White Rabbit (song)
|Single by Jefferson Airplane|
|from the album Surrealistic Pillow|
|B-side||"Plastic Fantastic Lover"|
|Released||June 24, 1967|
|Recorded||November 3, 1966|
|Studio||RCA, Hollywood, California, U.S.|
|Jefferson Airplane singles chronology|
"White Rabbit" is a song written by Grace Slick and recorded by the American rock band Jefferson Airplane for their 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow. It was released as a single and became the band's second top-10 success, peaking at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was ranked number 478 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Number 116 on Rate Your Music's Top Singles of All Time, and appears on The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
"White Rabbit" was written and performed by Grace Slick while she was still with the Great Society. When that band broke up in 1966, Slick was invited to join Jefferson Airplane to replace their departed female singer, Signe Toly Anderson, who left the band with the birth of her child. The first album Slick recorded with Jefferson Airplane was Surrealistic Pillow, and Slick provided two songs from her previous group: her own "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love", written by her brother-in-law Darby Slick and recorded under the title "Someone to Love" by the Great Society. The Great Society's version of "White Rabbit" was much longer than the more aggressive version of Jefferson Airplane. Both songs became top-10 hits for Jefferson Airplane and have ever since been associated with that band.
Lyrics and composition
"White Rabbit" is one of Grace Slick's earliest songs, written during either late 1965 or early 1966. It uses imagery found in the fantasy works of Lewis Carroll—1865's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its 1871 sequel Through the Looking-Glass—such as changing size after taking pills or drinking an unknown liquid.
Slick claimed the composition was supposed to be a slap to parents who read their children such novels and then wondered why their children later used drugs. Characters Slick referenced include Alice, the White Rabbit, the hookah-smoking caterpillar, the White Knight, the Red Queen, and the Dormouse. Slick reportedly wrote the song after an acid trip. For Slick, "White Rabbit" "is about following your curiosity. The White Rabbit is your curiosity". For her and others in the 1960s, drugs were a part of mind expansion and social experimentation. With its enigmatic lyrics, "White Rabbit" became one of the first songs to sneak drug references past censors on the radio. Even Marty Balin, Slick's eventual rival in Jefferson Airplane, regarded the song as a "masterpiece." In interviews, Slick has related that Alice in Wonderland was often read to her as a child and remained a vivid memory well into her adulthood.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Slick mentioned that in addition to Alice in Wonderland, her other inspiration for the song was Ravel's "Bolero". The song is essentially one long crescendo similar to that of Ravel's famous "Boléro". The music combined with the song's lyrics strongly suggests the sensory distortions experienced with hallucinogens, and the song was later used in pop culture to imply or accompany just such a state.
The music video, released in 1967 and directed by horror and thriller movie director Ray Dennis Steckler, features a woman played by Carolyn Brandt, Steckler's frequent collaborator, evocatively moving around a beach, a rock, and through waves while there are other parts intercut of a caterpillar, a chess piece, and the band's album cover while the song plays.
- Grace Slick – vocals
- Jorma Kaukonen – lead guitar
- Paul Kantner – rhythm guitar
- Jack Casady – bass
- Spencer Dryden – drums
Many artists have covered the song. Among the more notable examples are guitarist George Benson's jazz version from 1971 (featuring an electric piano solo by Herbie Hancock), and a single released in 1980 by punk/gothic rock band the Damned. It was covered in 1985 by the Zarkons, a new name at the time for the Southern California punk bank The Alley Cats. The song was covered by American metal band Sanctuary on their 1987 debut album Refuge Denied. The song was covered by industrial rock group Death Method for the various artists compilation album Shut Up Kitty, released in 1993. A 1996 version by Icelandic singer-songwriter Emilíana Torrini was used in the soundtrack for the 2011 film Sucker Punch. The 2002 Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again: A Compilation Benefiting American Veterans of the Vietnam War contains a cover by the band Enon. Collide contributed a DnB-remix version for the soundtrack of Resident Evil: Extinction in 2007. Pop-rock singer Pink has covered the song in 2016 for the Disney movie Alice Through the Looking Glass without the version appearing on the soundtrack. Instead, her version appeared as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of her 2017 album, Beautiful Trauma. Blue Man Group used the song for their stage production and put it into their album, The Complex. Joe Hawley of the band Tally Hall covered the song for his solo album Joe Hawley Joe Hawley in 2016. Swedish artist Loreen also performed the song live. Paul Kalkbrenner used the lyrics in his remix of the song named Feed Your Head.
"White Rabbit" has been used in numerous films and television shows.
In the "A Head in the Polls" episode of the television show Futurama, the character of Richard Nixon's head, while announcing his campaign to become president of Earth and in an attempt to broaden his political appeal, sings, "Remember what the dormouse said. Feed your head." Then adds, "I'm meeting you halfway, you stupid hippies."
A line in the song, "Go Ask Alice", was used as the title of a 1971 book about drug addiction by Beatrice Sparks (who wrote the book under the pseudonym "Anonymous") which was adapted two years later into an ABC Movie of the Week. The song was used in the soundtrack for the film
What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, by John Markoff, is a book about the development of the personal computer in the context of the collaboration-driven, World War II-era defense research community and the cooperatives and psychedelics of the American counterculture of the 1960s. "What the Dormouse Said" is a reference to lines at the end of the song, "Remember what the dormouse said. Feed your head."
Haley Reinhart’s cover was used in episode two of A Discovery of Witches.
Used in The Sopranos, season 1, episode 7 as Tony Soprano reflects on his childhood.
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- 1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die
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- Lanier, Jaron (July 2010). "Early Computing's Long, Strange Trip. What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry. John Markoff" (Book review). American Scientist. Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. 93 (4). Scientists' Nightstand > Bookshelf Detail. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
John Markoff's What the Dormouse Said (the title is taken from the lyrics of the Jefferson Airplane song "White Rabbit") tells the story of the important period when the personal computer and the Internet as we know them came into being. He also describes how a new culture of drugs, sex and rock and roll was created at the same time as the computers, sometimes in the same rooms, by some of the same people.