Wandering semi-randomly around the web, I found out that none other than Grace Slick sang the “jazzy spies” counting things on the original Sesame Street! (If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, here are a bunch of them on YouTube.)
It just seems like the sort of info I would have stumbled across, since I’ve long been a fan of Jefferson Airplane, and I’ve always thought Grace Slick is one of the best rock vocalists ever – plus, just generally a kick-ass woman of the first order. (Let us not speak of any music she or they did after 1976 or so, however…) Following on my “jazzy spies” discovery, I went to the Wikipedia entry on Slick – and found this wonderful photo of her earlier this year, age 68 or so:
Especially considering all the health problems she’s endured, she looks fantastic – and despite that look of grandmotherly kindness, there’s a mischief there that suggests she’s still capable of the sort of biting, acidic wit that characterizes her best lyrics.
Of course, her hits with Jefferson Airplane are well-known, but here are three slightly more obscure Slick vocal performances. First up is a very odd little song from the Airplane’s classic third album, After Bathing at Baxter’s, called “Two Heads,” in which Slick’s cut-glass voice navigates spooky Eastern-sounding speedy little notes. (Narrowly averted a deadly musical pun there…)
While later Jefferson Airplane and Airplane-related material was stunningly inconsistent, there are still highlights, even up to the late ’70s or so. Here’s one, from the 1970 album Sunfighter which Slick and Kantner made in celebration of the birth of their daughter, China.* Fed up with Marin County hippies endlessly bugging her about what she should and shouldn’t eat while pregnant, Slick countered by writing a song about cannibalism, “Silver Spoon.” (If you want to make a cannibal hat-trick playlist, add “Timothy” by the Buoys and “Friends” by the Police…) Play this one on a decent sound system and turn it up to hear Jack Casady’s awesomely majestic, growling bass sound.
Perhaps the lusty appetite described in “Silver Spoon” took its toll…on the Baron Von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun album (credited to Slick, Kantner, and David Freiberg), Slick sings “Fat” – whose hilarious opening verse seems slightly prescient of today’s supersized society… We haven’t quite gotten to the point of barreling through the walls, but seats and entryways have been enlarged, and elevator capacities (by number) reduced…
*The story has it that China’s original name was “god” – with a lower-case “g” – but in fact, this is one of Slick’s jokes: she was irritated at a nurse she perceived as being sanctimonious, and sarcastically told her that the child would be named “god, with a lower-case g – because we’re humble.” The nurse, it seems, promptly alerted the media. In fact, “China Wing Kantner” is the name on her birth certificate, “Wing” being Slick’s birth surname.