*3.16-SHE HAS FUNNY CARS (Jefferson Airplane)

Jefferson Airplane



Every day I try so hard to know your mind
And find out what's inside you.
Time goes on and I don't know just where you are
Or how I'm going to find you.

         You can do whatever you please.
         The world's waiting to be seized.
         You can relate on all the neglect
         Or all the self-respect you need.

         And I know... and I know... and I know

                   Your mind's been cheated.
                   It's all you've ever needed.
                   So what do you want with me?


We live but once but good things can be found around
In spite of all the sorrow.
If you see black you can't look back you can't look front
You cannot face tomorrow!

         Some have it nice.
         Flash paradise!
         They're very wise to their disguise
         Trying to revolutionize tomorrow.

         And I know... and I know... and I know



Surrealistic Pillow, from which She Has Funny Cars derives, was the first successful album nationwide from the new psychedelic scene developing is San Francisco. The Jefferson Airplane were the earliest San Francisco group to release with wide distribution outside the region, though they had released an earlier album in September 1966 without singer Grace Slick. Still, like the Doors' first album and the later emergence of Light My Fire, this album lay in abeyance for a while, largely unrecognized until the hit single Somebody To Love was broadcast on the radio in May 1967.

Surrealistic PillowSurrealistic Pillow isn't an all-out psychedelic album; about half of it is folk rock. A couple of numbers on the album (My Best Friend and How Do You Feel? for example) could easily be mistaken for songs by the Mamas and the Papas. But it does somehow, overall, create a unified sensibility that would more sharply define the American (predominantly San Franciscan) psychedelic genre in contradistinction to the British version. The Los Angeles psychedelic groups up to this point (I'm thinking of the Byrds, the Beach Boys, the Buffalo Springfield, the Doors and Love) certainly preceded the San Franciscan sound on the airwaves, but were perhaps too diverse to signify a location that could compete with "Swinging London". The San Franciscan psychedelic groups (I'm thinking Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, Moby Grape, the Grateful Dead, and, to some extent, Big Brother and the Holding Company) sounded more like one another, bonded by the pure LSD of local chemist Owsley Stanley that gave their music a Wild West lawless enthusiasm.

The album proclaims the "surrealistic" aesthetic that dominated psychedelic lyrics. And though I rarely comment on album covers here (a whole other level of discourse about psychedelia in the visual arts), I must remark that the pink metallic cover of Surrealistic Pillow was startling at the time. Psychedelic music until this album's release had been dominated by males, and Grace Slick was the first woman to break into this scene on a national scale, contributing her own distinctive voice to the movement. Not only was she the earliest, but she was the principal female voice throughout the short psychedelic period. The Jefferson Airplane were certainly among the top ten most popular psychedelic groups in the USA.

George Starostin in his website Only Solitaire wrote: "Unlike their more lucky Californian pals the Doors...[the Airplane] aren't really recognized as a cult group anywhere outside the States, and it's easy to see why. A large percent of their music, even some of their finest tunes, sound horribly dated now - stuff made to satisfy the needs of their time and nothing else." I don't share Starostin's point of view, but probably if a poll were taken of Americans, the Jefferson Airplane would be seen as a hippie group, and thus, more dated than their contemporaries, the Doors, who were able to move more gracefully out of psychedelic music when the fashion changed. I believe that, unfortunately, the American audience, familiar with the group's later incarnation as the Jefferson Starship, which is often considered inauthentic, has been corrupted in its opinion of the Airplane. On the other hand, despite having the support of the Beatles, Donovan, and Eric Burdon during the psychedelic period, the Jefferson Airplane doesn't seem to have "taken off" with the British audience, and the neither Surrealistic Pillow, nor the hit American singles that derived from it, charted well in England.

She Has Funny Cars was the album opener of Surrealistic Pillow, but also the B side of their successful single Somebody To Love. Spencer Dryden's driving drum beat, which has been compared to that of the jazz drummer Gene Krupa, introduces the song and makes for a good introduction to the album, starting it up on a rousing number. But I never heard the B side on the radio; it didn't have a pop melody. With an A and B section as well as a chorus, intro, break and coda, it was a little too elaborate yet for popular taste. (Good Vibrations by the established group, the Beach Boys, was so far the only exception to the rule of compositional simplicity at the top of the AM radio charts.) Further it's unclear what She Has Funny Cars is about; the voice changes from second voice "you" to inclusive first "we" and then to the third party "them", woven through with the repeating the first person "I". No words in the lyric seem to relate to "Funny Cars", even figuratively. Vaguely, the listener has the sense that the singer can't understand his woman and wants to set her free; that he's tired of her negativity that keeps her from facing the future, and he wants to "revolutionize tomorrow" by celebrating the good things in life. So what do you want with me? seems a plea for the woman to get lost.

Still, as a musical composition, it is impressive, swinging easily from strong rhythmic lines to cool cooing Grace Slick softness before accelerating again into a frantic pace before one realizes it. The use of Jack Casady's fuzz bass is notable, as is the Airplane penchant, showcased here, for lead guitar improvisation in the coda (played in this song by Jorma Kaukonen), following through on a "rave up" form established by Jeff Beck of the Yardbirds. This would be soon be standard fare on a psychedelic or hard rock record, but it was still a novelty in early 1967.