Cortical Five

  • songfacts ®
  • This song was never released or performed, but is significant for the role it played in Jefferson Starship's album.

    In 1970, the Grateful Dead's Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics for this song, and Jerry Garcia wrote the music. It was intended for an album called Planet Earth Rock & Roll Orchestra that, like this song, never saw the light of day.

    According to Hunter's account in his book A Box of Rain, the album was bankrolled by David Crosby and was going to feature Garcia and Jefferson Starship members Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, and David Freidberg, along with American Beauty producer Steve Barncard. That crew had just finished working on Crosby's album If I Could Only Remember My Name; they had a good time on the project and wanted to do more.

    As Hunter words it in his book, "The project evaporated under the pressures of the day, but the impetus set the ball rolling for a metamorphosis into Kantner's counterculture classic Blows Against the Empire.

    Blows Against the Empire was the first album to use the name Jefferson Starship, which is the name the Jefferson Airplane would eventually adopt, but it was released as "Paul Kastner and the Jefferson Starship."
  • The song's lyrics are a mystical meditation on life, death, and social controls on behavior. It's got some stunny, darkly evocative lines, like:

    Beat the drum
    Shake the flail
    There is blood upon the trail
    Stricken dumb
    But for wails
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