I'm 40: Jefferson Starship, MODERN TIMES

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Jefferson Starship was in something of a quandary. The band's music had moved into a slicker and more FM radio-friendly direction, resulting in top 15 hit "Jane" from the divisive but popular Freedom at Point Zero album. Critics, however, were fast to take the band to task for selling out their sound for record sales. The criticism was not lost on Paul Kantner and the band, which now featured the return of singer Grace Slick after a three-year absence. The critical jabs only inspired him to dive deeper into what's come to be known as AOR: album-oriented rock.

"I like to walk on the edge. We're taking chances, but that's what makes it interesting," Kantner told People in 1981. "Whenever we try to plan anything, we screw up."

The album Modern Times picked up where Freedom at Point Zero left off, opening with explosive lead single, "Find Your Way Back." Written by guitarist Craig Chaquico and featuring Mickey Thomas on vocals, the song blasted into the top 30, peaking at #29 on the Hot 100 chart for the week of May 23, 1981. The #1 track in America that week: Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes."

The album's second track, "Stranger," featured the returning Grace Slick, who shared lead vocals with Thomas on the tune. Slick, however, absolutely owns the music video in her own inimitable style. A hit on FM radio, the song hit #48 on the Hot 100 for the week of August 8, 1981. The country's top tune at the time: Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl."

The album ended on the infamous "Stairway to Cleveland," which was a reaction to a particularly harsh review of Freedom at Point Zero: "Paul Kantner and I both loved the post-punk era, and we really shared that with each other," Mickey Thomas said to Classic Rock Revisited. "We would listen to a lot of that type of music, and when we would be in a certain city, we would try to find local bands that were doing that kind of stuff. We were in Cleveland and we met this guy named Paul Warren, who was kind of an under the radar kind of guy who had this great punk attitude. We went to see him play and he had this song that said, 'F-ck You!  We do what we want!' Paul loved that.

"We were also getting a little bit of slack from some of the critics, at that point in time that were not altogether happy with my presence in the band," Thomas continued. "They were saying, 'Where is Grace? Where is Marty? Who is this guy?' We came up with this idea, 'You can say you don't like us, you don't like this. Tell me how to wear my hair... F-ck you!  We do what we want.' 'Stairway to Cleveland' is not even mentioned in the lyrics of the song. It was a lot of fun making that song."

Released on April 2, 1981, Modern Times made a strong chart run, climbing as high as #26 on the Billboard 200 for the week of June 6, 1981. The #1 album in America that week: REO Speedwagon's High Infidelity.