Blows Against the Empire - Jefferson Starship 1970
Today I will be doing a song-by-song review of the 1970 album Blows Against the Empire by Jefferson Starship. The title is a shortened version of It’s a Fresh Wind that Blows Against the Empire. It is really by a very early incarnation of Jefferson Starship: Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Jerry Garcia, David Crosby, Peter Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Harvey Brooks, Joey Covington, Bill Kreutzmann, Graham Nash, Mickey Hart, David Freiberg, and Phill Sawyer. Here is the track list and timings:
- Mau Mau (Amerikon) - 6:35
- The Baby Tree - 1:42
- Let’s Go Together - 4:10
- A Child is Coming - 6:15
- Sunrise - 1:56
- Hijack - 8:16
- Home - 0:38
- Have You Seen the Stars Tonite? - 3:42
- X-M - 1:24
- Starship - 7:06
Since the album is a rock opera, I will explain the basic plot before the review here.
A generation of older, fascist-politician type people are overtaken by the new, radical generation of basically hippies (Mau Mau (Amerikon)). A young couple are part of the movement, and they share an acid-induced dream, including multiple hints of the woman being pregnant (The Baby Tree). The movement gets a plan to hijack the latest-in-technology starship, recently built and take it out of orbit (Let’s Go Together). Their intuitions of the woman’s pregnancy are confirmed (A Child is Coming), and the hippies make a final stand against the fascists (Sunrise), before stealing the ship (Hijack) and flying past the atmosphere (Home). The rest is a little hazy, but basically the hippies feel a little regretful and not sure if they made the right choice (Have You Seen the Stars Tonite?), but suck it up and fly out of orbit (X-M), and they find solace in each other and the fact that they have advanced the human species (Starship).
On to the review.
Mau Mau (Amerikon)
The album opens with a slightly messy 60s rock kind of thing. Lots of off-time backing vocals and very lyric-heavy. Very cool though. Personal experience time: in March 2021 my dog was sick and on St. Patrick’s Day night I put this album on. Halfway through this song, my parents were yelling and the dog was having a seizure. Long story short, I went back to bed and had an emotional experience with track 2, which I will get to, and, after I fell asleep, the dog had three more seizures and died at the emergency vet at 4 A.M. Anyway, the song ends pretty normally, but the final chord sustains just enough for…
The Baby Tree
…the banjo (Jerry!) melody of this old folk song to come in on the same chord nicely. This song is just the banjo and Paul singing. As mentioned above, the 1.5 minutes this song lasted on the night of 3/18/21 were probably the most emotional of my life. The song is good for that, with a simple, happy melody, and some nice chord changes. The song ends on the E, and does a really nice contrasting fade with…
Let’s Go Together
…the opposite chord E flat, which sounds cool. This song is, again mostly banjo and Paul, but also has Grace, drums, and piano. It’s a nice chord progression, and the verses quote some A.A. Milne/Winnie the Pooh stuff, for whatever reason. The song ends on a E flat banjo flourish, which, again…
A Child is Coming
…contrasts nicely with the opening E banjo thing. This song does have the band, and the middle jam section is kind of sad, but really cool. The song has nothing else really notable, other than the fact that this (and all of the songs about the couple in the plot) are written reflecting Paul and Grace’s relationship at the time. The song actually has a little silence, with some reverb, though, before…
…the guitar feedback of this song jumps in. It is mostly A-key feedback over Grace singing, with no tempo for most of it, but in the middle, we hear an added acoustic guitar, before it goes to another section of feedback, then it stops abruptly, and for a split second, we hear Grace laughing, then…
…a minor acoustic guitar and some thickly layered vocals come in. This song is the longest on the album, and has many, many lyrics and takes its time to get to the major part of the song. The ending jam segues awkwardly into…
…the first of two noise tracks on this album. This one is shorter, at a little over 30 seconds. The ending, heavy with reverb, leads into…
Have You Seen the Stars Tonite?
…the beginning of this super beautiful little rocker. It has some great pedal steel from Jerry, and Grace’s Nicky Hopkins-style piano. It ends, leading into…
…the other noise track on the album. This one is a minute longer than Home, and segues into…
…the piano beginning of my favorite song on the album, with some overlap with the noise from the last song. This one, again, has lots of lyrics, and lots of repetitions of verses and choruses. It ends nicely, wrapping up this great rock opera.
So there, a very great album, and the first rock opera I have reviewed. There were no outtakes from this one. Enjoy!