Greatest Songs, #478: “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane

Album: Surrealistic Pillow (RCA Records)
Year: 1967
Written by: Grace Slick
Billboard Hot 100: #8

 From Rolling Stone:

“White Rabbit” was a trippy rock & roll bolero written by Airplane vocalist Slick. “Our parents read us stories like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz,” Slick said. “They all have a place where children get drugs, and are able to fly or see an Emerald City or experience extraordinary animals and people…. And our parents are suddenly saying, ‘Why are you taking drugs?’ Well, hello!

From Wikipedia:

One of Grace Slick’s earliest songs, written during either late 1965 or early 1966, it includes comparisons of the hallucinatory effects of psychedelic drugs such as Magic Mushrooms with the imagery found in the fantasy works of Lewis Carroll: 1865’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its 1871 sequel Through the Looking-Glass. Events in these books, such as changing size after eating mushrooms or drinking an unknown liquid, are referenced in the song. Characters referenced include Alice, the hookah-smoking caterpillarthe White Knight, the Red Queen, and the Dormouse.

For Grace and others in the ’60s, drugs were an inevitable part of mind-expanding and social experimentation. With its enigmatic lyrics, White Rabbit became one of the first songs to sneak drug references past censors on the radio. Even Marty Balin, Grace’s eventual rival in the Airplane, regarded the song as a “masterpiece.” She has also mentioned in interviews related to the song that “Alice in Wonderland” was often read to her as a child, and remained a vivid childhood memory into her adult years.

Set to a rising crescendo similar to that of Ravel’s famous Boléro, and having a strong Spanish influence to it, the music combined with the song’s lyrics strongly suggest the sensory distortions experienced with hallucinogens and the song was later utilized in pop culture to imply or accompany just such a state. “White Rabbit” is one of two songs, along with “Somebody to Love,” that Slick brought with her to Jefferson Airplane from her earlier group The Great Society when she replaced original Airplane vocalist Signe Toly Anderson.