wooden ships on the water very free and easy” is all Kantner’s.

It’s a beautiful and interesting take on the song. Both versions are considered original versions. Nicky Hopkins’ fantastic piano work brought a new element to the Airplane sound. It’s free and easy and earnest and groovy. God bless ya, Paul Kantner.




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3 comments to “The Pilgrim’s Playlist (1): David Bowie, Jefferson Airplane”
  1. Pingback: Dan Hicks Countered The Counter-Culture In the Sixties and Seventies | Rocknuts

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