I was listening to Danny Baker, the broadcaster, interview his old friend David Hepworth on a podcast today. Mr Hepworth has written a book entitled ‘1971 – Never a Dull Moment’, which works on the theory that 1971 was the Anus Mirabilis of the rock album.
What does this mean? I can hear you ask, dear Wordpretzel. Well, David argues that 1971 was the best year ever for the rock album, when young people changed from purchasing pop singles in favour of rock albums. What’s more, 1971 may have been the year which has never been bettered for the sheer quality of music produced.
I initially thought this may be a bit of an exaggeration – surely every year has its good albums. Until they started to name some of the records released. Let’s start with, for example, Led Zeppelin IV. Led Zep were touring little clubs around the country, trying out their new material, including a rather long ditty called ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
In London, Glyn Johns, the record producer, sat in a studio in Barnes and chatted to Pete Townsend.
“Pete, tell me about Lifehouse,” he said. Pete obliged. ‘Lifehouse’ was Pete’s follow up to ‘Tommy”, and would be a multi-media rock opera, a rather complex and intense affair.
Glyn Johns contemplated Pete’s description for a moment.
“I don’t get it. The band don’t get it. Let’s just make a record,” suggested Johns.
Pete agreed, The Who recorded the songs only and released “Who’s Next”.
Oh, also in London, Pink Floyd were making ‘Meddle’. Rod Stewart had gone solo.Elton John had a hit with ‘Madman Across The Water’. Yes followed up their eponymous album with ‘Fragile’.Genesis had ‘Nursery Cryme’, the album I listened to in 1976 whilst a 17 year old catholic girl absent mindedly ran her fingers through my hair, watched curiously by her 4 younger sisters in their nan’s front room.The Rolling Stones sang ‘Brown Sugar’ from the album ‘Sticky Fingers’, which had a famous record sleeve showing the crutch of a man in jeans, with a working fly zipper…
David Bowie had travelled to the USA, where he met Iggy Pop and the Stooges and Gene Vincent. By December, he’d dyed his hair red and recorded “Hunky Dory”.
Also in America, The Doors released ‘LA Woman’ and ‘Riders on the Storm’, Marvin Gaye sang ‘What’s Going On” , Joni Mitchell created ‘Blue’ and Carole King ‘Tapestry’, also giving a ditty called ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ to James Taylor.
New bands were formed. Paul McCartney, a year on from the writ that disbanded The Beatles, released the album ‘Ram’ with his new band Wings. Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood finished with The Move and formed The Electric Light Orchestra.
On a personal note, Gilbert O’Sullivan released ‘Himself’, an album I played until I wore it out. I was 10 years old and this was a great year to discover music. ‘Have You Seen Her’ by The Chi-Lites, ‘American Pie’ by Don McClean, ‘The Theme from Shaft’ by Isaac Hayes, ‘Say You Don’t Mind’ by Colin Blunstone, ‘I’m Eighteen’ by Alice Cooper. The list goes on.
Danny Baker made two great observations.
Firstly,If you watch any TV show or film from 45 years ago, they would look dated and old. However, play any songs from the albums mentioned alone and they could have been released last week. Play ‘Changes’ or ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and it will be as familiar to a 24 year old as it is to a 64 year old.
Secondly, that the observation that things change incredibly quickly in the modern world is something of a myth. If we turn back the clock 10 years from now to 2006, very little has changed in fashion or music, the two years are almost interchangeable. But study the decade 1961 to 1971 and the changes were seismic. From Teddy boys and rockers and mods to hippies and heads. To me, Teddy boys and rock and roll seemed ancient; I was a punk in 1976, only a decade after the summer of love.
Perhaps it’s just perception, but I don’t think so. 1971 wasn’t my generation, so I have no bias. Now I can sort of forgive all my friends who never musically moved out of the 1970s…
(check out David Hepworth’s playlist on Spotify – 1971 – Never a Dull Moment).