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Album Review

Jefferson Airplane, which mutated into Jefferson Starship and Starship during its three decades of existence (there is a reconstituted Jefferson Starship functioning currently, but that is not our concern here), was a collective as much as it was a rock group, its various elements blending and clashing in its music. The Airplane particularly was not known for its love songs, even though its members often employed the nomenclature of romance in their lyrics: "Somebody to Love" (by non-member Darby Slick), "Plastic Fantastic Lover," "Greasy Heart" (none of which are heard here). But at the center of the Airplane, at least at its inception, was singer/songwriter Marty Balin, who was as interested in love as other members turned out to be in, say, politics or science fiction. Balin's love songs were mature, erotic statements of companionship. They may have been far removed from conventional romantic sentiments, but they were love songs, and they turned up on Jefferson Airplane albums especially early on, some of them, notably "Today" and "Comin' Back to Me," becoming much-anthologized semi-standards if not actual hits. Balin was marginalized as time went on and finally dropped out of the group, but he returned to the reconstituted Jefferson Starship with even more highly developed and individualized love songs, particularly the seven-and-a-half-minute epic "Caroline" and the almost as long hit, "Miracles." These helped Jefferson Starship best the commercial success of Jefferson Airplane, but Balin again dropped out of the picture as the group turned into an arena rock ensemble in the late 1970s and '80s.

Love Songs, a compilation that draws from all three manifestations of the band, ought to be, and very nearly is, a de facto "Best of Marty Balin" to complement RCA's recent The Best of Grace Slick. He dominates the record, not disappearing until the 14th of the 17 tracks, at which point the sound changes radically, not only because the soulless Mickey Thomas replaces him, but because the arrangements become simultaneously streamlined and bombastic. Jefferson Starship was not forced to change its name to Starship until 1985, when Paul Kantner, the last original Airplane member, departed, but when the 1981 track "Save Your Love" kicks in on this album, it's clear that this is a different, and far inferior, band. Also, the final tracks are not, like the earlier ones, ballads in the usual sense, but instead power ballads, that 1980s radio term describing highly produced mid-tempo songs that rocked just enough to keep arena patrons in their seats and built to crescendos that caused them to raise their cigarette lighters. It's an ignominious conclusion to a career that included so many appealing songs, many of them reprised here.


Formed: 1965 in San Francisco, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s

Jefferson Airplane was the first of the San Francisco psychedelic rock groups of the 1960s to achieve national recognition. Although the Grateful Dead ultimately proved more long-lived and popular, Jefferson Airplane defined the San Francisco sound in the 1960s, with the acid rock guitar playing of Jorma Kaukonen and the soaring twin vocals of Grace Slick and Marty Balin, scoring hit singles and looking out from the covers of national magazines. They epitomized the drug-taking hippie ethos as well...
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