Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Jefferson Airplane—
Have You Seen The Saucers/Mexico


Released 1970 on RCA
The Seth Man, May 2000ce
This was The Airplane’s last release for RCA before assembling their own subsidiary label, Grunt and it would be the only new material in 1970 they’d released under The Airplane moniker. The same year saw the release of Paul Kantner’s epic “Blows Against The Empire” album and Hot Tuna’s live acoustic debut which also marked the beginning of a steady decline in togetherness for the band. The single was recorded by the in-transit lineup of Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Marty Balin, Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen, Spencer Dryden and newcomer Joey Covington on punk/WASP percussion. 1970 was a year of total chaos for The Airplane: Jack and Jorma played countless gigs as Hot Tuna, both Dryden and Balin quit and Paul and Grace would become a couple but yet their live recordings from this period rank as some of their most aggressive and raw. Scant recordings do exist, but as bootlegs only: “Tear Down The Wall, Mother...,” “Almost Starshipshape” and an outstanding Fillmore East May 1970 tape all reveal The Airplane playing the most militant and heaviest rock of their career. They would open shows that year with the Kantner A-side, “Have You Seen The Saucers?” an ecological plea in full-effect, decrying the “American garbage dump in space/With no room left for brotherhood.” Kaukonen’s wah-wah’d electric ‘chicken’ guitar and soaring vocal harmonies jam briefly with additional percussion, which was perfect for full-blown live extrapolation.

The brief B-side, the Slick-penned “Mexico” was also included in live performances that year, dealing with President Nixon’s anti-marijuana sting, Operation Intercept. “You’re a legend, Owsley...” sings Grace with piercing, near-operatic tones over the loudest, sexiest and most growling bass line ever committed to single. It’s a pity that all subsequent re-releases of this 45 over the years have NEVER utilised this powerful mix: whether the posthumous “Early Flight” compilation, or any other number of ‘rarities’ packages. And the sleeve is amazingly psychedelic, designed by total head, acid-biker and Blue Cheer associate, Gut. On the front is an UFO scenario with a Ken Kesey-donated lamp, while the back sports hand-drawn psychedelic lettering with a rising sun over marijuana buds, which makes you wonder if RCA actually vetted this sleeve. Between this, Jorma’s riffing on the A-side and Casady’s assaultive bass romp on the B-side it’s an essential non-LP single and not cost-prohibitive when you find it.