So today our quest is a song about drugs and alcohol. there are many to pick from, but not very many of them I can consider songs that I like. One thought that I adore is White Rabbit. This was written by Grace Slick, who based the lyrics on Lewis Carroll’s book Alice In Wonderland. Like many young musicians in San Francisco, Slick did a lot of drugs, and she saw a surfeit of drug references in Carroll’s book, including the pills, the smoking caterpillar, the mushroom, and lots of other images that are pretty trippy. She noticed that many children’s stories involve a substance of some kind that alters reality, and felt it was time to write a song about it.
Slick got the idea for this song after taking LSD and spending hours listening to the Miles Davis album Sketches Of Spain. The Spanish beat she came up with was also influenced by Ravel’s “Bolero.”
Grace Slick wrote this song and performed it when she was in a band called The Great Society with her first husband, Jerry Slick. The Great Society made inroads in the San Francisco music scene, but released just one single, “Somebody To Love” (written by their guitarist, Jerry’s brother Darby Slick), before calling it quits in 1966. Grace moved on to Jefferson Airplane, and the group recorded both “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love” for their first album with her, Surrealistic Pillow. The songs were the breakout hits for the band, with “Somebody To Love” reaching #5 US and “White Rabbit” following at #8.
The Great Society Version of “White Rabbit” was released in 1968 on an album called Conspicuous Only In Its Absence (credited to “The Great Society With Grace Slick”), a live recording of a show at The Matrix in San Francisco. This version runs 6:07 and meanders through four minutes of Indian stylings before Slick’s vocals appear. The Jefferson Airplane rendition is a tight 2:29 with a far more aggressive vocal from Slick. This version I give you is from Woodstock on 17th August 1969, 48 years ago tomorrow.
Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit