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1971 Part 1 “Listen to the Tide Slowly Turning, Wash All Our Heartaches Away”

April 21, 2016

1971 was a great year for rock/pop music. It was a year of excellent rock albums particularly from the U.K. This completed a conversion begun in the late 1960s, with the LP album supplanting the 45 rpm single in terms of sales revenues and popularity. In my own case, it was also a great year. Prep school actually was fun as I began to engage all types of extracurricular activities (enough said) and increasingly began to branch out from my studies. I visited colleges that summer including Dartmouth with my friend Neil, and Brown with my sister (who was already attending). Meanwhile, my own record buying habits were mimicking the trends in the industry, with my album purchases far greater than singles in 1971.

British Rock Albums Rule!

In 1971, a wealth of British artists released rock albums that were the best or near the best that they ever did. This included The Rolling Stones, The Who, Yes, Jethro Tull, Elton John, Cat Stevens, Moody Blues, Derek and the Dominoes, John Lennon and Paul McCartney: 

My favorite rock album in 1971 was Who’s Next  by the Who released in August. Notably, it contains three Who songs that have emerged as standards – and still played in virtually every concert by the group today – “Behind Blue Eyes”, “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. The last of the three “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (#15 ) remains my favorite song by the group , so much so that I bought it as a single in July before the album had even been released. Little did I know that the single version at 4 minutes in length pales in comparison to the 8 minute rock anthem version on the album. “Behind Blue Eyes”  was also a single (#34 November) which vacillated between a beautiful acoustic guitar ballad and great hard rocker. “Baba O’Riley” is the most interesting Who song on the album and also one of my favorites. It starts with a great synthesizer melody (which continues throughout), builds with opening piano chords, drums , guitar and then vocals “Teenage Wasteland, its only teenage wasteland”.  But all the songs on the album are excellent. From the upbeat “Gettin’ in Tune” “Goin’ Mobile” and “Bargain” to the humorous, semi-autobiographical (for John Entwistle) “My Wife” and the very sad “The Song is Over”.  The musical quality on ALL the songs is unbelievably good , including seamless use of synthesizer, keyboards, and other instruments in addition to Townshend’s usual fine guitar work, John Entwistle’s great bass playing and Keith Moon’s always energetic drumming and ,of course, Daltrey’s vocals.

The Rolling Stones released Sticky Fingers in April and remains one of their best albums of all time. It begins with two excellent Stones singles “Brown Sugar” and the often underrated and my personal favorite, the rock n’ bluesy “Wild Horses”, sandwiching the slow rocker “Sway” on Side 1.  But it also features one of the best Stones album cuts EVER ” Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” a six-minute tour-de-force which ends with a wonderful saxophone solo. Side 2 is good, featuring songs such as “Bitch” and “Dead Flowers” . The former could easily have been a hit single but was relegated to the b-side of “Brown Sugar”.

Rod StewartEvery Picture Tells a Story was Rod Stewart’s third album and by far his best. Released in May, it peaked in popularity in October 1971 (at the same time “Maggie Mae” was #1 on the charts ). It seemed like everyone I knew at boarding school in September owned this album. Side 2 was superb. It featured the mega hit ” Maggie Mae” complete with a nice Renaissance style guitar intro, and Rod’s wonderful singing and lyrics ” you turned into a lover, but mother what a lover, you wore me out ..,.you laughed at all of my jokes”. This was followed by a nice slow ballad “Mandolin Wind” featuring Ron Wood’s mandolin and guitar playing. The third track was the up-tempo, rock-n-roll extraordinaire version of the Temps “I’m Losing You” . The final track “Reason to Believe” featured Stewart’s great vocals on this Tim Hardin song “….knowing you lied straight-faced while I cried, still I love to find a reason to believe…”. The autobiographical title cut “Every Picture Tells a Story” gets Side 1 off to a rollicking start, an excellent rock song chock full of wonderful lyrical imagery “Shanghai Lil , never used the pill, she claimed it ‘just ain’t natural’, she took me up on deck and bit my neck…”. The rest of Side 1 is not nearly as good, though Stewart’s cover of “That’s All Right” ( Presley’s first single that was released in 1954) is excellent.

Madman Across the Water by Elton John was released in November 1971. It was a Christmas day, 1971 gift along with a pair of new headphones. And what a great gift! The album remains one of my favorites. Side 1 is particularly strong with the first two cuts, “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon” two of John’s best song compositions. What makes this album so great is the great use and integration of orchestration along with Elton’s piano and backing guitar and bass. This is probably most evident with the final cut on Side 1 “Madman Across the Water”, an excellent song made even better with the sweeping feel of a full orchestra and Elton’s great emotionally charged vocals. But Side 2 is pretty good too, with “Holiday Inn” being my favorite, but “Rotten Peaches” and “All the Nasties” also standouts. Even the slower paced  “Indian Sunset” is quite good and very interesting after several listenings.

Elton John , Elton’s first album, was released at the end of 1970, but for all practical purposes became popular in early 1971 with Elton’s first top 10 single “Your Song” (Jan. #8) a beautiful love song. The album was almost the equal of Madman… with brilliant songs such as “Sixty Years On”, “The King Must Die” and “Take Me to the Pilot”. Elton had two more album releases in 1971 but neither were as good as is first or his last album of the year.

The Yes Album was released by Yes in February 1971. Though the third album by the group, this was their first commercially successful album. The album is built around four long songs, almost mini rock symphonies. Side 1 includes “Yours is No Disgrace” and “Starship Trooper”, both nearly 10 minutes long, that showcase the group’s musical strengths– Steve Howe’s guitar, Chris Squire’s bass guitar, Bill Bruford’s drums, Tony Kaye’s keyboards, and Jon Anderson vocals. (In between the two long songs is sandwiched “The Clap” , a short yet excellent acoustic guitar solo by Steve Howe.)  Side 2 has the best song on the album “I’ve Seen All Good People” which has two parts “Your Move” a gorgeous tune sung very well by Anderson and the rocking chant “All Good People”.  “Perpetual Change” the last of the four major songs of the album, is almost as good as the other three. In listening to this album MANY times, I am fascinated not just by the great basic melodies, verses and bridges but the intricacy of the different musical lines of the songs from Howe’s multiple guitar chord progressions and Chris Squire’s very distinctive bass lines. All four long songs are incredibly catchy. I defy anyone to listen to them several times and not get sucked into the music. And for that reason every time I listen, I find myself wishing the songs wouldn’t ever end. This was one of only a few albums that I literally wore out and had to replace several years later.

To those regular readers of this blog, it will come as no surprise that one of my favorite albums of 1971 was Every Good Boy Does Favor by the Moody Blues. The album begins with the intro song “Procession” which nicely segues into “The Story in Your Eyes” (#23 Sept.) which was one of my favorite songs of the year. But all the songs on the album are very good with particular highlights including “Our Guessing Game”, “One More Time to Live” and “You Can Never Go Home”. While rock critics often denounced the Moody Blues for their pretentiousness, there is little question that they wrote great melodies (most notably Justin Hayward) and sang and played them well. There was strong evidence of this on EGBDF.

Folk rocker, Cat Stevens (nee Steven Georgiou in London) had his first major successes in 1971 with the albums “Tea for the Tillerman” (released at the end of 1970 and peaked in the Spring of 1971) and “Teaser and the Firecat” released in the fall of 1971. Of the two albums, “Tea …” was my favorite with Cat’s first single “Wild World” (#11 in April) the headliner of the album. But the album had much more, including a father and son talking past one another in a great tune “Father and Son” ( “find a girl, settle down if you want you can marry, look at me I am old but I’m happy”), the brilliant and spirited “Miles from Nowhere” (“guess I’ll take my time”), and three other beautiful songs “On the Road to Find Out” , “Hard Headed Women” and “Where do the Children Play?” (“I know we’ve come a long way, we’re changing day-to-day but tell me…” ). In fact, there is not a weak cut on the album. Teaser and the Firecat is not as consistent but was the source of three beautiful songs “Moon Shadow” ( #30 Aug), “Peace Train” (#7 Oct.) and Morning Has Broken (#6 May 1972).

In hindsight, Aqualung  released in April 1971 was Jethro Tull at it’s best. Though I enjoyed it and bought it when it came out, I gravitated towards Thick as a Brick released in 1972, which I passed out listening to on headphones on more than a few occasions freshman year in college. However, Aqualung has stood the test of time much better. The album is excellent from the opening title track which remains the best known on the album, to the last track “Wind Up”. It has a nice mix of acoustic guitar, piano, electric guitar and Ian Anderson’s ever-present flute. In addition to the title track, my favorites on the album include “Locomotive Breath” (“in the suffering madness of the locomotive breath”) , “My God” ( “oh lean upon him gently”), “Hymn 43” (“And Jesus saves, well he better save himself”) and “Cross Eyed Mary”.   

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominoes was released in November 1970, but only began to receive U.S. airplay in 1971. The group was formed during the summer of 1970 and included Eric Clapton (guitar), Bobby Whitlock (keyboards), Jim Gordon (drums and piano on “Layla”), and Carl Radle (bass). Notably, Duane Allman played slide guitar on most of the tracks of the album. I can remember enjoying hearing the shorter single version of “Layla” (#51 May ) on the radio in the spring of 1971. But this joy turned into rapture when I discovered the 7 minute album version including the Jim Gordon’s piano that dominates the second half of the song. Eventually, “Layla” would be released as a 7 minute single in early 1972 and it would not only become the centerpiece of the album, but one of rock’s most famous songs. But the album had much more, which I only appreciated with the passage of time. For one, it was largely written by Clapton in response to his torture of being in love with Pattie Boyd, who was his friend George Harrison’s wife. This is evident lyrically and vocally throughout most of the songs of the double album. Musically, in addition the fine guitar and keyboard playing, the songs “Tell the Truth”, “Bell Bottom Blues”, “Keep on Growing”, “Key to the Highway” , “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad” and a cover of Hendrix’s “Little Wing” are all standouts on the album.

Last but certainly not least, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, produced their second solo albums in 1971. Perhaps it was a sign of the strength of British rock music generally that neither had the same reception as their first solo efforts in 1970. Nonetheless, they were solid if not spectacular albums. Lennon’s Imagine featured the title track “Imagine” (#3 Nov. 1971), arguably Lennon’s best solo effort but there were other very good songs on the album ranging from the self-aware “Jealous Guy”, to the vitriolic “How Do You Sleep?” aimed at Paul, the political “Gimme Some Truth” , the love song “Oh My Love” and the happy and upbeat “Oh Yoko”. Though arguably not as good overall, the album was much more polished than Lennon’s outstanding raw “primal scream” therapy, first album.

McCartney’s second album Ram was released in the early summer. The album was critically panned at the time (unfairly in my view ) though it was viewed more favorably with the passage of time. The album includes my favorite single by McCartney in the post-Beatles era, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” which like many McCartney singles has meaningless lyrics, but has an outstanding melody and vocals by Paul. But there are several other very good songs. I really liked the interesting love song “Back Seat of My Car” and the country rock “Heart of the Country”. “Too Many People” is a more up tempo rocker which has several slights aimed at John “Too many people preaching practices, don’t let them tell you want to be…” (allegedly John retaliated with the song “How Do You Sleep?”). “Monkberry Moon Delight” is hard-rocking drug song featuring McCartney’s “rough” rock voice, which has grown on me over the years. And Linda’s backing vocals are strong for a change. All in all a pretty solid album. McCartney started the year with his first solo single “Another Day” (#5 April) a very enjoyable soft rock-pop song, which would have fit perfectly both musically and lyrically on Ram, but for unknown reasons was not on the album, or any album until a Greatest Hits collection much later. McCartney was repeating a pattern very prevalent with the Beatles which included singles such as “Paperback Writer” and “Hey Jude” which were not on any album, until much later hit collections.  

More British Hits

In addition to the supergroups and stars noted above, other British artists produced some other very good songs and singles:

  • Procol Harem released the album Barricades with its highlight song “Simple Sister” a brilliant long instrumental infused rocker featuring Robin Trower at his best (his last album with the group) with excellent guitar licks throughout.
  • “I’d Love to Change the World” (#40 Oct.) by Ten Years After was one of my favorite singles of the year. It is wonderful hard rocker with Albin Lee playing a great lead guitar, but lyrically might be quite politically incorrect these days. “Everywhere there’s freaks and hairies, dykes and fairies tell me where there’s sanity”.  (Though some would say they were being “ironic” since they were long hairs, however, I wonder how much that would matter these days, irony being lost in the “gotcha” environment of the internet.)
  • Ringo Starr had his first post-Beatles top 40 song “It Don’t Come Easy” (#4 June) , an excellent rocker, ably assisted by the backing vocals of Badfinger. This has always been my favorite Ringo solo song.
  • Though I was never much of an Emerson, Lake and Palmer fan, it was hard not to notice the artistic cover (white dove on a green background) of the group’s first album Emerson, Lake and Palmer and particularly the album’s only single “Lucky Man” (#48 but on the charts for 19 weeks) as the best song the group ever produced.
  • “I Hear You Knocking” (#4 Feb) by Welshman  David Edmunds is an interesting rock rendition of an old R&B song by Smiley Lewis from 1954. The guitar sound is a unique twangy sound that permeated T. Rex songs like “Bang a Gong” two years later.
  • “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (#1 Aug.) by the Bee Gees represented the pinnacle of their success as soft rock balladeers. I always liked the tune and rendition, although it is admittedly very schmaltzy. Earlier in the year the group also scored with another good song “Lonely Days” (#3 Jan.), but it wasn’t until 1975 when the Bee Gees shifted to disco that they were to have another top 10 song.
  • “Here Comes that Rainy Day Feeling” (#15 July) by the Fortunes was the group’s first big hit since “You’ve Got Your Troubles” six years earlier and it was to be their last. I love this song for its cheery upbeat melody and tempo even though it is about depression of all things!


All and all, 1971 was an amazing year for British rock, but across the Atlantic, rock music was far from dead. But that will have to wait until my next post.



From → Music 60s70s

  1. Neil permalink

    Wow what a year. By the way it was Middlebury not Dartmouth we visited that summer from Elk Lake!

  2. Yes, I remember Middlebury too. But I seem to remember a long bus ride from NYC, a tour of Dartmouth and then watching the movie “Willard” that night , featuring Ernest Borgnine as the bad boss who gets eaten by the rats in the end. Is my memory failing?

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