White Rabbit (song)

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"White Rabbit"
White Rabbit label.jpg
Single by Jefferson Airplane
from the album Surrealistic Pillow
B-side"Plastic Fantastic Lover"
ReleasedJune 1967 (1967-06)[1]
RecordedNovember 3, 1966 (1966-11-03)
StudioRCA, Hollywood, California, U.S.
Genre
Length2:31
LabelRCA Victor
Songwriter(s)Grace Slick
Producer(s)Rick Jarrard
Jefferson Airplane singles chronology
"Somebody to Love"
(1967)
"White Rabbit"
(1967)
"The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil"
(1967)
Music video
"White Rabbit" on YouTube

"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 draws on imagery from Lewis Carroll's 1865 book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its 1871 sequel Through the Looking-Glass.

It was released as a single and became the band's second top-10 success, peaking at number eight[4] on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was ranked number 478 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time[5] in 2004, number 483 in 2010, and number 455 in 2021 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. Slick quit them and joined Jefferson Airplane to replace their departing 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.[6] 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[7] for Jefferson Airplane and have ever since been associated with that band.[8]

Lyrics and composition[edit]

1967 trade ad for the single

"White Rabbit" is one of Grace Slick's earliest songs, written during December 1965 or January 1966.[9] 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 wrote the lyrics first, then composed the music at a red upright piano she had bought for US$50 with eight or ten keys missing—"that was OK because I could hear in my head the notes that weren't there"[10] —moving between major chords for the verses and chorus. She said that the music was heavily influenced by Miles Davis's 1960 album Sketches of Spain, particularly Davis's treatment of the Concierto de Aranjuez (1939). She later said: "Writing weird stuff about Alice backed by a dark Spanish march was in step with what was going on in San Francisco then. We were all trying to get as far away from the expected as possible."[9]

Slick said 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.[11] She later commented that all fairytales read to little girls have a Prince Charming who comes and saves them. But Alice did not; she was "on her own...in a very strange place, but she kept on going and she followed her curiosity – that's the White Rabbit. A lot of women could have taken a message from that story about how you can push your own agenda." Slick added that "The line in the song 'feed your head' is both about reading and psychedelics...feeding your head by paying attention: read some books, pay attention."[10]

Characters Slick referenced include Alice, the White Rabbit, the hookah-smoking caterpillar, the White Knight, the Red Queen, and the Dormouse.[12] Slick reportedly wrote the song after an acid trip.[13]

For Slick, "White Rabbit" "is about following your curiosity. The White Rabbit is your curiosity."[14] 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.[5]

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 Boléro. Like Boléro, "White Rabbit" is essentially one long crescendo. 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.[15]

The song was first played by the Great Society in a bar in San Francisco in early 1966, and later when they opened the bill for bigger bands like the Grateful Dead. They made a series of demo records for Autumn Records, for which they were assisted by Sly Stone. Grace Slick said: "We were so bad that Sly eventually played all the instruments so the demo would sound OK." When Slick joined Jefferson Airplane later in 1966, she taught the song to the band, who recorded it for their album Surrealistic Pillow.[9] "White Rabbit" is in the key of F-sharp which Slick acknowledges "is difficult for guitar players as it requires some intricate fingering".[10]

Reception[edit]

Cash Box called it "a real strong outing guaranteed to get lots of attention."[16]

Chart history[edit]

Cashbox[25] (11 weeks): 59, 45, 23, 14, 12, 11, 8, 6, 7, 22, 41

Personnel[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Strong, Martin Charles (1995). The Great Rock Discography. p. 430. ISBN 9780862415419.
  2. ^ Myers, Marc (May 31, 2016). "How Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick Wrote 'White Rabbit'". International Times. Archived from the original on August 6, 2016. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  3. ^ Heller, Jason; Spanos, Brittany; Vozick-Levinson, Simon; Harris, Keith; Greene, Andy (January 29, 2016). "Jefferson Airplane: 12 Essential Songs". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 3, 2021.
  4. ^ "Top 100 Music Hits, Top 100 Music Charts, Top 100 Songs & The Hot 100". Billboard.com. Archived from the original on July 13, 2014. Retrieved July 8, 2011.
  5. ^ a b "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. December 9, 2004. Archived from the original on June 22, 2008. Retrieved August 7, 2011.
  6. ^ "Darby Slick Puts Original Lyrics Up For Sale". Jambands.com. March 26, 2014. Archived from the original on February 4, 2015. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  7. ^ "Billboard – Jefferson Airplane". Billboard.com. Archived from the original on September 1, 2015. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  8. ^ Tamarkin, Jeff, ed. (2003). Got a revolution!:the turublent flight of Jefferson Airplane. Atria. p. 113. ISBN 0-671-03403-0. Archived from the original on July 1, 2014. Retrieved April 30, 2011.
  9. ^ a b c Myers, Marc (2016). Anatomy of a Song. Grove Press. pp. 92–99. ISBN 978-1-61185-525-8.
  10. ^ a b c Jesudason, David (August 23, 2021). "Grace Slick and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane: how we made White Rabbit". The Guardian.
  11. ^ "Biography – Grace Slick". Jeffersonairplane.com. Archived from the original on May 7, 2017. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  12. ^ "White Rabbit Lyrics". Metrolyrics.com. Archived from the original on February 16, 2015. Retrieved January 31, 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  13. ^ Hughes, Rob (October 29, 2016). "The Story Behind The Song: White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane". Classic Rock. Archived from the original on August 2, 2017. Retrieved August 2, 2017.
  14. ^ Myers, Marc. "She Went Chasing Rabbits". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on January 8, 2015. Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  15. ^ Robert Dimery (October 1, 2015). 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die (First ed.). Cassell. ISBN 978-1844038800.
  16. ^ "CashBox Record Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. June 24, 1967. p. 22. Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  17. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. August 5, 1967. Archived from the original on 2018-01-14. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  18. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  19. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 8/12/67". Tropicalglen.com. Archived from the original on November 28, 2018. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  20. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Jefferson Airplane" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  21. ^ "Archívum – Slágerlisták – MAHASZ" (in Hungarian). Single (track) Top 40 lista. Magyar Hanglemezkiadók Szövetsége. Retrieved April 21, 2022.
  22. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles of 1967". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Archived from the original on August 12, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  23. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1967/Top 100 Songs of 1967". Musicoutfitters.com. Archived from the original on March 23, 2019. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  24. ^ "Cash Box YE Pop Singles - 1967". Tropicalglen.com. Archived from the original on September 7, 2013. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  25. ^ Hoffmann, Frank (1983). The Cash Box Singles Charts, 1950–1981. Metuchen, NJ & London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 303.
  26. ^ Hendley, Nate (2016). The Big Con: Great Hoaxes, Frauds, Grifts, and Swindles in American History. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 161–163. ISBN 9781610695862.
  27. ^ Loebker, Terri (October 16, 1971). "Books In Review: Diary of a Young Drug Addict". The Cincinnati Enquirer. p. Teen-Ager–p. 3. Retrieved December 21, 2016 – via Newspapers.com. "Go Ask Alice", (title adapted from Grace Slick's song, "White Rabbit",) is the anonymous diary of a 15-year-old drug user.
  28. ^ IMDb, retrieved October 17, 2022
  29. ^ The Matrix Resurrections – Official Trailer 1, retrieved September 20, 2022
  30. ^ THE TWILIGHT ZONE (S1E9) “The Blue Scorpion”: Taking Aim At Gun Violence, retrieved May 28, 2019
  31. ^ Rogust, Scott. "Bray Wyatt returns to WWE after white rabbit teases". Fansided. Retrieved October 9, 2022.

External links[edit]