Jefferson Airplane - Takes OffPity the poor debut album that never catches on. For every Marquee Moon or Never Mind the Bollocks, there are countless examples of debut albums that are worthy of attention, but fail to get it because they don't match what an artist was known for later. Orphaned for many different reasons -- the fired lead singer, the raw and unformed style, a little too much experimentation (or not enough), the classic "change in direction" -- these debuts often stand out as odd beasts in an artist's catalogue. As unique as the one-shot obscurity, but ignored because of the artist's later catalogue, they're consigned to the Debut Dungeon.

The inaugural debut dungeon goes to Jefferson Airplane, the quintessential San Francisco group of the '60s. Most of the classic lineup was already in place by the time recording began for their 1966 debut, Takes Off, except for the presence of early drummer Skip Spence (later to jump ship for Moby Grape and his own fractured solo "career") as well as a lead singer who sounded strikingly like Grace Slick -- but wasn't.

Signe Toly Anderson was a whitebread folk/blues shouter from Oregon whose deep, bellowing voice sounded like a mad scientist's fusion of Joan Baez and Big Joe Turner. Her showpiece, "Chauffeur Blues," undoubtedly blew audience members back against the walls in the tiny clubs the Airplane was playing during 1965.

But fortunately, Takes Off wasn't focused on Signe Toly Anderson at all. The locus for the band then was founder and early linchpin Marty Balin, whose lyrical conceits -- folk-era platitudes about getting together plus a fondness for women younger than were good for him -- disguised the fact that he was one of the best folk-rock songwriters (and singers) of the '60s. Meanwhile, lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen was balancing folk and rock in equal measure, hitting the "Jet Age Sound" promised in the liner notes for the album (quite similar to the Byrds a few hundred miles south in Los Angeles).

After the album's release (and relatively strong showing), Signe Toly Anderson wasn't forced out of the band; she gave birth to a child in mid-1966 and left the band a few months later -- although another possibility for her exit is her husband, a Merry Prankster named Jerry Anderson, who fought bitterly with the band.

In the end, it's easy to see why Jefferson Airplane couldn't help but improve when Grace Slick joined, just after Anderson's last appearance with the band; she had been leading one of San Francisco's other major groups, the Great Society, and possessed not only vocal firepower but control (and striking looks). Still, Takes Off stands as one of the best folk-rock albums of the '60s, and would garner reams of critical respect if the band had fractured after Anderson left or failed to find commercial success (like, say, the critically celebrated It's a Beautiful Day).

    "Blues from an Airplane"

    "It's No Secret"

    "Come Up the Years"

    "Let Me In"