1971 was a tremendous year for music. Not as good as 1970 or 1969, but better than 1960, 1975, 1983, 1998 and 2003. It should be noted, the quality of a given year is calculated by proprietary software developed by Y! Music. Only a select few of us have been given access to this incredible program. For example, John Kordosh, of the super-fine Framed! Blog, is not allowed to use it, because "it will just confuse him." The software does not recognize Gummo or Wall Girl.
If you don't see your favorite album from 1971 on this list, it will likely show up on Part Two.
24) Lee Hazlewood - Requiem For An Almost Lady: While you should never judge a book by its cover, this album cover is so cool that you have to hear the music inside. And look at that album title! Hazlewood albums from this period are all essential, since he isn't afraid to talk through parts and the basic quartet here makes everything sound like an indie-rock album on Secretly Canadian. Like a low-rent Leonard Cohen. Or a high-class Rod McKuen.
Isaac Hayes - Shaft, Black Moses: By releasing the soundtrack to a now cult favorite movie and a double album in the same year that opened into the shape of a cross, Isaac Hayes declared 1971 the year of Isaac. Such Biblical-type proclamations made quite a stink among people who don't like this sort of thing. Everyone else bought the albums and were happy.
22) Dust - Dust: Featuring future Richard Hell / Ramones drummer Marc Bell, world-class bassist Kenny Aaronson, and Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise, who produced the first two Kiss albums, Dust were progenitors of the heavy metal movement, a movement "the kids" would bring to the top of the charts and eventually turn into an antisocial music that continues to cause hearing loss and to freak parents out across the country.
Amon Duul II - Tanz der Lemminge: I love when I read stuff like "Tanz der Lemminge isn't the easiest Amon Dull II album to get into..." Like their other work sounds like AM radio! Fact is, all the great German bands of the 1970s were virtually ignored the first time around. But their influences can be heard in a slew of British bands from the late 1970s who often managed to get credit for the sound themselves. I didn't read (m)any reviews of Public Image Limited records that mentioned Can (poised to appear in Part Two of this blog), Amon Duul II or Neu! A conspiracy or laziness?
20) The Last Poets - This Is Madness: Again, another great album cover and title. Two poets and a percussionist listed among the personnel. "White Man's Got a God Complex" is something everyone on Wall Street should sing in their spare time. The album instead made major inroads among what became the hip-hop community. Except these guys weren't about bling. (There was no such thing in 1971.)
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Tarkus: That's one angry Armadillo on the cover. Apparently, it's meant to represent the military-industrial complex, which back in 1971 was still a quaint idea yet to completely rule over people's lives. Hey man, pass the Xanax.
18) Sly and the Family Stone - There's A Riot Goin' On: At the time of its release, Riot received mixed reviews for sounding muddy, lethargic and generally down compared to the upward movement of Stand! But, in retrospect, the album sounds much better and is considered a classic. Kind of like the way the older you get the more everyone under thirty looks better.
Yoko Ono - Fly: These days the world has come around to Ono's way of doing things. Besides, how "out there" can an album with Eric Clapton, Jim Keltner and John Lennon really be? Sure, it's not "conventional," but it isn't like they forgot how to play upon entering the studio. I'd think they had a great time playing these songs. Much better than anything by Half Japanese.
16) Bill Cosby - Talks To Kids About Drugs: It won a Grammy Award in 1972 for Best Recording for Children. But this public service announcement can be enjoyed by people of all ages. "Captain Junkie" alone is a track worthy of the Rolling Stones. Or Zoogz Rift.
The Who - Who's Next: There are those who dislike this album because they've heard it so many times it's become irrelevant. But that's not the album's fault. The synth loops, Moon's explosive drumming and Townshend's songwriting are pretty damn great. Like Live At Leeds, The Who sound like a different band than the one that hung around the 1960s. Is that the problem?
14) David Bowie - Hunky Dory: Ah yes, the album with "Changes" and its b-side "Andy Warhol." I agree with the movement who want Mick Ronson in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ronson is one of rock's overlooked heroes. If you love Hunky Dory, you love Ronson. Simple as that. Next, a movement to have Arthur Lee recognized as well.
Black Sabbath - Master of Reality: Reason #236 why rock albums used to be much better. Look at this Sabbath album. Take out the two instrumentals and you have six songs. Which by today's standards would be about 1/3 of a regular album. Yet, I would rather have a band's six best ideas released alone rather than having to sift through 18 tracks to find the six decent ones. And if a band doesn't know what their six best ideas are, ask someone!
12) Marvin Gaye - What's Going On: An album often noted for its socio-political musings. Which is lovely. But I still think it's the voice.
Led Zeppelin - IV: Funny to think there was a time when Led Zeppelin were new and did not yet have a perpetual contract with radio to play their songs several times a day. As Zeppelin albums go, this one is pretty famous. Every song is known to FM radio listeners. Plus it's an upgrade from Sabbath's six-song monster. Zeppelin gave us eight!
10) Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers: This Stones album took some time getting out. "Brown Sugar" had debuted at Altamont in December 1969. "Sister Morphine" had been cut for Let It Bleed. But when it finally hit in April 1971, it made complete sense as an album for 1971. Are you really going to argue with an album that features "Moonlight Mile"?
Leonard Cohen - Songs of Love and Hate: Another great album with eight cuts, including one that was recorded live at the Isle of Wight. The other seven include "Avalanche," "Dress Rehearsal Rag," "Diamonds in the Mine," "Famous Blue Raincoat" and "Joan of Arc." It's like, are you kidding? Sometimes I wonder if we haven't passed the golden age of folk and rock, the way we're past the golden age of blues and jazz. From I see, we're now in the golden age of computers!
8) Pink Floyd - Meddle: While there are those who worship the Syd Barrett era and those who converge on The Dark Side of the Moon era, I pretty much like anything with Roger Waters and David Gilmour. This album proves their best material was often the longer stuff. For "Echoes" is worth its extended length.
Joni Mitchell - Blue: While Joni would sadly wander off the path by the end of the decade into angry didactic music that was merely ok, back in the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s, she was as great as any first-rate name. Blue is the obvious pick, her most solid album in terms of accessibility and maturity. It used to be my favorite color.
6) Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire de Melody Nelson: The internet allows us to revise history. I don't think that many people were into Serge Gainsbourg back in the 1971. Likely Serge, in the U.S., couldn't steal away 1/10 of James Taylor's audience. But now, albums such as this one are readily available and are quite fun. Music is supposed to be fun, no? Take that Sweet Baby James!
Funkadelic - Maggot Brain: I'd take this one just for the 10-minute guitar solo. How many albums can you say that about?
4) Jethro Tull - Aqualung: Another album of the "classic rock" era where it seems as if every song has ended up on the radio, Aqualung is not noticeably better than previous Tull albums and is not noticeably better than many of the albums on this list, making us (me!) wonder, is it the flute?
T. Rex - Electric Warrior: Here's what I mean. While nearly every track on Aqualung has made it to FM radio, only "Get It On," as in "Bang a Gong," has received noteworthy airplay in the ensuing years. No "Mambo Sun"? No "Cosmic Dancer"? No "The Motivator"? I know T. Rex were no Styx, but still...
2) Don McLean - American Pie: Everyone remembers this album. Everyone owned a copy at some point and then sold it at their garage sale to another generation. The title track is tedious enough, but it's the tear-jerking sentimentality of "Vincent" that drives me up the proverbial wall. Yeah, I could have told you Vincent...like Don was the only one to have any insight into Van Gogh's greatness. How many great modern artists have you discovered, Don?
The Doors - L.A. Woman: Jim Morrison went out as strong as he started. The Doors never recorded a terrible album. But their later concerts were marred by an insistence on pretending they were a blues band with songs like "Money," "Rock Me, Baby" and "Crossroads" showing up on their setlists. But this album took those blues and made them real. The cellophane cover was awesome.