To me Dragon fly in the late 1970's consisted of one side only: the b-side of the album. Which is one of my favourite album sides of all time.
Jefferson Airplane I knew from three songs only, the double a-sided single White rabbit/Somebody to love which charted in The Netherlands in 1970. To my great surprise I found out later three years after the release of the album containing the two songs, 'Surrealistic pillow'. It also was their only hitsingle until the band scored a few hits under the name Starship in the 80ties, being not even a shadow of what they had been before. The third song was 'Volunteers' from the Woodstock soundtrack, that raucous version with Grace Slick shouting "Good morning people"!
After the definite crash of the Airplane in 1972, all band members went on to release solo albums or collaborations with each other. Jack and Jorma in Hot Tuna, Grace and Paul (to be followed by Marty) in Jefferson Starship. Dragon fly was the second album under that name, officially Grace Slick, Paul Kantner. Jefferson Starship. It turns out to have started off as a duo record, which resulted in a band. But I didn't know that at the time. I only got enrolled in 1978 through a double album called 'Flight log' which contained one song from Dragon fly: 'Ride the tiger'. Dragon fly was one of the first albums I bought because of 'Flight log'. It opened the world to a kind of song that I had never heard before at the age of 18 or 19. Long, epic songs about space travel or escape theories, with a rocking violin of 'Papa' John Creach, bold singing and the beautiful piano notes of Pete Sears on a song called 'Hyperdrive'. This 7.30 plus minute long song shook the way I enjoyed music to the core. The rough voice of Grace Slick, the high guitar notes of Craig Chaquico, the voices of Paul Kantner and David Freiberg. The way the songs seems to end and comes back alive again. I more than loved it. It put its stamp in my DNA.
The album is as such a mix of 1970's rock and the space escape vision for the human race Paul Kantner was a visionary on around 1970, mixed with electrified folk and blues as well as some pre-1980's AOR. All but one band members brought songs to the effort, some co-written by non-bandmembers and even a cover, Tom Pacheco's 'All fly away'.
'Ride the tiger' rocks as hard as Jefferson Starship rocked in those days. Paul's riffing away, while Chaquico is soloing all over the place, as is the then already middle-aged Creach. Another feature that is apparent, is that there is no clear lead singer. The duties shared between Kantner, Slick and Freiberg (who together released the fantastic album 'Baron von Tollbooth and the chrome nun' in 1973), possibly to mask shortcomings in Kantner's lead singing, lend the album its massive singing front.
'That's for sure' is almost jazzy, which the band carries off pretty well. The duetting between Freiberg and Slick does wonders for the song. I just love Grace's voice wailing in the distance of the mix. 'Be young you' is a signature Slick song. Slow, intense and piano driven. It can't be called pop, but is a mix of her classical piano training and ballads. Creach's violin playing also seems to be made for this song. At moments almost Middle Eastern in sound. In 2012 I appreciate this song a lot more than in 1978. The same goes for 'Caroline' the only contribution by Airplane co-front man Marty Balin, before he joined the Starship in 1975. The song is clearly a rehearsal for his best song ever: 'Miracles'. 'Caroline' has a jazz like foundation, with rock overtones and shows how fantastically good the three original Airplane members sing together. Three voices that were made for each other.
Side 2 kicks off with 'Devil's den'. Papa John Creach carries (t)his song with his mystery screeching sounds, that are underscored by the wah-wah effects of Chaquico's guitar. The pumping, very much alive bass is by Pete Sears. Slick sings the song with a rough voice, almost unloving and at the edge of her vocal reach, but it fits. 'Come to life' by comparison is a simple up and down rock song. But I just love this Freiberg song. The way the melody of the song goes up and up, with the more mellow bridge in exactly the right spot. The cascading notes of Chaquico's solo and the eerie notes on the violin. The end is a bit off, I'll admit that, as if they couldn't make up their minds and just continued. The lyrics are by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. 'All fly away' is a fantastic Kantner song, even if it is a cover. It starts off with the creation of tension and expectation. Creach excels and the piano notes are as beautiful as in 'Hyperdrive'. Pete Sears has this spacious way of playing piano that allows time and room for other instruments to fill in and still be omnipresent. Almost caressing the other instruments. And there's a beautiful solo by Chaquico.
The whole album explodes when 'Hyperdrive' starts. The song of the tandem Sears-Slick. It's intensely beautiful, shows great taste. A song that everyone with a love for seventies rock should know and cherish. Again the piano, the riffing guitar line, the violin fills, while Slick comes up with a great, great voice. Backed-up by the band and herself in choruses all over the place. 'Hyperdrive' is the crown to all her creations. Whatever it is about.
And the name of the drummer is John Barbata. Let's not forget who laid the basis on which the rest can play their thing. Dragon fly is an album I still play occasionally and really, deeply enjoy.
You can order Dragon fly here