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Marty Balin Coming to Town (Part 2)

After Bathing at Baxter’s was the album where the Jefferson Airplane broke the mold. After two relatively homogeneous records that built a large following, they proceeded to enter a laboratory and experiment (in more ways than one). Progress was slow, and there was a lot of knob-twisting while record execs wondered what the hell was going on in there. Considering the spirit with which the record was made—and the time period—it’s a wonder the record isn’t more of a full-fledged freakout. One song was pure madness (“A Small Package of Value Will Come to You, Shortly”), and there was a long, open-ended instrumental (“Spare Chaynge”), but beyond that, the music remained tuneful.

At that point Grace Slick was the most ambitious composer in the band, but both “rejoyce” and “Two Heads” are well-crafted as opposed to mindless self-indulgence. Those are great tunes, and Kantner contributed a couple gems as well (“The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil” and “Martha”). The other great song was Marty Balin’s “Young Girl Sunday Blues,” which evokes the Summer of Love in such a potent way that, given that criteria, I don’t know if another song could top it. It has a whiff of psychedelia, but it’s also a catchy pop song with some of the mushiest over-the-top heart-on-your-sleeve sensitive hippie lyrics you’ll ever hear. Again I think of Robert Hunter’s comment about Marty Balin: “I mean, what do you want from a man in the way of laying it right up on the table, vulnerable and undressed?”  That describes to a T “Young Girl Sunday Blues,” which is also funky, with a grungy bottom-heavy sound that offsets the high-flying vocals. At every turn the song seems to build in intensity:

Another Balin song that that stands out is  “Volunteers.” It’s funny: other members of the Airplane were writing revolutionary protest songs left and right, but Balin was seen as the mushy love song writer. For two minutes and eight seconds Balin threw his hat in the ring, but he did it in his own way. The impetus for the song when Volunteers of America garbage truck awoke Balin one morning. Sounds as if he casually slapped together some lyrics, and although the more serious-minded Kantner put his two-cents worth in, on listening to the final product you can still imagine Balin rolling out of bed and thinking, ‘What the hell’s going on out there?” It’s a great protest song, and a unique one at that, because it makes protesting seem like fun (“Ain’t it amazing all the people I meet”). Cranking the song in my uncle’s car (he let me sit out there and play eight-tracks one day while he hung out with my parents), I imagined how much fun it must be to be a college student. Even as a seventh-grader I could visualize the following schedule: go to class, study for a test, grab some of the Molotov cocktails the police toss during the afternoon demonstration and throw them back, study some more, go to a concert….That sounded like a good life to me. By the time I went to college, though, my fellow students were complaining that Nixon got a bad rap, and Foreigner performed at Homecoming. Here’s “Volunteers:”

Finally, a reminder that Marty Balin will be playing at the Fairfield Arts Center Saturday, March 2, at 8 pm. The Center is located at 411 Wessel Drive; tickets are $40 orchestra/$35 stadium; you can buy them by phone (513.867.5348), in person at the center, or online at this link. The show is a fund raiser for  Sojourner Recovery Services, an organization that provides substance abuse treatment.