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1971 Part 2 “All You’ve Got to Do is Call”

May 13, 2016

While music from the UK dominated the rock scene in 1971, there was also important American music particularly in the folk-rock and R&B genres. To be sure, my album collection swelled in 1971 largely because of British artists such as Yes, the Who, the Moody Blues, McCartney, Lennon, ELP, Jethro Tull and the Rolling Stones. However, I also enjoyed a number of American albums and singles as well.

Folk-Rock and Soft Rock Remain Dominant

Folk- rock morphed into soft rock in 1971 and became the dominant form of American rock music.

The album of the year was from singer-songwriter Carole King who released Tapestry  in early 1971, her second solo album and by far and away her best. The album features the two side hit “It’s Too Late/I Feel the Earth Move” (#1 June) as well as the beautiful and mournful “So Far Away” (#14 Oct) “…doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore…”. But the album had much more – two outstanding sides of music and no weak tracks. Side 1 not only features King’s newer solo hit songs (e.g. “It’s Too Late”, “I Feel the Earth Move”, “So Far Away”) but also new songs such as “Beautiful” a song that I still find very inspiring on depressing days “You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart, and people gonna treat you better, they’re gonna find…that you’re as beautiful as you feel”. Side 2 is dominated by her old 1960s standards made famous by Aretha Franklin “A Natural Woman” , the Shirelles “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and her friend James Taylor (“You’ve Got A Friend”) but all sung and performed adeptly by Carole. Side 2 also includes the excellent tune “Where You Lead” which is noteworthy for its inclusion as the theme song in the hit TV series “Gilmore Girls”, a show I used to enjoy watching with my daughters. (Carole also appears as a record store owner during one episode with her hit song written for the Monkees “Pleasant Valley Sunday” playing in the background. Naturally, I couldn’t help but notice the intentional coincidence!).

James Taylor released his third solo album Mud Slide Slim but it wasn’t nearly as good an album as his second Sweet Baby James. However, it did feature one outstanding song, Taylor’s beautiful version of “You’ve Got a Friend” (#1 July). This was to be Taylor’s only #1 hit on the charts during his entire, still ongoing career. “Long and Ago and Far Away” was also an album highlight and managed to chart in the top 40 in November. Both songs were enhanced considerably by backing vocals from Joni Mitchell. While I will admit that I am not a fan of most of Joni Mitchell’s music, I also must acknowledge the release of Joni’s Blue album in 1971 which is critically acclaimed as one of the best albums of all time. My favorite songs on this album are “California” and “Case of You”.

Likewise, I was not a John Denver fan, but it was impossible to ignore his early music during 1971-72. In 1971, he released his first single “Take Me Home Country Roads” (#2 in June) which along with “Rocky Mountain High” from 1972 represented the two best songs he ever recorded.

Chicago III was a disappointment after Chicago’s very strong first two albums. It did feature two pretty good songs – “Free” (#20 Mar.) and “Lowdown” (#35 June). However, the highlight of the year for Chicago was the release of two excellent double-sided hit singles excerpted from Chicago’s first two albums –  “Beginnings/ Colour My World” (#7 Aug.) and “Questions 67 and 68/ I’m A Man” (#24 Nov.).

It was also hard to ignore the Grateful Dead who received significant FM airplay during 1971 (but no top 40 radio airplay) due to the critical success of two of their best albums released during the last half 1970 – Workingman’s Dead (June 1970) and American Beauty (Nov. 1970). I first discovered the Dead hearing the song “Truckin” being played on the radio at our snack shop at my prep school in the fall of 1971. While I never became a big fan and never owned any of their albums,  I grew to like many of their classic songs particularly from these two albums. In addition to “Truckin”, this included “Sugar Magnolia”, “Friend of the Devil”. “Casey Jones” (“riding that train, out of Cocaine, Casey Jones you better watch your speed”) and my favorite by them “Uncle John’s Band”. At their best, the Dead reminded me of an advanced form of electric folk-rock a la the Byrds, which is no small compliment.

Singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson released the album Nilsson Schmilsson in November. The album included his best-selling single and one of his best songs “Without You” (#1 Feb. 1972) which was written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger.  The album also included two other interesting singles that were to reach the top 40 in 1972 — “Cocoanut” (“you put the lime in the cocoanut”)  and “Jump in the Fire”.

Other good soft -rock/ pop singles included:

  • Neil Diamond – “I am, I said” (#4 May)
  • Canadian Gordon Lightfoot – “If You Could Read My Mind” (#5 Feb)
  • Richie Havens – “Here Comes the Sun” (#16 May) was an excellent cover of this George Harrison song and Havens only chart success. Havens was aptly described by Rolling Stone as “a black singer with a percussive, strummed guitar style” and fittingly began this song with a lengthy acoustic guitar intro.
  • Three Dog Night “Joy to the World” (#1 Apr.) despite being overplayed on the radio (it was the #1 song of the year) I still find enjoyable. Likewise I liked the Paul Williams composition “Old Fashioned Love Song” (#4 Dec.) which Three Dog Night did a nice rendition of.
  • Brewer and Shipley “One Toke Over the Line” (#10 Mar.). with an assist from the Dead’s Jerry Garcia who played steel guitar.
  • Stampeders “Sweet City Woman” (#8 Oct)- This Canadian group, fittingly from Calgary, had their only top 40 hit in 1971. I like this song for its banjo lead and a nice tune. “bon c’est bon, bon c’est bon…”
  • Fifth Dimension – “Light Sings” (#45 June). OK, I admit this is a strange and obscure one. However, it is on the list because it became a sort of theme song during a June 1971 four-day hiking trip in the Adirondacks. One of my hiking friends had brought along a radio and during a day of rain and thunderstorms when we remained in our lean-to, we kept hearing this song on the local station (which makes you wonder about that radio station’s play list). However, dampened by the rain and storms, we thought the Fifth Dimension was singing, “Lightning all over the world”.

Lastly, The Carpenters “For All We Know”(#3 Mar), “Rainy Days and Mondays” (#2 Jun.) and “Superstar” (#2 Oct.) remained the most successful duo in 1971. As I have noted before in an earlier post about 1970, I was never a fan because the production of their songs was simply too saccharin. But Karen Carpenter had an exquisite voice and with “Rainy Days and Mondays” her rendition was outstanding and eerily prescient given her later affliction with anorexia/depression and her eventual early death. “Hangin’ around, nothin’ to do but frown, rainy days and Mondays always get me down”

“Rockin’ in the U.S.A.”

Hard rock was still alive and well in the U.S. though three rock mainstays of the past several years were to have their lives ended in their twenties between September 1970 and  July 1971. In addition, a major supergroup was to have its last commercial successes in 1971 and disband in 1972.

The Doors last album with Jim Morrison , LA Women, was released on April 19, 1971 (coincidentally on the same day of our wedding exactly 15 years later – not sure what this says about our marriage!). (Morrison died three months later in July.) The album is uneven but did have three of the best songs the group ever recorded. This included the singles “Love Her Madly” (#11 May) and “Riders on the Storm” (#14 Aug.) , though in the latter case the album included the much better, seven minute version of the song with Ray Manzarek’s excellent keyboard solo. The title cut from the album, “L.A. Women”, is vintage Doors and was largely written by the all the Doors members jamming together. The result was nearly an 8 minute rock masterpiece, best known for it’s oft-repeated, drug reference “mojo rising”. I did like several other cuts on the album, but these three are far and away the highlights.

Janis Joplin had her last album overall and second solo album Pearl which was released posthumously in January 1971 (Joplin died on October 4, 1970 of a heroin overdose). The album was by far her best (including those that she did as the lead singer for Big Brother and the Holding Company). It features three superb songs “Me and Bobby McGee” (#1 Mar.) , “Move Over” and “Cry Baby” (#42 June). It was a unique album full of the blues and country influences and of course, Joplin’s raspy and distinctive voice. Only a few weeks earlier, Jimi Hendrix had died of a drug overdose on September 18, 1970 at the age of 27. But it seemed thereafter that FM radio stations were paying homage for the remainder of 1970 and most of 1971, constantly playing Hendrix songs from all his albums.

1971 was to prove to be the last full year Creedence Clearwater Revival was together as a group.  It was also the last time that they were to reach the top ten singles chart with the double-sided hit “Have You Ever Seen the Rain / Hey Tonight” (Mar #8)  and  “Sweet Hitchhiker” (Aug #6). All three of these songs were from the Pendulum album released in December 1970. “Sweet Hitchhiker” and “Hey Tonight” were excellent rockers, featuring some fine guitar playing by John Fogerty and brother Tom. “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” was a country-rock ballad and a great tune with John Fogerty’s excellent vocals. The official swan song of the group was “Someday Never Comes” (#25 June 1972) their last single as a group from their final sub par album Mardi Gras. The group officially disbanded in October 1972.

With the success of the Abraxas album,  Santana released several singles from the album (see 1970 blog post) and then followed with the Santana III album in 1971. While I did not own it, I do remember liking three songs from this 1971 album : (1) “Everybody’s Everything” (#12 Nov.) was a spirited, fully orchestrated tune; (2) “No One to Depend On” (#36 March 1972) was more typical of Santana – a latin rocker sound that intoned “I AIN’T got nobody that I can depend on” and (3) “Everything’s Coming Our Way” was a more sedate song featuring Carlos Santana both singing AND playing the high notes.

There were several other harder rock/pop singles that I enjoyed in 1971:

  • The Five Man Electrical Band from Ontario, Canada released “Signs” (#3 Aug). How can you not love a song with lyrics such as – “And the sign said ‘Long Haired Freaky People Need Not Apply’ “.
  • “Superstar” –Murray Head (#14 on charts for 24 weeks from Jan – June) was the highlight song of the broadway musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” and certainly my favorite. ( Australian Helen Reddy had her first single – “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” (#13 Jun.) taken from the score of Jesus Christ Superstar as well).
  • The Grass Roots had three formulaic hits:  ‘Temptation Eyes’ (#15 Mar.), ‘Sooner or Later” (#9 July) , “Two Divided by Love” (#16 Nov.) which all seem to have their roots from the earlier hit “Midnight Confessions”. Nonetheless, the formula was excellent and I enjoyed all three, though particularly the upbeat “Sooner or Later” “love is gonna get you, it’s just a matter of time…”.
  • Alice Cooper-“Eighteen” (#21 Apr.) was the band’s first single and an excellent rock song. I liked the song even more about one year later when I turned 18. “I’m Eighteen and I like it”.

Soul and R&B

Soul and R&B music was excellent in 1971, but it was no longer the Supremes that dominated a la the late 1960s. The king of soul and of Motown was none other than Marvin Gaye who had an outstanding album What’s Going On  and three excellent singles/songs from the album. “What’s Going On” (#2 April) was the best of the three. But I also really liked “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)” (#4 in Aug.) and “Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)” (#9 in Nov.).

Stevie Wonder had two great songs in 1971. The first  “We Can Work it Out” (#13 Apr) is THE BEST COVER of a Beatles song ever. Stevie took a soft rock song sung by McCartney and turns it into an R&B classic. The second “If You Really Love Me” (#8 Oct) was co-written by Stevie Wonder and his first wife Syreeta Wright and is another excellent Wonder tune.

The Temptations had their first #1 hit “Just My Imagination” (#1 in Mar./April) in two years. The song is a beautiful soul ballad written by Whitfield/Strong  (who wrote most of the Temptation songs during the 60s and early 70s) with a stellar lead vocal by Eddie Kendricks. The Temps also had a good song at the end of the year with “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” (#18 Dec.).

Outside of Motown, Aretha Franklin had a strong comeback year and had her first top ten hit since 1968. The undisputed “Queen of SouL” Aretha scored with two highly successful covers – the first with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (#6 June) and the second with Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem” (#2 Sept). The latter song remains one of my favorite remakes and one of Aretha’s best. Aretha finished up the year with the excellent “Rock Steady” (#9 Nov).

But outside of the perennial soul hit makers, there were several soul and R&B songs I really enjoyed:

  • The heavily instrumental  “Theme from Shaft” (#1 Nov) written and performed by Isaac Hayes won the Oscar for best song with Isaac’s soulful performance and the great musical production at the ceremony bringing the house down. This was to be Hayes only top 20 song of his career and one of my favorites of 1971. “They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother f..(shut your mouth!). But I’m talking about Shaft (but we can dig it)”
  • Another #1 song which followed Isaac Hayes at the top of the charts, “Family Affair” (Dec #1) was the last no. 1 or top 10 song for Sly and the Family Stone. The song is unique among the group’s compositions as it represents a definite movement to a funkier sound.
  • One of the best “covers” of the rock era was Ike and Tina Turner‘s  “Proud Mary” (#4 Mar). This was to be the most successful single and by far and away the best song by this duo. What I loved about this song is the way they slowed the CCR version of the song’s tempo down in the first half and used Ike’s slow bass voice to great effect “roll-ing-on-a-riv-er” and then sped it up to faster than anything John Fogerty had ever imagined with Tina Turner’s amazing voice powering the song. Wow!
  • Undisputed Truth – Smiling Faces (#3 Sept) was the first single and only top 40 hit by this R&B trio from Detroit. “Beware of the pat on the back…”
  • Another new artist Bill Withers  scored with the soulful “Ain”t No Sunshine” (#3 Sept). This was the first single for the West Virginia R&B singer/songwriter with his best yet to come. “And I know, I know, I know, I know……”

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Jackson 5, who had continued success with “Mama’s Pearl” (#2 Feb.) and one of the biggest hits of the year “Never Can Say Goodbye” (#2 May). I didn’t care for either very much but if you like child voices, Michael Jackson at 12-13 years old is probably the best you will ever hear.

The Bad and Ugly

American music in 1971 was not all good. For one there was the loss of three major American artists/groups during late 1970/early 1971–Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. It was also the practical end of two major supergroups Creedence Clearwater Revival and Sly and the Family Stone.

And some of the groups and songs were annoying and atrocious and in a few cases both. The Osmonds, an attempted white Mormon clone of the Jackson 5, were horrible. “One Bad Apple” (#1 Feb.) was the epitome of the group, and despite being the #7 ranked song of the year was extremely difficult to listen to unless you like pre-pubescent screeching. As if this wasn’t enough, lead singer Donny Osmond solo hit “Sweet and Innocent” (#7 May) takes the saccharin sweetness and the singing (?) a step further.

Likewise, the Partridge Family “I’ll Meet You Halfway”(#6 June) and “Doesn’t Somebody Want to be Wanted” (#9 Mar) was TV’s way of copying a successful concept and a reasonably good family singing group – The Cowsills – and turning it into something much worse.

And in the category of not really awful, but just downright annoying were  Melanie’s “Brand New Key” (#1 Dec.) (“I got a brand new pair of roller skates, you got a brand new key….)and Cher’s Gypsy’s Tramps and Thieves (#1 Nov.). After hearing these songs enough times on the radio, I wanted Melanie to break her neck roller skating and Cher to be hauled away by the gypsies, tramps and thieves!


But more than in almost any other year, the good in 1971 far outweighed the bad and 1971 was one of the most exciting years for rock. “All you’ve got to do is call”.



From → Music 60s70s

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