Thursday, September 27, 2012

1971 was the annus mirabilis of the rock album - and here's the proof

I've written before about how the year 1971 was the annus mirabilis of the rock album. It wasn't until I sat down yesterday and compiled a Spotify list of tracks from albums released in that one calendar year that I realised just how true it is.

The first bit of the list writes itself. This is the year of Hunky Dory, Sticky Fingers, Every Picture Tells A Story, Pink Floyd's Meddle, Elton John's Madman Across the Water, Who's Next and Led Zeppelin IV. Those are just the British ones. Think about it. If there had been a Mercury Music Prize in 1971 these would have been on the shortlist. These would be the Arctic Monkeys and Pulps of their day. The shortlist would possibly have been rounded out by a few token left-field items like John Martyn's Bless The Weather, No Roses by Shirley Collins and the Albion Band or Steeleye Span's Ten Man Mop.

In California Joni Mitchell was putting out Blue, The Doors LA Woman, James Taylor Mud Slide Slim, David Crosby If I Could Only Remember My Name, Graham Nash Songs For Beginners and Carole King Tapestry. It was the year of California.

King was one of a number of artists to put out more than one album in 1971: she released Music later the same year, McCartney followed Ram with the first Wings album Wildlife while Yes followed The Yes Album with Fragile - all in the same twelve months. Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood had enough songs for The Move's Message From The Country and the first Electric Light Orchestra album. Rod Stewart recorded one solo album and two albums with the Faces in that same time.

The strength of the list is even more amazing when you consider the people who didn't put out a record of new material in 1971: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Richard Thompson to name but three. The first version of this playlist was only forty-three tunes. It's now up to 106 tracks and it will probably grow further.

Most of the music on this list was made by people under the age of thirty-two. The exceptions are Leonard Cohen, Bill Withers, Isaac Hayes, Albert King, Elvis Presley, Tom T. Hall and, Freddie King. There's a huge preponderance of war babies. Most of them were twenty-six. I was listening to Who's Next yesterday and marvelling at how this bunch of yobs from Shepherd's Bush could possibly have become so good so quickly. Hardly anyone who made the music on this list spent any time in further education. They were on the road as teenagers.

They were almost all releasing the records that would come to define them. If any of them were on stage tonight - as quite a few of them will be - the songs the audience would want them to play are the songs on these albums that they released in 1971.

Like footballers yet to have their first serious injury, they were writing songs as if it never occurred to them that one day they might run out. And they were doing it while on a never-ending tour. Nobody was going off to an island to write some new material. They didn't look down. They just kept on pedalling.

They all seemed, in one way or another, to be original. Even those few who were reaching back to an old tradition, such as the New Riders of The Purple Sage, Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, Steeleye Span or Ry Cooder seemed to be doing it for the first time. The music they were playing even they had never heard before. Some, like Doctor John, were to carry on making and re-making their 1971 album for the next forty years.

A few, such as The Band, had passed their peak. Some, like the Bee Gees, were about to go into a slump from which they would re-emerge bigger and better. Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Steve Goodman would die very young.

Most of the music on this list was made to be played on the same radio to the same people. Formatting hadn't yet driven people off into ghettoes where they only heard what they already liked. Even at the snobbier end, I would guess that John Peel would have played everything on this list.

I was surprised at the fact that the cult Californian acts of the 70s were already around as the last chords of the sixties faded away. Little Feat had released their first. Ry Cooder was on to his third. Randy Newman was marking time with a live album. Neil Young was trying out the songs for his 1972 album Harvest when he recorded Live At Massey Hall. I cheated here because this record only came out in 2007.

Live albums were coming into fashion. Most of these acts would have prepared new material on stage before trying to record it, just as Neil Young was doing. You could make a top ten of live albums made at the Fillmore that year, from the Allman Brothers top-of-the-world masterpiece to Humble Pie's impudent manifesto, recorded largely when they were a support act.

Whenever I trot out the argument that 1971 was the annus mirabilis of the rock album, just as 1965 was the annus mirabilis of the pop single, people say, well, we all do that with our youth. And we all do.

The difference is I'm right. This list proves it.

P.S. There's no Led Zeppelin on Spotify. Otherwise that list would be even more amazing.

For the benefit of people who can't get Spotify, here's the song titles and the artists,

The Who – Baba O'Riley - Original Version
Rod Stewart – Mandolin Wind
The Rolling Stones – Moonlight Mile - 2009 Re-Mastered Digital Version
Joni Mitchell – Little Green
David Bowie – The Bewlay Brothers - 1999 Digital Remaster
The Doors – Riders On The Storm - Remaster
Marvin Gaye – Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
The Allman Brothers Band – Statesboro Blues - Live At The Fillmore East/1971
Carole King – It's Too Late
T. Rex – Life's A Gas
Yes – Roundabout
Sly & The Family Stone – Family Affair - Single Version
Paul McCartney – Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey
Janis Joplin – Mercedes Benz
Elton John – Tiny Dancer
Cat Stevens – Tuesday's Dead
John Prine – Illegal Smile
David Crosby – Laughing
The Beach Boys – 'Til I Die
Nilsson – Without You - Remastered 2004
Santana – Toussaint L'Overture
Graham Nash – Wounded Bird
Alice Cooper – Under My Wheels
Dolly Parton – Coat Of Many Colors
Van Morrison – Wild Night - 2007 Re-mastered
Bill Withers – Ain't No Sunshine
Don McLean – American Pie
James Taylor – Hey Mister, That's Me Up On The Jukebox
Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Pictures At An Exhibition: The Great Gates Of Kiev - Live At Newcastle City Hall, 1971
Kris Kristofferson – The Pilgrim - Chapter 33
Flamin' Groovies – Teenage Head
Todd Rundgren – We Gotta Get You A Woman
Aretha Franklin – Oh Me Oh My [I'm A Fool For You Baby] [Album Version]
J.J. Cale – Call Me The Breeze
Isaac Hayes – Theme From Shaft - Album - Remastered
Little Feat – Brides Of Jesus
Electric Light Orchestra (Elo) – 10538 Overture - 2001 - Remaster
John Martyn – Singin' In The Rain
Kevin Ayers – Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes - 1999 Digital Remaster
Jimi Hendrix – Angel
Gene Clark – For A Spanish Guitar
Randy Newman – Tickle Me
The Kinks – Muswell Hillbilly
Serge Gainsbourg – Ballade De Melody Nelson
Albion Country Band – Claudy Banks
Al Green – I Can't Get Next To You
Judee Sill – Jesus Was A Cross Maker
Barbra Streisand – Stoney End
The Move – Do Ya
Stevie Wonder – Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer
Colin Blunstone – Say You Don't Mind
Leonard Cohen – Dress Rehearsal Rag
Mountain – Nantucket Sleighride (To Owen Coffin)
Leon Russell – Stranger In A Strange Land
Michael Nesmith And The First National Band – Grand Ennui
Traffic – The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys
The J. Geils Band – Floyd's Hotel
Lindisfarne – Fog On The Tyne - 2004 - Remaster
Boz Scaggs – Runnin' Blue
James Brown – Hot Pants (She Got To Use What She Got To Get What She Wants)
Neil Young – Helpless - Live At Massey Hall 1971
Family – Larf And Sing
The Staple Singers – Respect Yourself
Sandy Denny – Late November
Stephen Stills – Change Partners
Procol Harum – Broken Barricades
John Lennon – Jealous Guy
Tony Joe White – They Caught The Devil And Put Him In Jail In Eudora, Arkansas
Dr. John – Where Ya At Mule
Tom T. Hall – The Year That Clayton Delaney Died
Genesis – The Return Of The Giant Hogweed
Humble Pie – Four Day Creep
Bee Gees – How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?
Carly Simon – Anticipation
Jimmy Webb – Met Her On A Plane
Loudon Wainwright III – Motel Blues
Ry Cooder – On A Monday
Elvis Presley – Little Cabin On The Hill
Frank Zappa – Peaches En Regalia - Live At Fillmore East / 1971
Danny O'Keefe – Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues
Osibisa – Beautiful Seven - Digitally Remastered Version
King Curtis – A Whiter Shade Of Pale - Live @ Fillmore West
Don Nix – Living By The Days
Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks – Shorty Falls In Love - Live (1971 Troubadour)
The Chi-Lites – Have You Seen Her
Freddie King – Going Down
ZZ Top – Squank
Crazy Horse – Downtown
Faces – Had Me A Real Good Time
Hot Tuna – Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning
The Band – Life Is A Carnival - 2000 Digital Remaster
The Isley Brothers – Ohio/Machine Gun
John Stewart – Little Road and a Stone to Roll
Steeleye Span – When I Was On Horseback
Grin – We All Sung Together
Steve Goodman – City Of New Orleans
Rory Gallagher – Laundromat - Remastered 2011
Neil Diamond – I Am...I Said
Can – Paperhouse
Jethro Tull – Aqualung
America – Ventura Highway
New Riders Of The Purple Sage – Glendale Train
Albert King – She Caught The Katy (And Left Me A Mule To Ride)
The Hollies – Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)
Roberta Flack – Go Up Moses
Caetano Veloso – London London
Carpenters – Rainy Days And Mondays
Status Quo – Mean Girl
The Moody Blues – The Story In Your Eyes
Linda Ronstadt – Rock Me On The Water
Dory Previn – Mary C. Brown And The Hollywood Sign
The Temptations – Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
Johnny Cash – Man In Black
Laura Nyro;LaBelle – I Met Him On A Sunday
Bridget St John – City-Crazy
Gilbert O'Sullivan – Nothing Rhymed
The Supremes – Nathan Jones
Ike & Tina Turner – Proud Mary
Todd Rundgren – Long Flowing Robe
Carole King – Brother, Brother
Yes – I've Seen All Good People: a. Your Move, b. All Good People


  1. Comprehensively good review [of course!].

    Regarding the Who, or any of them really, being so good in their 20s, I think if you're young, and are totally involved in what you're doing, you'll be competent at it. Some will be outstandingly so.

    Whether it's being in a band, flying Spitfires, being a DJ, etc, this is the prime time.

    There's a good, and true, quote by Sinatra relating to this kind of thing, which to paraphrase says, 'if you do what you do well, all day, every day, you'll become a big man in that field - whatever it is'.

    A great pity that Jim Morrison didn't live longer, I would have been fascinated to see what happened next.

  2. One interesting thing about the period is that a lot of acts who could previously have been described as talented, interesting but a bit directionless started to crystallise their ideas and build some momentum. People as diverse as Genesis, T Rex, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Hawkwind and even Pink Floyd all made records in that time that defined their sound and put them on the road to future success.

  3. Also worth noting just how many albums those acts had actually released by 1971. Both Hunky Dory and (obviously) Led Zep IV were the fourth albums from those acts. Who's Next was their fifth studio album; and Meddle was the Floyd's sixth.

    Some of those Mercury Prize acts, like the Arctic Monkeys, won with their debut album - and some will never release six original albums in their entire career - while several of those above had not even reached their peak.

  4. 1971 has always seemed to me like the musical equivalent of sixth form. The junior attention span of pop/singles and teenage rebellion of psych and hippy had grown into beardy, but not fully developed, maturity - a pass through year before settling into a career (Bowie. Floyd) or trade (Rod. Elton)

    Thank God Lifehouse never reached completion. Pete Townshend's never settled with it being his unfinished symphony, in my book this is a blessing. It’s the refreshing lack of, leftovers and bits-that-won't-fit, cluttering up the collection and dodgy concepts recycled into cod-opera that make Who's Next their strongest album

  5. I hope it's on your Spotify list but you left out "What's Going On" - rather a big omission there.

  6. Look again, Lee. "Inner City Blues" is the seventh track.

    I think you're right about Lifehouse, Mondo. I recorded a programme with Johnnie Walker this week where we were talking about Who's Next, which started life as Lifehouse, and After The Gold Rush, which began as a soundtrack. Aren't we glad neither plan worked out?

  7. I'm very much an albums man, and totally agree with you. In fact, I've thought the same for about 15 years since my musical taste stretched across more eras and genres. The funny thing is, I initially googled "young people who say 'before my time'", i.e. I was getting fed-up with hearing it on quiz shows, and saw your blog from Feb 2008 was high up in the search! I totally agreed with that too.
    I was born in 1972, so it was just before my time (of existence, not knowledge!), but have gradually built up a list of favourite albums from the '50s to present, and 1971 comes up the most by quite a way. Interestingly, that staple of mostly non-singles music The Old Grey Whistle Test started that Autumn - you may have heard of it!

  8. I was batting your wicket back last January David - how do you fancy adding Laundromat to the mix?

  9. I think you'll find it's already there.

  10. Interesting! I've been pondering whether 1973 or 1974 is my favourite, or whether 1977 was the year of the single...

    I've made a playlist to complement yours, with my favourite tracks from that year. I had some tracks in common with yours , such as Bowie, ELO and Carole King which I have omitted.

    Hope you like it! Feel free to nick stuff if you like any of it. Work in progress as Spotify is missing some stuff.

  11. Pink Floyd have now been added to Spotify which has opened a box of delights for me. How about a Spotify list for 1965 singles and then maybe someone could offer up a list for, say 1977, and we could enjoy the debate.

  12. I'm glad to see you include artists as diverse as Caetano Veloso, Michaal Nesmith (whom I still place as the father of alt-country, if only for the Tantamount to Treason Vol. 1 album) and Bridget St. John, although I think her writing really came of age with her third album. John Martyn changed style completely with Bless the Weather and set the tone for his 70s output, arguably his golden age. I note you put Hendrix's Angel on your list. True enough on release, but he was dead by then, of course. I was buying music in 1971, very much on the prog end of things, but music was a much more inclusive school then, without the artificial barriers. So around that time Stevie Winwood could release a sort of highlife album (only 50p, I seem to recall) and the Sanctus from Missal Luba could resonate with a generation thanks to the film If...These days, still working as a music journalist, I wonder if my ears would be as open if I'd grown up a little later. Oh, and moving on a couple of years, kudos to all those american cut outs that Virgin sold for £1. It's how I discovered Nesmith's solo work, Emmitt Rhodes and several more (and Rhodes' Mirror was '71, as good as anything McCartney did, and all his own work).

  13. The verdict of the Welsh jury is:

    Man - Daughter of the Fireplace

  14. Pink Fairies - Never Never Land

    Hawkwind - In Search of Space

  15. 1971 - most of Ziggy Stardust was recorded and Roxy Music recorded their first demos. Also Slade and Sweet had their first big chart hits that year. Dr Feelgood formed. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood set up shop at 430 Kings Road. John Deacon joined Queen.

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  17. Great listening and pulled over in my car to enjoy. Can you please remind me who was in the studios the same time as King snd Mitchell ? Cheers

  18. Many thanks....buying/downloading albums today on the strength of yesterday. Not often these days i look forward to getting an album.

  19. I happen to agree that '71 was the best year in music overall, and your list is pretty comprehensive for the most part...thanks for the blog post...