Bowie’s fourth studio album, released Dec. 17, 1971, is a bit of a hodge-podge collection of generally strong tracks, some of which harken back to his English Music Hall influences, and one (“Queen Bitch”) near the end of side two, that foreshadows his Ziggy Stardust album, personna, and musical styles.
The album is peppered with optimism and several upbeat numbers, leading off with Bowie’s invigorating “Changes” with Rick Wakeman on piano, Bowie’s artful handling of tempo contrasts and meter changes, and a reflective Bowie sax solo that wraps up his finest song to date. This is followed by another expertly arranged, well-crafted song, deftly executed with appropriate vocal expression by Bowie with verses and chorus particularly well matched. Other fine songs include “Life on Mars”, “Kooks”, “Fill Your Heart”, “Andy Warhol” and “Queen Bitch.” The combination of Bowie’s expressive and varied vocals, the high quality of music, and the excellent arrangements and performances, make this a particularly notable leap forward in Bowie’s soon-to-be explosive career.
George Harrison & Friends: Concert for Bangladesh
There is so much to like about this important document of music and charity, released on December 20, 1971, consolidated from two concerts, one afternoon, one evening, at Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. Not only a laudable effort to raise money for the horrific situation in Bangladesh at that time, but it notably provided the inspiration and motivation for other charity concerts that would follow.
The six-sided LP album (with the last side being relatively short) not only contains eight compositions and performances showcasing George Harrison, with support from Eric Clapton, a horn section and a number of other talented performers, but also a side of performances from Bob Dylan, as well as single performances from Billy Preston, Ringo Starr (on Ringo’s George Harrison aided composition, “It Don’t Come Easy”) and Leon Russell. Also, importantly, side one contains a partial performance of a beautifully performed dhun by Ravi Shankar on sitar, Ali Akbar on sarod, Kamala Chakravarty on tambura, and Alla Rakha on tabla. For many of us, this was our first exposure to Hindustani classical music, and helped provide a surge of interest in Ravi Shankar and Hindustani music, at a time when world music was achieving more and more exposure and popularity.
Carole King: Music
In December 1971, Carole King followed up her incredibly successful Tapestry with another fine album. She brings back artists like James Taylor on guitar (also providing magical mix on vocals with King on “Some Kind of Wonderful”) and Curtis Amy on tenor sax with additional artists added like Ernie Watts and Buddy Collette. All songs are classic Carole King with “It’s Going to Take Some Time” being especially notable, as well as Amy’s solo on the title track, “Music.”
King Crimson: Islands
Recorded in October of 1971 and released on December 3, 1971, I first saw Islands in the first Orange County Warehouse record store a couple of weeks prior to Christmas. Rather than the more intriguing cover provided for the UK market (shown above), it was a simple cover, mostly white with representations of islands — the cover based on a painting by King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield. I purchased this with some classical music on the Supraphon label, all at a nice price, and anxiously awaited being able to listen to it at home later that day.
My initial reaction to the album was deep disappointment. I had expectations based on their previous albums, one of which, their second album, I had to special order just to get a copy, one damaged in transit, but which I never thought of not purchasing when it came in, despite the superficial cover damage, as I couldn’t wait to hear the music. And I couldn’t wait to hear the music of this, their fourth studio album, but when played, from the first few minutes, it was clear that there was little in common with their previous albums.
My money was not easily obtained, my source for it hourly wages during early morning and lunch hours at our high school cafeteria, a job I enjoyed, serving soft drinks to an endless supply of the many beautiful young ladies at our high school, and able to comfortably socialize with fellow students, many of whom I otherwise would have been strangers with. So I didn’t put the album away and move on to something else. I played it repeatedly, and not only due to the money involved (which was only $2.99, and so not a major setback), but because I sensed an excellence throughout the album. No, it wasn’t the driving progressive music of prior King Crimson albums –it was more cerebral, reflective and ambient, but it still had a coherence and attractiveness, and after about five more listenings, I embraced the album, still the least favorite of my first four King Crimson albums, and an album that wouldn’t hold up to the next three Crimson studio albums to follow, but one I considered well worth the money and then some.
Electric Light Orchestra: Electric Light Orchestra
Recorded around the same time that the core ELO personnel, Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan, were recording the last Move album, Message From the Country (covered in October’s Fifty Year Friday) this first ELO album was released in the UK in December of 1971 but not released in the US until for months later, in March of 1972. Soon the first track, the incredible and irresistable “10538 Overture” got FM airplay, followed with its release as a single in the UK. I don’t believe it ever got any airplay in the U.S. on AM, but other music on the album continued to get FM exposure. Whereas their last Move album was mostly traditional rock (if any rock in 1971 can truly be labelled as such), this first ELO is more orchestral and progressive in nature, with a definite upbeat popular slant.
Many know America from the single from this album, the incredibly monotonous “Horse With No Name” (not inappropriately, though, as the music supports the lyrics effectively. Overall, this first album, released at the end of 1971 in the UK and then in 1972 in the U.S., is quite good, with a wealth of acoustic guitar, with musical similarities that would appeal to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fans, and with several good tracks, including “Rainy Day” and the Badfinger-like ballad “I Need You.”
Badfinger: Straight Up
For those in December 1971 and early 1972 that were not exactly thrilled with the content of Paul McCartney’s December 1971 release, Wild Life, they might possibly have found comfort in Harrison’s Bangladesh Concert album, ELO’s late-Beatle’s influenced first album, or even in Badfinger’s borderline Beatlesque Straight Up, which includes a number of good tracks, the best of which is “Day After Day” which hearkens back to the era of the Beatle’s Revolver album.
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.
Released on July 16, 1971 by the Vertigo record label, this second Gentle Giant, despite the apparently horrible cover (the worse prog-rock cover ever or a tongue-in-cheek expression of the kissing up that goes on to record execs and commercial demands?) and the presumptuous and cringe-worthy title, far surpasses their first effort in consistency and creating a unified musical statement while still showing a diversity in compositional techniques and arrangement/instrumentation. It is in the prevalence of the reuse and transformation of identifiable musical motifs that Gentle Giant shares common ground with some bebop artists (for example, Charlie Parker) and so many of the twentieth and nineteenth century so-called “classical” or “serious” composers. What set Gentle Giant apart from most other prog-groups was that their primary composer, Kerry Minnear, was fully trained in classical music having just received his degree in music composition from the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in 1970. We can speculate about whether he read such books as the indispensable 1961 treatise on motific reuse, Rudolf Reti’s The Thematic Process in Music (US 1951; UK 1961), but even if he had not, his familiarity with medieval, renaissance and early twentieth century compositions would have exposed him to how composers expertly handled music cells and motifs.
Putting aside the compositional tightness and cohesiveness of the eight individual tracks and the general cohesiveness of the album as a whole, one just has to take delight in the overall strength of the music, the lack of any filler material (with the possible exception of portions of the last track), and the beauty of some of the melodies, particularly “Pantagruel’s Nativity”, “Edge of Twilight”, the haunting “Moon is Down”, and the softer instrumental passages of the heavier songs on the album like “Wreck.” Notable is the prevalence of Kerry Minnear vocals, indicative of the often gentle nature of the material — with Derek Shulman vocals effectively complementing the harder rock passages. We also get the first example of what I call the “Gentle Giant stride”, for lack of a more appropriate term, due to it reminding me, rhythmically and musically, of deliberately lengthened and extended fast-paced walking steps — this occurs after the initiation of Gary Green;s guitar solo in “The House, The Street, The Room” at the 2:47 mark, with drums and bass providing the foundation for the continuation of Green’s angular yet expressive guitar-work. Another noteworthy often-used Gentle Giant compositional technique, is the use of a musical sequence comprised of a short, quadruply-repeated, rhythmically-catchy motif that creates forward drive and tension (and used extensively in their next album, “Three Friends”) and in this album occurs in “The Moon Is Down” at the 2:11 mark. Also notable is the penultimate track on the album, particularly its use of plucked and bowed viola, viola, and cello and wah-wah guitar for musical and extra-musical effect (the imitation of the meow of a cat.) “Plain Truth”, somewhat musically weaker and less interesting than the previous tracks, closes out this first in a string of half a dozen near-perfect, fully musically unified, must-have Gentle Giant albums
Black Sabbath: Master of Reality
Also released by the Vertigo record label (Warner Brothers in the U.S.), on July 21, 1971, though not nearly as fulfilling or musically nutritious as the Gentle Giant second album, this third Black Sabbath, Masters of Reality is one of the three best Black Sabbath albums, well-executed, creative and brimming with elevated yet disciplined energy. Toni Iommi, Black Sabbath’s main creative musical force, not only gives us the typical extroverted Black Sabbath heavy metal, bass-and-guitar-driven numbers but two fine introspective guitar compositions, “Embryo” and “Orchid” and the reflective “Solitude”, with Iommi also playing piano and flute, providing welcome contrast to the longer, heavier works. There may be a limited amount number of times those heavier works can be listened to, but certainly they stand up to repeated playings when driving down the road, exercising, dancing or otherwise shaking up an aging body.
Peter Hammill: Fool’s Mate
Fool’s Mate is Peter Hammill’s first solo album, filled with various, unrelated songs that were either not considered as appropriate Van Der Graaf Generator material, or were not written with VDGG in mind. Nonetheless the full VDGG lineup (Hugh Banton, David Jackson and Guy Evans) is here, and is further, supplemented by guitarist Robert Fripp on half the tracks and former VDGG bassist Nic Potter also on six of the twelve tracks. The music ranges from catchy and upbeat “Happy”, and “Sunshine” to the introspective and even heartbreakingly dark and gloomy, with the most indispensible gem being the timeless “Vision”, one the best love songs of the entire seventies.
Guess Who: So Long, Bannatyne
Also released in July 1971, the Guess Who’s succulently dissonant So Long, Bannatyne — the album sharing the title of one of the songs that reflect the guitarist Kurt Winter’s move from the Bannatyne Apartments on Bannatyne Avenue in central Winnipeg to the Chevrier district a few miles south.
It is the liberal use of dissonance and jazz-related elements that sets the album apart from earlier Guess Who albums, making this their overall best album, despite most rock critics opinions to the contrary. Whether its “Going A Little Crazy” with its jarring, dissonant recurring ostinato, the jaunty “Grey Day” with Burton’s scat singing, his dissonant jazz-based piano accompaniment and subsequent piano solo, followed by Winter’s jazzy acoustic guitar solo, or the subtly bitter “Sour Suite”, many of the songs here are neither typical pop or Guess Who songs. Strings are also used for appropriate enhancement and both Burton Cumming’s vocals and piano are at their best throughout the album, with piano nicely supporting Greg Leskiw’s banjo and vocals on “One Divided.”
Isaac Hayes: Shaft, Moody Blues: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Joan Baez: Blessed Are…, Deep Purple: Fireball
Other notable albums include the classic Isaac Hayes 2 LP Shaft, the almost impressionistic Every Good Boy Deserves Favour from The Moody Blues, Joan Baez’s two LPs and one 33 1/3 45 Blessed Are… album, and the hard-to-categorize and somewhat uneven, but mostly danceable (at least at the time), Deep Purple’s Fireball. I still remember hearing the song, Shaft in 1971 on the bus to and from school and impressed by its larger than life sound even through those somewhat shoddy school-bus speakers.
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.
Caravan releases their third album, In the Land of Grey and Pink, on April 8,1971. Richard Sinclair takes a more prominent role providing three of the four songs on side one with his cousin, keyboardist Richard Sinclair, providing much of the music and compositions for side two.
Though not particularly popular upon its release, and difficult to spot in any record store in the U.S. in 1971, over time the album has gotten more attention, eventually achieving gold status. This third album, notably better than the previous two Caravan albums, particularly benefits from Richard Hitchock’s contributions as the producer (the same person who would produce Genesis’s Foxtrot the next year), the relatively generous studio time allocated, and the work ethic and level of creativity of the musicians.
The album opens with the sounds of trombone and percussion that begin Richard Sinclair’s “Golf Girl”, a playful homage to the woman Richard would shortly marry, followed by the initially reflective and more exploratory “Winter Wine.” The Pye Hastings composition that follows, “Love to Love You” is more pop than progressive but benefits nicely from contributions on flute by Pye’s brother Jimmy Hastings. The final track, the title track written by Richard Sinclair, provides a strong close to side one with notable contributions on keyboards from Dave Sinclair.
Side two, taken up by the single composition, “Nine Feet Underground”, is really a medley of multiple unrelated compositions nicely balanced against each other. Like side one, the band is credited for all the music, though in this case Dave Sinclair is the primary composer providing lyrics on one song and getting help on lyrics from Pye Hastings on another. Dave Sinclair’s keyboard work is particularly notable, though there are fine contributions from Pye and cousin Richard, the latter’s bass guitar work being particularly captivating.
The Nice: Elegy
After Emerson was with ELP, and Dave Jackson and Brian Davison were with their respective groups, Charisma released, in April 1971, three live tracks from a December 1969 concert at the Fillmore East plus one studio take of Dylan’s “My Back Pages” as the album Elegy. The first two tracks showcase Keith Emerson’s keyboard skills, and even if some of the piano work doesn’t rise above what the very best jazz pianists might consider merely ordinary, Emerson has a way of creating narrative-like instrumental performances that are as engaging and musically satisfying making both tracks on side one special listening experiences. On side two of the original LP we get a trio-version of The Nice performing the scherzo from Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony and an timeless document of the trio, with Emerson on electric organ, tackling Leonard Bernstein’s America. More modern digital releases may include two BBC radio live performances.
Elton John: 11-17-70 (or 17-11-70)
Recorded in the A & R recording studio on 52nd street in New York on November 17, 1970 for a live radio broadcast, 11-17-70 nicely captures the qualities and strengths of the original Elton John trio of Elton, bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson. I first heard part of the album while listening to FM radio sometime in April 1970, and quickly went out and bought the LP. This provided a nice companion to the two studio albums I had purchased in 1970, Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection, and also provided more emphasis on the Elton’s acoustic piano skills and Dee Murray’s electric bass. In many ways this is my favorite Elton John album, capturing this trio at its musical peak. The music was not originally intended to be released on vinyl, but the prevalence of bootleg recordings of the broadcast provided a good economic incentive to do so even though ultimately sales were hampered by competition with such bootlegs including one 2 LP set which included more content than on the 11-17-70 single LP official release. A two LP set was released in April of 2017 containing all the original recording material, though not presented in the original order of the broadcast.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: 4 Way Street
Recorded in the summer of 1970 and released on April 7, 1971, the 4 Way Street live album provides a great overview of how talented these four individuals really were as songwriters and musicians. Material includes a range of music including acoustic tracks on the first two sides of this double LP album, and electric guitar dominated tracks on all but the encore acoustic track on sides three and four. The version to get is the expanded version which includes additional tracks for each artist from the acoustic set of these 1970 performances.
With the popularity of jazz rock in its peak following top selling albums by groups like Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, thirty-six year old fiery trumpeter Bill Chase, previously a member of Stan Kenton, Manyard Ferguson and Woody Herman Big bands, and freelancing at gigs in Las Vegas, formed an eponymous band that featured his virtuosic high register and three additional trumpet players along with keyboards, electric guitar, bass guitar, percussion, and vocals (vocals provided by trumpeters Ted Piercefield and Jerry Van Blair and vocalist Terry Richards.) The group’s first album, with arrangements and some compositions from Bill Chase, was recorded in late 1970 and released in April 1970. Thanks to the success and liberal airplay of “Get it On”, the album sold fairly well, climbing up to position 22 on the albums’ chart that year. The album shares similarities to Blood, Sweat and Tears second and third albums, primarily distinguished and differentiated by Bill Chase’s arrangements, compositional style and the use of four trumpets and no saxes or trombones. Bill Chase would release two more albums before his death in 1974 from a twin-engine plane crash transporting him and other musicians to a county fair in Minnesota.
Doors: LA Woman and Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers
Seemingly an artifact of an earlier era, in a year where rock had now splintered into so many genres, The Doors released their sixth studio album, L.A. Woman, on April 1971, Though having much in common with previous material, with a little more emphasis on a blues-leaning bias, the album contained the notable, somewhat minimalist and moody, almost hypnotic “Riders of the Storm” — a musical piece with more in common with German progressive rock bands than one might expect. All in all a good but not game-changing album.
The Rolling Stones also focused more on a bluesy musical identity, providing a very strong album of more traditional but nonetheless somewhat distinct set of tracks centered around what was apparently the band’s drug culture. My first exposure to the music was from the constant repeated airplay of Brown Sugar and at a high school dance band where the band covered several of the songs on the album. The album may not be particularly complex or sophisticated, but it deserves significant praise for just being plain enjoyable. Listening to it now, in 2021 on Spotify hooked up to a high quality audio system, the album still is vital and full of honest energy. I never bought the album itself, but like many took notice when its unique album cover was first displayed in record stores. Often the zipper was pulled halfway down, done apparently, per Wikipedia, to minimalize damage the zipper would do when albums were tightly packed together for shipment, and not due to curious shoppers fiddling with the front.
Sometime in the midst of the shimmering and wonderful Southern California summer of 1971, my next door neighbor brought over his latest album purchase. I supposed I was predisposed to like the music just from the confident manner in which he handed the album over to me, but I was hardly prepared for the overall excellence and originality of the material. That day he and I sat and listened to this album, my eyes following the lyrics written on the LP inner sleeve, is something I still vividly remember, and, hopefully, be with me for many years going forward.
The first track, the title track, opens up with the now famous isolated, tonally ambiguous, deeply-voiced electric guitar fragment — a riff faithfully foreshadowing the opening melodic phrase (“sitting on a park bench”) — it is but two seconds in length, and repeated before a short percussion utterance pulls in the vocals in dramatic fashion. This material is then layered with additional instruments creating drama and momentum. It is that dramatic quality, that musical and lyrical story telling, that leaves an immediate impression on the listener and, for me, left a locked-in, seemingly ever-lasting memory of listening to that entire album for the first time fifty years ago today.
“Aqualung”, the track, is the classic example of FM album rock with is deviation from standard popular song forms, more mimicking a short classical tone poem where the beginning theme, really an introduction of sorts, is not repeated after its initial use until brought back at the end, separated by distinctly contrasting and somewhat related material in terms of chords and tempo change.
The next track, “Cross-Eyed Mary”, continues the larger-than-life musical experience initiated by the opening track. With its reference again to the Aqualung character, this second track sets up the listener to expect that the album itself is a concept album where the individual tracks support and build up an unfolding story. However, as I continued through that first side fifty years ago, immersed in the amazing music, I was on the look out for, at a subordinate level to listening at the music, hints in the lyrics of some related storyline in the subsequent third, fourth and even fifth tracks on that first side — but eventually and inevitably concluded that there was nothing to relate to those first two tracks, and so by the sixth track I abandoned looking for a unifying concept.
The second side starts much the same implying a relationship between the first two tracks — however, for side two the remaining tracks seem to prove out some loose but unifying concept with these various side two tracks seemingly tied together with reflections on organized religion and social morality and responsibility. Musically, there is no discernible (as far as I can hear) thematic material shared between any track, another reason to set aside the premise that the entire album is any kind of a concept album. What is clear, though, is that the music is innovative, well-thought out and of lasting merit. Fifty years ago, listening to this album, it was clearly one of the best rock albums I had ever heard, and though I didn’t consider at that time its enduring impact on music lovers, I would do so a few year later when I was in college and promoting the idea of a course that would treat such music as the classical music of the 1970s — music more vital and relevant than the so-called modern classical music that was than currently being identified as part of the current classical music canon in academic circles.
Jimi Hendrix: Cry of Love
Prior to his death, Jimi Hendrix was working on this fourth studio album in 1970, with some of the music performed during a thirty-two performance tour in the summer of 1970. Following his death on September 18, 1970, several partially mixed tracks were selected and finalized by drummer Mitch Mitchell and producer Eddie Kramer for inclusion on the new album, omitting two particularly strong tracks, “Dolly Dagger” and “Room Full of Mirrors” for later inclusion on a future album. This was the first Hendrix album I bought, and I found the music readily accessible and some of the lyrics particularly creative. It’s great to listen to this again for the first time in at least forty years and I admit I appreciate the guitar work much better than I did in 1971. Overall, an excellent, easily-accessible and musically sparkling album.
Amon Duul II: Tanz der Lemminge (Dance of the Lemmings)
Sometime around March 1971, Amon Duul II released this eclectic, musically multi-dimensional album. I picked it up from my local record store in the used record bin around 1972 or 1973 little knowing what kind of music it contained. This was my introduction to non-repetitive, so-called “Krautrock. Though I found this too far out on the jam-rock, psychedelic spectrum when I first got it, after later having been exposed to lots of hours of free jazz and modern classical, the music became not only accessible but quite impressive. The first side, written primarily by guitarist/vocalist/violinist Chris Karrer mixes folk-rock influences with a progressive and psychedelic rock mindset, with imaginative acoustic and electric elements. The diversity of incorporated styles works well with no particular given style dominating. The second side, written by guitarist and vocalist John Weinzierl, is another exploration of musical diversity with more emphasis on hard rock, rock-blues and eastern elements including some admirable sitar from Bavarian sitarist Al Gromer (later Al Gromer Khan), some electric violin from Karrer, and some tape-based and electronic sound effects possibly from keyboardist Falk Rogner. The third and fourth side are music created for a soundtrack of a relatively obscure West German Film, Chamsin, based on Friedrich Schiller’s lyrical tragedy, The Bride of Messina. Though this second LP is not as strong or coherent (particularly the fourth side) as the first LP, it works better as sound imagery than traditional or more predictable listening music.
Nick Drake: Bryter Layter
Recorded in 1970 Nick Drake released his second musically impressive but commercially unsuccessful album, in March 6, 1971. The album is delightfully accessible with straight forward, quality musicianship from Drake, John Cale on viola and keyboards, Chris McGregor on piano, and other contributors including quality production from Joe Boyd and beautiful arrangements primarily by Robert Kirby and one arrangement from John Cale. Nick pokes into the marginally uncomfortable areas of “would of, should of” in some of the lyrics, with “One of These Things First” being particularly resonant for anyone that only half-tried in a relationship, later regretting the lack of engagement or commitment and “Poor Boy” an intriguing study in self-pity and self-contempt. Musically, “At the Chime of the City Clock”, “Fly” and “Poor Boy” are particular gems.
With addition of Steve Howe replacing Peter Banks on guitar, The Yes Album, released on February 19, 1971, is the first truly full-throttle Yes album, essential to lovers of both rock and progressive rock. The album’s first track, “Yours is No Disgrace”, unfolds much like one of those classical music gems of 19th century nationalism creating a sense of expectation of musical discovery or an exploratory musical journey, starting with Bill Bruford on drums reinforcing Chris Squire’s bass line (giving it a particular metallic edge) joined by a counter-motif from Tony Kaye on organ that shifts into the opening melodic passage soon joined by propelling, exhilarating guitar work from Steve Howe. Vocals, and a corresponding new musical section, arrive and within the first two minutes the album establishes its essential place in rock music history. Thematic contrast, thematic transformation, and thematic development are all present in the remainder of the track, but even more important the music is strikingly interesting and compelling.
The rest of the album is just as essential and compelling with Steve Howe live on solo guitar on “The Clap”, the landmark “Starship Trooper” which still gets airplay today, fifty years later, the accessible “I’ve Seen All Good People”, an edit of which received heavy AM airplay in the last three months of 1971, the bouncy and engaging “A Venture” which looks both backward and forward to their previous and their next albums, and the near-epic “Perpetual Change”, with its soaring, recurring bridge section that connects the two main melodies and the contrasting middle section with its first part a jazz-like guitar excursion and the second part another of those distinct Bruford/Squire pairings that represents one of the most identifiable aspects of the classic Yes sound. As with their next two albums, this album thrives on repeated listenings and never disappoints when revisited, whether five years later, fifteen years later, or fifty years later.
Carole King: Tapestry
Although, The Yes Album is my personal favorite, by far, of February 1971, my admiration for Carole King’s Tapestry, her second solo album, released February 10, 1971, and containing one strong track after another, is unbounded. It wasn’t so cool as a sophomore guy in high school to be a fan of artists like Carol King, Joni Mitchell or Carly Simon, but thank goodness these albums were in the record collections of some of my female friends and it didn’t take much to fall in love with this music. Tapestry is possibly without equal in its commercial impact, and the resultant empowering of woman singer songwriters, garnering Grammys for Album of the Year, Song of the Year (composition), Record of the Year (single performance/production) and the category of Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. Although “You’ve Got a Friend” is arguably the best composition, “So Far Away” is my personal favorite. How about you? What’s your favorite track?
Miles Davis: Tribute to Jack Johnson
In 1969, Miles Davis boldy proclaimed “I could put together the greatest rock ‘n roll band you ever heard,” and in spirit and attitude, this is definitely Miles Davis’s truest pure rock album even if it doesn’t overshadow all the rest of the fine rock albums of the 1970s. Davis is backed by talented jazz musicians, and though Davis and Teo Macero are primarily responsible for the finished product, the rock essence of the album is also largely due to the rhythm section of Michael Henderson and Billy Cobham with Jon McLaughlin on electric guitar the sum of which concretely establish the undeniable rock textures of this album. This isn’t song-oriented or prog rock, but closer to the blues-rock excursions of Hendrix and his Band of Gypsies.
For both tracks on the original LP, the chords changes are minimal, providing maximum freedom for the improvisors. Particularly interesting is side one where the piece stays in the chord E (or E7) major for the first several dozen bars with Miles making an impressive entrance playing some of the the hardest-edge trumpet imaginable. Often mentioned about this track is when McLaughlin modulates from E to B-flat (the most distant key — with tonic centers a tritone apart) and bassist Michael Henderson continues to stay in E creating an unintended but serendipitous dissonance for several bars until Miles Davis aggressively emphasizes the current key of B-flat, at which point Henderson catches up with the rest of the musicians. Macero edited the two tracks totaling around 53 minutes of music on the album from over six hours of original source music. To access the original source music one can purchase or listen to the 5 CD Complete Jack Johnson set of these sessions available on streaming services like Spotify.
There are several other notable albums including Soft Machine’s jazz-based first all-instrumental fourth album, Fourth, Egg’s mostly instrumental, often-engaging, and always progressive The Polite Force with its wonderful mixed-meter second track “Contrasong” and exploratory, also mixed meter, second side with “Long Piece No.3” parts one, three, and four being particularly notable, Earth, Wind & Fire’s self-titled positive-vibe, love-infused first album, Rita Coolidge’s self-titled debut album, Barbra Streisand’s first foray to engage a younger, hipper audience, Stoney End, Carly Simon’s first album, Carly Simon, and David Crosby’s distinctly Crosby-like debut solo album, If I Could Remember My Name.