Jefferson Airplane, Volunteers
Sums up the currents of hippie culture like no other album could
If you had to sum up the tribal connection and confrontational politics of hippie culture in 1969 in just one album, you couldn't do better than Volunteers. As much a placard as a piece of music, the album found this San Francisco collective marching through a suite of electric protest songs.
The high-pitched set kicks off with “We Can Be Together,” which declares “we are dirty, lawless, violent and young,” and ends with the title track, which employs the same chords as “Together” but in an intensified version, topped by the orgasmic cry “up against the wall/motherf—ker/Tear down the wall.”
The disc proved once again the Airplane had their finger far up the anus of America in the ’60s. Two years earlier, they nailed the blissful psychedelic Summer of Love with “Surrealistic Pillow.” Here they were screaming bloody murder, right in step with the culture.
Of course, all that would render the album just a historic time capsule if its music didn't rock so hard or flow so beautifully. All four of the band's stars compete in top form on the disc. Paul Kantner's chords never sounded more pitched and beautiful than on “We Can Be Together.” Jorma Kaukenon fashions the most shimmering guitar hook of his life on “Good Shepard.” Marty Balin yelps to the sky in the title track, while Grace Slick hits one of her comic-absurdist peaks in “Eskimo Blue Day,” with its deathless refrain “doesn't mean s–t to a tree.”
Volunteers isn't all fire and outrage. “The Farm” epitomizes going-up-the-country pastoral warmth, while “Wooden Ships” (in a more desperate version than heard on Crosby Stills and Nash's debut that same year) has a post-apocalyptic sense of sadness. Together, the music both sums up a particular moment in youth culture and transcends it. Any listener looking for music electrified by “which-side-are-you-on” defiance couldn't find an example more rousing or true.