Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Short List

1971 is for many the nec plus ultra of rock 'n' roll. The long list includes so many stellar LPs that many albums, equally great, are excluded from our full attention by default. Here's a short list of those that lie in the long shadows of LPS like Blue, L.A. Woman, Who’s Next and Led Zeppelin (IV or Zoso, but, like The White Album, these are misnomers):

Jesus Christ Superstar.  Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's controversial and breakthrough recording.  The big hit single was "I Don’t Know How To Love Him," a hit for both Yvonne Elliman (heard on the album) and Helen Reddy.

Carole King, Tapestry. The second biggest seller of 1971, and the second biggest seller of 1972. For several years, this was the best selling album in the history of the world. The biggest single was a double A side: "It’s Too Late, Baby"/"I Feel The Earth Move." She also wrote the song "You’ve Got A Friend," which was a hit for her friend James Taylor (she played piano on his version) before her version charted.

Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On?  Motown gets political on one of the great albums in the label's history (an AM10). Berry Gordy hated the title song, stating he would never release it. Things got bad enough that Marvin went on strike, refusing to do any more recording until the label changed its mind.

Harry Nilsson, Nilsson and Nilsson Schmilsson. Harry Nilsson had a top notch year. His animated TV special, The Point, yielded the hit "Me And My Arrow;" the 1971 re-release of his 1968 album (Nilsson) reintroduced "Everybody’s Talking"and his composition "One" (as in the loneliest number) to the airwaves, and Nilsson Schmilsson brought out two songs that couldn’t be more diverse, "Coconut," a quirky top 40 hit, and the definitive version of Badfinger's "Without You."

Rod Stewart, Every Picture Tells A Story. I'll bet you a pony that when you include all the radio stations on this shiny blue marble, "Maggie May" has been playing somewhere every single second since it was released. Remarkably, it first saw the light of day as a B-side to the single "Reason To Believe." Other great tracks on this record: "Mandolin Wind" and a roaring cover of "(I Know) I’m Losing You." He also did two albums with Faces in 1971, including the song "Stay With Me," played very nearly as often as "Maggie May."

Yes, The Yes Album. The first that Yes recorded with guitarist Steve Howe, with songs so long and complicated that each section has its own name. "I’ve Seen All Good People" is ubiquitous, and "Starship Trooper" and "Yours Is No Disgrace" are every bit as muscular, majestic, and, well, pretty. Nobody else combined these flavors in just this way. 1971 also saw the release of their album Fragile.

Jethro Tull, Aqualung. Another from the list that includes songs played every single day somewhere on earth: the title track, "Locomotive Breath" and "Cross-eyed Mary" among them. A still nearly incomprehensible mix of heavy electric rock and delicate Renaissance folk, this is compelling stuff.

And these are the clinkers...

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