This was the sixth album recorded by the group and the first to be wholly recorded in San Francisco, at Wally Heider's then state-of-the-art 16-track studio. Guests included Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar, veteran session pianist Nicky Hopkins, future Airplane drummer Joey Covington on percussion, David Crosby, and Stephen Stills. It was one of the earliest 16-track recordings. The back cover of the album shows a picture of the MM-1000 professional 16-track tape recorder built by Ampex which was used to record the album.
The album was marked with strong anti-war and pro-anarchism songs. The theme of nature, communities and ecology was also explored with the songs "The Farm" and "Eskimo Blue Day". The title track was actually inspired by a "Volunteers of America" garbage truck that awoke singer Marty Balin one morning. The album provoked even more controversy with lyrics such as "Up against the wall, motherfucker" (from the song "We Can Be Together") which appeared on the opening track and "shit" which is said several times on "Eskimo Blue Day". Musically, the album is characterized by lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen's razor-sharp guitar work (the dueling solos on "Hey Fredrick", plus "Good Shepherd" and "Wooden Ships") and the distinctive piano playing of Nicky Hopkins. It also featured that band dabbling in a country rock sound, particularly in "The Farm" and "Song For All Seasons".
Despite its controversies, the album was a commercial success becoming the band's fourth top twenty hit record and went gold within two months of its release.
This was to be both Jefferson Airplane's founder Marty Balin and drummer Spencer Dryden's last album with the group, (although they did both appear on the "Mexico" single released in 1970 and its B-side "Have You Seen the Saucers?") signifying the end of the best-remembered "classic" lineup. It was to be the last all-new LP for two years; Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen would now devote more of their energy to their embryonic blues group "Hot Tuna", while Paul Kantner and Grace Slick celebrated the birth of their daughter China in 1971.
Even though the album was released in late 1969, the cover photo dates back to 1967, and features the band wearing disguises, and was taken during the filming of a promotional film made for their single "Martha."
A specially remixed Quadraphonic (4 channel) version of the album was also released in 1973. The Quad version was available on LP Record, and Reel to reel, and 8-track cartridge tape. The Quad mixes are noticeably different than the usual (2 channel) stereo mixes (actually, "Hey Fredrick" has a completely different lead vocal, "Volunteers" is a totally different recording, and "The Farm"'s backing vocals by the Ace of Cups is brought up to front). A few tracks from the Quad version were included on the 3 CD box set Jefferson Airplane Loves You, however on the box set the 4 channel recordings have been reduced to 2 channels due to the technical limitations of Compact Disc .
The 2004 CD rerelease features 5 additional bonus tracks from the group's annual Thanksgiving concert at the Fillmore East, New York in 1969.
In 2003, the album was ranked number 370 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The album was released again in 2009 along with the entirety of the Airplane's live performance at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 as Jefferson Airplane Woodstock Experience.
Jefferson Airplane - Volunteers (1969) [BMG 2004]
01. We Can Be Together (Paul Kantner) - 5:47
02. Good Shepherd (traditional, arr.by Jorma Kaukonen) - 4:19
03. The Farm (Kantner/Gary Blackman) - 3:11
04. Hey Frederick (Grace Slick) - 8:29
05. Turn My Life Down (Kaukonen) - 2:54
06. Wooden Ships (David Crosby/Kantner/Stephen Stills) - 6:23
07. Eskimo Blue Day (Slick/Kantner) - 6:31
08. A Song For All Seasons (Spencer Dryden) - 3:26
09. Meadowlands (traditional, arr. by Slick/Kantner) - 1:03
10. Volunteers (Marty Balin/Kantner) - 2:01
Bonus > live, recorded November 28-29, 1969 at Fillmore East
11. Good Shepherd (traditional, arr. by Kaukonen) - 7:20
12. Somebody To Love (Darby Slick) - 4:10
13. Plastic Fantastic Lover (Marty Balin) - 3:21
14. Wooden Ships (Crosby/Kantner/Stills) - 7:00
15. Volunteers (Balin/Kantner) - 3:25
Grace Slick - lead female vocals, piano (03,04,07,10), organ (09), recorder (07)
Paul Kantner - lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Marty Balin - lead vocals, percussion
Jorma Kaukonen - lead guitar
Jack Casady - bass
Spencer Dryden - drums, percussion
Nicky Hopkins - piano (01,04,06,08,10)
Steven Stills - Hammond organ (05)
Jerry Garcia - pedal steel guitar (03)
Joey Covington - congas (05), chair (07)
David Crosby - music sailboat (06)
Ace Of Cups (Mary Gannon, Marilyn Hunt, Diane Hursh, Denise Jewkes) - backing vocals (03,05)
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