1970- let me start out by listed 10 albums that did not make my 20 favorite albums of the year- Black Sabbath- Black Sabbath, The Who “Live at Leeds”, The Kinks “Lola Vs. The Powermen & the Moneygoround”, Elton John “Tumbleweed Connection”, Cat Stevens “Tea for the Tillerman”, The Grateful Dead “Workingman’s Dead”, Jimi Hendrix “Band Of Gypsies”, Fairport Convention “Liege & Leif”, Deep Purple “In Rock”, The Doors “Morrison Hotel”. Every one of those albums, with the possible exception of “Morrison Hotel” is known as a classic album in most parts and shows you just how musically deep 1970 runs. Though few of the biggest rock bands/artists didn’t release their definitive album statement in ’70, there is such a plethora of great songs & albums that 1970 stands for me as one of the definitive years in music history. It was the pivotal year of the sensitive singer songwriter era, as well as year 1 for Heavy Metal with the first two Black Sabbath albums along with Deep Purple’s “In Rock”. The Beatles released their last album and McCartney, Harrison & Lennon released their first real solo albums. Miles Davis was creating Jazz fusion with the release of the double album tour de force “Bitches’ Brew” (along with the previous year’s “In a Silent Way”. Soul & early funk music was merging with heavy metal and psychedelic rock led by the work of George Clinton & Funkadelic. The experimental music of the Stooges, Velvet Underground & MC5 was creating a sound which would lead to the punk explosion a few years later. There seemed to be something for everyone- mellow, loud, soft, heavy & funky.
After a good 5 years of progressively noisier psychedelic or garage rock, 1970 saw many of the baby boomers (hippies or not) who grew up on the British Invasion and album rock explosion, grow up a bit, get married, settle down and start families. After all of the political turmoil of the late sixties, many seemed to look forward to mellowing out and focusing inward. This set the stage for the folkie, singer songwriter movement which oftentimes was a man or women and his/her acoustic guitar, though the music certainly wasn’t limited to that. The scenes home base was Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, CA. James Taylor, a then unknown musician signed to the Beatles Apple label released his second album “Sweet Baby James” in early ’70. It quickly sold in huge numbers setting off a firestorm of likeminded releases. Fellow Canyoner Joni Mitchell released her 3rd scene referencing album “Ladies of the Canyon”, which also brought her much more success and acclaim than her previous releases. The super group Crosby Stills & Nash became one of the biggest rock bands in America with their self-titled 1969 release. In ’70 they recruited ex-Buffalo Springfielder Neil Young and released “Déjà vu”, which was another huge success. Young, himself, released one of his great albums as well with “After the Gold Rush”, a far quieter affair than his previous album. Stephen Stills also released his first solo album and had a hit. Many of the above musicians played on each others recordings and were both friends and rivals. It was a very incestuous scene and would remain so throughout the early part of the seventies.
Single artists, as opposed to full bands, were hot outside of L.A. as well. Simon & Garfunkel, the definitive folk duo of all-time released their last and most popular album Bridge Over Troubled Water”, but would break-up shortly after. Paul Simon would begin a very successful solo career a few years later. Across the pond Van Morrison, formerly of the garage rock group Them, released his second solo offering “Moondance”, two years after his beautiful but esoteric debut “Astral Weeks”. Though many argue over which is his better album, “Moondance” made him a star and remains an all-time classic today. Cat Stevens, who had seen some success during the British Invasion, catapulted to stardom with “Tea For the Tillerman” and he would remain one of the most respected artists of the era. The great Eric Clapton had disbanded the super group Cream a year earlier, as well as another one-off supergroup Blind Faith with Steve Winwood. In 1970 while playing with various members of the group Delaney & Bonnie on his best friend George Harrison’s first solo album “All Things Must Pass”, formed yet another one off supergroup Derek & the Dominoes. Their one 1970 release “Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs” was arguably the definitive album statement of Clapton’s entire (admittedly spotty) career. He also released his first solo album which contains “After Midnight” & “Let It Rain”. Harrison’s album would be by far the best statement of his solo career. Paul McCartney released his slapdash self-titled debut- it may have been lightweight compared to “All Things Must Pass” but it has its charms including the monstrous “Maybe I’m Amazed”. John Lennon, fresh off of primal scream therapy released “The Plastic Ono Band” with wife Yoko. The album is stripped to the bones with Lennon baring his soul. It’s a bleak & challenging listen but has plenty of genius moments and draws a line in the sand between the sixties- Beatles, hippies, peace/love, change the world- and the increasingly dour and resigned seventies. The Beatles last album “Let It Be” was released in 1970 but was actually recorded the previous year before “Abbey Road” and was slapped together rather haphazardly in the studio after the fact. As it’s the Beatles it would probably rank as most good band’s best album- it’s still a necessary listen which much to offer. Another artist to mention is the emergence of Elton John who started his incredible run of excellent albums and singles in 1970 than ran through the middle of the decade. He more than anyone else took over for the Beatles in the early 70’s as the biggest pop star in the world. The self-titled “Elton John” (not his actual debut) and the even better “Tumbleweed Connection” both streeted in 1970- they are two of his very best.
British Folk Rock was in its heyday in 1970 as well, even though it wouldn’t really break in America. The Fairport Convention was going strong releasing their 2nd great album “Liege & Lief”, which actually came out in very late ’69 in the U.K. Two of their members, Sandy Denny & Richard Thompson would go on to do important work throughout the decade. Others in the scene would remain almost entirely underground until much later. Nick Drake, who played on some of the Fairport albums, released his second of three albums in 1970 with “Bryter Layter”. It’s my favorite of his though all three are necessities. Unfortunately he never saw success in his lifetime, committing suicide several years later. His music wouldn’t really become well-known until the track “Pink Moon” was used in a car commercial at the beginning of the next century. Another artists, Vashti Bunyon, released her only album in ’70- the beautiful “Just Another Diamond Day”. She would be rediscovered by “freak-folk” artists in the new century as well and now her past work is more celebrated. Singer-songwriter Tim Buckley (also of the L.A. scene) was a critical favorite, but his music was really too weird for him to experience much success. His 1970 “Song To the Siren” is thought to be his best album. He would die young as well, which would happen tragically again to his son Jeff Buckley in the nineties.
The Rolling Stones were seemingly the only huge rock band that didn’t release a studio album in 1970, though they were right in the middle of one of the most incredible run in rock history. Actually The Who didn’t either, but they did release “Live at Leeds”, one of the classic live rock albums of all time. “Leeds” also contained the hit cover single “Summertime Blues” and The Who also released the great non-album single “The Seeker” as well. Only one year into their career and the mighty Led Zeppelin was already dominated the hard rock landscape with the previous year’s release of “I” and “II”. The varied their sound up to great results with “III” in 1970, allowing for quieter, folkie tracks like “That’s the Way” and “Tangerine” as well as experimental stuff like “Hats Off to Roy Harper”. Though banned from touring in the U.S., the Kinks released their 5th phenomenal album in a row with “Lola vs. the Powermen & the Moneygoround”, which contained the legendary hit “Lola”, but this period of the Kinks would remain largely unappreciated until year’s later by most Americans. Black Sabbath created the template for Heavy Metal with their self-titled debut and the monstrous follow-up “Paranoid”, still two of Metal’s most crucial albums. Deep Purple ditched their former lead singer, hiring the Metal howler Ian Gillan, who would see them through their most legendary period. “In Rock” was the first of their great albums. In America, down south, the Allman Brothers combined blues, country, psychelia & boogie music to create what is now known as southern rock. Their second album “Idlewild South” was released in 1970 containing classics like “Midnight Rider”, “Revival”, and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”. West coast acts were going strong as well. Jimi Hendrix released the live “Band of Gypsies” album which would be his last release before his untimely death and sadly hinted at more brilliant music to come from him in the future. San Fransisco acts the Grateful Dead, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival and to a lesser extent the Quicksilver Messenger Service all had landmark releases in ’70 as well. The Dead stripped their sound down from trippy acid rock to acoustic country influenced folk rock. Their two most beloved albums, “American Beauty” and “Workingman’s Dead” came out in 1970- between them holding about half of the Dead’s most well-known songs. Santana’s 2nd album “Abraxas” is the best of their career and Creedence was in the middle of a run only eclipsed by the Stones. “Cosmo’s Factory” held six charting singles and is probably the best album of their career as well. Though underbought and underappreciated at the time the Velvet Underground, the Stooges & to a slightly lesser extent the MC5 were underground in 1970 creating not only the beginning rumblings of Punk rock, but of alternative music all together. The Velvets “Loaded” was their last album with Lou Reed and has the immortal classics “Sweet Jane” and “Rock and Roll”- classic rock in a cooler world. The Stooges “Fun House” remains their best release and along with Black Sabbath, took heavy music to a place it had never been before. It has yet to come back
Soul music was rapidly changing as well. Throughout the sixties, it was moving from a smoother, more pop music built to cross over to the white audiences, to a heavier, funkier music that let its freak flag fly. The holy trinity of funk was James Brown, the creator, Sly & the Family Stone, who did more to bridge the gap between white & black audiences, and George Clinton and his groups Paraliament and Funkadelic, who expanded the sound by adding elements of Heavy Metal and psychedelic rock. All three artists were on a roll in ’40. Clinton & Funkadelic released their first two albums- the self-titled debut and “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow”. James Brown released his life “Sex Machine” album and had huge hits with the single “Sex Machine” & “Super Bad”. Sly Stone had just released the immaculate “Stand” album in ’69, whose plentiful hits ran into 1970, as well as the non-album follow-up singles “Thank You Falletinme Be Micelf Agin” and “Everybody Is A Star”. Experimental political artists like Gil Scott-Heron and the Last Poets were combining spoken word poetry with jazz & funk backing to create an early template for rap. Motown’s sound was changing as well. Bands like the Four Tops & the Supremes were on their way out along with the company’s biggest producing team Holland Dozier Holland, which helped pioneer the slick sounds so huge in the middle of the decade. Norman Whitfield took over as the hottest producer at the label trying to match Brown, Sly & Clinton in the psychedelic & funk department. He experienced huge success with the Temptations- the biggest of the Motown bands to cross over to that sound, who had huge hits with the previous year’s “Cloud Nine”, and 1970’s “Psychedelic Shack” and “Ball of Confusion”. Edwin Starr’s “War” was another huge politically-based hit for the label in ’70. Motown still had huge successes with relatively lighter (but still fantastic) by key artists like Stevie Wonder & Smokey Robinson, but a change was certainly happening. The biggest new artists were the Jackson 5 who came fresh out of the gate with 5 huge hits for the label including 1969’s “I Want You Back” followed by “ABC”, “I’ll Be There”, “The Love You Save” and “Never Can Say Goodbye”. The five would never duplicate their success in 1970, but lead singer Michael Jackson would obviously go on to even bigger things in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Other artists changing the genre include Isaac Hayes, a writer on many Stax hits in the 60’s, particularly on Sam & Dave cuts, and Curtis Mayfield, of the great sixties vocal group the Impressions. Hayes, the previous year had released the landmark album “Hot Buttered Soul”, which took soul music to epic lengths and transformed the sound to include sophisticated string arrangements and created the loverman persona expanded by artists like Barry White and Teddy Pendergrass in the 70’s. 1970’s “To Be Continued” continued his success. Mayfield released his debut album “Curtis” which contained amazing hits like “Move On Up” (later sampled by Kanye West in “Touch the Sky”) and the dire warning “Don’t Worry (If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Gonna Go”), setting the stage for his even better and important masterpiece “Superfly” two years later.
I wrote all of that without even touching on many of the great one off pop & soul singles that came out in 1970, many of which can be found on my mixes below. Please check them out- this year has something for everyone.
NICK DRAKE- BRYTER LAYTER
Buy Bryter LayterAmazon
THE GRATEFUL DEAD- AMERICAN BEAUTY
Buy American Beauty [Expanded]Amazon
VAN MORRISON- MOONDANCE
NEIL YOUNG- AFTER THE GOLDRUSH
Buy After The Gold RushAmazon
CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL- COSMO’S FACTORY
SPIRIT- TWELVE TALES OF DR. SARDONICUS
Buy Twelve Dreams Of Dr. SardonicusAmazon
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND- LOADED
BLACK SABBATH- PARANOID
*Album not available via itunes
JOHN LENNON- PLASTIC ONO BAND
LED ZEPPELIN- III
CROSBY STILLS NASH & YOUNG- DEJA VU
DEREK & THE DOMINOES- LAYLA & OTHER ASSORTED LOVE SONGS
THE BEATLES- LET IT BE
Buy Let It BeAmazon
CURTIS MAYFIELD- CURTIS
Buy Curtis! (Deluxe Edition)Amazon
RANDY NEWMAN- 12 SONGSS
*Album not available via iTunes
Buy 12 Songs Amazon
THE STOOGES- FUN HOUSE
SIMON & GARFUNKEL- BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER
Buy Bridge Over Troubled WaterAmazon
GEORGE HARRISON- ALL THINGS MUST PASS