White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane song)
|Single by Jefferson Airplane|
|from the album Surrealistic Pillow|
|B-side||"Plastic Fantastic Lover"|
|Released||June 24, 1967|
|Jefferson Airplane singles chronology|
"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-10 success, peaking at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was ranked number 478 on Rolling Stones list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Number 87 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. 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 had stated the composition was intended 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 hookah-smoking caterpillar, the White Knight, the Red Queen, and the Dormouse.
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-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.
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." 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.
- 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. A 1996 version by Icelandic singer-songwriter Emilíana Torrini was used in the soundtrack for the 2011 film Sucker Punch. Pop-Rock singer P!nk has covered the song in 2016 for the Disney movie Alice Through the Looking Glass without the version appearing on the soundtrack.
"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."
- The song is featured in the 1997 film The Game.
- The song is featured in the Terry Gilliam adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (corresponding to the book's mention of the song).
- A line in the song, "Go Ask Alice", was used as the title of a 1971 book about drug addiction by Beatrice Sparks that was adapted two years later into an ABC Movie of the Week.
- 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 a line at the end of the song, "Remember what the dormouse said: feed your head."
- A version, sung in Arabic by Mayssa Karaa, is heard in the 2013 movie American Hustle.
- The song is played in The Simpsons season 10 episode 6, "D'oh-in' in the Wind", season 16 episode 6, "Midnight Rx", and season 19 episode 19, "Mona Leaves-a".
- The song is played in the 1986 Academy Award winner Platoon.
- The song is played in the Warehouse 13 season 1 episode 8 "Duped" when Alice (inhabiting the body of Myka Bearing) returns to the Warehouse to destroy the mirror that would trap her.
- The song is played in the beginning and very ending of Season 1, Episode 7 of The Sopranos, titled "Down Neck".
- The song is played in Supernatural season 2 episode 10 "Hunted".
- The song is played in Episode 1 of the first season of "Stranger Things", titled "The Vanishing of Will Byers"
- The song is included in the soundtrack to Sucker Punch.
- Myers, Marc (May 31, 2016). "How Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick Wrote 'White Rabbit'". International Times. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
- "Top 100 Music Hits, Top 100 Music Charts, Top 100 Songs & The Hot 100". Billboard.com. Retrieved July 8, 2011.
- "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". December 9, 2004. Archived from the original on June 26, 2008. Retrieved August 7, 2011.
- "Top Singles of All-time". Rate Your Music. Retrieved October 30, 2012.
- "Darby Slick Puts Original Lyrics Up For Sale". jambands.com.
- "Billboard - Jefferson Airplane". billboard.com.
- 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.
- "Biography - Grace Slick". jeffersonairplane.con.
- "White Rabbit Lyrics". metrolyrics.com.
- Myers, Marc. "She Went Chasing Rabbits". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved August 2, 2016.
- 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 
- 1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die
- Hoffmann, Frank (1983). The Cash Box Singles Charts, 1950-1981. Metuchen, NJ & London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 303.
- "Filmography by year for Jefferson Airplane". IMDB.com. Retrieved June 14, 2011.
- 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.