Why Some Jefferson Airplane Members Only Get $3.98 When ‘White Rabbit’ and ‘Somebody to Love’ Play on the Radio

Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” are two of the most famous classic rock songs of the 1960s. Jefferson Airplane recorded the tracks as part of an album that was a major stylistic departure for the band. Subsequently, some members of the band made fairly little money off of the songs.

Jefferson Airplane in black-and-white during the "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love" era
Jefferson Airplane | Bettmann / Contributor

The 2nd Jefferson Airplane album was a major shift in the band’s sound

Jefferson Airplane debuted with the album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. It wasn’t much of a hit, but the band’s follow-up, Surrealistic Pillow, was popular. The latter album featured “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.” During a 2016 interview with Forbes, Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen discussed the reception of the two albums.

Jefferson Airplane Takes Off was a folk-rock album while Surrealistic Pillow is rock ‘n’ roll and the songs are less than three minutes,” he said. “I do remember when I heard Grace [Slick] sing the song [‘Somebody to Love’], and ‘White Rabbit,’ too, I went, ‘Wow.’ To music geeks, that was her Erik Satie period. There was a lot of nifty stuff.”

Kaukonen revealed the recording of Surrealistic Pillow was low-tech. “It’s important to note that Surrealistic Pillow was recorded on just four tracks, no noise reduction,” he recalled. “So you couldn’t overdub more than once or you would degrade the track. You had to nail the parts — you really had just one chance.”

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Grace Slick didn’t write ‘White Rabbit’ and ‘Somebody to Love’ for Jefferson Airplane

Kaukonen was asked if Slick wrote “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” when she was with her previous band, The Great Society. “Absolutely,” he said. “The big hits, none of us has the publishing on them. That’s the story of my life.”

Kaukonen revealed how much he profits off of the songs. “We only get mechanical royalties of $3.98 when it’s played on the radio,” he said. “But still, every time a check comes, that’s $3.98 more than you had before you opened the envelope.”

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How ‘White Rabbit’ and ‘Somebody to Love’ performed on the chart in the United States

“White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” became the band’s biggest hits. “White Rabbit” reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 10 weeks. Meanwhile, “Somebody to Love” hit No. 5 and lasted on the chart for 15 weeks.

Surrealistic Pillow became a bit hit too. The album hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and remained on the chart for 56 weeks. None of Jefferson Airplane’s other albums performed as well in the United States.

“White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” are both enduring songs even if not all of the members of the band profit greatly from them.

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