This was written by Grace Slick, who based the lyrics on Lewis Carroll's book Alice In Wonderland. Like many young musicians in San Francisco, Slick did a lot of drugs. She saw lots of drug references in Carroll's book, including the pills, the smoking caterpillar, the mushroom, and lots of other images that are generally trippy. She noticed that lots of children's' stories involve a substance of some kind that alters reality, and felt it was time to write a song about it.
Slick got the idea for this after taking LSD and spending hours listening to the Miles Davis album Sketches Of Spain. The Spanish beat she came up with was also influenced by Ravel's "Bolero."
Slick wrote and performed this when she was in a band called The Great Society. She brought it with her, along with "Somebody To Love," when she joined Jefferson Airplane in 1966.
On an original recording by The Great Society, the song is barely recognizable due to Grace's higher voice before several throat operations to remove nodes that lowered her vocal range.
This is used in the stage production The Blue Man Group, and appears on their 2003 album The Complex. Music is a big part of the show, which features 3 blue guys engaging the audience with a combination of comedy, percussion, and sloppy stunts. They got a lot of attention when they were used in ads for Intel.
This was used as the theme song for a 1973 movie called Go Ask Alice.
The UK version of the album didn't have this on it.
This was one of the defining songs of the 1967 "Summer Of Love." As young Americans protested the Vietnam War and experimented with drugs, "White Rabbit" often played in the background.
Did the band ever get sick of this song? Grace Slick answered this question in a 1976 interview with Melody Maker when she replied: "I can play around with a song on stage without ruining it. We stopped doing 'White Rabbit' for a couple of years because we were getting bored with it. I like it again and we included it last year 'cause it was the year of the rabbit."
The Airplane was often found giving free concerts around the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. They shared a large house with several musicians during the psychedelic '60s, often applying for and receiving parade permits to walk the streets. Grace Slick was always a radical thinker, rejecting "Daddy's money." She once appeared on The Merv Griffin talk show made up in black face, causing a big controversy.
"Go Ask Alice" which is a lyric from this song, inspired an anonymous author to put out a book with that same title. The book was a "diary" of a young girl in the 1960s who had a drug addiction and died. The diary owner's name is never given, and the diary is suspected to be fictional even after it was promoted as true, and the anonymous author is suspected to be Beatrice Sparks, the book's editor. (thanks, BustaJuss - SoPo, NJ)
This capped off Jefferson Airplane's set at Woodstock in 1969. They took the stage at 8am on the third day, following a performance by The Who that started at 3am.
According to Grace Slick's autobiography, the album name came when bandmate Marty Balin played the finished studio tapes to Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead, whose first reaction was "Sounds like a surrealistic pillow." Slick says that she loves the fact that the phrase Surrealistic Pillow "leaves the interpretation up to the beholder. Asleep or awake on the pillow? Dreaming? Making love? The adjective 'Surrealistic' leaves the picture wide open."
This song is heard multiple times in the movie The Game with Michael Douglas. It demonstrates the madness Douglas feels in the movie. (thanks, Nathan - Brugge, Belgium)
In the film Fear and Lothing in Las Vegas, there is a scene where Dr. Gonzo is in a bathtub and this song is playing on a tape player. In an effort to end his life, Gonzo implores Raoul Duke to put the tape player in the tub "When White Rabbit peaks." Instead of doing as instructed, Duke throws a grapefruit at Gonzo and unplugs the tape player. (thanks, Justin - Durango, CO)
Grace Slick said in Q magazine that she wrote this song, "on a funny-looking upright piano with about eight keys missing." The singer added: "I took acid and listened to Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain album for 24 hours straight until it burned into my brain."
Slick claimed to Q that the song was aimed not at the young but their parents. She said: "They'd read us all these stories where you'd take some kind of chemical and have a great adventure. Alice in Wonderland is blatant; she gets literally high, too big for the room, while the caterpillar sits on a psychedelic mushroom smoking opium. In the Wizard of Oz, they land in a field of opium poppies, wake up and see this Emerald City. Peter Pan? Sprinkle some white dust-cocaine-on your head and you can fly."