(Above: Balin with the rest of the Airplane on the cover of Surrealistic Pillow.)
Marty Balin, one of the founding members of the Jefferson Airplane, passed away yesterday at the age of 76. No cause of death has been given.
Balin, along with Paul Kantner, Jack Casady, and – of course – Grace Slick, formed one of the more legendary San Francisco bands with the formation of the Jefferson Airplane in 1965. First called the Great!! Society!!, the band evolved its sound and in 1967 released Surrealistic Pillow, a classic album that, as a senior in high school, my search for took me through several record stores before finding a pristine copy at Chicago’s Second Hand Tunes. (I, of course, still have it.) As the times changed, the Jefferson Airplane became Jefferson Starship (when Casady left the band), and then finally Starship (after Balin left in 1978). Balin embarked on a solo career, yielding a decent hit single in “Hearts” in 1981. Later in the 80s, Kantner, Balin, and Casady recorded as the KBC Band, releasing one album that didn’t necessarily do well but that I loved, playing “America” on my college radio shows often. (The other single, “It’s Not You, It’s Not Me,” got some airplay on rock radio.)
There are many great songs that could grab the spotlight when we talk about this band. Pillow itself gave us both “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” The last JS album with Balin on it, Earth, yielded “Count On Me,” which is another song that I should be hearing more often on the radio. I also love “Find Your Way Back,” but that’s very much a Micky Thomas track.
But the first track that I thought of upon hearing the news was “Miracles.” Balin sings the lead on the track and wrote the song, and it’s a good one. The 1975 LP Red Octopus spent some time at the top of the LP chart, but “Miracles” was the only single of note. It does contain one of the more “what did he say?” sort of lyrics in all of rock and roll: “I got a taste of the real world when I went down on you.” Despite that, it’s a great song, and remained the JA-JS-S band’s top selling single until “We Built This City” graced the airwaves in 1985. Given that we should disqualify “City” just because, and the other #1’s that Starship had were “Sara” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” I that gives “Miracles” the nod.