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Volunteers is a 1969 album by American psychedelic rock band, Jefferson Airplane. It was controversial at the time because of anti-war messages in the songs. The original title of the album was supposed to be Volunteers of America, but pressure from RCA led to this name being dropped.
This was the sixth album recorded by the group and the first to be wholly recorded in San Francisco, at Wally Heider's then state of the art 16-track studio. Guests included Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar, veteran session pianist Nicky Hopkins, future Airplane drummer Joey Covington on percussion, David Crosby, and Stephen Stills.
It was one of the earliest 16-track recordings. The back cover of the album shows a picture of the MM-1000 professional 16-track tape recorder built by Ampex Corporation which was used to record the album.
The album has been seen as stereotypical of the hippie philosophy of the time with its anti-war and pro-anarchism songs. The theme of nature, communities and ecology was also explored with the songs "The Farm" and "Eskimo Blue Day". Ironically, the title track was actually inspired by a "Volunteers of America" garbage truck that awoke singer Marty Balin one morning. The album provoked even more controversy with lyrics such as "Up against the wall, motherfucker" (from the song "We Can Be Together", the lyrics of which are almost entirely taken from a pamphlet put out by a member of the anarchist collective Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers) which appeared on the opening track and "shit" which is said several times on "Eskimo Blue Day".
Musically, the album is characterized by lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen's razor-sharp guitar work (the duelling solos on "Hey Fredrick", plus "Good Shepherd" and "Wooden Ships") and the distinctive piano playing of Nicky Hopkins.
This was to be both Jefferson Airplane's founder Marty Balin and drummer Spencer Dryden's last album with the group, signifying the end of the best-remembered "classic" lineup. It was to be the last all-new LP for 2 years; Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen would now devote more of their energy to their embryonic blues group "Hot Tuna", while Paul Kantner and Grace Slick celebrated the birth of their daughter "China" in 1971.
Even though the album was released in late 1969, the cover photo dates back to 1967, and features the band wearing disguises, and was taken during the filming of a promotional film made for their single "Martha."
A specially re-mixed Quadraphonic (4 channel) version of the album was also released in the early 1970's. The Quad version was available on LP Record, and Reel to reel, and 8-track cartridge tape. The Quad mixes are noticeably different than the usual (2 channel) stereo mixes. A few tracks from the Quad version were included on the 3 CD box set Jefferson Airplane Loves You, however on the box set the 4 channel recordings have been reduced to 2 channels.
Controversial at the time, delayed because of fights with the record company over lyrical content and the original title (Volunteers of America), Volunteers was a powerful release that neatly closed out and wrapped up the '60s.
Here, the Jefferson Airplane presents itself in full revolutionary rhetoric, issuing a call to "tear down the walls" and "get it on together." "We Can Be Together" and "Volunteers" bookend the album, offering musical variations on the same chord progression and lyrical variations on the same theme. Between these politically charged rock anthems, the band offers a mix of words and music that reflect the competing ideals of simplicity and getting "back to the earth," and overthrowing greed and exploitation through political activism, adding a healthy dollop of psychedelic sci-fi for texture.
Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen's beautiful arrangement of the traditional "Good Shepherd" is a standout here, and Jerry Garcia's pedal steel guitar gives "The Farm" an appropriately rural feel. The band's version of "Wooden Ships" is much more eerie than that released earlier in the year by Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Oblique psychedelia is offered here via Grace Slick's "Hey Frederick" and ecologically tinged "Eskimo Blue Day." Drummer Spencer Dryden gives an inside look at the state of the band in the country singalong "A Song for All Seasons."
The musical arrangements here are quite potent. Nicky Hopkins' distinctive piano highlights a number of tracks, and Kaukonen's razor-toned lead guitar is the recording's unifying force, blazing through the mix, giving the album its distinctive sound.
Although the political bent of the lyrics may seem dated to some, listening to Volunteers is like opening a time capsule on the end of an era, a time when young people still believed music had the power to change the world.
Volunteers was reissued in late 2001 by BMG Records' Spanish division in a crisply remastered edition containing 30 minutes of outtakes, which consist mostly of early versions, usually with very different lead guitar — often a lot louder — and vocal parts, of "Wooden Ships," "Volunteers," "We Can Be Together," "Turn My Life Down," "Good Shepherd," and "Hey Frederick."
Some of these are very different from their official released versions and all are certain to please fans of Jorma Kaukonen, whose electric playing is heavily showcased on all of them.
Volunteers takes a more overtly political stance. RCA holds up the release for weeks to get the band to change the lyric "Up against the wall, motherfucker!" but the band refuses to budge.
Released November 1969.
01. "We Can Be Together" (Paul Kantner) – 5:48
02. "Good Shepherd" (Traditional / Arranged by Jorma Kaukonen) – 4:21
03. "The Farm" (Paul Kantner / Gary Blackman) – 3:15
04. "Hey Fredrick" (Grace Slick) – 8:26
05. "Turn My Life Down" (Jorma Kaukonen) – 2:54
06. "Wooden Ships" (David Crosby / Paul Kantner / Stephen Stills) – 6:24
07. "Eskimo Blue Day" (Grace Slick / Paul Kantner) – 6:31
08. "A Song for All Seasons" (Spencer Dryden) – 3:28
09. "Meadowlands" (Traditional / Arranged by Grace Slick / Paul Kantner) – 1:04
10. "Volunteers" (Marty Balin / Paul Kantner) – 2:08
Bonus Tracks: (All Live)
11. "Good Shepherd" [Live] (Traditional / Arranged by Jorma Kaukonen) - 7:20
12. "Somebody To Love" [Live] (Grace Slick) - 4:10
13. "Plastic Fantastic Lover" [Live] (Marty Balin) - 3:21
14. "Wooden Ships" [Live] (David Crosby / Paul Kantner / Stephen Stills) - 7:00
15. "Volunteers" [Live] (Marty Balin / Paul Kantner) - 3:26