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Waking up Woodstock: Jefferson Airplane deliver a bone-shaking ‘Somebody to Love’ in 1969

It’s a cliched appraisal of the concert film to say, “It makes you realise what it would have been like to be there.” And whilst this clip of Jefferson Airplane performing at Woodstock might not achieve the impossible feat of transporting you back to the era-defining festivities, it serves up enough peace-and-love-addled carnage to at least offer a glimpse.  

The show itself represents a pivotal moment in music. Few concerts in history continually pop up in the discourse of culture, quite as frequently and with as much reverential regard as Woodstock. Upon release, the concert film from which this clip is taken was rightfully acclaimed as a fine piece of counterculture filmmaking featuring some spellbinding performances, none more so than Jefferson Airplane’s zeitgeist capturing spectacle. Now, the film has been imbued with the fascinating edge of retrospect and Jefferson Airplane’s performance likewise seems to hold the weight of history under its soaring, and frankly mad wings. I mean, imagining having this as an early morning set?

Very few songs remain as synonymous with the swinging sixties as the masterpiece that is ‘Somebody to Love’. The song was originally written by The Great Society guitarist Darby Slick, with his sister-in-law Grace Slick on vocals in 1966, and nobody cared could care less about it. It was re-recorded in only a few months after it failed in November by Jefferson Airplane after Grace Slick jumped ship and became an instant classic upon release the following April. 

Still, it remains underrated. In short, it is one of the greatest songs of all time (and I’ll leave that purposefully broad, thank you), as it captures at least a whiff of the meaning of life, and the meaning of rock ‘n’ roll in a sub-three-minute maelstrom of adrenalised sonic oblivion. (And it also produced one of the greatest isolated vocal tracks of all time from Grace Slick).

“When the truth is found to be lies / And all the joy within you dies / Don’t you want somebody to love,” is right up with there with the greatest opening stanzas in music. Thereafter the band rattle through the track in a frenzy as Grace Slick’s vocals build to insurmountable heights. 

Then just as you think Grace and the band have driven the car into the sun at a thousand miles an hour and can surely never return from such lofty heights, they ascend even further with the classic crescendo building epic that is ‘White Rabbit’. The song Alice and Wonderland inspired wall of sound penned by Grace Slick is now the eponymous sonic signature of the sixties LSD lark, that Hunter S. Thompson immortalised in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and later with the film of the same name.  

In short, the clip below is seven minutes of pure scintillating brilliance that resides amongst the clips on the music side of YouTube. A piece of history and a near-perfection performance in the August sun of the sixties, watch it now or forever hold your peace. 

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