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|
|on YouTube, by Jefferson Airplane with Grace Slick on vocals. RCA Records 74-160269, stereo, single (1967). (2:31 minutes, HQ)|
|on YouTube, by Jefferson Airplane with Grace Slick on vocals. From the album Surrealistic Pillow, stereo (1967). (2:32 minutes, HQ with lyrics)|
|on YouTube, by Jefferson Airplane with Grace Slick on vocals. From the album Surrealistic Pillow (1967). (2:38 minutes, 8D Audio "multidirectional", with lyrics)|
|on YouTube, by Jefferson Airplane with Grace Slick on vocals. Live from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967). (2:29 minutes)|
|on YouTube, by Jefferson Starship with Cathy Richardson on lead vocals, Paul Kantner, David Freiberg, Donny Baldwin, Slick Aguilar, Chris Smith, Marty Balin. Live from the 2012 PBS Special, My Music: 60s Pop, Rock and Soul. (2:45 minutes)|
"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 455 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and 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. 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. 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 December 1965 or January 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 wrote the lyrics first, then composed the music at a red upright piano she had bought for US$50 with eight or 10 keys missing—"that was OK because I could hear in my head the notes that weren't there" —moving between major chords for the verses and chorus. She said that the music was heavily influenced by Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain, particularly Davis' treatment of the Concierto de Aranjuez. 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."
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. 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 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. The line "feed your head" is about reading, as well as psychedelics feed your head by paying attention: read some books, pay attention.
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 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.
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. "White Rabbit" is written in the key of A major.
- 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.
- A single released in 1980 by punk/gothic rock band The Damned.
- The 1985 cover by the Zarkons, a new name at the time for the Southern California punk bank The Alley Cats.
- The 1987 cover by American metal band Sanctuary on their 1987 debut album Refuge Denied.
- The 1993 cover by industrial rock group Death Method for the various artists compilation album Shut Up Kitty.
- A 1996 version by Icelandic singer-songwriter Emilíana Torrini, used on the soundtrack for the 2011 film Sucker Punch.
- Born For Bliss covered the song in 1997 on their album Flowing with the Flue.
- The 2002 album 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.
- Blue Man Group used the song in their stage production and put it into their 2003 album, The Complex.
- Shakespear's Sister covered the song on their 2004 album The Best of Shakespear's Sister.
- Patti Smith covered the song in 2007 on her album Twelve.
- Collide contributed a DnB-remix version for the soundtrack of Resident Evil: Extinction in 2007.
- Ladyhawke performed a cover on Triple J's "Like a Version" radio show in 2012.
- Paul Kalkbrenner used the lyrics in his 2015 remix of the song named "Feed Your Head".
- Joe Hawley of the band Tally Hall covered the song for his solo album Joe Hawley Joe Hawley in 2016.
- 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.
- Haley Reinhart covered the song on her 2017 album What's That Sound?.
- Swedish artist Loreen used to perform the song live.
- Grace Potter and the Nocturnals covered the song on the concept album Almost Alice.
References in pop culture
In the 1998 film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dr. Gonzo, high on LSD, is listening to "White Rabbit" in the bathtub. He asks Raoul Duke to throw the tape player into the bathtub when the song "peaks" but Duke refuses and throws in a grapefruit instead.
In the 1999 Futurama episode "A Head in the Polls" Richard Nixon sings an alternate version of "White Rabbit". In 1969, Nixon hosted a tea party for graduates of Finch College, and Slick was invited under her former name of Grace Wing. She brought a known political protester as her guest, and planned to spike Nixon's tea with 600 micrograms of LSD. He comments that he is meeting those 'stupid hippies' halfway by singing a song about an LSD trip written by a woman who attempted to drug him with it.
A remixed version of Jefferson Airplane's version was used as main menu theme for the 2004 game Battlefield Vietnam.
The song is also used in the 2016 game Mafia III, it can be heard on one of the game's three radio stations.
It is heard in Kong: Skull Island (2017) when Randa and Hawkins enter a bar in Saigon where Conrad is playing billiards.
Featured in a full-length commercial for the Xbox 360 game Lost Odyssey.
Appears in American Dad Season 6, episode 1, when Steve is on his way to rescue his father Stan in a Vietnam war reenactment.
Used in the 1997 David Fincher film The Game starring Michael Douglas during the scene where Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) comes home to find his mansion vandalized by CRS and photos and police reports of his father's suicide in the clown's mouth.
It was used in an episode of Warehouse 13 on the SyFy network. Pete and Myka go to Las Vegas to fetch an artifact, the Jubilee Grand Casino Chip, that is helping a married couple to win at the Casinos, but the mission goes awry because the real Myka is trapped in Lewis Carroll's Looking Glass with some help from Studio 54 Disco Ball.
The song is also featured in The Handmaid's Tale in season 1, episode 8, "Jezebels".
The song appears in an episode of Big Little Lies when Ziggy is suspended from school and spends the day with his mom at the Monterey Aquarium.
The song is used in episode 6 of the HBO documentary miniseries Q: Into the Storm in a scene depicting the January 6, 2021, storming of the United States Capitol.
The song was also used in the 2020 Netflix movie The Babysitter: Killer Queen. It can be heard playing in the cassette player in Phoebe's rabbit hole.
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