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Rock music was fully alive and doing well back in the 60s when Grace Slick wrote this sassy song. Jefferson Airplane was doing what other bands did back then; they were working gigs and doing lots of drugs. Many of the songs written back then have hidden lyrics referencing drugs and marijuana in them. What’s even stranger, is that there are so many children stories and songs with these hidden messages or other strange references. Grace just put them into lyrics to open peoples eyes to that fact, but also using a fictional character that everyone could relate to, to breath life into this song. When she sang the song at Woodstock, the already tripping audience began to trip even more as they watched Grace who was no doubt high on some of the things she was singing about, but remained focused on the song and entertaining the audience as she and the entire band were so successful at doing.
Written by Jefferson Airplane front-woman Grace Slick, who based the lyrics on Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s book Alice In Wonderland, officially (Alice’s Adventures 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, especially the opening track, “Concierto de Aranjuez.” The Spanish beat she came up with was also influenced by Ravel’s “Bolero.”
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 Airplane rendition is a tight 2:29 with a far more aggressive vocal from Slick.
Video credit: YouTube.com
Song Lyrics –
One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall
And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call
And call Alice, when she was just small
When the men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom, and your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know
When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead
And the white knight is talking backwards
And the red queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head, feed your head