White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane song)

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This article is about the Jefferson Airplane song. For the Egypt Central song, see White Rabbit (Egypt Central song).
"White Rabbit"
Single by Jefferson Airplane
from the album Surrealistic Pillow
B-side "Plastic Fantastic Lover"
Released June 24, 1967 (1967-06-24)
Format 7-inch single
Recorded
Genre Psychedelic rock[1]
Length 2:31
Label RCA Victor
Writer(s) Grace Slick
Producer(s) Rick Jarrard
ISWC T-070.247.962-6
Jefferson Airplane singles chronology
"Somebody to Love"
(1967)
"White Rabbit"
(1967)
"The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil"
(1967)
Music sample

"White Rabbit" is a song written by Grace Slick, and recorded by the American psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane for their 1967 album, Surrealistic Pillow. It was released as a single and became the band's second top ten success, peaking at number eight[2] on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was ranked number 478 on Rolling Stones list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,[3] Number 87 on Rate Your Music's Top Singles of All Time,[4] and appears on The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

History[edit]

“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.[5] Both songs became top ten hits[6] for Jefferson Airplane and have ever since been associated with that band.[7]

Lyrics and composition[edit]

1967 trade ad for the single.

"White Rabbit" is one of Grace Slick's earliest songs, written during either late 1965 or early 1966. It utilizes 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 had stated the composition was intended to be a slap to parents who would read their children such novels, and then wonder why their children would later use drugs.[8] Characters Slick referenced include Alice, the hookah-smoking caterpillar, the White Knight, the Red Queen, and the Dormouse.[9]

Although for Slick, White Rabbit "is about following your curiosity. The White Rabbit is your curiosity",[citation needed] for her and others in the 1960s, drugs were a part of mind-expanding 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.[3]

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Slick mentioned that in addition to Alice in Wonderland her other inspiration for the song was "the bolero used by Miles Davis and Gil Evans on their 1960 album Sketches of Spain."[10] 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.[11]

Personnel[edit]

  • Grace Slick - vocals
  • Jorma Kaukonen – lead guitar
  • Paul Kantner – rhythm guitar
  • Jack Casady – bass
  • Spencer Dryden – drums

Charts[edit]

Cashbox[12] (11 weeks): 59, 45, 23, 14, 12, 11, 8, 6, 7, 22, 41

Covers[edit]

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. A 1996 version by Icelandic singer-songwriter Emilíana Torrini was used in the soundtrack for the 2011 film Sucker Punch.

In media[edit]

"White Rabbit" has been used in numerous films and television shows.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Myers, Marc (May 31, 2016). "How Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick Wrote 'White Rabbit'". International Times. Retrieved July 21, 2016. 
  2. ^ "Top 100 Music Hits, Top 100 Music Charts, Top 100 Songs & The Hot 100". Billboard.com. Retrieved July 8, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". December 9, 2004. Archived from the original on June 26, 2008. Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Top Singles of All-time". Rate Your Music. Retrieved October 30, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Darby Slick Puts Original Lyrics Up For Sale". jambands.com. 
  6. ^ "Billboard - Jefferson Airplane". billboard.com. 
  7. ^ Tamarkin, Jeff, ed. (2003). Got a revolution!:the turublent flight of Jefferson Airplane. Atria. p. 113. ISBN 0-671-03403-0. Retrieved April 30, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Biography - Grace Slick". jeffersonairplane.con. 
  9. ^ "White Rabbit Lyrics". metrolyrics.com. 
  10. ^ Berkowitz, Kenny. Got a Revolution!: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane. New York: Atrica Books, 2005, p. 153; Wall Street Journal Interview 29 April 2011 [1]
  11. ^ 1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die
  12. ^ Hoffmann, Frank (1983). The Cash Box Singles Charts, 1950-1981. Metuchen, NJ & London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 303. 
  13. ^ "Filmography by year for Jefferson Airplane". IMDB.com. Retrieved June 14, 2011. 
  14. ^ 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. 

External links[edit]