Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers" At 45rpm From Mobile Fidelity Still Revolting!

If you are too young to remember but want to experience the turmoil and dread that marked the end of the tumultuous 1960's and you want to view it through west coast music that veers from bucolic to anarchistic, from sublime to self-indulgent with a force and power rarely heard in today's noodling rock, here it is.

Volunteers was the final Jefferson Airplane album featuring the "classic" lineup of volcanic vocalist Grace Slick, lead wah-wah drenched guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, seismic bassist Jack Casady, jazz drummer Spencer Dryden (he replaced Skip Spence who went on to form Moby Grape), rhythm guitarist/ vocalist Paul Kantner and soulful balladeer Marty Balin. Nicky Hopkins adds his distinctive, propulsive keyboards, Stephen Stills add a juicy Hammond organ and Jerry Garcia sit in on pedal steel.

You have to put up with some claims that raised eyebrows, hackles and laughs back then and now. These are middle class musicians expressing the feelings of the era's youth, but they were indulging themselves thinking they were seen as "outlaws in the eyes of America" or "forces of chaos and anarchy" and the album ending call for revolution fell flat then and still does now, but none of that matters because in the between "up against the wall motherfuckers (replaced by 'fred' in the lyric sheet)" and the calls to "tear down the walls" and the revolutionary changing of the generational guard of "Volunteers" are songs sublime and powerful, forbidding and inspirational that for many resonate today with the full faith and credit of stubborn resistance.

Is the apocalyptic "Wooden Ships" any less relevant today than it was during the cold war era (answer: "no")? This is the definitive "Wooden Ships". The traditional and solemn "Good Shepherd" and the humorous escapism of "The Farm" provide a respite from the turmoil and darkness of Grace Slick's masterpiece "Hey Frederick", perhaps inspired by "Helter Skelter" that expresses the #metoo movement fifty years in advance. There's delicate beauty in Kaukonen's "Turn My Life Down" and Bolero drama in the eco-friendly/it takes a village "Eskimo Blue Day". And there's Spencer Dryden's band breakup shit kicking Bakersfield sound influenced "A Song For All Seasons" that presaged by three years "Sweet Virginia".

So much to chew upon today from an almost 50 year old album that hasn't lost a molecule of incendiary upheaval all captured using 16 tracks for one of the first times on a rock record, produced by the great Al Schmitt and engineered by Rich Schmitt, who I assume is/was his son and recorded at Wally Heider's state of the art San Francisco studio.

No wonder this record's been reissued more than few times. Speakers Corner did it, mastered in Germany and Pure Pleasure did it mastered at AIR by Ray Staff. This one though using the original tape now owned by Sony/BMG is easily best and better than the orange label original. The recording's bass power and dynamic slam were too much for young peoples' turntables of the day, but here at 45rpm you get it all from the visceral bottom end growl of Jack Casady's bass to Jorma's wet, juicy wah-wah uncommonly well-recorded, mixed and here mastered for that or this time. If your system's bottom end is at all soft, and uncontrolled this might sound muddy but if all is good below and extended and clean on top, you can crank it up and expect a rocking great time.

Add the absurdist cover and inner sleeve artwork that too resonates today and you have a "classic rock" album that's as powerful and relevant today as it was in 1969 sounding better than ever.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Roy Martin's picture

1-"After Bathing at Baxter's"
2-"Surrealistic Pillow"
3-"Takes Off"
4-"Bless Its Pointed Little Head"
5-"Crown of Creation"
7-"30 Seconds Over Winterland"
8- getting hit by a bus
10-"Long John Silver"

daveming3's picture

There you go. As Jack said about this record: "that's when everybody in the band had their hands on the faders".

They could have made more "pop" songs a la surrealistic pillow, but instead they did THIS. I'm glad for that

John1949's picture

. . . incredibly dated and boring dreck now.

allhailkantner's picture

Bark and Long John Silver are simply not that bad, especially compared to today's music. And considering that the BIPLH versions of Somebody to Love, 3/5, Plastic Fantastic, and It's No Secret all simply blow away the studio versions that you have ranked above them, you probably should do separate lists for studio and live albums. But I do agree that Baxter's was their best studio album, and I don't really think it's close.

Roy Martin's picture the Fillmore East (you can hear my late brother's shout at the beginning of "Fat Angel.") so I tend to overrate that album but I was trying to be objective. My real point was to try to rank "Volunteers" in the context of their other records. To me it is the most "dated" of them all..

Well, we agree on "Baxter's" and I'm pretty sure we can agree on this:

"It wasn't the Airplane, 'twas beauty killed the beast."

nobonemovies's picture

Boring crap, doubt you'll listen to it twice.

Michael Fremer's picture
I listened to it numerous times and it was implanted in my head to the point where I was humming and singing "Hey Frederick" and a few others.... can't understand how you could find this album "boring"...but music is...very personal.
nobonemovies's picture

I find most 'hippie pop rock' doesn't have legs and is mostly repetitive noise. My aging ears have heard this too many times, lots of other lost tunes to discover - obviously I'm in the minority.

OldschoolE's picture

To each their own. I happen to enjoy Jefferson Airplane and find that they are much more than "hippie pop". They were actually formidable musicians and not just thrown together because someone knew a different chord than someone else.

Tom L's picture

...was one of those floppy RCA "Flexidiscs" that contained about 50 grams of vinyl. Looking forward to hearing this!
Also, Volunteers is somewhat dated and not the best Airplane album, but it is absolutely not "boring". Some people might have a problem with the political attitude it expresses, but the music still soars. I especially enjoy Jack Casady's bass work, he's one of the best rock bassists ever.

daveming3's picture

I grew up on Airplane, they're part of that 'soundtrack of your life' kind of thing -- which, when it wanders too far into nostalgia territory, is definitely not a good thing (for me). The main question is always "does it hold up musically?". How well it holds up is usually the determining factor for me as far as forking over the extra duckets to hear something done up righteous.

It's not my favorite Airplane, but Jack Casady's bass playing and the leads (not one, but TWO great lead voices in one group?) are worth the price of admission. So, if I find myself with some (extra)disposable income, I just might pay up to hear Jack fly the Airplane in style (he was the secret weapon of the group).

OldschoolE's picture

I think I have the original orange label version. I purposely look for original as the case may be for music from this era (which I grew up with). If it is Flexidisk or not, I may need to consider getting this version. I have not listened to this LP in a few months, but have heard it several times. I seem to recall thinking it just sounded Ok in quality and not due to my system's abilities.
I recently obtained the original Mono version of Surrealistic Pillow which kick's the camel's ass of my stereo version.

Michael Fremer's picture
Yes that was always the one to have because the stereo has way too much reverb. Too much reverb is bad for rock!
Paul Boudreau's picture

The most important part is the pb&j in the middle. Chunky, of course.

I just looked at what I had and I've got this one, an orange-label one and a "quadradisc" - where'd that come from?

Max's picture

Most of us into the Airplane rank After Bathing at Baxters as their finest. Volunteers has moved up to No. 2 on my list. The half that I play remains as exhilarating as it was going back to the fall of '69 when I turned 16 and paid $4.20, although I have some agreement with those who note that much of their work (especially post-Volunteers) has not worn well. $50 is a lot of money these days to buy music I don't play that much regularly (in my case, it would be the sixth time, with the latest vinyl some years back sounding great). Maybe better to spend these funds to explore other spaces.

Devilscucumber's picture

I'm a relative nube to Jefferson Airplane, didn't start listening until the early 80's when after reading Fear & Loathing I had to hear White Rabbit. Subsequently loved Surrealistic Pillow (and still do) but then Baxters sounded dated, partially due to Grace's style, which a few other psychesque/prog bands also exhibited,(Van Der Graaf, United States of America etc). Really enjoyed the DVD documentary "Fly Jefferson Airplane" Not sure if the magic we experienced back in the day, is always evident to the modern audience.

antonmb's picture

Now if only we can get a good reissue of Blows Against The Empire.

allhailkantner's picture

Volunteers is awesome. I think Hey Frederick and Eskimo Blue Day were two of the band's best. Eskimo Blue Day has a few awesome live versions too. I think We Can Be Together is a great song too. I think Good Shepherd, Volunteers, and Wooden Ships are all awesome too, but I prefer live versions I've heard for all of those. The rest of the album I like as well. Even The Farm. Yes, I think The Farm is a good song. Sue me.

richardforsyth's picture

I like that band a lot.

swimming1's picture

The Airplane were original dadaists! Check out their performance on the Smothers Brothers! Live they were amazing.Grace was sweet.