Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jefferson Airplane -- "How Do You Feel?" (1967)

Look into her eyes

Do you see what I mean?
Just look at her hair
And when she speaks
Oh, oh, what a pleasant surprise
How do you feel?

Surrealistic Pillow was the first big psychedelic album to come out of San Francisco, and it has been a favorite of mine for over 40 years.

The album hit the stores in early 1967, but I probably didn't get it until some time after "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" were relased.  (Both were top-10 singles.)

I remember ordering Surrealistic Pillow in response to an introductory offer from the RCA record club -- you know, "Get 12 records free when you agree to buy 6 within one year," etc.  This particular RCA offer was two records for 99 cents, as I recall, and there were no strings attached.

What was the other record I got?  Hugo Montenegro's Music From The Man From U.N.C.L.E. album.  I don't think this was the actual music played during the television show -- it consisted of a cover version of the main "Man From U.N.C.L.E." theme plus other instrumentals in the spirit of the show.

I remember playing it one Saturday night when my parents were out to dinner with friends.  I was pretending to be Napoleon Solo, jumping from one hiding place to another -- peeking around the corner, and then diving behind the sofa, firing my imaginary Walther P-38 pistol at my pursuers all the while.  (I was at least 15 years old -- maybe even 16 -- so this is a little embarrassing to admit.) 

I didn't play the LP very often, so it's got to be in pristine condition -- probably worth a fortune on eBay.

Surrealistic Pillow didn't inspire me to run around my house in fantasy secret-agent mode.  In fact, it often put me to sleep.

I remember sitting in the big, overstuffed La-Z-Boy in our living room and drifting off to sleep (despite it being the middle of the day) while Surrealistic Pillow played on our Magnavox console stereo.

It was such a relaxing record to listen to -- not boring, just relaxing.  Classical music often had the same effect on me.  I rarely made it through a Mozart or Beethoven symphony without nodding off.  (I wish I could just let myself fall asleep at an orchestra concert.  It's such a nice feeling to go to sleep while listening to music.)

Surrealistic Pillow has a lot of very good songs:  "She Has Funny Cars," "Today," "Comin' Back to Me," and others.  "How Do You Feel?" is not my favorite, but I was listening to it while walking my dog, Lily, the other day and was struck for the first time by how it sounded exactly like a Mamas and Papas song.

The Mamas and Papas
I don't know whether the Airplane consciously tried to sound like the Mamas and Papas on this song, but I don't see how anyone could deny the resemblance.  In fact, I can't imagine how I could have missed picking up on the similarity until 2011.  (I think it's Grace Slick's presence that is most responsible for that -- there aren't that many groups from that era that featured male-female harmonies.)

Surrealistic Pillow generally doesn't sound very much like the other music I think of as psychedelic, or acid rock.  But it's not really folk or folk-rock music either.  (It doesn't sound anything like Bob Dylan, and seems quite different from the Byrds as well, although a lot of people would probably classify the Airplane and the Byrds as being very similar.)

The best songs on this album have the innocence and the great harmony singing of the Rubber Soul-era Beatles and the Beach Boys, and "How Do You Feel?" also has the natural ebullience and the male-female harmonies that are characteristic of the best Mamas and Papas records.  Listen to it, and then listen to "Monday, Monday."

Here's "How Do You Feel?":

Here's "Monday, Monday":

Here's a link you can use to buy "How Do You Feel?" from iTunes:

How Do You Feel - Surrealistic Pillow

Here's a link to use if you prefer Amazon:

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