Sunday, August 30, 2015

Track of the Week: Jefferson Starship "Miracles"

As I mentioned last week, I'm about to turn 40, and am picking some tracks of the week based on their proximity to when I was born in 1975.  I looked up the album charts and found out that Jefferson Starship's Red Octopus, which can readily be found for a buck or two today at innumerable used record stores, was #1 the week I was born.

Jefferson Starship are certainly of their time, a band forgotten and lesser known than the one from the 1960s it came out of (Jefferson Airplane) and the one it morphed into during the 1980s (Starship.)  In that respect Jefferson Starship is the perfect representative of the forgotten years of a much maligned decade.  The band included Airplane stalwarts Paul Kantner and Grace Slick, and Marty Balin rejoined for Red Octopus.  His smoother, more melodic stylings are in evidence on "Miracles" which has strings and an chiming electric piano that sounds straight out of a fern bedecked singles bar circa 1975.  This is a long, long way from the psychedelic rock of the Jefferson Airplane, and perhaps symbolic of what had happened to the spirit of the 60s.

The song has a whole tone of world-weariness about it, and Balin gives the line "If only you believed like I believe we'd get by" a real wistful sadness.  It perhaps tells the spiritual story of the band, which went from talking about revolution on songs like "Volunteers" in 1969 to crafting softsational smooth music in 1975 to being responsible for insanely cheesy fare like "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now." (Listening to Starship is akin to watching bad movies for the cheese contact high, the pop cultural equivalent of sniffing glue.)  In between the band would also craft some passable arena rock in the late 70s, going from a trendsetter to a savvy trend exploiter.  (They also appeared on the Star Wars Holiday Special, speaking of pop cultural glue sniffing.)

As I've been mentioning on here recently, the mid-1970s are the true heart of that decade's malaise, containing the triple shock of Watergate, the fall of Saigon, and the oil crisis and resulting recession.  "Miracles" is perfect malaise music, a harbinger of a specific genre of music I like to call "downer easy listening" or "Quaalude rock."  While this genre would find it's perfection in Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street," Jefferson Starship can get some credit for capturing the Zeigeist a few years earlier.


Oblio said...

Heh heh heh... NAILED IT. 'Miracles' is, IMHO, one of the worst prog-rock ballads EVAH, and it made me retch when I heard it on the radio for the first time upon its release way back in dem old daze. Listening to the inane call-and-response between Marty and Grace... well, it just set my teeth to the stone. All the more reason to recall how very strong my love for 'Surrealistic Pillow' was then and is now. Start a revolution, anyone?

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Thanks. It is both sad and telling that Red Octopus sold more copies than Surrealistic Pillow, an album I keep coming back to. What are your thoughts on "Jane" and their late 70s hard rock turn?

Oblio said...

Gracias! I thought 'Jane' was a pretty good rocker, straightforward and tough. I was still in junior high when 'Pillow' came out, bought the cassette and wore that thing out.