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From The Vault: The Great Society With Grace Slick - “Conspicuous Only In Its Absence” (1968)


The Great Society was but a shadow of moment in time that seems to have lasted forever because of one person, and that person was Grace Slick. Taking their name from the domestic agenda of President Johnson, which resembled that of Roosevelt’s New Deal, and first used during a speech at Ohio University, the name itself had become a flashpoint during the turbulent early 60’s, reflecting new more inclusive values and attitudes. With a backstory that’s as impressive as the music, The Great Society found themselves on the verge of a record deal based solely on the strength of the then entitled song “Someone to Love,” though would be changed to “Somebody to Love” when the Jefferson Airplane recorded it, with their manager Sylvester Stewart (later known as Sly Stone) quitting after the B-Side “Free Advice” took over fifty takes for the band to deem useable. Oddly enough, The Great Society found themselves opening for the Jefferson Airplane during those early years, with Grace jumping ship to front the Airplane, recording Surrealistic Pillow, which contained the songs “White Rabbit,” along with “Somebody To Love,” and the rest has become psychedelic rock history.

What’s found here is a collection of material designed and packaged, right down to the album’s cover photo (taken at the venue The Matrix), to capitalize on the success of the Jefferson Airplane, with Columbia Records releasing some live tapes and other material to flesh out this album. Eventually it would evolve into a second album, and then morph into a double disc set. The records are filled with nice harmonies, and quality guitar playing that’s interfused with eastern influences of the legendary Ravi Shankar, with Grace’s vocals taking center stage, and becoming the essence of the band.

It’s odd that the band felt, or recognized that they had so little talent, and perhaps they were lacking, as bass player Brad Dupont was hired only because of his long hair and good looks, along with the fact that he promised to learn to actually play the bass, and yet managed to squeeze out no less than five albums, all after the fact, Conspicuous Only In Its Absence, How It Was, Live At The Matrix, Collector’s Item From the San Francisco Scene and Born To Be Burned. With that being said, all and all, the band’s not bad, though they were certainly no Jefferson Airplane, yet with the lights turned down, and some candles flickering on the breeze of an open window, songs like the deeply sung and hypnotic “Sally go ’Round The Roses,” “Somebody to Love,” and “White Rabbit” dispense a shimmering take on those early years during the San Francisco music scene, creating a haunting atmosphere, that will remind you that not all great music springs fully formed right out of the box.

*** The Fun Facts: “Sally go ’Round The Roses” was originally record in 1963 by the Jaynetts, a one hit wonder girl group. Even the original version turned heads, causing people to wonder. Sally go ’Round The Roses” was quite unlike other pop songs of the day, with a spooky, even ominous, musical ambience heightened by the sometimes odd and opaque lyrics, which gave the song a mysterious feeling that probably accounted in part for its popularity, and which has led to speculation on the meaning of the song. Sally go ’Round The Roses” could be interpreted as a conventional song of heartbreak over cheating, [or it could be, and has been seen as alluding to deeper matters, including drug use, illegitimate motherhood, madness, suicide, or, most especially, lesbianism]. Tim Buckley builds on this latter notion on his song “Sally, Go ’Round the Roses” from his 1973 album Sefronia. Although the song contains many new lyrics not in the original (and credits only Buckley as the songwriter), it begins with a version of Sanders’ song but with the lyric “Sally don’t you go, don’t you go downtown; saddest thing in the whole wide world is to see your baby with another girl” replaced with “Oh Sally don’t you go down, oh darlin’ don't you go downtown; Honey the saddest thing in the whole wide world is to find your woman been with another girl.”

- Jenell Kesler
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