Jefferson Starship’s “Jane,” from Freedom at Point Zero” (1979)

Say what you must about the group that shapeshifted from the band that made “Somebody to Love” to the band that made “We Built This City,” but anyone who wants to dis them too hard has to reckon with the high points of their output. While never a megahit, “Jane” has been an FM radio staple for four decades and may well be the most identifiable single from the Jefferson Starship incarnation. Much of its enduring appeal resides in the contributions of rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner and, especially, lead guitarist Craig Chaquico.

Beginning with a clean, phase-shifted arpeggiated Em7-Gmaj7 riff, the guitarists quickly kick on crunchy sounds and cue the rhythm section with a pick-up that precedes the tight and punchy main riff. The riff is simple, but the song resists reduction to a bonehead riff with dramatic chromatic climbs, a faux-Carribean breakdown, and a key change leading into the guitar solo.

The band pivots between Bsus4-B and then stops for a beat, making Craig Chaquico’s wailing bends from high A to B really stand out, before he rips a string of pull-offs down the neck, and repeats his opening phrase in throaty double-stop bends. More bluesy double-stops an octave up, an Em pentatonic trip down, and a Hendrixian return to the twelfth position that leads to unison bends that climb with the re-entrance of the background vocals, and Chaquico finishes the solo with ascending bends that finally land on a high E, just as Mickey Thomas’s lead vocal comes back in. What love about this solo is that Chaquico doesn’t just play over the band, he plays with the band. Part of what allows the solo to take the song to new territory is that the rhythm section modifies the main riff for the first 8 bars of the solo, creating spaces that Chaquico finds to give his licks extra impact.  The return of the full main riff and Chaquico’s unison bends along with the background vocals cements the solo within the song.

A little web searching about “Jane” clued me in that the song had an early 2000s pop culture moment about which I had no idea, as well as a mid 2010s return, as the theme song of the movie Wet Hot American Summer and its sequel Netflix series. Writing in the magazine GQ, Maggie Lange wonders whether the song is somehow a big joke, a question that never occurred to me, while simultaneously showing her emotional bond with it. Lange criticizes “the writing,” by which I take her to mean the lyrics of the song, while praising “the performance,” by which I take her to mean the singing and, ya know, what the band does. I wouldn’t be so quick to separate the two. It makes sense to me to frame the simplicity of the lyrics as part of what enables “Jane” to be dramatic and not pretentious. “Jane” isn’t progressive rock or arty-art, obviously and happily. It’s exactly the kind of song with which I think a good cover band could get the at least some of people who are afraid of looking foolish onto the dance floor.

‘Fridays’ TV Show – N [08 of 08] (1981) Jefferson Starship – “Jane” (Live – ‘Fridays’)

● A live version of “Jane” from pretty close to its hit-single days.

● The BC Rich guitars Chaquico and Kantner are playing cannot be denied.

©2019 Guitarete/Alan Barry

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