Released in November of 1972, this is the first of Donald Fagen’s and Walter Becker’s string of excellent albums. The music ranges from pop to rock to folk-rock to jazz-based rock with engaging and intelligent chord progressions and a healthy use of minor seventh and ninth chords.
THE EDGAR WINTER GROUP: THEY ONLY COME OUT AT NIGHT
Skillfully produced by Rick Derringer, this is Edgar Winter’s most solid album with a number of songs that for the rest of 1972 and early into 1973 found a prominent place on AM radio, FM radio, at high school parties, or in the repertoire of high school dance bands. “Hangin’ Around”, “Free Ride”, “We All Had a Real Good Time” and the instrumental “Frankenstein” are hard rock classics that have effectively captured and preserved the spirit of early seventies hard rock, providing, today, an effortless means for us to travel back in time fifty years ago.
LOU REED: TRANSFORMER
Released on November 8, 1972, Lou Reed’s Transformer excels at creating a level of nonchalance and casualness that was more reminiscent of the beat movement of the 1950s than typical of an early 70’s rock album. Aided by David Bowie, Mick Ronson and Trever Bolder and elegantly produced by Bowie and Ronson, this album, along with the success of its glam, transexual and sometimes banned single, “Walk on the Wild Side”, brought Lou Reed out of the shadows of the Underground and into the commercial spotlight. The album is considered a classic by many and has had substantial influence on many Indie Rock artists that came later.
WAR: THE WORLD IS A GHETTO
War’s fifth studio album, released around November of 1972, opens with the once relentlessly-played AM single, “Cisco Kid”, which though annoying for those of us that heard it in spring of 1973 played through third-rate speakers of a school bus for multiple weeks almost every morning on our ride to school, was a welcome relief from the equally often-played, but far less bearable “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ol’ Oak Tree.” That said, now hearing “Cisco Kid” on a first-class audio set up almost fifty years later, the quality of performance and the arrangement almost make up for the melodic and harmonic mediocrity of the track. More importantly though, the rest of the album is quite good, starting with the infectious, funky “Where was You At” and the effervescent jazz-infused 13 1/2 minute “City Country City” instrumental on side one and the three tracks on side two including the soulfully reflective “Four Cornered Room”, and the beautifully funk-infused, “The World is a Ghetto.” This was not only War’s most commercially successful album, but the best selling album for the year 1973 holding the number one position for two weeks in February 1973 and staying on the Billboard 200 for a total of 68 weeks.
JONI MITCHELL: FOR THE ROSES
Released in November of 1972 between two of her most artistically and commercially successful albums, 1971’s Blue and 1974’s Spark and Court, the excellent For the Roses brims over with wonderful melodic phrases, remarkable piano lines, and beautiful acoustic guitar and an appropriate amount of harmonica, bass, percussion, winds and strings — always at the right places!
CAN: EGE BAMYASI
Can’s highly influential album, Ege Bamyasi, with the name apparently inspired from the label of a container of canned okra of Turkish origin also meant for German consumption of these “okra pods”, takes a detour from the previous no-holds-barred and even more influential Tago Mago, with an often more structured (via editing in some cases) and relatively more contained set of compositions. Not readily available in the US, I purchased this album in a German record store in 1978, and listened to it once before shelving it for several decades. It’s great to come back and revisit it and find there is much more here than I thought — and to discover the influence it has had on music since my original purchase, with Stephen Malkmus of Pavement, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, and the band Spoon all having been much more serious fans of the album and reaping music influences from it. Truly fortunate to revisit the album and able to enjoy it on a much better audio set up than I had in 1978.
Uriah Heep, Moody Blues, Carly Simon, Hawkwind, and Barclay James Harvest
Other notable albums from November 1972 include Uriah Heep’s semi-progressive Magician’s Birthday with a memorable Moog synthesizer solo from Ken Hensley on “Sweet Loraine” (reaching the 91st spot on the Billboard Hot 100) and a more expansive title track concluding the album, Hawkwind’s third studio album, Doremi Fasol Latido, stylistic different than their previous albums but still quality, engaging space-rock, Carly Simon’s No Secrets with two well-known tracks, the number one hit “You’re So Vain”, and less commercially successful but equally appealing “The Right Thing to Do”, the richly arranged, orchestrated Barclay James Harvest, Baby James Harvest, a mix of straight rock (“Thank You”) and more progressive tracks (“Summer Soldier”, “Moonwater”), and Moody Blues’ eighth album (last of the highly regarded string of seven classic album) which had two commercially successful singles, “Isn’t Life Strange” and “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)”, which spurred increased interest in their previous work resulting in the re-release of the beautifully haunting single version of the “The Night”, titled “Nights in White Satin”, which did much better the second time around, getting more attention and airplay than any of the music on the Seventh Sojourn album.
From the opening set of the choral-like, other-worldly, mellotron-intro of carefully constructed chords — initially over a “pedal-point” (a sustained bass note), followed by a short set of chromatic modulations, the tone of this epic classic album is established and sustained through out the next magnificent fifty minutes of one of the most appealing rock albums of the last sixty years.
The music is epic, dramatically supporting some pretty impressive lyrics, with the first track, “Watcher of The Skies”, a sci-fi narrative from an alien visitor’s somber, almost jaded, perspective regarding the remnants of a vanished earth civilization, followed by the more lyrically but equally potent and allegorical “Time Table”. “Get “Him Em Out By Friday” also time travels, from 1972 to 2012, and effectively mixes upbeat rhythms and shifting meters into moments of Dickensian commentary, starting with shifts between 6/4 and 4/4, with a heavily triplet-based 4/4 section into a more reflective, slower 6/4 section with some the return of a modified original A section with some 7/4 bars and an appropriately reflective coda. This is followed by another epic track, the amazing “Can-Utility and the Coastliners” with an acoustic guitar and flute opening section and its sense of substantial narrative, proportion, and consequence far exceeding its limited five minute and forty-five seconds of actually clock time. Of particularly musical note is Tony Bank’s mixed-meter keyboard solo, perhaps either celebrating the use of the name he had initially suggested for the band (Can-Utility and the Coastliners, a name Peter Gabriel reportedly summarily rejected, understandably), or letting off a little steam for the band, instead, being ultimately named “Genesis.” Seriously, though, this composition a true work of art, anticipating both Banks’ “Firth of Fifth” on Selling Englandby the Pound and his “One for the Vine” on Wind and Wuthering.
Side two opens with Steve Hackett’s elegantly simple guitar solo, followed by the masterpiece of the Genesis catalogue, the twenty-three minute “Supper’s Ready.” Though its seven-section make-up indicates a piecing together of individual songs into a common thematical framework, the overall effect is that of a single cohesive work, much in the way that the second side of the Beatles Abbey Road works together, except that “Supper’s Ready” is more integrated and reuses material to create an effective sonata-like form. Though too difficult, and hopefully totally unnecessary, to pick one single composition to make the case that classical music was an unbroken continuum to the present that included the best works of the best rock bands, this work has to be considered as deserving top consideration for making that case.
Miles Davis: On the Corner
Eschewing and yet incorporating contemporaneous offerings in jazz, jazz fusion, rock, progressive rock, minimalism, and funk, Miles creates yet another landmark album with On The Corners as representative of the spiritual-industrial meld of the early 1970s as anything yet released or yet to come. Few critics even began to know what to make of the work, and the record-buying public, which had sent Miles’ previous album up to the 7th spot, were mostly absent at the cash registers, with On the Corner peaking at 156.
The album, though foundationally based on the familiar musical components of its time, was yet so alien to many when it came out on October 11, 1972, primarily due to the resulting originality of the approach. Overall, Miles and team took on the same type of challenges that were tackled by such German progressive rock groups such as Can, but due to significantly better musicianship and a more focused vision, created a superior and eventually more influential product.
Henry Franklin: The Skipper
One of the lesser known albums of 1972 by one of the lesser known artists on one of the lesser known record labels, bassist Henry Franklin’s debut album, The Skipper, is well worth any effort to hunt down, with such ultimate acquisition being readily achievable due to the reissuing of the Black Jazz record catalog by Real Gone Music. Thank-you, Real Gone Music!
Franklin’s plays both acoustic and electric bass, writing most of the music on the album, with Bill Henderson on electric piano contributing one of his own compositions joined by Charles Owens on soprano and tenor sax and Oscar Brashear both of which provide the vital contributions that make this album a neglected classic.
Doug Carn: Spirit of the New Land
This is the second of four albums that Doug Carn released on the Black Jazz record label. Accessible and topical, this jazz concept album brims with amazing work from both keyboardist Doug Carn, Charles Tolliver on flugelhorn, reed player George Harper and Carn’s wife, Jean Carn, on vocals with notable contributions from Earl McIntrye on tuba and Garnett Brown on trombone.
The Awakening: Hear, Sense and Feel
The Awakening released their first album on the Black Jazz label, providing an excellent set of jazz-rock/jazz-fusion instrumentals bookended by a brief introductory recitation and final poetic coda. The music is slightly reminiscent of some of the Chicago’s instrumental passages from their first two albums with a hint of early 1970’s McCoy Tyner. Of particular note is the keyboardist, Ken Chaney, who composes the opening instrumental following his wife’s opening introduction. In general quite good, with “Jupiter” being a particularly strong track. For those that like no-nonsense early 70s jazz and jazz-rock, this is worth the effort of tracking down. Available from Real Gone Music as are all the Black Jazz late sixties and early seventies catalog.
Keith Jarrett: Expectations
Taking his core quartet that included Dewey Redman (now known as the “American Quartet”) (Jarrett, saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Paul Motian), Jarret adds Sam Brown on guitar and Airto Moreira on percussion and drums, along with some strings and brass arrangements to create a ambitious, relatively eclectic two record set that unfortunately for Columbia records, was the last one under that label, simply due to Columbia suddenly dropping Jarrett during the its sweeping commercially-driven jazz purge, something that appears to be one of those historic money-driven record label decisions that ended up being a fiscal mistake.
The album is a bit uneven with Jarrett basically redefining “free jazz” to mean “freedom in playing a range of styles” but the overall final result is a strong album with side four being the best.
Released on October 11, 1972, Caravanserai was quickly embraced by the same audience inescapably attracted to progressive rock as well as enthusiastically embraced by a substantial number of fusion fans. Though nowhere as commercially successful as the previous two albums (the president of Columbia Records after hearing the tapes for Caravanserai, told Santana he was committing “career suicide”), the album is an artistic gem, a work that can be listened to repeatedly with various spectra of pleasure.
Stevie Wonder: Talking Book
Released on October 27, 1972, Mr. Wonder exceeds the level of professionalism, artistry, creativity on the previous album, displaying flawless judgement and execution as composer, musician and producer. Artistically, the albums opens strong with the timeless love song, “You are the Sunshine of My Life” followed by a strong first side and then an even stronger second side made up of five classic tracks that starts with “Superstition”, followed by “Big Brother”, the subtly impressionistic “Blame It on the Sun”, the Latin-jazz-influenced “Lookin’ for Another Pure Love”, and then perfectly concluded with my favorite work on the album, “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)”.
Missed mentioning this earlier this year, but better late than never! Released around January 1972, this incredible album combines jazz, pop and rock elements in an invigorating blend with effective use of synthesizers. Annette’s vocals may have influenced David Bowie’s vocal approach starting with Ziggy Stardust. This is one of the great albums of 1972!
McCoy Tyner: Sahara
Also missed this fine album last month! Recorded in January 1972, and released around July 1972, the album covers fusion-like territory but with all acoustic instruments. Tyner is a tsunami on piano and the first track is one of the finest of 1972. This first track then is followed by a mesmerizing, technically incredible piano solo and an adventurous, sometimes sizzling, sometimes reflective Japanese-flavored work where Tyner exchanges keyboards for koto, Sonny Fortune exchanges saxophone for flute, and bassist Calvin Hill appears to play an eastern flute-like instrument. The next track, “Rebirth”, explodes with a drum solo and then Tyner’s steamrolling piano taking no prisoners, with Fortune unleashing a blistering, often high-register alto sax solo — incredible execution nearly beyond belief. Side Two is taken up with the title track, Sahara, not my favorite of the album, perhaps because of some shrillness from the eastern reed instruments, yet it attempts to encompass epic scope and has some incredible passages.
Julius Hemphill: Dogon A.D.
Named after the Dogon in West Africa, recorded in St. Louis in February 1972 and released in limited quantities on Julian Hemphill’s own Mbari label and later made more widely available, this was Hemphill’s first commercial recording. Though labelled as “three lengthy avant-garde explorations” the music is structured and accessible with musical influences from the African continent.
The Kinks: Everybody’s in Show-biz
This two LP set includes studio material from spring of 1972 on the first two sides and live material from Carnegie Hall recorded on March 2nd and 3rd. Ray Davies continues his deviation from standard rock with strong influence from the Neo-music-hall material of twentieth-century London. The first LP loosely addresses the concept of show-biz fame and touring with the upbeat “Here Comes Yet Another Day” energetically opening up side one. The album closes with “Celluloid Heroes” (which got significant airplay on FM radio) with Ray Davies’ thoughtful and well-crafted lyrics providing a wistful close to that first LP.
Gil Scott-Heron: Free Will
Though not as strong as Gil Scott Heron’s previous (second) album, this album has more historical importance. His first album (recorded in a studio with a live audience) is sometimes referred to as proto-rap, but more accurately it is emotive, fairly well-written poetry read to sparse musical accompaniment, not so different than beat-era poetry readings, with some differences in rhythmic elements as well as subject matter and vocabulary. It is the second side of this third album, Free Will, that more clearly anticipates rap music with Heron providing better rehearsed and more effective, more rhythmically-enhanced delivery of his poetry. For stronger music, refer to his second album, Pieces of a Man, but if the object of exploring is to hunt for what may be the first traces of rap on LP, start here.
As one might expect, there were a few albums that missed out on a more commercially favorable pre-holiday release and ended up being released in January 1972 with both January and February being relatively lean months in rock album releases compared to any given month in the last half of 1971. Fortunately, there were some notable jazz releases including a jazz classic by Charles Mingus!
Charles Mingus: Let My Children Hear Music
Mingus gives it everything he has in this album: complex, profound, majestic, modern, accessible and often elegant compositions, a large jazz orchestra, excellent arrangements (in partnership with Sy Johnson and others), and top-notch execution of his ideas. The music is a feast from the first to last track, with the current CD of this containing a bonus track. Note that this music was partly edited by Teo Macero, but I am not aware of any release of the original unedited material. If you know of such, please comment. ALBUM LINER NOTES
Hugh Masekela: Home is Where the Music Is
In 1972, I was not yet purchasing or listening to albums by either Hugh Masekela or Archie Shepp, so even if my memory was much better than it is today, I wouldn’t have a clue when these albums actually hit the record store bins, but as both albums were recorded in January of 1972, please allow me to include them in this month’s celebration of the music of January 1972.
Recorded in London in January 1972, Hugh Masakela’s Home is Where the Music Is is a 2LP set with some of the finest, broadly commercially-oriented jazz of the early seventies that there is. The album boasts all original material with not a single interpretation of a pop song (contrast this to Masakela’s 1970 Reconstruction album which includes tunes by Paul McCartney [Beatles-era], Joni Mitchell, and Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland) and yet is as contemporary as anything put out by Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chase or several other of the jazz-rock outfits of the late sixties and early seventies — and more importantly — far surpassing most of those type of efforts in quality and distinctiveness. Each track is fully realized with the shortest at around 5 1/2 minutes and the longest around 10 1/2 minutes. The playing is exceptional, engaging, and aesthetically fulfilling.
Archie Shepp: Attica Blues
Though well known for his modern jazz masterpieces like the avant-garde Fire, his abilities to reach a broader music-consuming audience are successfully deployed, with both style and impressive vigor, in what should have been an album as popular as contemporaneous releases by groups like Sly and the Family Stone. This is a large-scale effort with over twenty-five musicians (including brass, reeds, strings, backing vocalists, and electric instruments) and two narrators that successfully balances soul, funk, jazz and rock elements. Despite its strong points, there is some weakness in the poetry and the vocal rendition provided by Cal Massey’s young daughter — but more than making up for any weak areas of the release is the penultimate track on the album, Cal Massey’s fine tribute, “Good-Bye Sweet Pops,” to the great Louis Armstrong who had recently died from a heart attack in July of 1971.
Annette Peacock: I’m the One
Released in January of 1972, Annette Peacock’s debut album is yet another early 1972 album that successfully brings together disparate musical elements performed by a larger ensemble. Peacock and team effectively incorporated blues, jazz, rock, free-jazz, classical avant-garde, trace elements of funk and soul, and a extensive use of Robert Moog’s moog synthesizer to create a complete and impressive musically satisfying work. Notable, historically, was Peacock’s use of the synthesizer to modulate and alter vocal input via microphone plugged into the synthesizer. She also deserves credit for her overall and varied use of the synthesizer instrumentally as well as the wide range of vocal expression she uses, some of which anticipates music of later decades.
Univeria Zekt: The Unnamables
Released in January of 1972, Magma provisionally assumes the name Univeria Zekt to temporarily step away from their newly created narrative of the Kobaïan universe in order to, perhaps, provide a diversion to existing fans or, possibly, to attract new fans. The album is solidly progressive rock with heavy jazz and some jazz-rock influences, with a musical style significantly different (particularly on the first side) from the darker, neo-primal style of the two preceding Magma albums, which constructed a formidable genre of music, termed Zeuhl — a style of music created to be reflective and representative of the music of the fictitious Kobaïa. Those not able to get enough of early Magma, but also open to embracing this detour into a more jazz-influenced sound (closer perhaps to Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, or Return Forever) should also acquire this one-of-a-kind album under the Univeria Zekt name.
Paul Simon: Paul Simon
Paul Simon’s first solo album, post-Simon & Garfunkel, did well commercially, with three singles making it on to the Billboard charts, “Mother and Child Reunion”, a reggae-influenced number with the title inspired by the Chinese chicken and egg soup dish he noticed listed on a Chinese restaurant menu in New York, the upbeat “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”, and “Duncan”, my favorite track on the album, reminiscent of music he was writing in the late sixties.
Blue Öyster Cult, Jerry Garcia, Captain Beefheart, Jimi Hendrix
Additional albums include the dark, debut Blue Öyster Cult album with its gratuitous and influential use of an umlaut (a feature to gain common adoption by later Heavy Metal band names such as Queensrÿche, Mötley Crüe, and even the fictional Spın̈al Tap), Jerry Garcia’s Garcia, Captain Beefheart’s relatively traditional and bluesy Spotlight Kid, as well as a posthumous album of Jimi Hendrix live material from 1969 and 1970, Hendrix in The West.
Looking back fifty years, one can identify a number of months in the early 1970s, particularly those approaching the end of year, whose bounty of riches border on the spectacular. Such is the case with November 1971, which I could easily argue is the very best month of releases in the entire history of the Long Playing record — and going beyond that, extending also into the digital (CD and streaming) age.
Besides highlighting some of the more outstanding releases of November 1971, I also have included a few albums I had missed mentioning earlier — albums released in 1971, but before November. That certainly gives us a lot to cover, but whether fortunately or unfortunately for you, the reader, my time to do blog writing is extremely limited — and this month, I have almost no bandwidth. I am going to be challenged to just list my favorite albums, let alone say anything of substance. However, as regular readers can attest, I rarely say anything substantial in this column anyway (thankfully the music stands on its own) and I do my best to say a few words of no special consequence in my limited time. I certainly can’t, wouldn’t and have no reason to fault any reader that prefers to just quickly glance at what albums are mentioned, which by itself justifies my effort and is as much as I expect and actually have any reason to expect. That said, I am going to see how much I can tackle before the last friday of the month arrives, and as I always have done, post whatever I have, whether readable or not.
It’s also important to note the increasing prevalence of synthesizers in so many albums of this time period. Ever since hearing Switched on Bach around 1969, I developed an undeniable affection for the thrilling portamento and the more blatantly artificial wave forms produced by keyboard synthesizers. In November of 1971, we get several classic albums that place the synthesizer in a very prominent role.
Yes releases their fourth (and finest up to that date) studio album on November 26, 1971. Rick Wakeman has been added to replace Tony Kaye, further raising the potential of the group — potential that was immediately realized starting with this fourth album, Fragile, a classic from the day it was available in record stores — and classic, not just in the sense of being of highest merit and quality, but in terms of stylistic characteristics such as direct, concise, clearly defined, and finely balanced components as well as an elegant use of contrast — both in mood and musical dynamics. The music avoids excesses and, with a couple of minor exceptions, is economical, avoiding the kind of excessive repetition so prevalent in most rock music.
Yes went into the studio with four finished compositions which make up most of the album. All of these four tracks received some FM airplay, and a slimmed down version of “Roundabout” received significant AM airplay peaking at 13. For the remaining portion of the album each band member contributed their own solo works, with Wakeman’s condensation of the Brahms quasi-scherzo from the 4th symphony, Anderson’s “We Have Heaven” and Bruford’s “Five Per Cent for Nothing” all being distinctly original. With the exception of Howe’s “Mood for a Day” and Squire’s “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)”, both still excellent and contribute to the stunning impact of the album, but which are slightly overextended through repetition of material, this album approaches perfection, achieving a level of musical distinction equal to the very best rock albums of all time.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Pictures at an Exhibition
Recorded in March of 1971 and released in November of 1971, this exuberantly energetic live album captures Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s concert rendition of Modest Mussorgsky’s classic piano suite, Pictures at an Exhibition. Already in love with ELP’s first two albums, this would have been an album I would have purchased on sight. However, it was my next door neighbor that sighted it first, bought it immediately, and brought it over for me to listen to and record on my reel to reel for future listening. At that point, cash-constrained as most sixteen-year olds, I was content to listen on that 3 3/4 IPS (inches per second) copy of the album over and over again until college when I finally bought my own LP copy of it.
Prior to this recording, most people knew of Mussorgsky’s great work from Maurice Ravel’s orchestral version. Ravel is one of the great composers of the first part of the twentieth century, and very skilled at orchestration with a number of his own compositions, originally written for piano, then very effectively scored for an orchestra. He had worked with Stravinsky on a performance version of Mussorgsky’s unfinished opera, Khovanshchina, and thus very well prepared in 1922 to tackle Pictures. The result was an excellent work, but was clearly Ravel’s own vision and interpretation — the original, which deftly represents both the viewer of the gallery and his mood and perceptions of the objects on display, is quite different from Ravel’s interpretation, with the original piano composition having a darker and more inward perspective. Ravel is focused on creating a grand work with its own identity, bringing to the table his own compositional and cultural mindsets and not particularly beholden to the mood and intent of the original. That doesn’t mean that this final orchestrated version is any less worthy of being enjoyed because it isn’t particularly faithful to the spirit or personality and attitude of the original — it just means it should be listened to and enjoyed on its own terms. The same pretty much applies to ELP’s version, which not only “orchestrates” the original piano work with modern rock trio (keyboards, bass, drums) but also adds vocals and new material.
Of course, the piece starts off with the promenade theme, played very simply by Emerson but with the grandeur that a real organ, the organ used at Newcastle City Hall (the venue for the live recording), can provide. The first picture follows, “Gnome”, with Palmer’s staccato and perfectly punctuated percussion dancing with Lake’s bass, providing the appropriate dramatic setting for the eventual entrance of Emerson’s moog synthesizer — making clear this is not Ravel’s concert hall Pictures. This, then, is the final catalyst to fully engage the listener into the magic and ferocity of this post-Ravel, prog-rock version of Pictures. The album ends with ELP’s take on Kim Fowleys’ take on Tchaikovsky’s “March” from his Nutcracker Ballet.
It’s worth noting that ELP’s Pictures at an Exhibition was at one point considered more appropriate as a Nonesuch Records label release due to its classical origins. It might have also been part of a 2 LP set with Trilogy (ELP’s subsequent album), except that public demand, particularly after the concert recording was played on WNEW-FM (New York), convinced the Atlantic execs to release it sooner, and as its own album.
Genesis: Nursery Cryme
Released November 12, 1971, this already highly creative and musically skilled group adds world-class drummer, Phil Collins. Though Nursery Cryme is not at the level of sound quality as Yes’s Fragile or quite as impressive in terms of focused musical content, this is a nuanced, highly crafted album that starts off incredibly strong with “Musical Box” and includes Genesis’s first masterwork, “The Attack of the Giant Hogweed.”
Traffic: The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
This classic fifth studio album was a staple of FM AOR (album-oriented radio) stations, with “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” getting most of the airplay, but the rest of the album getting some time also. In fact, I am pretty sure this was the second rock album I heard played in full on FM radio (the first being Webber and Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar, which was played in its entirety in very late October or very early November of 1970.)
Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin IV
On November 8, 1971, Atlantic Records releases Led Zeppelin’s masterpiece, the unnamed, untitled fourth album. Atlantic internally catalogued it as Four Symbols and The Fourth Album. We used to call it “Zofo” from the first of those four symbols on the LP label. People smarter than us, or people from England who were more used to lines crossing through lower case “s”s than those of us in Orange County, California, would just as incorrectly call it “Zoso” since the designer of the symbols, guitarist Jimmy Page had not intended for these four symbols to represent anything rather than the four band members of Led Zeppelin.
Now I admit, I would rather listen to the guitar craft of Jimi Hendrix, or the two guitarists I mention later in this blog post, John McLaughlin and George Benson, or a number of other guitarists such as Django Reinhardt, Eddie Lang, Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Grant Green, Tal Farlow, Gary Green, Steve Howe, Robert Fripp, Steve Hackett, Andrés Segovia — as well as a number of others — however, I still enjoy every moment of Jimmy Page captured on this album, a unquestionably skilled and creative guitarist at the world class level.
In fact, I pretty much enjoy every moment on this album — one of those musical treasure chests of the early 1970s. It may not generally be labelled as progressive rock, but it really is, from the focused abstraction of rock and roll in “Black Dog” to the refined distillation of rock and roll in “Rock and Roll”, to the epic “The Battle of Evermore” with its gorgeous acoustic guitar, to the bouncy, again abstract, “Misty Mountain Hop” and the frenzied and contrastingly uplifting “Four Sticks”, to the best work of the album, “Stairway to Heaven”, possibly consciously or unconsciously influenced by Spirit’s “Taurus” (Led Zeppelin opened for Spirit for Spirit’s 1968 U.S. tour) but nonetheless a definite improvement over the alleged original. Though I may be a bit more advanced in my musical tastes today, I vividly remember listening to this album on headphones almost fifty years ago, the album borrowed from my next-door neighbor who purchased it in late November or December of 1971, and being totally swept away by the impact of the entire album.
Sly and the Family Stone: There’s a Riot Going On
Released on the first of November, 1971, created by Sly Stone during the depths of his stratospheric-recreational drug abuse, this is a masterpiece not only to be taken very seriously musically and artistically but even more seriously historically.
The album starts of with the incredible “Luv N’ Haight”, a psychedelicized, celebratory blues-based number, underpinned by lyrics that could either be interpreted as also celebratory (“Feel so good inside myself, don’t want to move”) or subtly dark (“As I grow up, I’m growing down and when I’m lost, I know I will be found.”) The lyrics for the second track provide the same type of ambiguity (“Just like a baby everything is new” and “Just like a baby sometimes I cry. Just like a baby I can feel it when you lie to me.’), and though open to a wide range of interpretation, appear to be referring to rebirth or re-awakening, though not clear if from some spiritual rebirth or transformation, or from drugs or trauma. The third track seemingly unsubstantial with simple lyrics that still get to the heart of songwriting (“My weapon is my pen and the frame of mind I’m in) is one of the most sampled songs ever.
The fourth track, “Family Affair”, one of the highlights of the album, was played substantially on AM radio starting in early November 1971, and went over my head both musically and lyrically, excused to some degree by only hearing it on the shoddy speakers of our school bus that took us over to our high school. In terms of lyrics, it is open to interpretation, but I think the interpretation is clear when one embraces the two apparent co-existing meanings: commentary on nature versus nurture (the disadvantages of being in a disadvantaged family unit) and family bonds. Underscoring these meanings is the understated arrangement (I believe Freddie Stone on guitar, Billy Preston on keyboards, and bass and drums) and assignment of vocals to just Sly and his sister Rose, particularly inviting us to connect “One child grows up to be somebody that just loves to learn and another child grows up to be somebody you’d just love to burn” to Rose and Sly, respectively. This is followed by the bleak “Africa Talks to You” (“Timber, all fall down”) with its eventual complex instrumental interplay, which contrasts sharply with the simpler music of the previous track. The first side ends with an absent track (or a track of zero length, if you prefer), “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” — a very clever commentary which Sly intended to simply indicate that since he didn’t like riots, there was no corresponding song. The second side continues with more excellent music, including the infectious “(You Caught Me) Smilin’ — once again apparently intentionally ambiguous as to whether it is statement against or for drug usage: “You caught me smilin’ again, hangin’ loose, ’cause you ain’t used to seeing me turnin’ on, ha ha” and “I ain’t down. I’ll be around to carry on!” Is this ironic and sarcastic or in praise of the release that drugs provide?
Besides admiring the artistic merit of the album, it’s worth considering its historical impact. Though there are plenty examples of funky music and elements of funk before Riot (a common pet name for this album), this really is the first modern funk album, influencing many artists of all backgrounds and musical leanings. It also is substantially the first hip hop album — not in terms of musical style, of course, but in terms of narrative and borderline-obsessive personal reflection. And, I will boldly, if not controversially venture, that if we remove this album from the historical river, that the currents of disco would have been perceivably altered — maybe for the worse, if that’s conceivably possible. It worth noting, that many critics did not get this album at all when it came out, including our local Southern California L.A. Times music critic who generally was befuddled by, or more often shied away from (handing the review to another staff writer), any music with any level of complexity. Now fortunately, just about all music critics are in unison when acknowledging both the artistic and historical merit of this fine album.
With the increasing interest in World music, particularly that from the Caribbean and West Africa, conditions were receptive for a jazz-influenced, musically compelling, Afro-beat group of four Ghanaian-English musicians and three Caribbean musicians. Osibisa’s first album, released in the first half of 1971, made its entry into the Billboard 200 the first week of July, 1971 at position 105, climbing up to position 55 by mid-August. The rhythm section is incredible (remember their inclusion on Uriah Heep’s title track of Look At Yourself) with the dedicated drummer supplemented by other members of the group as appropriate. Instruments include assorted percussion, flute, saxophones, trumpet, flugelhorn, organ, piano, guitar, bass guitar and some vocals. Album is both technically impressive, and musically vibrant, filling in the checkboxes for world music aficionados and progheads alike.
The second album, released in late 1971, has a similar Roger Dean album cover to the first, and the band members are the same (with the exception of an appearance of the “Osibisa choir” which provides an additional uplifting, spiritual to the third track, Roland Kirk’s “Spirits Up Above”), yet the quality is noticeably different — better engineering, less spontaneous but now exquisitely polished, and leaning more towards American jazz and even English progressive and psychedelic rock with less of a West African and Caribbean feel — even containing some American funk (“Move On”.) Though this album fell short of the previous album’s climb up the Billboard charts (only 66 compared to 55) it is even better than the first, perhaps with a greater appeal to a broad audience, particularly with the anthem, title-track, “Woyaya” being covered by Art Garfunkel and The 5th Dimensions and used as the theme for a Ghanaian television show from 1972 to 1981.
Though less musically stylistically diverse than Osibisa, Assagai’s first album is a enjoyable blend of African folk, African rock, and African jazz elements. The group consists of band members on cornet, alto sax, tenor sax, and drummer — all from South Africa — and an electric guitarist and an bass guitarist from Nigeria, with some additional piano possibly from the alto sax player, Dudu Pukwana. Album is mostly original material by the guitarist, Fred Coker, with one composition by Dudu Pukwana, one collaboration between Coker and Jade Warrior guitarist, Tony Duhig, as a well as a cover of Jade Warrior’s “Telephone Girl” (from their first album) and Paul McCartney’s “Hey Jude.” Of all the various covers of Hey Jude I know of, this is one of the best, relatively brief at under 4 minutes, and infused with a rich tapestry of Afro-beat seasonings.
Jade Warrior: Jade Warrior
(One of the albums I previously missed covering in Fifty Year Friday.) In 1970, Vertigo signed Jade Warrior primarily due to Mother Mistro, the production company for both Assagai and Jade Warrior, insisting that Vertigo couldn’t sign Assagai, a group coveted by Vertigo for their commercial potential (based on Osibisa relative success) without also signing Jade Warrior. Vertigo, though, had made up their collective mind that Jade Warrior had very little commercial potential and so didn’t put in any real effort promoting Jade Warrior’s first album, Jade Warrior, released sometime in the first part of 1971. Interestingly, Assagai would release a total of two albums, both on Vertigo, while Jade Warrior would release well over a dozen with the first three on Vertigo, and the next four on Island Records.
Even if this first album was not particularly commercially appealing, it was musically so, opening up with the beautiful “Traveller” with its simple acoustic beginning, its majestic middle section, and its quiet ending followed by the more aggressive, mostly pentatonic “A Prenormal Day at Brighton” providing a good representation at Jade Warrior’s balancing act between hard progressive rock (“warrior” portion of the group’s name) and soft worldly folk rock (“jade”), sometimes with emphasis on acoustic guitar and flute with some additional, non-traditional percussion and sometimes more in a rock idiom with the electric guitar in the forefront. Overall a fine eclectic album that still sounds great today.
Jade Warrior: Released
With their second album, Jade Warrior shifts away from a world music vibe to focus more on hard rock, jazz rock and progressive rock elements, adding two new members, Dave Conners (sax, flute) and Allan Price (drums) to the pre-existing trio.
Ash Ra Tempel: Ash Ra Tempel
Another album I missed mentioning, released around June of 1971, is the classic first album of Ash Ra Tempel, one of the finest German space rock albums, a style often referred to asKosmische Musik (cosmic music.) We have a single composition on each side, improvisations similar to what one could expect during a live performance. The first side is adventurous, extroverted and like a peril-filled voyage through outer space, starting gently and then encountering the more unpredictable moments of cosmic exploration. The second side is calmer, introverted and reflective, like a journey through spiritual innerspace. Overall, far above one of the best musical adventures of space rock, each of these two tracks compelling and creating an unfolding, meaningful soundscape.
Strawbs: From the Witchwood
And yet another album I missed earlier, the Strawb’s Witchwood starts off pretty much as folk music, by the third track is it full-throttle prog rock. This is Rick Wakeman’s last album for the Strawbs, and his keyboards raises the album up the scale of musical excellence including an effective organ intro for “The Hangman and the Papist.” Overall there are some similarities with Genesis’s Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot, both of which were recorded after From the Witchwood was released.
Le Orme: Collage
Le Orme’s first album, recorded in 1968 and released in 1969 was effectively an early prog rock album, with an album title of Ad Gloriam, an opening track named “Introduzione”, a closing track titled “Conclusione” and many of the lyrical and the Italian rock equivalent of the bel canto elements that would become identifiers of the Italian Prog rock style. With their second album, Collage, released sometime in 1971, they shift to full prog mode, reducing the group to a ELP-like trio, quoting the classics (or at least Scarlatti’s K. 380 sonata, a piece I heard over and over from piano student performances during my university years), and exploring the more aggressive and bombastic aspects of early Italian prog but not abandoning the lyrical or expressive components.
Man: Do You Like It Here Now, Are You Settling In?
Man released their fourth and strongest album so far on November 1971. Though a bit uneven, the musicianship is consistently strong with some ear-catching instrumental interplay such as that on “All Good Clean Fun” and “Many are Called, But Few Get Up” that further increases the impact of the album.
Elton John: Madman Across the Water
Another fourth studio album released, this time by an increasingly popular Elton John. Though Madman didn’t climb quite as high on the Billboard charts as Tumbleweed Connection (number 8 vs number 5) and the airplay provided “Tiny Dancer” couldn’t match “Your Song”, the prevalence of Elton John albums in personal collections was steadily growing. Paul Buckmasters arrangements are applied in full force on this album, and though the album falls short of Tumbleweed Connection, and was a general disappointment for me when I purchased it in late November, shortly after its November 5, 1971 release date, the album not only brims over with those strong Buckmaster arrangements and that strong musicianship from Elton, but from the contributions from a wide range of musicians including Rick Wakeman, Davey Johnstone, Chris Spedding, Herbie Flowers, David Glover and more. I listened to it about half a dozen times in very late 1971 and early 1972 and put it aside until just this week. It’s great to hear it on a much better stereo to appreciate the finer points, but still, it is likely I will again set it aside — good music, for sure, but still so much music I need to listen to!
Lighthouse: One Fine Morning
The Canadian jazz-rock group, Lighthouse, released their fourth and most commercially successful album, One Fine Morning, sometime in 1971, possibly around July or August of 1971. (Yes, another one I missed earlier.) The album is less pop and more solidly jazz-rock than their previous ones, with a number of strong tracks, including the opening track, “Love of a Woman”, “Sing, Sing, Sing” (Not related to the Benny Goodman classic), and the title track, “One Fine Morning”, which debuted on the Billboard 100 in the second week of September at position 75 and eventually ascended to the 24th spot. Plenty of good jazz-rock here with some more traditional rock content. Instrumentation includes trombone, saxophone, flute, trumpet and viola as well as guitar, piano and vibes.
Mahavishnu Orchestra: The Inner Mounting Flame
Formed in the summer of 1971, Mahavishnu recorded their first album in August of 1971, with Columbia releasing it on November 3, 1971. This album is a clear and unquestionable masterpiece combining jazz and progressive rock elements. John McLaughlin wrote all compositions on the album, and selected the band members from an international pool of talent (Czech-born Jan Hammer on keyboards, Panama-born Billy Cobham on drums, classically-trained American violinist Jerry Goodman when French violinist Jean Luc Ponty was not available due to immigration-related regulations, and Irish-born bassist and former McLaughlin bandmate from The Brian Auger Group.)
Miles Davis: Live-Evil
A bountiful 2 LP set of musical wonders with formidable front and back covers by artist Mati Klarwein (Santana’s Abraxis, Osibisa’s Heads, and of course, Bitches Brew) with the album containing both live material recorded on December 19, 1970 and studio material much earlier that year with the release date of the album on November 17,1971. The front and back cover are two sides of the dichotomy of beauty and ugliness (or perhaps more appropriate, beauty and anti-beauty) with the front headlining “MILES DAVIS LIVE” and the back proclaiming the reverse, or mirror image, as if seen from the other side of the album, “SELIM SIVAD EVIL.”
The fifteen minutes, four tracks, of studio material is rich, diverse and suitable for hours of exploration. Particularly interesting are the Hermeto Pascoal compositions with “Nem Um Talvez” being my favorite. For keyboard fans, it’s a real treat to get Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea all at once.
The real treasure is the live material. Gary Bartz is great on both soprano and alto sax and the “electric” trumpet with wah-wah is a perfect vehicle for Miles Davis’s creativity and expressiveness. Jack DeJohnette is fantastic and creates magic with everyone, particularly Airto Moreira, Michael Henderson and Keith Jarrett. And then there is John McLaughlin, who shines in this material as much as in that first Mahavishnu Orchestra album.
It’s honestly a bit of a mess the way the live material is presented here due to the Ted Macero edits, perhaps well enough intended, but really throwing a wrench into the continuity and flow of the original performances. The best bet is to stream or pick up the 6 CDs of The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 to hear not only the original material used for this the bulk of this 2 LP Live-Evil release (edited from the sets that John McLaughlin sat in and represented in the fifth and sixth CDs) but the material for the earlier sets on the first four CDs.
George Benson: Beyond the Blue Horizon
Any list of more than the twenty greatest electric guitarists that doesn’t have George Benson gets immediately discounted. He’s really is up there with the greats in terms of guitar technique and taste. This album may be casually classified as traditional post-bop jazz, but with two to three electric instruments on each track and Jack Dejohnette on drums, this is as much jazz fusion as any other albums of its time. Benson fares particularly well with his interaction with Hammond organist Clarence Palmer and DeJohnette is his usual incredible self. Ron Carter provides strong acoustic bass on track one, a particularly engaging rendition of Miles Davis’s “So What”, with funk and fusion elements from both Palmer and Benson. On track 2, “The Gentle Rain”, and track 3, “All Clear”, we have Carter on electric cello far exceeding the effectiveness and expressivity of at least 95% of contemporaneous rock guitarists. The third, fourth and fifth tracks are all Benson compositions with “Ode to a Kudu” relaxing and lyrical, and “Somewhere in the East” pushing out to more progressive and world music territory with a couple of additional percussionists added.
Herbie Hancock: Mwandishi
Another album I missed mentioning, released around March 1971, is Herbie Hancock’s second of his series of three Warner Brother albums, Mwandishi. It is yet another album that dedicates an entire LP side to one track, with the first side containing two contrasting works, the first of which, “Ostinato”, is an imaginative execution of improvising over an repetitively deployed musical pattern and brimming with that special class of rhythmically displaced jazz-funk championed by Herbie Hancock with Eddie Henderson shining on trumpet and Hancock on Fender Rhodes piano. The second track is true to its name, “You’ll Know When You Get There”, musically evocative of the sensation of being on leisurely journey, casually extended — the flute solo fitting in very nicely with the overall mood. The last track, taking up the second side, also provides music befitting it’s title, “Wandering Spirit Song”, with a strong Julian Priester trombone presence that carries into the free jazz section giving us a rough ABA form. Hancock provides compelling contributions on electric piano.
Kinks: Muswell Hillbillies
Released November 24, 1971, is the Kinks fourth (or fifth, if one counts the soundtrack album, Percy) concept album. Musically, there are no stand out tracks, but as a cohesive whole and faithfulness to the overall concept, the album works very well creating an overall experience that transcends the lack of memorable musical content, relying on the more memorable imagery, the well-crafted lyrics, Ray Davies’s distinct characters, Ray Davies’s vocal delivery to convey their viewpoints, and the generally creative and strong musicianship that lifts the more ordinary musical material.
Billy Preston: I Wrote a Simple Song
Released on November 8, 1971, I Wrote a Simple Song, is Billy Preston’s sixth studio album with Preston no longer on the Apple label but now with A & M. A soulful and rhymically lively album, it far exceeds allmusic.com’s two star rating, surpassing in quality most of the albums that allmusic.com rates as three or four stars. With some arrangements courtesy of Quincy Jones, George Harrison on guitar, and Preston’s expansive presence on piano, organ and vocals this album is a true joy to listen to.
John Martyn: Bless The Weather
Released in November, 1971, John Martyn delivers a very strong acoustic folk-rock album. Though I focus much more on music then lyrics, I’m still rather taken by the sentiment of the lyrics of “Let the Good Things Come” particularly lines like “I wish I had walked down, every road I ever set my eyes upon” and “I wish you could get through, to every face and every friend I ever knew.” Album is excellently engineered with quality musicianship. Strongest tracks include the jazz-tinged “Walk to the Water”, “Back Down the River”, and the sparkling instrumental, “Glistening Glyndebourne.”
Faces: A Nod Is As Good As a Wink… to a Blind Horse
Though perhaps my least favorite album mentioned in this post, despite ubiquitous presence in college dorm-room record collections during the early seventies, this third Faces album, A Nod Is As Good As a Wink… to a Blind Horse, released Nov. 17, 1971, is better than the previous two, partly due to Gus Dudgeon’s involvement and partly due to its shorter length, but mostly due to the exceptional last track, “That’s All You Need” and Ronny Wood’s near-historic guitar work on that same composition, and, to a lesser extent, Wood’s playing on “Stay with Me”, a song with such overtly sexist lyrics that current public sensibilities would probably exclude it from release today. Also worth noting is the brilliant and effective punctuation provided by use of the steel drum on “That’s All You Need.” Rod Stewart vocals are generally good, particularly on “Stay With Me” and “That’s All you Need”, and particularly when compared with the Ronnie Lane lead vocals on three of the album’s nine tracks.
Kevin Ayers: Whatevershebringswesing; Laura Nyro: Gonna Take a Miracle; War: All Day Music; Carly Simon: Anticipation; Isaac Hayes: Black Moses; Status Quo: Dog of Two Head; Happy End: Kazemachi Roman; Alice Cooper: Killer; Sweet: Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be; Humble Pie: Performance Rockin’ at the Fillmore; Earth, Wind and Fire: The Need of Love; Harry Nilsson: Nilsson Schmilsson; Billy Joel: Cold Spring Harbor; Barclay James: Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories; Mott the Hoople: Brain Capers; Steppenwolf: For Ladies Only; David Axelrod: Rock Messiah
Clearly not enough time to cover all the good and great albums released in November 1971!!! Allow me to continue to stretch your patience and mention a few more.
In November of 1971, both Status Quo and Alice Cooper provided hard rocking albums with Alice Cooper’s Killer containing the classic hard rock hit, “Under My Wheels.” Harry Nilsson released Nilsson Schmilsson, his most commercially successful album opening with the upbeat and bouncy “Gotta Get Up” and a hit cover of Badfinger’s “Without You.” Sweet released their debut album, Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be, but it is more sugary bubblegum pop than glam rock, with glam rock becoming more popular and prevalent in 1972. Billy Joel’s first album, Cold Spring Harbor, with two strong tracks to start the album, was a sonic disaster with the album being unfathomably mastered as a faster speed, raising Billy Joel’s vocal range and timbre and causing all the music to sound rushed. Very puzzling how it got out the door as it clearly is sped up. The remix from 1983 also has issues, truncating the end of the strongest track. “You Can Make Me Free” and, apparently, not quite slowing down the music to the proper speed and pitch.
My friend that lived next door had two brothers, also my good and treasured friends, but not as close in musical preferences. One of them, the youngest of the three boys in the family and born 9 days earlier than I, was a fan of Moody Blues, CSN/CSN&Y (collectively and individually), and Humble Pie, and though I was glad to record his and one of his friend’s Moody Blues and CSN&Y-related albums, I never much took to Humble Pie, and though I never borrowed Humble Pie’s Rockin’ At The Filmore, I did get to hear it when visiting, and even when relistening to it almost half a century later, I have to admit that I still don’t take to either the music or the musicianship. Another album not on my favorite’s list is David Axelrod’s Rock Messiah. Because it is a mix between classical, rock, jazz, I would have bought it when it first came out, except for a scathing review of it in the L.A. Times. Nonetheless, a few years later, when I had ample spending money from teaching piano lessons and consulting at the computer lab, I did purchase it, and found it had its moments but only listened to it once — listening to it again, it doesn’t particularly resonant — overall, not wildly bold, creative, or innovative and nothing that entreats one to listen to it once again.
Laura Nyro released her fifth album, quite soulful and expressive and exclusively covers, each and every one imbued with Nyro’s finely detailed and exquisitely crafted interpretation — plus the addition of Labelle! Kevin Ayers released his third solo album, whatevershebringswesing, full of creativity and generally within the fairly wide progressive rock boundaries, with orchestrations, great musicianship (fellow Gong band members, if you consider Ayers an honorary member of Gong), and a wide range of vocal contributions from Ayers, including a commendable Vincent Price impersonation on the appropriately spooky “Song from the Bottom of a Well.”
It’s really worth recapping how lucky music lovers were in 1971, with all these great releases in November 1971. At this point there was not only great rock, progressive rock, and new jazz coming out, but we also had the latest revival of ragtime picking up steam, the emphasis on original performance practices in classical music, the ever-increasing popularity of baroque music and the corresponding issuing of recordings of a wider range of baroque composers. Beethoven’s 200th birthday in 1970 brought new recordings of Beethoven and one’s choices and access to riches in the public and university libraries was greater than ever. Living in the greater Los Angeles area provided a wealth of variety on FM radio with two full time classical stations, readily available jazz music, folk music from Eastern Europe on Sundays, and full albums played on some of the FM rock stations. And, contrary to the predictions of some of the adults of older generations, this new music of the late sixties and early seventies was not a transient fad or flash in the pan, but was lasting, enduring music — music that generations today still listen to via streaming, or in some rare cases, by purchasing original or re-issued LPs. Today’s easy accessibility of the music of all eras means that I don’t very often reach back into the catalog of the music of the 1960s and 1970s, but when I do, there is always plenty to enjoy!
Attaching labels to music, in my mind, at least, has always been a wobbly and unreliable slide descending down an exceedingly slippery slope. By October 1971, it was misleading and even deceitful to talk about rock as a single genre, and it was insane-asylum, martians-are-amongst-us delusional to dismiss the material being stocked in the rock section of the newly-blossoming, corporate-owned record stores somehow as inferior or somehow secondary in artfulness or sophistication to music of prior generations. But more importantly, and as equally undeniable, the boundaries between “classical” music and rock music and jazz and rock not only blurred but became invisible in case after case.
Van Der Graaf Generator: Pawn Hearts
Recorded in July through September 1971 and released in October 1971, Van Der Graaf Generator’s fourth album, Pawn Hearts was so good that it made the band rockstars almost overnight — that is, in Italy where the album climbed all the way to the number one album spot in early 1972. The band ended up touring in Italy three times that year, the first in Feb. 1972 with a level of enthusiasm reminiscent of Beatlemania including oversold concerts and the Italian military engaged to control riotous crowds.
Should we be puzzled that the country that produced (and didn’t need to wait until their deaths to embrace) composers like Palestrina, Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Puccini, Verdi, Rossini and Morricone should recognize the value in Pawn Hearts, one of the most impressive art-rock albums of either 1971 or 1970? What is puzzling is the lack of attention the album received in the U.S. and the U.K. Even today (at the time of writing this, for I will go in and make my own edit at some point) the Wikipedia entry on UK Prog Rock neglects to mention VDGG: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_rock_music#Progressive_rock
This is clearly music to take note of. The original release holds together flawlessly, composed of three epic tracks, utilizing the elements of traditional tonality and repeated motific phrases perfectly, merging efficient industrial forces with apparently inexhaustible emotional passion.
All three tracks that made up the initial UK released (an additional track, quite fine in its own right, a cover of George Martin’s “Theme One” for the BBC as added for the U.S. release) combine to provide a stunningly unified whole, even though each track is formed from smaller musical components themselves. Each track is arguable even better than the one before with the third and final track, “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” spanning the entire second side — aligning with the increasing prevalence of albums to have a first or second side (or both sides of an LP dedicated to a single composition.
I could use up all my time-allotment for this month’s Fifty Year Friday post just gushing over this album, but it would be a unwise consumption of both your time and my time — time much better spent listening to this album and other music released fifty years ago.
Hawkind: In Search of Space
While the disciplined, elite musicianship required for more traditional classical music and jazz had its influence on the direction of many progressive rock bands, it seems just as many were influenced by a combination of the psychedelic rock of the sixties, the free jazz of the sixties, and the classical avant garde, particularly musique concrète and electronic-based compositions and experiences. While some bands may have had less than qualified musicianship and creativity to successfully pull off such an amalgamation of varied influences, other groups not only provided musically fulfilling concerts and albums, but in aggregate, created an array of diverse styles — styles that were given their own labels, with the two most prevalent styles named space rock and Kraut rock.
Hawkwind’s first album is one one of the earliest examples of space rock. Their second album, released on October 8, 1971, is the most representative example of space rock I know of. Simple, repetitive and compelling, it is the first album I would select to answer the question what is space rock. The albums could be the work of druggies, or geniuses — that is open to discussion — but either way the music creates a intangible boundaryless listening experience within the somewhat identifiable boundaries of space rock: a listening experience that is engaging and effortless, relaxing and cosmic.
Pink Floyd: Meddle
Pink Floyd wanders down a more cosmic-sounding space-rock path, with their sixth studio album, Meddle, released on October 31, 1971, surpassing the quality, consistency and cohesiveness of their previous efforts. This first track, “One of these Days” is by far my favorite, and likely had an influence on a number of bands, particularly Tangerine Dream. This is followed by the floating, leisurely drifting, spacey sixties-flower-powered-flavored tune, “A Pillow of Winds” and a similarly comfortably laid-back track, “Fearless.”
“Echoes”, the last track on the album, spanning all of side two, starts off with the promise of a masterwork, but hits a few dull patches in the middle before ending strong — a good effort that could have been epic.
Faust: In 1969, Polydor records reached out across the Atlantic to a German left wing journalist, Uwe Nettelbeck, with the odd but seemingly commercially-justifiable request to assemble a German rock group that could tap into the potential of the ever-rising demand for rock music by German youth. Perhaps this Polydor rep didn’t realize that this was the Uwe Nettelbeck that breached film jury etiquette by openly praising a work his wife had produced (a film about a verbally gifted cock — not the avian variety), or that this was the Nettlebeck that supported some of Germany’s more notable extremists — for rather than giving Polydor Germany’s answer to the Rolling Stones, Nettlebeck scoured the German underground scene identifying two talented by totally uncommercial groups, merging them into a single group, Faust, which Polydor soon funded, much to their eventual discontent — for Faust clearly had more in common with the musical ethos and sensibilities of Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Frank Zappa than that of the most profitable rock groups in Britain.
Though probably not appreciated by Polydor executives, their investment in Faust paid dividends in terms of musical quality and the influences on existing and future German bands and future bands the world over. This debut album, released on September 21, 1971, is both wildly creative and inescapably compelling. How did they command or coax their materials and their apparently unconcerned improvisation to come together into such a listenable experience? That’s a mystery to me , yet here we have this important artifact of the early days of the so-called Krautrock art-rock movement, immensely influential and challengingly entertaining and enjoyable.
Cluster: Whereas the Faust album had traditional melodies, harmonies and lyrics, this debut album by Cluster is purely a journey through ambient and mood-inducing sonic explorations. Like the Faust album, it works and effectively entertains and captures one’s attention both intellectually, and in a laid-back fashion, emotionally. And just like the Faust album the first side is two tracks, and the second side contains one single, attention-engaging composition. Influential? You bet, with near-term impacts on artists like Brian Eno, and longer term impact of artists that came decades later.
And so, we have four very different albums released in October 1971, In Search of Space,Meddle, Faust, and Cluster, all of which can be characterized as space rock, even though they could not be more different in use of musical materials and general musical approach.
Focus: Focus II (Moving Waves)
Focus releases their second album, one which soars to the number 4th spot in their home country, the Netherlands, reaches number two in the nearby UK, and surprisingly peaks at number eight in the U.S.. this success largely based on the radio airplay of the yodeling, exuberantly rocking, “Hocus Pocus.”
The album starts off at full tilt with “Hocus Pocus”, followed by more progressive, but still easily accessible compositions. All in all a fine, though not indispensable, prog-rock album.
Freddie Hubbard: Straight Life
This album blends both bop and myriad post-bop elements with soul, funk and fusion to deliver a strong, and puzzling oft-overlooked classic album. (Rolling Stone Jazz Record guide gives this one out of five stars, which inaccurate assessment, for me, cast doubts on the entire contents and relevancy of the Rolling Stone Jazz Record guide.) Here we have another fine album with a full-side track, the title track, that opens with a free-jazz intro (shorter than the impressive intro that opens the Red Clay album) and then transforms into a lively, celebratory and appropriately contemporary grooving musical adventure with astonishing trumpet work from Freddie Hubbard and more progressive explorations from Joe Henderson.
The first track of the second track, “Mr. Clean”, is nothing short of amazing music making, Hubbard providing a vigorous, unrelenting solo, matched in intensity and creativity by Henderson. Jack Dejohnette is excellent in both the first and second tracks, but of particular note is how imaginatively and effectively he supports George Benson’s guitar solo.
The final track, is the beautiful Jimmy Van Heusen “Here’s that Rainy Day,” performed intimately and gracefully as a duet by Hubbard and Benson, is one of the most expressive and evocative musical recordings of 1971.
Moondog: Moondog 2
Louis Thomas Hardin (better known as Moondog) and producer James Guercio release the second Moondog album for Columbia records, departing considerably from the 1969 Moondog masterpiece, with a set of twenty-six round-based compositions, almost all with vocals by Hardin/Moondog himself and his daughter, June Hardin. Setting aside the wit and cleverness of these compositions, this a fine study in handling of relatively simple rounds — not simple meterically or rhythmically, though, and this factor certainly brings life and variety into these works. This is yet another album that eludes any glib labeling of contents as it is clearly not rock, not jazz, not country, not folk, and not classical, though one can make associations to the minimalist classical movement — on the other hand, some of that similarity is due to the harmonic stasis chosen as the foundation for easy overlapping of melodic material.
Carla Bley: Escalator Over the Hill
A three LP opera with incredible music by Carla Bley and the selected musicians with somewhat elusive lyrics by Paul Haines. Now this could pass as progressive rock or classical or third stream jazz, depending on one’s viewpoint, so maybe best to simply call it great music. If the lyrics don’t come together effectively as a whole, that is more than made up by the music — all the way down to the endless humming stamped into that last, final inner groove of the second side of the third LP.
If one doesn’t immediately take to the overall musical majesty of this work, there are plenty of individual contributions that will keep one’s attention, from Don Cherry’s amazing solo to the John McLaughlin’s guitar work, to the range of music styles and textures to the many individual contributions of the participating musicians, including vocals by a youthful and talented Linda Ronstadt and renowned Cream bassist Jack Bruce.
Jimi Hendrix: Rainbow Bridge
I bought this album, despite it clearly labeled as a soundtrack album, due to my appreciation of the excellence of Hendrix’s previous albums. In truth it is not a soundtrack but partly made of tracks recorded for an album that would have followed “Cry to Love.”
The first four tracks of the first side are all classic, easily accessible musical gems. On side two, there is an incredible live version of “Hear My Train A’ Coming” with timeless Hendrix guitar. Album ends superbly with a soulfully uplifting but often mellow “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun.)”
Van Morrison: Tupelo Honey
Released on October 15, 1971, Tupelo Honey, is a wonderful blend of blues, soul, rock, folk, and country-rock elements. I don’t consider myself a Van Morrison fan (I cringed, at the age of twelve, each time they played “Brown Eyed Girl” on AM radio, anxious for it to end to give way to something more to my preference), but I embrace Tupelo Honey 100% and am amazed at the consistency, authenticity, and quality of the album. This is one of the best examples of a commercially successful album that avoids any overt commercialism.
Cat Stevens: Teaser and the Fire Cat
How could Cat Stevens top something as sincere and unaffectedly authentic as his previous album, Tea for the Tillerman? He couldn’t, but by giving the new release a similar title and even more immediately absorbable material, with a more consistent evenness to the quality of the songs and more established overall identify to the album, he was able to surpass the sales of Tea for the Tillerman (despite Tea for the Tillerman‘s incomparable “Wild World” having receiving considerable airplay on both AM and FM radio) with the driver behind some of these sales coming in the wake of the success of Tea for the Tillerman as well as the airplay of “Moon Shadow.”
When I purchased Teaser in the Firecat within a week or two of its release, I was a trifled disappointed by the notable shift in style — the music had a more commercially produced feel and there was nothing the quite caught one emotionally as much as “Wild World” or “Sad Lisa.” Yet, even a more commercial Cat Stevens had appeal, and though I had put Teaser away on the back shelf by the end of 1971, later to be boxed up for decades, it is still a treat to listen to again after so many years.
Chicago: Chicago IV (Chicago at Carnegie Hall), Family: Fearless; Don McLean: American Pie; Grateful Dead: Grateful Dead; Lindesfarne: Fog on the Tyne; Frank Zappa: 200 Motels; The Move: Message from the Country
October 1971 brought out a wealth of music, much of it defying single-label classification for a considerable portion of the best of popular music was now incorporating and borrowing from the great legacy of musical wealth from both the West and East musical traditions, as well as both new and older, musical heritage.
The Chicago Carnegie Hall set was the first non-classical 4 LP set I remember encountering, and was purchased by the same friend and next door neighbor that purchased the first two Chicago albums. I had purchased Chicago III, and considered it an extravagant expenditure based on my limited monetary means (in those early teenage years) to buy a four LP set of live of material from the previously purchased studio albums. That said, there was one new and notable composition, on the second side of the fourth LP, “A Song for Richard and His Friends”, a backhanded tribute to then-president “Tricky Dick.” At this time, anything mocking Nixon was contemporary, relevant, and cool, but ignoring all this, this is a pretty good tune, possibly directly influenced by Charles Mingus’s scathing musical rebuke of Governor Faubus.
Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels is filled with many brilliant passages of impressive musical material. Supported not only by his regular musicians, but by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, there is no doubt of Zappa’s mastery of a myriad of twentieth century composition techniques. One could wish (or I should say that I wish) that Zappa had used the opportunity with the LPO to provide a more cohesive work — perhaps a great masterpiece of the twentieth century, but Zappa is Zappa and just about everything but the kitchen sink finds its way into the album, leaving one to marvel at the greatest moments and accepting those lesser (but perhaps from a Zappa mindset, equally valid and relevant) musical and extra-musical moments. I applaud Zappa’s resolve and determination to be true to his own artistic vision, and that is part of what makes great artists like Zappa genuinely great.
My sister purchased both the Grateful Dead and the American Pie albums. I shied away from the American Pie album since the title song was played endlessly on AM radio. It probably would have been fine at 2 1/2 minutes, but at 8 1/2 minutes, despite good lyrics, some greater variation in melodic material would have been welcome. Nonetheless the album was (and is) still pretty good, and contains not only American Pie, which has stood the the test of time better than most songs of its nature, but also includes Vincent, one of McLean’s best compositions.
Notable, though not approaching the quality of the first Electric Light Orchestra album, is The Move’s Message from the Country, their final album before they changed their identity to ELO. Both this and the first ELO album were recorded during an approximately one year period that spanned 1970 and 1971. It almost seems as if the best and most interesting material was reserved for that first ELO album, though those that prefer more traditional rock may be more comfortable with Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne’s contributions to The Move’s last effort.
So many albums were released in October of 1971, apparently to time with holiday spending, that I suspect I may have missed a few of those that baby boomers grew up listening to. What’s particularly interesting is the number of albums that still are worth listening today or that influenced other artists who also produced music that still merits listening time. I remember being told that once I got older I would look back on the music that I had listened to in the early seventies and find it silly and simplistic — yet just the opposite: I have a much greater appreciation for the quality, diversity, and complexity of this music than I ever had during my teenage years.
At the end of 1970, I awaited the availability of John Lennon’s first album (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band) with a sense of mystery and associated anticipation, however when it was time for the release of the second album, Imagine, it almost seemed like just another standard record industry release, particularly as I heard the single before the album, and because in this case it wasn’t my adventurous neighbor that first bought the album, but my more musically conservative older sister. Maybe I took less of an interest, initially, due to those factors, but it didn’t stop me from playing it as soon as she had purchased it.
Without the consistency of the songs of the first album and the personal poetic connection of that album — and without anything quite equal in charm to “Love” or as striking as “Working Class Hero”, Imagine was somewhat of a disappointment for me. I had already heard the title track, and found “How do you Sleep?” somewhat petty with a palatable undertone of bitterness. The album didn’t hold together as well as the previous one, but still there was much to like overall, including the music and lyrics to “Gimme Some Truth.” Of course, once one got over the initial overexposure of the title track from AM radio, it was clear what a strong song it truly was. Notable, also, are the musical performances, particularly Nicki Hopkins excellent piano work, both electric, acoustic, and modified acoustic (thumbtacks?) George Harrison provides memorable guitar contributions with Lennon also playing basic, yet fully appropriate, piano for the two best songs, “Imagine” and “Oh My Love.” In fact, part of the perfection of those two songs is the simple, honest nature of the piano part.
T. Rex: Electric Warrior
In the last part of 1971, we continue to see the steady evolution towards commercialism in many, initially relatively-non-commercial bands. Tyrannosaurus Rex shortens their name to T. Rex for their 1970, still mostly folk-rock acoustic-based album, but with the 1971 Electric Warrior, producer Tony Viscounti’s and composer/singer/guitarist Marc Bolan’s emphasis is more on rock, with a general simplification of the music — and even the lyrics with obvious shift from the misty, somewhat vague mythological references towards more common rock lyrics as in their big hit “Get It On” (commonly referred to as “Bang A Gong, Get it On”)
But as the earlier music of this group, particularly when still named “Tyrannosaurus Rex”, sauntered and casually strolled through blues-based folksy material, this album rocks forward full throttle, with much more animated tracks like “Jeepster” and “Rip Off.” It may not hold up to repeated listenings as well as their 1970 album, A Beard of Stars, but it was more fun to play loudly in the car when driving around at night. And whereas the earlier music languished in terms of building a large listener base, the new T. Rex sound ended up influencing numerous bands, most of which never would land a recording contract, but also some more well-known entries in pop music from punk rockers like the Ramones, hybrid glam/punk rockers like the New York Dolls, and later Indie groups like Joy Division, The Smiths and the Pixies.
Curved Air: Second Album
Released On September 9, 1971, Curved Air’s second album is bubbling over with a silky spider’s web of musical ideas and creative energy. The sound quality and mixing of the original LP falls short of the music and musicianship itself, however, a remastered edition was released around 2018.
This is an album in two parts, the first side with musical material composed mostly by Darryl Way and the lyrics written by Sonja Kristina and the second the more rhythmically driven material of Francis Monkman. Both sides are excellent, with ample examples of compounded or changing time signatures, some colorful contributions from the EMS VCS 3 synthesizer, and the floating, ethereal vocals of Sonja Kristina.
Uriah Heep: Look at Yourself
In September 1971, Uriah Heep released their third and strongest album, the heavy-metal, partly-progressive Look At Yourself. I took a chance on the album as part of the promotional incentive for starting a membership in a mail-based record club, and loved the album’s heavy-metal deployment of bass, guitar, organ and drums. I particularly like the Baroque-like beginning of “July Morning” which starts with organ, with guitar soon layered on top and the use of terraced dynamics and texture for the subsequent vocals.
Santana: Santana III
Satana releases their third album sometime in September of 1971. Like their previous, second album, Abraxas, it climbed the album charts to the top position, with two tracks gettings significant airplay on AM and FM radio. Incorporating Latin, rock, and jazz influences, the album’s strength, at least for me, is fully revealed on side two with the last four tracks which sound as fresh and vital as they were in 1971.
Pete Townsend planned to follow-up the successful Tommy with another rock opera — one which would incorporate data-driven composition, multimedia effects, and audience interaction when performed live. Practical and execution limitations aside, the bottom line is that the musical work itself was abandoned with some of the material recorded for “Who’s Next”, the Who’s fifth studio album released on August 14, 1971.
Though not an epic effort comparable to Tommy, the songs are strong and the intro to “Baba O’Riley” makes a lasting impression, suich that I still remember hearing it for the first time almost fifty years later, and “Bargain” and “Behind Blue Eyes” are two of Pete Townshend’s best classics.
Upon the release of the Beach Boys’ Surf’s Up on August 30, 1971, Warner Brothers Records ran a limited-time promo beseeching those hesitant about purchasing the album, to bring in one of their old Beach Boys albums as a trade-in for the new album. I didn’t own any Beach Boys albums and was more dissuaded from checking out the album than encouraged by what to me, at age 16, appeared to be more of an act of desperation on Warner’s part than a legitimate marketing strategy. However, once I heard the album when visiting my cousin in northern California, I was certainly surprised between the actual material on the album and what I had expected of a group I had thought whose time and relevancy had long expired.
The sound was fresh, with no sixties-artifacts, and though sounding tame to the many Zappa albums in my cousin’s shared collection with his roommate, was still vital and contemporary musically and lyrically. Soon I purchased the album, and listened to it a few times and then, like most albums, it fell out of circulation, but leaving an indelible respect for both the group and the album. The masterpiece of the album is Brian Wilson’s “Til I Die.” I paid little attention to the lyrics in 1971, but took notice of them now when relistening to this track and, now knowing about Brian Wilson’s battles with depression and mental illness, the emotion inherent in the lyrics and the supporting wistfully ironic melody and harmonies are heart-wrenching:
I’m a cork on the ocean Floating over the raging sea … I’m a rock in a landslide Rolling over the mountainside … I’m a leaf on a windy day Pretty soon I’ll be blown away How long will the wind blow? How long will the wind blow? Ohhhh Until I die Until I die These things I’ll be until I die These things I’ll be until I die These things I’ll be until I die These things I’ll be until I die These things I’ll be until I die These things I’ll be until I die These things I’ll be until I die These things I’ll be until I die These things I’ll be until I die These things I’ll be until I die
Another unexpected treat that came my way in 1971, was Ten Years After sixth studio album, A Space in Time. Like the Beach Boys, Alvin Lee and company provide an updated sound, incorporating sound effects leading into tracks harkening back to their fourth album, Cricketwood Green. Alvin Lee writes all the music except for a short final instrumental jam that ends the album.
The album showcases Alvin Lee’s engaging, proficient guitar work along with his solid instinct for blues and ability to write more traditional pop songs — the album giving us the band’s highest charting single, “I’d Love to Change the World” and “Over the Hill” with its ironically upbeat baroque string episode contrasting against the bleakness of the lyrics.
With new vocalist Kenji “Damo” Suzuki, pretty much pulled off a street corner while in the act of busking, Kenji “Damo” Suzuki, Can releases their second, and most heralded and influential album, Tago Mago. Assuming no sonic boundaries and embracing a wide array of musical options, the group pushes the borders of pop music into areas previously occupied by German academic composers and late sixties free jazz artists, thus extending the characteristics, definitions and expectations of what English and American prog-rock fans would soon call Kraut-rock. The first and second sides are more accessible, and one cannot ignore that some listeners were more under the influence of drugs by the third and fourth sides and could handle the increased musical entropy on that second LP, yet one really needs the entire senses about them to fully appreciate this work. There is a lot of coherence within each individual song and the focus on the basic language that is individually conceived for each track. It’s not an easy album to listen to, but given the right mood and circumstances, is one that should be listened to, carefully, and not as background ambience.
Other albums of note include If’s third album, IF3, a balanced blend of rock, light progressive-rock elements and jazz-rock, and Atomic Rooster’s third album, In Hearing of Atomic Rooster, a mostly hard rock album with some progressive rock elements.
After being so successful on taking a chance on King Crimson’s first album, based solely on the album cover, I became more adventurous and shortly after Tarkus was released around June 14, 1971, it showed up at our local K-Mart, the same K-Mart where I had purchased the King Crimson album. And purchasing on primarily album cover cosmetics, I bought my first ELP album, Tarkus, along with Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. My dad had recently purchased a quality pair of headphones, and that evening I pulled up a chair in front of the amplifier and listened to both albums, mesmerized by the distinct sound of each, and pleasantly surprised that the “Lake” in “Emerson, Lake and Palmer” was the Greg Lake from the first King Crimson album.
I vividly recall the opening of the first track, “Eruption” with its dramatic opening crescendo and the unusual meter (3/8+2/8) established by the drums and bass with Emerson’s angular organ line, the short shift in meter (3/4), returning to the original organ line and then another shift (4/4) with the majestic horn-like moog synthesizer fanfare section. At that time I had no idea of the many meter shifts I was hearing (5/8, 3/4, 5/8, 4/4, 5/8, 7/8, 9/16, 2/4, etc.) but underneath those headphones, it was clear I was in the middle the musical equivalent of a volcanic eruption as depicted in the inner sleeve (see modern CD insert below.)
The entire first side absorbed my entire attention. This was music distinctly different from anything and created its own world — as fantastical as any imagined battle between the mythical creatures of the inner surface of the opened album — and then some. I had limited experience with listening to Dave Brubeck, Stan Kenton, Ravel, Debussy and Stravinsky — and none yet with Bartok and Ginastera — but clearly this was at the same level — a modern masterpiece of music.
Side two was more a collection of songs, bookended by two somewhat weaker tracks, with substantial material in the middle. It was side one that kept me coming back to this album, and displaced my prior favorite group, KIng Crimson, with this new band. Of course, I bought the previously ELP album, then all the Nice albums I could find, with Emerson, the keyboard player, now being my favorite living musician.
The album is far from perfect — but that is true with all of ELP’s output; what matters here is that the quality of side one has few rivals in either rock music or progressive rock music. The lyrics are a bit hit and miss and can simply be viewed as falling far short of supporting the music or, if one uses their imaginative skills, leveraging the Tarkus storyline depicted in the inside cover as some allegory for the more common battles of life. Either way, Greg Lake’s contributions here are not primarily the lyrics but his musical contributions including the battlefield melody, similar to Lake’s Epitaph melody for King Crimson. Lake seems to furnish the more traditional elements of rock music and melody to provide a balance and contrast which serves as an appropriate offset for the more aggressive and idiosyncratic instrumental passages. This is the magic of group efforts, whether progressive rock bands, traditional rock bands, jazz ensembles, and so on — one can get a level of diversity rarely provided by a single composer or musician. The lone composer has made many invaluable contributions to music, but our age also includes many stellar collaborative efforts — including side one of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Tarkus — a timeless classic of music.
Todd Rundgren: Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren
Released on June 24, 1971, Todd Rundgren’s solo second album is pretty much Todd going it alone, writing all the music, being very attentive to every aspect of the arrangements, and playing all instruments that he could, allowing additional personnel on bass and percussion with himself on everything else. Though no track quite matches “We Got to Get You a Woman” from the prior album, the quality is consistently high, with “A Long Time, a Long Way to Go”, “Boat on the Charles”, “Be Nice to Me” being particularly memorable.
Joni Mitchell: Blue
This album sounds as vital today as fifty years. The music is great, the performance intimate, the sound quality excellent, even by today’s standards and the lyrics are personal, heartfelt, of high merit, and flawlessly fit with the music. This should be in every music lover’s collection.
Blood, Sweat & Tears: Blood, Sweat & Tears 4
It’s quite something that after fifty years, most commercial planes don’t fly any faster, personal car travel across country is pretty much the same, at the same speed with no improvement in dining or scenary, and the sound quality of recorded music is on balance, not significantly better — at least nothing close to the progress made in the first six decades of the twentieth century. By 1971, the sound quality of rock, jazz and classical albums were generally quite good with a diverse use of stereophonic capabilities, judicious layering of multiple tracks and the presentation of a sound stage, whether realistic or not, that was engaging and provided the foundation for meaningful musical entertainment. The sound on the three previous albums and this one may be far from perfect but they deliver a presence that fully engages one with the musical product – and provides a level of presence not much different than modern releases — and sometimes better.
This fourth BS&T album is musically as good as their previous three (an opinion at odds with general consensus, of course), with strong instrumental contributions from regulars Steve Katz, Dick Halligan, Fred Lipsius, Lew Soloff and Chuck Winfield and the addition of trombonist Dave Bargeron who also impressively handles tuba and baritone horn responsibilities. The joy here is in the beauty and magnificence of the brass arrangements and performances and the strong production that effectively brings out the qualities of those arrangements.
Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On was released on May 21, 1971, but prior to that, around the end of February 1971, the calmest, most relaxed single of the 1970s yet ever heard by my ears on top 40 AM radio, started receiving airplay displacing the previous smoothest single of the earliest part of that year, “Black Magic Woman”. Now firmly only a fan of FM, my only exposure to AM radio was on the school bus — about a 25 minute ride into school and about a 35 minute ride on the late bus back home. By the middle of March of 1970, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” was likely to be played once, and sometimes twice: once in the morning and once in the afternoon during my daily travel on the bus. With annoying songs like The Osmonds’ “One Bad Apple”, Dawn’s “Knock Three Times”, and other mediocre bubblegum or pop tunes, the inclusion of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, far removed from the commercial template of most of the songs in the Top 40 of that time, into the AM playlist was like being given access to water in a scorching desert.
How appropriate that this gem leads off Marvin Gaye’s must heralded album, proving both the name and the essence for the entire album, almost by itself asserting the concept of the entire album, which rightfully and fittingly lines up perfectly and unconditionally with the ethos and character of that first track creating a concept album addressing peace, love, ecologic responsibilities, justice and injustice, and the rights and preciousness of all, adults and children.
Recorded in August through October of 1970, and released in 1971, Joe Zawinul’s fifth studio album (as a leader) continues the musical trailblazing of Miles Davis’s masterpiece, In a Silent Way. There is in fact, an amazing version of this Zawinul composition on the album, glimmering with a full rainbow of beauty, the pairing of Herbie Hancock and Joe Zawinul on keyboards and the lyrically lucid and spiritual melodic leadership by trumpet-great Woody Shaw.
The entire album provides a musical retreat, unfolding with the beauty of an uncompromised, unexplored nature reserve. Graced by so many fine musicians, and some creative engineering including some tape manipulation, editing, and praiseworthy aural balancing, the album provides all that is necessary for an immersive musical outing fully contained within the short span of about thirty-six minutes.
Weather Report: Weather Report
A few months after finishing recording his eponymous fifth album, Joe Zawinul teamed up with Wayne Shorter, Miroslav Vitouš, and multiple percussionists for the first Weather Report album released on May 12, 1971. The album embraces much of the creative forces present in Silent Way and Bitches Brew, but moves into new territory also with rhythmically propulsive tracks like “Umbrellas” and “Seventh Arrow” as well as the atmospheric track “Orange Lady” which provides a leisurely, reflective weave from a spectrum of beautiful coordinated musical musings and the shimmering “Waterfall.”
Paul and Linda McCartney: Ram
While my sister was accompanying my maternal grandmother on an ocean cruise for the summer of 1971, I journeyed from Southern California up to Salem, Oregon accompanying my paternal grandparents on a nearly twenty-four Trailways bus trip to spend a couple of weeks with my cousins, aunt and uncle, fishing, introducing my older cousin to the classic Chicago II album, taping drum and bugle practices on a cheap, bottom-of-the barrel cassette recorder and generally having the time of my life.
When driven to the newly open Lancaster shopping mall by my older cousin and her friends, I stumbled into what may be commonplace today, but was a novelty at that time, a record store in a indoor shopping mall — the indoor shopping mall being also a relatively new concept, with the Lancaster mall (now the Willamette Town Center) opened shortly before my arrival.
A moment or two after entering the record store, the store manager changed records, putting the newly arrived second McCartney album, Ram (released a few weeks earlier on May 17, 1971) on the store turntable. The first track, “Too Many People” was immediately recognizable as it was getting airplay on both FM and AM. While my cousin and friends wended their way through the multiple other retailers in the mall, I camped out in the record store, listening to the entire first side including the previously familiar “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”, pulled away by them for a few minutes, and then eventually returning to finish up side two and, to my delight, an unexpected replay of the entire album, or at least side one, as I was eventually whisked away by my cousin and friends to somewhere else. Later on my return to the mall, perhaps a week later, I got to hear most of side two, including the final track, “The Back Seat of My Car.”
Upon my return to Southern California, my good friend, fellow cross-country runner, co-worker at the school cafeteria, and next door neighbor, the one that had introduced my to Chicago, had already purchased Ram, and I promptly recorded it on to my reel-to-reel. I was already in love with the album, and played it several times before eventually tiring of it and moving on to something else. It’s a pleasure to listen to it again after all these years, and even though back in 1971 my cousin may have thought the music to be somewhat silly and certainly not in the same league as Chicago’s second album, I still love the simple, engaging, and buoyantly upbeat music that permeates this album.
The Carpenters: Carpenters
On May 14, 1971, The Carpenters released their third album with meticulous soft-pop arrangements by Richard Carpenter and Karen Carpenter’s trademark vocals. It is not as special as an album as their previous Close To You album, but their performances are beyond reproach even if not all the selected material matches that of Close To You. As the Carpenters moved to Downey, California a few months before my parents moved our family to Orange County, I honor my hometown connection to them and that adds to the fondness I have for their music. Add to this that my Oregon older cousin liked them, even when she dismissed McCartney’s second solo album, and that my spouse, the love of my life, is a big Karen Carpenters fan, I think I will always enjoy listening to their music with an ongoing emotional connection that is in addition to my appreciation of their musical merits.
John Entwistle: Smash your head against the wall; Graham Nash: Songs for Beginners; Rod Stewart: Every Picture Tells a Story
Like George Harrison, John Entwistle did not have an abundance of support to get his bandmates to include his compositions on their albums, so his first solo album, Smash you head against the wall, released during May of 1971, contains many of these “rejected” compositions. One recurring trait in Entwistle’s works is the use of chromatic passages as famously represented in years earlier in “Boris the Spider” and his darkly-tinged humor as represented in the opening track of this debut album, “My Size.”
Graham Nash is one of the most underappreciated songwriters of the sixties and seventies, so its always a joy to listen to his songs whether on Hollies albums, CSN and CSNY albums or his solo albums. This is a wonderful album brimming with catchy melodies including songs like “Military Madness” and “Chicago.”
Though I don’t think of myself as much of a Rod Stewart fan, I took an immediately liking to “Every Picture Tells a Story”, Rod Stewart’s third solo album, released on May 28, 1971. There is an authenticity to his delivery throughout this album and the strongest tracks are certainly among Rod’s best efforts.