Why Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ Doesn’t Quote ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Directly

Many classic rock songs were inspired by books. For example, Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” was inspired by Alice in Wonderland. In addition, Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick said she ripped off another style of music when she wrote the track.

Alice, the March Hare, the Dormouse and the Mad Hatter from 'Alice in Wonderland' at a table
Alice, the March Hare, the Dormouse and the Mad Hatter from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll | Rischgitz/Getty Images

Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane wrote music using a partially broken piano she bought for $50

During a 2016 interview with Forbes, Slick discussed the origin of “White Rabbit.” “I wrote it on a piano that cost me $50 at a place in San Francisco where they sold used furniture,” she recalled. “It was a tiny, 88-key upright, and 10 keys weren’t working. It was really a piece of junk.”

Slick said the writing of “White Rabbit” was collaborative. “I’m not a great musician, but I had something in mind,” she said. “All I need is a keyboard or guitar and I pluck around until I can hear what I hear in my head. Then I put it on tape or play it for the band. It was always fascinating to hear what they would come up with.”

Slick discussed the popularity of “White Rabbit.” “‘White Rabbit’ is very short, so radio liked it because they could get a lot of commercials in,” she remembered. “Why it got so popular is amazing because it’s not rock ‘n’ roll. It is a Spanish march. The music is weird.” 

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Grace Slick said Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ ripped off a Cuban style of music

Slick said the track drew on other works of art. “The lyrics paraphrase — if you don’t paraphrase you’ll get sued — Alice in Wonderland,” she said. “And I sort of ripped off bolero, too.” For context, bolero is a Cuban style of dance music.

Slick’s claims about Alice in Wonderland are dubious. Lewis Carroll published Alice in Wonderland in 1865 and Jefferson Airplane released “White Rabbit” in 1967. By the time “White Rabbit” was written, Alice in Wonderland was in the public domain.

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How ‘White Rabbit’ and its parent album performed on the charts in the United States

“White Rabbit” was a hit in the United States. The song hit No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 10 weeks. Other than “Somebody to Love,” none of the band’s songs were more popular in the U.S.

Jefferson Airplane released “White Rabbit” on the album Surrealistic Pillow. The album reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and remained on the chart for 56 weeks. None of the band’s other albums were as successful on the Billboard 200.

“White Rabbit” is a classic song — and it helped cement Alice in Wonderland‘s place in popular culture.

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