The top 10 Marty Balin songs feature musical material by this incredibly gifted man who officially began his career as a recording artist in 1962. Fans of Jefferson Airplane are likely to remember him as the singing-songwriting genius who helped launch the group he founded into stardom. First born in Cincinnati, Ohio, then graduating from high school in San Fransisco, Martyn Buchwald overcame his diagnosis of autism to become a mighty force to reckon with in the music industry. It wasn’t easy as Balin experienced a series of highs and lows that would dictate the direction of this man’s incredible musical career.
In 1962, Buchwald changed his name to Marty Balin, and “Nobody But You” and “I Specialize in Love” were recorded and released as singles but they failed to make the kind of impression he hoped for. Shortly afterward, he met Paul Kantner at a San Franciscan club that would lead to the founding of Jefferson Airplane. Jack Casady, Spencer Dryden, and Jorma Kaukonen were first recruited in 1965 before Grace Slick joined the lineup in 1966. She shared the role of lead vocalist with Balin until he left the band in 1971. By this time, Balin’s role as a songwriter felt the consequences of creative differences and personality clashes with his bandmates. It technically began after the 1967 recording and release of Surrealistic Pillow. At the time, his musical preferences favored folk and romantic pop while the rest preferred psychedelic rock.
As Jefferson Airplane, Balin and his bandmates performed at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and the 1969 Woodstock Festival. They were also among the performers of the 1969 Altamont Speedway Free concert, the very same that had the Hells Angels motorcycle club serve as security during the event. Instead of the free-loving ambiance Woodstock became famous for, Altamont experienced a chaotic chain of events. While Jefferson Airplane was performing “The Other Side of This Life,” Balin was knocked out by a Hells Angels member. Footage of an event that put the concert music on pause was featured in the 1970 documentary, Gimme Shelter.
After Jefferson Airplane completed its 1970 tour across the United States, Marty Balin decided he needed to take a break from Jefferson Airplane. After the October 1970 death of Janis Joplin, Balin realized he needed to take a break from his bandmates and the music industry. The circumstances revolving around her death were enough for Balin to do a reality check as he opted to bail out of a toxic lifestyle in favor of living a healthier one. Although he was not one to engage in drugs like cocaine, he did admit to a drinking problem, which he opted to put an end to. Even though he was no longer officially with Jefferson Airplane, Balin remained active in the music scene. After working with a series of West Coast groups such as Bodacious DF and Grootna, Balin was approached by Paul Kantner to write music with him again.
Jefferson Starship began as a Jefferson Airplane spinoff in 1974. Between Balin’s 1971 departure and 1974, Kantner and Grace Slick. By this time, Kantner and Slick were already a couple that had a daughter together as their romantic relationship began in 1969. That ended in 1975 but Kantner and Slick remained close as friends. 1975 also marked the same year Balin opted to become a permanent member of Jefferson Starship.
For the next three years, he, Kantner, and Slick recorded and released a series of big hits such as “Miracles,” “Runaway,” and “With Your Love.” However, loosely similar issues Balin experienced while part of the Jefferson Airplane lineup resurfaced again with Jefferson Starship. Shortly after Slick opted out of the group in 1978, Balin did the same before the year ended. It seemed clear at this point Balin was better off as a solo artist who was able to pick and choose the direction of his musical career without experiencing conflict.
Even though Balin was no longer with Jefferson Starship, his relations with Paul Kantner weren’t completely severed like it was when he left Jefferson Airplane. However, he pursued a solo career that included the 1979 rock opera, Rock Justice. This was a story shared by Balin that based its material on the lengthy conflict he experienced with his former band manager, Matthew Katz. Although it was a Balin production, he did not perform in it. He selected a full cast to do that. In 1981, Balin recorded and released his first studio album as a solo artist. Balin produced for him two hit singles. The first was “Hearts” and the second was “Atlanta Lady (Something About Your Love).” In 1983, Balin released his second solo album, Lucky.
There was also the EP, There’s No Shoulder, which was released in Japan only. After this, he teamed up with Jack Casady and Paul Kantner to form the KBC Band. From 1985 until 1987, the trio released a studio album that included two singles, “America” and “It’s Not You, It’s Me.” This was later followed by a Jefferson Airplane reunion album that was recorded and released in 1989. In 2008, the intention for Balin to record a couple of tracks for Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty album met with scheduling issues that put this collaboration effort with Jefferson Starship on hold. Instead, “Maybe for You” was a song that was released from Windows of Heaven, an album that was released in Germany only.
The legacy of Marty Balin as part of the Jefferson Airplane lineup was recognized in 1996 when the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2016, he was honored with his bandmates with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. On September 27, 2018, he passed away at seventy-six years old in Tampa, Florida. Although gone, Marty Balin is by no means forgotten. In addition to blessing the world with his incredible singing voice, Marty Balin was also a painter. This passion featured Balin putting on canvas some of the biggest music industry stars since the birth of rock and roll as a genre. Adding to his musical legacy is a collection of painted portraits in a gallery in Saint Augustine, Florida.
The physical demise of Marty Balin began while on tour in March 2016. He complained of having chest pain and was rushed to a hospital in New York City. This led to open-heart surgery at the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital. Instead of a promising road to recovery, Balin experienced a series of medical issues that included paralysis of his vocal cords and kidney problems. There was a malpractice lawsuit that was filed in 2018 against the medical team involved as they were blamed for putting this brilliant singer-songwriter’s career to an end. Before 2018 was over, Balin passed away. Since then, the widowed Susan Joy Balin dropped the charges against the hospital as she experienced difficulty finding a new team of attorneys to continue with this legal battle.
As a solo artist, Marty Balin recorded and released an EP and twelve studio albums. There were also five compilation albums, as well as a 1973 record with Bodacious DF and a 1986 record with the KDB Band. While with Jefferson Airplane, Balin recorded and released the first five studio albums with them before moving on. There was then 1989’s Jefferson Airplane, which brought the total to six. In total, Jefferson Airplane recorded and released eight albums altogether. While with Jefferson Starship, Balin was part of the lineup that produced eight out of the ten studio albums the group produced before his death. As for Balin’s legacy, it lives on in his music and in his paintings that continue to win over new fans to this day.
Top 10 Marty Balin Songs
#10 – Summer of Love (Jefferson Airplane)
“Summer of Love” was the first single Marty Balin performed with Jefferson Airplane since leaving the band in 1971. This came from the group’s eighth studio album, which was simply titled Jefferson Airplane. The idea to put together the album came to Marty Balin, Jack Casady, and Paul Kantner after they toured together as the KBC Band. While on tour, they performed “Summer of Love,” but this song written by Balin wouldn’t make its official debut as a recording until 1989.
On the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs chart, it became a number fifteen hit. This wonderful ballad featured Balin and Grace Slick sharing the role as lead vocalists in the form of a duet. What’s great about “Summer of Love” was the trek down memory lane shared by two people who endured all the ups and downs of a life spent together. Although Balin completely broke ties with Jefferson Airplane for about three years, the run as Jefferson Starship demonstrated Balin and Slick still had a strong enough friendship that stood the test of time. When listening to “Summer of Love,” it was about remembering all the best highlights that make a loving relationship between two people worth fighting for.
#9 – It’s No Secret (Jefferson Airplane)
The first single released by Jefferson Airplane as a group was “It’s No Secret.” This came from the group’s debut album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, and was a song written by Marty Balin. The group’s venture into psychedelic rock was beautifully matched with Balin’s folksy vocals that became a familiar trademark from a man who had no trouble captivating an audience. When it came to writing and performing love songs, Balin was virtually unbeatable as soon as Jefferson Airplane made its debut in 1966.
#8 – Atlanta Lady(Something About Your Love) (Marty Balin)
“Atlanta Lady (Something About Your Love)” was one of two songs Jesse Barish wrote for Marty Balin after he opted to go solo and record his debut album, Balin. Released as a single in 1981, it became a number twenty-seven hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and a number eleven hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs chart. It was the follow-up single behind Balin’s biggest hit as a solo artist, “Hearts.” When it came to performing love ballads as a vulnerable man sporting his heart on his sleeve, this was a niche Marty Balin perfected. “Atlantic Lady” was Balin’s lamentation about a woman he realized he was still in love with even though they were no longer together. He shared a desire to find his way back into her life so they could pick up where they left off.
#7 – Mariel (The KBC Band)
In 1986, Marty Balin, Jack Casady, and Paul Kantner teamed up to form the KBC Band. All three previously played together as members of Jefferson Airplane from 1966 until 1971, before Balin took what he felt was a much-needed break away from the psychedelic music scene. When the trio agreed to do an album together, “Mariel” was the lead track to a list of nine songs that showcased the men’s talents. While “It’s Not You, It’s Me” and “America” were released as singles that became hits, “Mariel” was also regarded as one of the album’s golden gems as a song. This fast-paced single merged the fun of jazz with the energy of rock as a song that described “Mariel” as a woman who was beaming with star quality.
#6 – Comin’ Back to Me ( Jefferson Airplane)
“Comin’ Back to Me” was a folksy rock ballad written by Marty Balin that was recorded on the 1967 album, Surrealistic Pillow. The inspiration behind this psychedelic-style folk song came to Balin while he was on a high after smoking some marijuana. As soon as he wrote out the song, Balin charged straight to the recording studio and worked with whoever he could find to musically compose it with him. Going into the 1990’s, “Comin’ Back to Me” became a cult classic after it started to become featured in a series of movies. First, it was 1990’s Flashback and its star-studded cast that included Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, and Keifer Sutherland.
The second movie to play “Comin’ Back to Me” was 1991’s The Indian Runner. Every few years, as a new movie hit the box office, “Comin’ Back to Me” would make its musical presence felt. This was also the case going into the twenty-first century as recently as 2015’s The Age of Adaline. In 1999, Balin also recorded and released a version of this song as a solo artist. The opening acoustic guitar gently sways the listener as “Comin’ Back to Me” before Balin performs this with one of his best lyrical performances as a vocalist. Among fans who share their stories about this song, many of them talk about lost loved ones and bittersweet memories of the past.
#5 – With Your Love (Jefferson Starship)
“With Your Love” was a jazzy love ballad written by Marty Balin, Joey Covington, and Vic Smith while they were part of the Jefferson Starship lineup. It was the lead single from the 1976-released album, Spitfire. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number twelve. On the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs chart, it was a number six hit. In Canada, “With Your Love” peaked as high as number ten on its Canadian Top Singles Chart and at number six on its Adult Contemporary chart.
The charm of “Hearts” can be heard in this song as a vulnerable Balin beautifully sang as a man realizing the power of love had a bigger impact on him than he expected. When looking for that perfect tune to woo someone over, “With Your Love” has been an easy choice for listeners who know a really good love song when they hear it.
#4 – Caroline (Jefferson Starship)
1974 marked the year Marty Balin, Paul Kantner, and Grace Slick performed for the first time together since Balin’s departure from Jefferson Airplane in 1971. Now as Jefferson Starship, the trio was teamed with John Barbata, Craig Chaquico, Papa John Creach, David Freiberg, and Pete Sears. Together, “Caroline” was recorded and released as a follow-up to “Ride the Tiger.” Although “Ride the Tiger” appeared on the US Billboard Hot 100, it only peaked as high as number eighty-four. “Caroline” didn’t chart at all but became the favorite between the two that has since been regarded as a classic.
During the recording of Dragon Fly as an album, Balin had not yet signed up as a full-time member of Jefferson Starship. That wouldn’t happen until 1975’s Red Octopus. As a song, “Caroline” was a beaut as Balin sang as a man realizing he needed to confess to her about how he felt. The vulnerability he portrayed in this song was jazzed up by a talented group of musicians, making “Caroline” such an easygoing favorite. Chaquico’s performance on lead guitar was fantastic while Sears was at his best playing the piano. Since 1974, Jefferson Starship has demonstrated what great rock music should sound like, especially with “Caroline” as one of the group’s most energetic songs ever performed.
#3 – Hearts (Marty Balin)
Starting with a little drum roll, “Hearts” was a gentle classic where Marty Balin sang as a man pouring his heart on his sleeve. Feeling lonely, he called up his former love interest and shared how “Hearts” have a knack for having a mind of their own whenever it comes to the roller coaster ride called love. As a solo artist, Marty Balin branched out on his own with the 1981 release of “Hearts.” This single came from his debut album, Balin. It became the biggest hit for him since going solo as it peaked as high as number eight on the US Billboard Hot 100 and at number nine on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs chart.
It peaked as high as number twenty on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. In Canada, “Hearts” became a number eleven hit on its Canadian Top Singles Chart and at number four on its Adult Contemporary chart. It was also popular enough in France to peak as high as number nineteen. As a protege of Marty Barin, Jesse Barish wrote this song, as well as “Atlanta Lady” and “Do It For Love,” while working with Balin on his debut album. Balin and Barish were already with each other’s handiwork while with Jefferson Starship. Barish was the songwriting genius behind one of the group’s biggest hits “Count On Me.”
#2 – Today ( Jefferson Airplane)
When “Today” was written as a folksy rock ballad by Marty Balin and Paul Kantner, it was done so with the hope of meeting Tony Bennett. One of the highlights of this song was the opening guitar riff performed by The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. Jefferson Airplane wound up recording this song for its second studio album, Surrealistic Pillow. At the time of writing “Today,” Tony Bennett was recording in the studio next to where the bandmates of Jefferson Airplane were.
The intended meeting never did happen but “Today” was just too good of a song to not have it recorded. Although written for Bennett, the fans became the fortunate recipients who appreciated the beauty of a decent psychedelic folk song when they heard it. The beauty of “Today” was a fantastic song that sang about the desire to make a personalized dream come true.
#1 – Miracles (Jefferson Starship)
Written by Marty Balin, then recorded while he was with Jefferson Starship’s lineup, “Miracles” was the megahit that came from the album Red Octopus. After it was released in 1975, it peaked as high as number three on the US Billboard Hot 100. The inspiration for Balin to write this song came from what he learned about an Indian guru who had a devoted fan following and believed he could perform miracles.
His name was Sathya Sai Baba. At the time Balin wrote this song, he was also involved with a love interest that sparked him to write certain lyrics for a song that would be heard on the album version but not the radio-edited single. When Balin approached Paul Kantner and Grace Slick to present “Miracles” as a song for Jefferson Starship to record they had some reservations. It was deemed “weird” at the time but Balin was convinced “Miracles” had everything it needed to become a hit. As it turned out, he was right.
As Jefferson Starship, this group had yet to come close to realizing the same level of stardom Jefferson Airplane had beforehand. For Balin, Kantner, and Slick, “Miracles” was a step out of the norm as a song to perform. However, as soon as they realized this became a big hit, reality sunk in the best direction for Jefferson Starship to take at the time was to follow a more sultry musical pattern. It was the style of music Balin preferred all along, even while he was still part of the Jefferson Airplane lineup.
“Miracles” was an incredibly charming song with Balin performing as Jefferson Starship’s lead vocalist while Kantner, Slick, John Barbata, and Craig Chaquico sang in the background. Sensually performed as pillow talk in the form of a song, “Miracles” became more than just a hit song that influenced music fans from 1975 and beyond.
It became one of the most cherished love ballads that stood the test of time as a classic favorite. The impact “Miracles” had on Jefferson Starship was enormous as it became the biggest hit of the group’s career. Before becoming Jefferson Starship, Balin, Kantner, and Slick were part of Jefferson Airplane before Balin moved on in 1971. “Miracles” was credited for playing its role for Red Octopus to become certified platinum twice over by the RIAA.
Feature Photo: MartyBalinMusic, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Top 10 Marty Balin Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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