FORTY years is a long time in music, but some albums from that time echo on into the present.
So without further ado, and for no particular reason, here's our take on the best records of 1971.
Tapestry - Carole King/Blue - Joni Mitchell/Pearl - Janis Joplin
EVERY woman of a certain age has owned at least one (if not all) of these albums. Each record spoke to a generation, either singularly or collaboratively, evoking a wide range of emotions and tackling love and the oft-accompanying heartbreak in passionate and honest ways. Released within six months of each other, these three albums stand as the peaks of their artist's respective discographies. Joplin's career was already over when Pearl was released - the record came out just three months after she died of a drug and alcohol overdose. It would be her most successful album, selling four million copies in the US, and topping the charts there and in Australia. It featured the singles Mercedes Benz and Me And Bobby McGee; the latter - a Kris Kristofferson song - remains one of her signature performances. Meanwhile, Mitchell's fourth album Blue is also a milestone, and though it only sold a quarter of the copies Pearl sold and failed to top the charts, it is regarded as one of the most influential albums of all time. Mixing raw honesty with a stripped-back and uniquely beautiful atmosphere, Blue was a breakthrough for Mitchell, and although she would have greater success with Court & Spark, Blue is seen as a creative pinaccle. But outselling them all was Tapestry, King's second album after breaking away from her Brill Building songwriting pairing with ex-husband Gerry Goffin. Hugely successful, it sold 25 million copies worldwide and spent almost six years on the Billboard charts, including 15 weeks at the top. Tapestry is a lesson in pop songwriting, laden with stunning hooks that made King a household name and saw her reclaim songs she had written for others, such as (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and Will You Love Me Tomorrow, as well as score hits with I Feel The Earth Move and It's Too Late.
Here's that last track we mentioned, in a nice intimate live performance:
Not many live recordings of ...Bobby McGee sadly, but the album version is pretty amazing:
And here's Joni, explaining her instrument (the dulcimer), and performing a great version of All I Want:
Imagine - John Lennon
LENNON was the second of The Beatles to release a great solo album - Harrison pipped him by 10 months with All Things Must Pass - but Lennon's Imagine is better loved and more highly revered. Opening with the legendary title track - rightly hailed as one of the greatest songs ever - Imagine demonstrates Lennon's new-found ability to "put your political message across with a little honey". For all its directness, the title track is a deceptively subtle song - it never tells you what to think or what to do, it merely asks you to contemplate an alternative. Far poppier and more easily digestible than his previous Plastic Ono Band, this record merged his quest for a revolution with his love of Yoko, sitting vitriolic message songs such as Gimme Some Truth alongside such gentle beauty as Oh My Love. Imagine is perhaps his most consistent solo record, despite its wide divergences. From the acerbic Paul McCartney put-down How Do You Sleep? to the stunning melodies of Jealous Guy, from the reverby near-reggae of I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier to the pensive How?, from the satirical bar-room boogie of Crippled Inside to the guitar pop of Oh Yoko!, Imagine covers a lot of territory in just 10 tracks and all of it is among the best of Lennon's solo career. But, if for no other reason, this album is special for giving us it's title track - Lennon's lasting call for peace that has lived long after his sad death in 1980.
Here's the video for Imagine (it takes a while to kick in):
Sticky Fingers - The Rolling Stones
THE legendary rock 'n' roll band were in the midst of the best run of their career in 1971. Beggar's Banquet and Let It Bleed were behind them and Exile On Main Street and Goats Head Soup were ahead, and Sticky Fingers finds the band's swagger at full tilt. The album is laden with the sex and danger that made them so popular - just look at that Andy Warhol-designed front cover, with its bulging jeans and an actual zipper (on original vinyl copies), daring you to unzip it. And while tracks such as the dirty horn-laden rock of Brown Sugar and Bitch and the sassy groove of Can't You Hear Me Knocking are iconic Stones tracks and representative of that sexy dangerous image that goes with the band, the best song on the record has to be Wild Horses - there are few songs as spine-tingling as this alt-country masterpiece. Sway is one of the great forgotten Stones tracks, I Got The Blues shows their love of that old Stax soul sound, and Marianne Faithful co-write Sister Morphine brings a druggy darkness to the album that's only balanced by the straight-faced upbeat country of Dead Flowers and the intriguing finale Moonlight Mile. Sticky Fingers is the perfect lead-in to Exile On Main Street, pulling together the follow-ups many influences into one compact and punchy disc that demonstrates all the things the Stones do best.
Goddamn this song is awesome:
L.A. Woman - The Doors
BEFORE Jim Morrison's death, before The Doors starting making albums without him, before they turned into their own tribute band with a parade of Morrison fill-ins, The Doors recorded this blues-heavy, back-to-basics finale - a fitting finish to their career proper, which had begun so promisingly just four years earlier. Opening track The Changeling almost seems like a reference to Morrison himself - gone was the snake-hipped shaman-esque pretty boy and in his place was a big, bearded boozer, growling like a man well beyond his 27 years. Aside from a few keyboard overdubs, the whole album was recorded live in their LA rehearsal room, with Morrison singing in the bathroom as the beefed-up band (a bassist and rhythm guitarist were added to the line-up for some songs) jammed away in the next room. Two of their best known tracks emerged as singles from the album - the sparkly blues-pop of Love Her Madly and epic simmering haunter Riders On The Storm - but the great songs abound as The Doors tackle the blues in its many differing forms. The quite contemplative Cars Hiss By My Window, the surging vibrant title track, and the stompin' anguish of Been Down So Long hint back to their past as a bluesy bar band, as does their cover of John Lee Hooker's Crawling King Snake. But it's performances such as Morrison's assured and forlorn turn on Hyacinth House and Krieger's scintillating guitarwork all over which help make this something special and well-rounded, as opposed to a thrown-together, paint-by-numbers blues record.
Here's the promo video for the title track:
Led Zeppelin IV - Led Zeppelin/Master Of Reality - Black Sabbath
STONERS and the genre of stoner rock owe a lot to these two albums. With their fourth record, Led Zeppelin brought together the different shades of their previous albums and created a range of moods that would soundtrack illicit smoking sessions for decades to come, while Black Sabbath pretty much invented the rock sub-genre by turning up the sludge and metal of their previous two albums, creating a record that sounded like a bunch of madmen driving a giant drill through a swamp on their way to hell. Of course, there's more to these albums than drug use. Led Zeppelin IV is one of the top 10 biggest selling records of all time (not counting compilations and soundtracks) and yielded the monolithic Stairway To Heaven, one of the greatest and most popular songs ever. While that track looms over the album like a skyscraper, it does stand as a centrepiece to the record, pulling the ye olde folk of Battle Of Evermore and the rock of Black Dog and Rock And Roll into one epic piece. This is a rockin' album, filled with some of their best riffs, and John Bonham's impossibly cool drum grooves. Master Of Reality didn't sell as many copies, but it's just as rockin'. Opener Sweet Leaf defines stoner rock in one go, with a riff so awesome its been copped by the likes of The Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers, while After Forever, and proto-metallers Children Of The Grave and Into The Void set a benchmark for drugged-out guitarists in search of the coolest fuzz-guitar sound ever. The interlude tracks, written by guitarist Tony Iommi, would also prove to be influential - how many "epic", "take you on a journey" albums have you heard that still use that trick?
One of the non-Stairway tracks - here's Black Dog live at Knebworth in '79:
Looking a little worse for wear at their '99 reunion, but still sounding massive, here's Sabbath doing most of Sweet Leaf:
Other notable albums from 1971:Aqualung - Jethro Tull, Who's Next - The Who, Cahoots - The Band, Songs Of Love & Hate - Leonard Cohen, Ram - Paul & Linda McCartney, Maggot Brain - Funkadelic, Shaft - Isaac Hayes, Meddle - Pink Floyd, American Pie - Don McLean, Nursery Cryme - Genesis, The Yes Album/Fragile - Yes, Nilsson Schmilsson - Harry Nilsson, Hunky Dory - David Bowie, Osibisa/Woyaya - Osibisa, Tago Mago - Can, Daddy Who? ... Daddy Cool - Daddy Cool, There's A Riot Goin' On - Sly & The Family Stone, What's Going On - Marvin Gaye