1971- a great year in music history- one of the very best. It lies smack dab in the middle of my favorite period of music- ’67-’73. It’s a year dominated by the singer-songwriters who performed the soundtrack for hippies reaching their post-collegiate years, settling down and starting families while trying to find domestic bliss in changing and tumultuous times. Gritty funk & soul music spoke out against the Vietnam war, often spoke for women’s rights, and spoke about the state of black people in modern day America- their hopeful 60’s anthems in the civil right era became more disillusioned at the dawn of the seventies. The hippie dream of peace and love seemed to be over. Nixon was in the White House, winning the ’68 election by employing the thinly veiled racist tactics of the “southern strategy”.
The hard rock and heavy metal music of 1971 reflected the darkened mood as well. Led Zeppelin released IV (AKA ZOSO), their most popular album which would inspire legions of high schoolers for years to come and the doom heavy Black Sabbath released perhaps their two finest albums, “Paranoid” (released in 1970 first in the U.K.) and “Master of Reality”. Alice Cooper started glam metal with his “Love It to Death” and “Killers” albums- the former containing his first big anthem “I’m Eighteen”. Great 60’s bands The Who & The Rolling Stones released two of their best. The Who with “Who’s Next”, a perfect collection and my favorite Who album, and the Stones with “Sticky Fingers”, the third straight classic album made during the Stones most fertile period (’68-’72). Three of rock’s biggest superstars, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, & Jim Morrison all within a year and a half of each other- Morrison in ’71 and Joplin & Hendrix the previous year. ’71 saw the release of their last albums. “Pearl” was perhaps Joplin’s finest album to date and includes “Me & Bobby McGee” her signature track. “L.A. Woman” was a return to form for the Doors whose last two records, despite some great moments, were disappointments compared to their first three. Hendrix’s “Cry of Love” was a slapped together collection of tracks he was working on when before he died, but despite its lack of cohesion contains some of his very best songs.
Two other offshoots of rock were emerging in the early seventies as well. Southern rock, which was dominated then by the Allman Brothers then, saw them released their live classic “At the Fillmore East” which would be massively influential on other southern rock bands like Lynyrd Synyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band & Little Feat later in the decade. Little Feat also released their severely underrated, little heard self-titled debut album in 1971 as well. Progressive Rock, a high brow attempt at combining classical and jazz elements in rock was gaining major traction in ’71 as well. The music could be very self serious, indulgent and even silly at times but two bands doing it successfully in ’71 were Jethro Tull with their signature “Aqualung” album and Yes, who broke through with “The Yes Album”, containing “I’ve Seen All Good People”, “Starship Trooper” and “Yours Is No Disgrace”- all still played on classic rock radio today. The fusion of jazz & rock were common at the time as well. Jimi Hendrix was increasingly combining the two in his later recordings and many jazz musicians including John McLaughlin, Weather Report (with their brilliant debut album), and especially Miles Davis, inspired partly by Jimi, moved in a more rock oriented direction. After his two breakthrough albums in ’69 and ’70 with “In a Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew”, Davis released two great ones in ’71 with “Tribute to Jack Jonson” and “Live Evil”. Rock bands like Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago had many jazz elements in their music as well but neither released their best recordings in ’71.
If you like Funk music, 1971 is probably the best year in Funk history. The holy triumvirate of Funk, James Brown, Sly & the Family Stone & Funkadelic (later Parliament-Funkadelic) were all operating at peak performance. After the landmark “Stand” album in 1969, Sly arguably bettered it with the downbeat & drugged out masterpiece “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”. The transition between those two albums, the upbeat & optimistic “Stand” vs. the inward looking and almost hopeless “Riot” captured the difference of the two decades perfectly. Sly would go on to make one more great album and then retreat into reclusivity. Funkadelic delivered their third and arguably best album with “Maggot Brain” and James Brown had a slew of hits with some of his best songs- “Hot Pants”, “Make It Funky”, “Soul Power”, Get Up, Get To It, Get Involved” and “Escape-ism” to name a few. Elsewhere the L.A. funk band War was getting started and and Isaac Hayes had his Funk/Blaxploitation soundtrack “Theme from Shaft” that would pave the way for “Superfly”, “Cleopatra Jones” and others throughout the decade. Gil Scot-Heron’s finest album “Pieces Of a Man” was also released in ’71, containing “The Revolution Will Not be Televised” and would prove to be, along with the Last Poets, the largest early influence on rap music.
The smoother soul music was changing as well. Marvin Gaye recorded his masterpice “What’s Going On” to the chagrin of label boss Barry Gordy. Despite Gordy deeming the project commercial suicide the album ended up being a huge seller and helped to gear Motown toward more challenging sounds & themes. Elsewhere at Motown Stevie Wonder released the great “If You Really Love Me” single and was gearing up for this extraordinary five album run from 1972’s “Music Of My Mind” through 1976’s “Songs in the Key of Life” and the Jackson 5 was right in the middle of a great run of singles beginning with 1969’s “I Want You Back”. Aretha Franklin was churning out more great hits for Atlantic like “Rock Steady” and Al Green recorded his first great album “Al Green Gets Next to You” in Memphis. The Chi-Lites, Stylistics & Persuaders were three popular soul groups influenced by 50’s Doo-Wop and bringing a sweet, smooth R&B sound to the early 70’s. Freda Payne Jean Knight, the Honey Cone, Denise Lasalle, The Undisputed Truth & Bill Withers also contributed some amazing songs to the year.
Last but not least was the outsider music emerging in 1971. Jamaican reggae, still a year away from the breakthrough “The Harder They Come” soundtrack and a few years from Bob Marley’s rise to the future legend he would become, was nonetheless gaining some traction. Marley & the Wailers would not release their American/European debut until 1973’s “Catch a Fire”, but they released a slew of great tracks in their home country including future classics like “Small Axe” and “Trenchtown Rock”. Jimmy Cliff also contributed “Sitting in Limbo” one of his greatest songs and “Double Barrel” by Dave & Ansel Collins and “Cherry Oh Baby” by Eric Donaldson were two other stone cold raeggae classics released in 1971. In Europe, the German group Can was helping to create Krautrock, a catch-all term for experimental groups which combined psychedelia and progressive rock that contained elements of both classical and electronic music. Can released their great “Tago Mago”, in ’71, one of their very best records. Serge Gainsbourg, the legendary French musician, released “Histoire of Melody Nelson” an elaborate and highly sexual Lolita-esque concept album. Pink Floyd, popular in the London 60’s psychedelic underground scene was entering their next phase with “Meddle”, which laid the groundwork for their world conquering 70’s albums like “Dark Side of the Moon”, “Wish You Were Here” and “The Wall”.
LED ZEPPELIN- IV
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THE DOORS- L.A. WOMAN
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CAN- TAGO MAGO
Buy Tago Mago – Can
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SERGE GAINSBOURG- LA HISTOIRE DE MELODY NELSON
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NILSSON- NILSSON SCHMILSSON
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CAROLE KING- TAPESTRY
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VAN MORRISON- TUPELO HONEY
*Album not available via iTunes
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ROD STEWART- EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY
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T. REX- ELECTRIC WARRIOR
DAVID BOWIE- HUNKY DORY
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JOHN LENNON- IMAGINE
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JOHN PRINE- JOHN PRINE
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THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND- LIVE AT THE FILLMORE EAST
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THE ROLLING STONES- STICKY FINGERS
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JONI MITCHELL- BLUE
MARVIN GAYE- WHAT’S GOING ON
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SLY & THE FAMILY STONE- THERE’S A RIOT GOIN’ ON
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FUNKADELIC- MAGGOT BRAIN
*Album not available via Amazon
BLACK SABBATH- MASTER OF REALITY
*Album not available via iTunes or Amazon
THE WHO- WHO’S NEXT
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