He says 1971. But what’s your golden year?
I’ve often though 1971 was a bit of a high spot when it came to rock, but now it’s been confirmed: sort of. According to an English rock journalist with four decades in the music business under his belt, more influential albums were released in 1971 than any other year.
In the new book release, “Never A Dull Moment: 1971 – Rock’s Golden Year”, author David Hepworth maintains 1971 was the year that saw the pop era give way to rock. It was also the year that “invented the album business”, he says.
The UK Spectator magazine agrees, although admitting that Hepworth “does of course know the theory that everybody thinks music was at its best when they were young.”
But as Hepworth writes, presumably with tongue-in-cheek, the “important difference in the case of me and 1971 is that “I’m right”.
The Spectator cites 1971 LPs such historically significant album releases as ‘Hunky Dory’, ‘Led Zeppelin 1V’, ‘Imagine’, ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’, ‘Who’s Next’ and ‘Sticky Fingers’ in Britain. In the USA, they highlight Carol King’s ‘Tapestry’, Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’ and Joni Mitchel’s ‘Blue’.
In Australia, Daddy Cool’s ‘Daddy Who’ was released in 1971 spawning the single, Eagle Rock, which sat at No. 1 for 10 weeks there. I remember Daddy Cool, in London, being promoted on UK TV rock programs as an American band, such was Australia’s standing on rock’s pecking order, in those days before AC/DC.
But how does 1971 stack up for album sales?
While 1971 may have been a golden year in the world of influential rock releases, statistics don’t bear Hepworth’s claim out when it comes to album sales. Led Zeppelin 1V is the only record from 1971 that makes it into the list of the world’s top albums “selling over 30 million copies”.
Of the 32 albums selling more than 30 million, Led Zeppelin 1V only comes in at number 10, great as the album was.
Hepworth, however, serves up “several convincing theories why 1971 proved so special,” wrote the Spectator, including the fact that the “history of recorded sound had reached the golden moment when technology became a help and wasn’t yet a hindrance.
“A modern click track, say, certainly would have prevented Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll from speeding up the way it does – but at what cost to the overall feel?”
In the next tier down, the albums selling “selling over 20 million copies”, only one other 1971 album made it in: Carol King’s Tapestry at number 40.
1971: the year the rock standard began to take shape
For me, 1971 was a massive year. As the Spectator says, “Only in 1971 did the idea of a rock canon first begin to take shape. As so often, the change began with Bob Dylan, who at George Harrison’s ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ performed ancient songs such as Like a Rolling Stone (from six years before).”
I had the pleasure of helping publicise 1971’s ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ triple live album, co-produced by George Harrison and Phil Spector.
The six sides, packaged in an orange box with a 64-page booklet, captured the music of the world’s first celebrity benefit concert. This took place on Sunday, 1 August 1971, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and seems mostly forgotten today. The record was released in December 1971 in Britain and January 1972 in the USA.
Since the Concert for Bangladesh album was on the Beatles’ Apple label, and I was in the press office of CBS Records, I have no idea why we were promoting it. Something to do with lawyers and Bob Dylan, who was on CBS, I believe.
Performing with George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan that day (and also appearing, of course, on the album box set) were Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Badfinger, Jim Horn, Klaus Voorman and Ravi Shanker, amongst others.
The record topped album charts around the world in 1972; and won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1973.
Some more 1971 classics
Other 1971 albums made more memorable since I worked on their press coverage, included ‘Pearl’ by Janis Joplin, who had died just four months earlier; and ‘There’s A Riot Going On’ by Sly & The Family Stone, with its smash single, ‘It’s A Family Affair’. All three records reached number one in the USA.
I also helped publicise ‘Live Johnny Winter And’; ‘The Inner Mounting Flame’ by Mahavishnu Orchestra (John McLaughlin); ‘Freedom Flight’ by 20-year-old Shuggie Otis; the self-titled ‘New Riders of the Purple Sage’, by the San Francisco psychedelic rock band; ‘Santana’, another self-titled album; the debut self-titled album, ‘R.E.O. Speedwagon’, in the days when they were a loud, hard rocking band; ‘Farther Along’ by The Byrds; ‘Man In Black’ by Johnny Cash; and ‘Live-Evil’ by Miles Davis.
Other classics released in 1971, records I had absolutely nothing to do with, included ‘Hooker ‘n Heat’, (John Lee Hooker with Canned Heat, of course); ‘ZZ Top’s First Album’; ‘Aqualung’, Jethro Tull; ‘Thin Lizzy’, a self-titled album; ditto ‘The Doobie Brothers’; ‘What’s Going On’, Marvin Gaye; ‘Rory Gallagher’ the self-titled solo album by the Irish blues guitarist formerly with Taste; ‘The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions’; ‘Ram’, Paul McCartney; ‘Fog On The Tyne’, Lindisfarne; ‘Tupelo Honey’, Van Morrison; ‘A Nod Is As Good As A Wink … To A Blind Horse’, Faces; ‘Muswell Hillbillies’, Kinks; and ‘The Electric Light Orchestra’, their debut studio album.
Never A Dull Moment, the Spectator says, has “a failingly sharp eye, too, for mischievous facts, such as Eric Clapton agreeing to play for the starving of Bangladesh only if Harrison kept him supplied with his favourite New York heroin.”
That just about sums 1971 up. It was a year when just about everyone was high on something – if only the music.