Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Top Ten Albums of 1971, My Favorite Musical Year

Most fans of classic rock and soul music tend to think of the late sixties as the golden age of popular music, and there isn't much I can say to argue against that.  However, one's own personal sensibilities are not always completely tethered to objective, or at least accepted standards.  As much as I love the music of the late 1960s, I tend to think of 1971 as my favorite musical year.  It's the time that a lot artists who had begun in the sixties had enough experience under their belts to really put together some more mature, fully realized work before they ran out of gas.  I also tend to think of 1971 as the transitional point from the 1960s to the 1970s, when the social movements of the era lost their power and the Silent Majority triumphed.  The owl of Minerva flies at dusk, indeed.  Here are the ten albums from that year I would use to make my case that 1971 was the best year for popular music.  There were so many to choose from that the honorable mention list is quite long as well.  Is there any other year that can stack up to this?  (Please remind me of any omissions in the comments.)

1.  Marvin Gaye, What's Going On
An absolute masterpiece, and among the greatest albums ever made.  Gaye was finally set free from the Motown system to explore his more creative and artistic side, and the album allowed the Funk Brothers to really show their jazz chops.  Unlike the vast majority of political music, it is not heavy handed or didactic in any way.  I dare you to put this on and find anyone who doesn't like it.

2. Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers
The Stones had been on a high, but this album I think is their apex.  The ballads are heart-breaking and lush, and the rocking tracks, like "Can You Hear Me Knocking" and "Bitch" have some truly wicked grooves.  

3. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV
Zep's best record and one of the most influential ever recorded.  Even the less well-known tracks, like "Misty Mountain Hop," are absolutely stunning.  Even though it's maybe the most overplayed song of all time, "Stairway To Heaven" still packs a wallop when I listen to it.

4. The Who, Who's Next
The Who also reached their personal best in 1971.  Shuffling off the rock opera tendency between Tommy and Quadrophenia, The Who put together their best collection of songs ever.  "Getting In Tune," "Bargain," and "Behind Blue Eyes" still give me that teenage feeling when I listen to them.

5. Sly and the Family Stone, There's a Riot Goin' On
This might be the soundtrack to the death of the sixties.  The hopeful, inspirational Sly of the flower power years sounds depressed and doped up, but cooler than ever.  "Thank You For Talking To Me Africa" may very well be the funkiest song ever committed to wax.

6. Rod Stewart, Every Picture Tells A Story
Stewart betrayed his talent after the mid-70s and became a self-parody.  That's all that anyone these days seems to remember him for, but from 1968-1974 he cut a bunch of amazing records in The Faces, The Jeff Beck Group, and solo.  This is the best of his solo albums, full of some great songs that Stewart makes his own.

7.  The Allman Brothers, At Fillmore East
Perhaps the best live rock album ever, it features the band at the height of their powers before Duane Allman and Berry Oakley's tragic deaths.

8. Badfinger, Straight Up
This star-crossed band should have been one of the biggest ever.  The managed to channel the same spirit of The Beatles with songs to match, and this is the best that they ever managed to do.

9. Nilsson, Nilsson Schmilsson
Yet another personal best for yet another great artist in 1971.  Nilsson jumps from peak to peak, with barn burners like "Jump Into The Fire" rubbing shoulders with gorgeous ballads like "The Moonbeam Song."  All the potential he had to this point came into full flower, and yet never gelled the same way again.

10. Faces, A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse
The Faces were too damn ragged and rough to ever put together a perfect album, but this is as close as they came.  "Debris" is a gorgeous ballad, and "Stay With Me" never fails to give me a shot of adrenalin.  

Honorable Mentions: Carole King Tapestry ("So Far Away" still makes me cry like a baby), David Bowie Hunky Dory (one of his absolute best), Traffic Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (best chill out rock album of the era), Paul McCartney Ram (Macca's best solo record), Black Sabbath Master of Reality (set the template for metal just as much as Paranoid), Can Tago Mago (amazing experimental record from Germany's best), John Lennon Imagine (his best solo record apart from The Plastic Ono Band), Faces Long Player (the point when they really came into their own), Flamin' Groovies Teenage Head (as if the Stones and Stooges had a baby), T Rex Electric Warrior (bang a gong, baby!), Pink Floyd Meddle (a truly beautiful album that I'll never stop returning to) Al Green Gets Next To You (does it get any smoother?).

1 comment:

Brian I said...

You are right--so many great albums that year. Poco, an incredibly talented, influential, and underrated band, put out two of their best albums in 1971: "Deliverin'" and "From the Inside." Little Feat put out their first (untitled) album that year. Also Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" and Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey" appeared in 1971.