The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the Los Angeles area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some L.A. TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. This edition we discuss Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus.
For those in need of a quick rock history lesson, Jefferson Starship is an American rock group founded in the early 1970s. The band was the most obvious result of the chemical breakdown of the 1960s psychedelic/folk group Jefferson Airplane. Jefferson Starship was the name Kantner originally chose when Jefferson Airplane stalled and he and Slick kept going.
While the act has gone through numerous changes in musical genres and band rosters, the incarnation of Jefferson Starship we shall focus on is the 1975 assemblage. While recording the album the roster included Kantner on vocals and rhythm guitar, Grace Slick on vocals, Marty Balin on vocals, John Barbata on drums, percussion and vocals, Craig Chaquico on lead guitar and vocals and Papa John Creach on electric violin. Pete Sears and David Feiberg also contributed to various cuts as the album was being recorded early in California in 1975. Additional musicians– percussionist Bobbye Hall and saxophonist Irv Cox–were also brought in to help flesh out some of the tracks.
Side one of the ten-track album opens with “Fast Buck Freddie” which includes lyrics by Slick and music by Chaquico. This was perhaps one of Slick’s best songs. The second selection is “Miracles” and features Sears on electric piano and Freiberg on organ. It would later be chosen to release as a single and was Balin’s blockbuster ballad here.
David Freiberg played bass and Sears played keyboards on the next number, “Git Fiddler” which is followed by Slick’s “Ai Garimasũ (There Is Love)” which includes Slick on piano and Freiberg on arp. The closing cut to the first side is “Sweeter Than Honey” which is highlighted by Sears’ keyboard work.
Another one of Slick’s best songs in years opens the flip side. It’s titled “Play On Love” and includes clavinet, organ, piano and music by Sears. Freiberg added bass and additional vocals to complete the cut. It would eventually be chosen as the second single from the platter.
The track “Tumblin’” is side two’s second selection. It features Freiberg on keyboards. “I Want To See Another World” is the next number. Co-composed by Kantner, Slick and Balin, it includes Sears on piano and Freiberg on organ.
Another instrumental is inserted here. Titled “Saldalphon”, this Sears-composed cut is highlighted by Freiberg’s arp and bass and Sears’ keyboard work. The album ends on “There Will Be Love”. Freiberg once more contributes vocals and arp while Sears fleshes out the piece with more piano.
Released on the Grunt label a few months later that same year (1975), the 42-minute Red Octopus would not only climb to number one on the Billboard 200 album chart but would also become the band’s best-selling record. Balin contributed to half the songs on the project and his hit “Miracles” would go on to climb to number 3 on the Billboard charts, being the biggest hit single the band had ever had until that point. The second single off the LP, “Play On Love”, would make it to number 49 on the charts as well.
Perhaps this was due in part to the moment when Balin agreed to lend a hand in the making of the platter. Many consider this to be the moment the band came into its own. Balin’s very presence reportedly inspired the others to excellence.
The band’s best work would not be forgotten. As 2005 witnessed the album re-issued on CD. Naturally, the work contained bonus tracks including the single version of “Miracles”, a live “Band Introduction” and live versions of “Fast Buck Freddie”, “There Will Be Love” and “You’re Driving Me Crazy”.
The twice multi-platinum album was a tuneful triumph for Balin, Kantner and Slick. Future releases would suffer by comparison. Red Octopus/BXL1-0999 was one of the best albums of 1975 and provided positive proof that rock musicians can age gracefully.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.