Ten moments of genius from Paul Kantner

It’s not going too far to suggest that Paul Kantner was one of the true visionaries of the psychedelic era during its West Coast height in the late 60s. As the guiding force behind Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, he was a bristly, uncompromising character, but what he’s left behind is a testament to a remarkable, turbulent career that helped to shape the psyche and stoner music of today.

Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit 

While many immediately pick up on Grace Slick’s vocals, what really makes this song iridescent is Kantner’s guitar performance. This is almost unique in the way it clambers across a staccato riff and takes the listener on a trip - in all senses of the term. It all seems so simple, yet is the platform for one of the 60s’ most climactic anthems.

Jefferson Airplane - The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil

Written by Kantner, this was a Top 30 hit for the band, the steepling guitar intro leads into a song that possesses a very stark, eerie melody. It brilliantly exposes Kantner’s ability to take the obvious and suddenly steer it into left field flamboyance. It’s highly commercial, but without diluting any of Kantner’s experimental urges.

Jefferson Airplane - Crown Of Creation 

Kantner based the lyrics of John Wyndham’s sci fi novel The Chrysalids. And the structure of the song mirrors the post-apocalyptic, claustrophobic intensity of Wyndham’s story. 

This is an intelligent, far reaching track that packs so much into just under three minutes, yet never seems to be overloaded. Much of this is due to Kantner’s guitar, which acts as a guide for the listener through the dark philosophical morass.

Jefferson Airplane - Wooden Ships 

Kanter co-wrote this with David Crosby and Stephen Still, and it originally appeared on the self-titled Crosby, Stills & Nash album released the same year. But this version has a frisson perhaps lacking on the CS&N rendition. 

The song extrapolates from the Vietnam conflict and the ongoing Cold War to the point of a nuclear holocaust, and some of Kantner’s chiming, yet downbeat guitar interpolations here are eerily moody.

Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship - A Child Is Coming 

This was from a concept album celebrating the counter culture, and a revolution against Uncle Samuel (!). A Child Is Coming was Kantner and Grace Slick noting the latter was pregnant with their first child. 

It has a joyously restful spirit, with Kantner and co-writer David Crosby exchanging guitar motifs, and the part vocal harmonies between the pair and Slick are beautifully created. As producer, Kantner does a monumental job in balancing the rhythmic shifts and emotional truths.

Paul Kantner/Grace Slick - Your Mind Has Left Your Body

A real acid trip inside the a swirling, dissonant brain. It’s a Kantner creation, which sees him playing rhythm guitar, while Jerry Garcia takes on the lead work. But it’s the former’s disconnected vocals that makes this a dreamscape within a nightmare etched on a surreal canvas. 

Here is a blueprint for the stoner genre that wouldn’t emerge for another two decades. And if anyone doubts Paul Kantner’s right to be regarded as a stoner deity, then this will provide the proof.

Jefferson Starship - I Want To See Another World 

A song that is searching for the answer as to why the world is so lop-sided in favour of an unfair status quo. It harks back to the ethos of the Airplane, but remains firmly opposed to nostalgia. 

Co-written by Kantner, it has an agitated, mid-70s cynicism, which is reflected in the way Kantner himself attacks the guitar, wringing out the sort of performance that completely dominates the arrangement. You can feel his anger welling up.

Jefferson Starship - Girl With The Hungry Eyes 

This was solely written by Kantner and has his trademark ability to incorporate lush vocal harmonies and also a searing guitar solo. If anything, this is a better song than Jane, which became the landmark track from the album. 

And lyrically it references Einstein and atomic war – a love song on the cutting edge of science and the apocalypse.

Jefferson Starship - Jane 

A huge hit for the band, this is one of the defining AOR moments of the time. Kantner had a hand in writing the music here, but it was more his understated guitar which played a crucial role in making this the enormous radio friendly success it became. 

He veers from blazing out full on powerchords to more funky rhythmic parts. This is the song that showed everyone he was actually a genuine guitar hero.

Paul Kantner - The Mountain Song

From the 1983 Paul Kantner solo album Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra. Kantner’s last solo album, and this track was co-written some years earlier by the man himself with Jerry Garcia; a version even appeared on David Crosby’s cult PERRO Sessions, recorded in 1971. 

It’s the inimitable vocal combination between Kantner and Slick that makes The Mountain Song so special – they really did have a remarkable musical bond. The melody is so hummable, but like all of Kantner’s best work, this is far from superficial, and has a broad stroke. In a way, it is his hymn to nature and the glories of being cut off from the ravages of technology.

Paul Kantner: a tribute to Jefferson Airplane's cosmic guide

Malcolm Dome

Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica, published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009. He died in 2021