As everyone knows that Jefferson Airplane was riding high in 1967 when they released Surrealistic Pillow. Original members Signe Anderson and Skip Spence left in 1966 following the release of Takes Off. Anderson left to start a family, and Spence went and formed Moby Grape, in comes Grace Slick (ex-Great Society) and Spencer Dryden. These new members, alongside Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen, and Jack Casady, defined the classic Airplane lineup. We all know Surrealistic Pillow spawned two big hits, "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love" (both Great Society songs that Grace Slick brought to the Airplane), and it earned them a ton of fame.
June 1967 saw the Beatles releasing Sgt. Pepper, we all know what happened after that: it gave people brand new ideas and attitudes to the approach of music. And that affected Jefferson Airplane, so they quickly got to work on that followup to Surrealistic Pillow. RCA was obviously pleased with the success of that album so they gave the band total artistic control. And the results was After Bathing at Baxter's, which saw the light of day in November 1967. And the results were shocking! This ain't exactly what RCA had in mind. RCA expected a continuation of Surrealistic Pillow, instead they got a much more experimental album. The reason: the band did not want to make hit singles, so they purposely created an album not to yield hits. It's also a harder-edge album, because there were likely a few detractors who thought of the Airplane as a bunch of softies. This time, the band went for five suites, all divided into separate songs. Those five suites were "Streetmasse", "The War is Over", "Hymn to an Older Generation", "How Suite it Is", and "Shizoforest Love Suite". "Streetmasse" starts off with "The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil". With guitar feedback, and a harder rocking sound, with more elaborate vocal harmonies, you knew this was going to be different from Surrealistic Pillow. "A Small Package For You Will Come To You Shortly" is an bizarre, experimental piece that's not unlike the more experimental moments of Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention. Something completely alien on Surrealistic Pillow. Then comes "Young Girl Sunday Blues", written by both Kantner and Balin, with Balin handling lead vocals. This is, unfortunately, the only song to feature Balin on lead. It's a rather straightforward rocker. "The War is Over" starts with a wonderful acoustic Kantner number called "Martha" with some really nice use of recorder. "Wild Thyme (H)" demonstrates how After Bathing at Baxter's is a harder-edge album than anything they done before. "Hymn to an Older Generator" includes "The Last Wall of the Castle" and "rejoyce". The latter is a Grace Slick composition, a classically-influnced piece dominated by piano, Grace Slick's unmistakable voice, plenty of tempo changes, some jazzy and Middle Eastern-influenced passages. "rejoyce" is strangely the Jefferson Airplane playing a brand of progressive rock that '70s bands like Renaissance would later do! And this was 1967, coming from a Bay Area acid rock band, when, in Britain, the Moody Blues just released Days of Future Passed, and Procol Harum released their first full-length album ("A Whiter Shade of Pale" was released as a single prior to the album's release). "How Suite it Is" features "Watch Her Ride" and "Spare Chaynge". This latter piece really polarizes listeners. Many think it's one of the worst things the Airplane ever done, but to me, it's actually quite good. What they were doing is an extended jam, other Bay Area bands like Moby Grape, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and of course, the Grateful Dead were well known for jams, so the Airplane got in the game. The first half simply consists of Jack Casady playing on his bass, and it only really takes off when the rest of the band kicks in (Jorma Kaukonen's guitar playing, and Spencer Dryden's drumming). "Shizophrenic Love Suite" consists of "Two Heads" and "Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon". The former is from Grace Slick, and reminds me a bit of "Somebody to Love". I like the use of electric harpsichord on this piece. Somewhere, if you listen clearly, Grace Slick quietly sings "Fuck you". The presence of profanity on their albums was the result of RCA letting them have full artistic control. The latter features a lot of flower power lyrics, and a nice piece, overall.
Apparently Jefferson Airplane wanted to name this album After Taking LSD, but that would be a bit obvious so the album was called After Bathing at Baxter's. The album is supposedly the affect of being under the influence of LSD. And the reason for songs being called "rejoyce" and "Spare Chaynge" was the band admired James Joyce.
After Bathing at Baxter's was a huge shock for so many reasons: that the band would take such a huge risk so quick, in the same year they released the hugely successful Surrealistic Pillow. Surrealistic Pillow consisted of simple, easily enjoyable, relatively straightforward songs (aside from the obvious hits like "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love", you also got great songs like "Today" and "Coming Back to Me"). After Bathing at Baxter's did not. And I'm certain even the band realized recording an album like Baxter's so quickly would alienate a large part of their audience, and that was true (Baxter's did not do as so well, in terms of chart success as Pillow). Even RCA warned the band. I am convinced had they done Crown of Creation first, then Baxter's, the public might have been more ready.
Regardless, this is a truly great album, it requires a few listens to get it, after all, it is a much more elaborate and ambitious album than anything they did before. Another classic from the Bay Area, as far as I'm concerned.