Monday, October 6, 2014

Jefferson Starship, The #95 Artist of the Seventies*

After the split of Jefferson Airplane, members Paul Kantner and Grace Slick recorded three albums together (Blows Against the Empire, Sunfighter, and Baron von Tollbooth & The Chrome Nun) with various musicians, including Joey Covington and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane, David Crosby, Graham Nash, and members of Grateful Dead and Santana.  It was during this time that Kantner and Slick's daughter China was born.  Slick also released a solo album, Manhole, in 1974.

In 1974, rhythm guitarist Kantner, lead singer Slick, and bassist/keyboardist/vocalist David Freiberg formed Jefferson Starship, along with Airplane holdovers John Barbata (drums and percussion) and fiddler Papa John Creach, and Peter Kakukonen (brother of Airplane guitarist Jorma) and twenty-year-old guitarist Craig Chaquico.  Kantner had discovered Chaquico while recruiting musicians for the Sunfighter album. 

Freiberg, who was a founding member of Quicksilver Messenger Service, and had known Kantner when the two played the folk circuit in the early 1960's, had sung background vocals on Blows Against the Empire.  Pete Sears, who worked with Kantner and Slick on Manhole, had been asked to join the band, but had to finish work on Rod Stewart's Smiler album, and replaced Kaukonen in June after he returned from England. 

The group released their debut album Dragon Fly.  With many of their former Airplane fans still in tow, Dragon Fly went Gold.  Former Airplane member Marty Balin wrote and sang the ballad "Caroline" on the album Dragon Fly, but did not join the band until early 1975.

In 1975, Jefferson Starship released Red Octopus, which, thanks to Balin's incredible vocal on "Miracles" (which he also wrote), became not only a #1 album, but the top-selling album by any incarnation of Jefferson Airplane or Starship.  "Miracles" became a #3 smash. 

"Play On Love" only hit #49 as the follow-up, but it is worthy of being featured here.

Red Octopus became one of the top albums of the year, and has now sold over two million copies.  Creach left the band later in the year to pursue a solo career.  Jefferson Starship released another great album, Spitfire, the following year.  Spitfire also went Platinum, and hit #3 on the album chart.  It featured "With Your Love", an underrated song at #12.  It did reach #6 on the Adult chart, which increasingly was becoming more "popular" than the so-called Popular chart.

The group returned with Earth in 1978, their fourth consecutive Gold album and second Platinum release, which featured "Count On Me".  The single landed at #8.

Jefferson Starship took off on a major tour of the U.S. and Europe to promote the album.  They followed up "Count On Me" with another song that would prove to be underrated at #12, "Runaway".

Chaquico contributed this track to Earth--"Love Too Good".

But the group began to run into problems.  Balin hated touring, which kept the group from promoting its music until 1978.  Meanwhile, Slick increasingly sank into alcoholism, which became dreadfully apparent in two shows in Germany.  On the first night, Slick and the group did not appear, leading fans to charge and ruin the stage.  On the next night, a drunken Slick reminded the shocked audience that their country had lost World War II, repeatedly asking "Who won the war?".  She swore and made sexual references throughout the night.

Immediately afterwards, Kantner asked for Slick's resignation.  Towards the end of the year, Jefferson Starship released their greatest hits compilation Gold.  Balin left the group shortly afterwards for a solo career, replaced by Mickey Thomas, who had done a fine job singing lead on "Fooled Around And Fell In Love" by Elvin Bishop.

Barbata, who was seriously injured in an automobile accident, was replaced by former Journey drummer Aynsley Dunbar.  Up to this time, Jefferson Starship was heavily influenced by Balin, with his tremendous ballads.  But with his departure, the new lineup moved to a rock-oriented sound with the fine album Freedom At Point Zero.  "Jane", which featured Thomas's piercing vocals, stalled at #14, making it one of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*.

The group toured again following the release of Freedom At Point Zero.  "Rock Music" wasn't a single, but it should have been.  Nevertheless, it received considerable airplay and was one of the Top Tracks* of the year.

Jefferson Starship chalked up ten hits in the decade and sold 5.5 million albums to rank as The #95 Artist of the Seventies*.

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