1971 in Music

My reviews for music released in 1971.

1. Miles Davis: A Tribute to Jack Johnson (10/10)

1. Led Zeppelin: [Four Symbols] (10/10)

This is not my favourite Zeppelin album. It’s my 4th or 5th favourite. But, putting aside personal preference, it’s hard to disagree that it’s their best and among the very best hard rock (or early metal) albums ever made.

There’s no filler here; the only filler is maybe “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Four Sticks,” the latter of which I like and the former of which I like part of, and either of which would pass as quality tracks on any of their other albums.

And there’s the symmetry of the record, unlike any other Zeppelin record: each side unfolds the same way, starting with two hard rock/rock and roll songs (that are also shockingly funky), giving way to pure folk music, followed up with perhaps the two most epic tracks in Zeppelin history. If we can put aside Zeppelin’s awful habit of stealing the music of others, there is nothing else like this in early hard rock. (And, even if we must obsess over the fact that both “Stairway” and “Levee” are, at best, inspired by other music or, at worst, stolen outright, they are better than the originals, by leaps and bounds.) These two tracks are the epitome of Zeppelin; they would reach these peaks again, but I don’t know that they ever did so twice on the same record. (Maybe on Physical Graffiti.)

This might be the greatest hard rock album ever. It’s certainly a candidate. But it definitely isn’t my favourite.

Listen to me talk about this record and a few others from this year.

1. Sly and the Family Stone: There’s a Riot Goin’ On (10/10)

I was only familiar with this band from listening to Oldies Radio too much when I was a kid, and from borrowing a Greatest Hits compilation from my dad some time in the last 15 years. Neither of those things could have prepared me for this record.

I don’t know that there was much precedent for a major artist releasing such a drugged-out, angry, confused, murky, dense record. The only comparison I can think of is Neil Young’s “Ditch Trilogy,” and that was recorded well after this record. The fact that this way made when the band was so popular – and that it somehow topped the charts – is just bonkers.

Maybe listening to more contemporary funk might have prepared me for this, but I don’t know if there was anything like this being recorded within that world. It’s hard to imagine anyone, but maybe James Brown (who would have made it more energetic), recording something like this earlier.
It’s clear to me this record has had a massive influence, particularly on Miles’s records in the ensuing years, but certainly on tons of other bands and artists.

Just a remarkable thing.

4. David Bowie: Hunky Dory (10/10)

This is the first essential David Bowie album. I love Man Who Sold the World, but if you never listened to it, you wouldn’t be missing out. However, if you’ve never heard Hunky Dory, that’s a problem.

This is probably one of Bowie’s best set of songs – no weird experiments here and every idea is accessible, even when it’s weird. He manages the rather incredible feat of pairing philosophical musings about the literature he was reading with extremely catchy music. I don’t know too many other records that manage this marriage so well.

And his artiness is so accessible it’s almost not obviously arty. So much of what he does here has become so much a part of “art pop” that we don’t notice it now but, at the time, it was unusual.

Anyway, not my favourite, but one of his very very best.

5. Black Sabbath: Master of Reality (10/10)

When I first heard this I was disappointed. I think I was disappointed because it’s not Paranoid II, This was odd for me, because I usually appreciate artistic growth. But I guess I just wanted Sabbath to sound like Sabbath.

A few years later, I don’t know what I was thinking. There are a bunch of classic Sabbath tracks here but the interludes add a variety that was missing to their earlier sound. It was especially weird for me to dislike this record earlier because my favourite track on Paranoid is “Planet Caravan.”

Anyway, I’ve now come to realize this is a classic and I decided upon that before I even realized the guitar was down-tuned, certainly one of the most important moments in the history of heavy metal.

6. Gentle Giant: Acquiring the Taste (10/10)

The term ‘progressive rock’ at some level suggests some really forward thinking music. So I guess there’s a little bit of irony that, in order to move forward, a whole bunch of rock musicians went to the past to create the genre. But that music still sounded pretty radical and forward-thinking to most rock fans. I’d argue that few if any of the major prog bands were as radical in this sense (in the sense of using very old musical ideas in modern popular music) than Gentle Giant. And this is them at their very best. (Though I waiver between this record and Octopus.)

This is prog rock that is probably too proggy for most prog rock fans – the riffs are long, complicated and not exactly memorable, the melodies are unusual (for rock music) as are the voices that sing them, and the songs are interrupted by weird musical interludes that might feel experimental to someone who was unfamiliar with “classical” music.

This is one of the great prog albums in my mind, but it really is an acquired taste. It is willfully difficult and inaccessible in all the best ways. And honestly, there’s nobody like these guys at their peak. Their peerless.

Once you tire of all the famous prog bands, listen to this record and have your mind blown anew.

7. Can: Tago Mago (10/10)

8. Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts (10/10)

This is, I think, perhaps the most ‘love it or leave it’ piece Glass has done (that I’ve heard). Though it’s significantly shorter, I feel like it’s even more impenetrable than Einstein on the Beach or Music in 12 Parts.

But that is something I think we just have to get over. This is just a mind-boggling composition that requires patience and attention. It seems to me the perfect distillation of Glass’ (early) aesthetic. (The perfect distillation of his later aesthetic would probably be one of his soundtracks.) From now on, when I think of Glass and minimalism, I will think of this. If someone asked me, ‘what is Glass’ most characteristic work, so I can see if I like him?’, I’d probably refer them to this – and then instantly regret it because the person is likely to be alienated by this strange beast.

It’s everything good and bad about early Glass rolled into one, and it’s significantly shorter than his most ambitious works of the period – which means that you can theoretically digest it more easily, though I don’t think that’s the case.

I want to call it a masterpiece.

9. Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath (10/10)

It seems that finally some British jazz is getting its due after being completely ignored by American critics for ages and ages. And hopefully South African – or, in this case, South African and British – jazz will also get its due.

Regardless of where this band came from, they are incredible. They seem able to do anything and everything whichconstituted “jazz” in 1971. Some of their music could have been written in the previous decade – or maybe even earlier – while other pieces sound as out there as anything the avant garde was doing in the US at the time. (One of their tracks is pretty much The Art Ensemble of Chicago, only with restraint.) It is amazing to me that something so varied and so accomplished could be so neglected just because it was made by a bunch of South Africans in Britain.

10. The Mahavishnu Orchestra: The Inner Mounting Flame (10/10)

11. The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers (10/10)

I always think about this as the culmination of a trilogy. I don’t know why; it isn’t really. (Is it?) I think it’s just this human thing we do, to think of things in 3s.

Anyway, the Stones really resuscitated themselves with Beggars Banquet and Let it Bleed but this record is (probably) the best yet. It would be my favourite Stones record if Exile didn’t exist.

They were on some kind of roll at this point, despite being barely a functioning band at times. Nearly every song is a classic (and “Wild Horses” may be the best thing Jagger and Richards ever wrote). The forced country accent is annoying, but otherwise Jagger is in spectacular form.

A classic.

12. Joni Mitchell: Blue (10/10)

Though it incorporates older songs that have nothing to do with the breakup, in some ways I guess we can think of this as Mitchell’s breakup record (certainly, much of it is). And, because of the strength of the songs, and because of Mitchell’s idiosyncrasies, we get one of the greatest breakup records ever, even if some of the songs aren’t about it.

And though she got far more daring and ambitious musically, I think this remains her best set of songs and, probably, her best record – the one Joni Mitchell record everyone should own. (Really, you should own more, but if you’re going to own one…) It’s the place where she was a good enough songwriter where every song was a classic but she still hadn’t gotten so experimental as to have the weird ’70s jazz fusion tracks that maybe don’t hold up so well now.

13. The Who: Who’s Next (10/10)

In many ways this is The Who’s Smiley Smile, an attempt to rescue something from their lead songwriter’s failure to live up to his own ambitions. And it’s remarkably good for a work of salvage.

Though this is The Who’s most popular album, I don’t think it’s quite their best. I don’t love Entwistle’s contribution and I think that Townshend has succeeded more elsewhere (though this is probably as good a set of songs as he gave the band for an album).

It is a rather remarkable combination of extremely accessible pop rock and relatively cutting edge musical technology. I mean, synthesizers were still pretty damn new at this point, and to essentially invent his own instrument for the two songs that bookend this record is pretty damn cool.

Probably the best place to start with the 70s Who, if not their entire career.

14. Amon Duul II: Tanz der Lemminge (9/10)

This is the moment (well, one of the moments) when Krautrock matured from German psychedelic rock to its own thing. Yes, this record is very much still “psychedelic” but the repetitive rhythms of Krautrock are starting to surface even the music around them is still pretty elaborate. And perhaps calling them Krautrock has always sold them a little short because they are their own thing – far more psychedelic than the other major Krautrock bands and far more prone to progressive rock opuses once they moved on from the psychedelic stuff (as they have done here).

This is band that has mastered dynamics and has reined in their zaniness and freak-outs from earlier records (at least most of the time). They’ve also seemingly learned a lot from Pete Townshend as, along with Tommy – and the Jethro Tull oeuvre – this is one of the great examples of the acoustic guitar as a powerful rock instrument.

And this record contains perhaps my favourite Krautrock song ever, “Riding on a cloud” too, so there’s that.


15. Pink Floyd: Meddle (9/10)

Meddle follows the same pattern as Atom Heart Mother, where two epic “space rock” tracks bookend the band’s attempts at more traditional pop rock. Only this time the shorter piece is first and the sidelong piece is second, and this time the qualify of the songs in the middle is significantly stronger than Atom Heart Mother.

The record starts with a neat trick of two bass guitars playing off each other with echo, something The Floyd liked so much they use it again on two other pieces. But the track is one of their very best at combining emerging technology with more traditional rock music to create something that sounded utterly unlike anything else at the time.

The rest of side A is various attempts at roots music, featuring various rates of success.

“A Pillow of Winds” is sort of a pastoral folk or country thing similar to what Waters had been doing for a while – in direct contrast to the band’s emerging sound. But this time it’s with input from Gilmour and I feel like it works, even if it is in utter contrast to the previous track.

“Fearless” is seemingly their attempt at Folk Rock, albeit with a Floyd spin with the sample at the end. It is one of their most effective traditional rock songs in my mind.

“San Tropez” is a weird sort of folk jazz number that oozes a laid-back vibe. It’s utterly different than what you’d think of when you think of The Floyd, but it works pretty well and I particularly like Wright’s piano solo.

The one outlier here is “Seamus,” which is another one of The Floyd’s attempts to do The Blues. (If you listen to their soundtrack efforts of this era, there are lots of these.) It’s extremely generic and doesn’t add anything. I’m not sure it’s the worst thing they’ve ever recorded, but it’s certainly forgettable.

Imagine the contrast between these light rootsy things and “Echoes,” their second side-long track and a candidate for the best one ever created by a rock band. (I’d probably give it to “Supper’s Ready,” but this is still right up there.) Unlike “Atom Heart Mother,” this one feels totally organic, like it wasn’t assembled it sections (though it was). With “Atom Heart Mother” you can almost hear the where they stuck the sections together but “Echoes” feels like a completely coherent piece of music that evolved into this massive spacey thing, with so little like it when it came out. It’s one of the highlights of their discography and, with the opening track, the main reason to listen to this record.

If you don’t count soundtracks, this is the last Floyd record where they couldn’t reconcile the differing impulses of the band’s personalities: spacey prog rock vs singer-songwriter, new technology versus roots, and so on. But unlike previous records, this one feels like the combination works, even though it’s a weird one. For me, this is probably their best record pre Dark Side.

16. The Allman Brothers Band: At Fillmore East (9/10)

Note: I have never heard the expanded editions of this record.

This is the record that really shows why people love the Allman’s so much. The only precedent for this kind of playing in rock music is the Dead, and arguably the Allman’s do it better (at least here). This is perhaps the foundational document of the jam band phenomenon. It’s hard to impeach it even if I’ve gotten less and less moved by sheer instrumental ability over the years.

17. Faces: A Nod’s as Good as a Wink…to a Blind Horse (9/10)

This is a better record than Long Player, as it omits the unnecessary live singalong track.

This one finds them finding the perfect balance between the freewheeling rock and roll written by Wood and Stewart with the storytelling of Lane (which somehow works with this backing). I think Lane was one of the underrated songwriters of his era and the songs here make a good case for it.

One of the great rock and roll records of the decade.

18. The Doors: L.A. Woman (9/10)

The Doors’ second blues album is, to my ears, a significant improvement on their first. The most noticeable thing is the songs; they’re just much, much better this time out, with a number of classic tracks, and nary a week one in the bunch, in my opinion.

This being the Doors, it’s not exactly straight ahead blues either. There’s a subtle jazz influence and Morrison’s lyrics are not the stuff of blues songs, even when he appears to be singing cliches.

A near-classic.

19. Van Der Graaf Generator: Pawn Hearts (9/10)

The final VDGG record from their first era is probably the best (of that era). They find a happy medium between their crazy experimentation and Hammill’s theatrical performances. And they beat Yes to the punch, managing to release an LP with just three tracks on it.

Both “Lemmings” and “Man-Erg” are great mixtures of what the band does best – their cacophony of keyboards and electric sax with Hammill doing his thing. But those are both warm ups for the massive side-long track on the flip side, which embodies everything great about the band (as well as some of the things that aren’t awesome about it). It’s one of my favourite side-long tracks from a prog band – I’d probably put it in my top five.

This may be the band’s best album – it’s certainly very close – though it is probably not the best introduction to their blend of theatrical performances and virtuoso (but dense) playing. VDGG are my second favourit prog band and this album is one of the reasons why.

20. Faces: Long Player (9/10)

I’ve never heard their debut, but this record makes a very strong case for The Faces being the best pure Rock and Roll band in the world at the time (apologies to the Stones, who probably were, but who were, at least at this point, arguably more diverse than that) in addition to be a shocking left turn from both The Small Faces and The Jeff Beck Group (even though there’s that debut, which probably was the shocking turn).

I want to love this unconditionally, but I can’t. “I Feel So Good” is proof positive that live singalongs cannot translate onto record. If I skipped tracks when reviewing albums (and I don’t) I would skip it. I skip it when it comes on my iPod. I’d skip it if I was listening to this without reviewing it. It’s just entirely unnecessary.

Otherwise, one of the best rock and roll albums of the era.

21. Jethro Tull: Aqualung (9/10)

Tull’s most famous and most popular record, I think we can safely say, the first time they were truly a “progressive rock” band. Of all the Big 6, they were usually the least forward thinking but here there’s definitely more hall marks of the genre: the (loose) concept, the Renaissance music influences…

Before this record, there were literally three things that might have convinced you Tull were not just a very, very loud folk rock band (or a very, very folky hard rock band): the flute (of course, the flute!), and their occasional covers of jazz and Baroque pieces. That’s it. The rest of the music could hardly be called “progressive” and it’s always confused me why they were considered that, at least until this record.

This record is where it comes together and it’s hard to really recommend earlier Tull to people if you’re trying to get them into prog (and Tull were the most accessible of the Big 6, outside of maybe – maybe – the Floyd).

This one’s a near masterpiece: mostly Anderson’s best (and most ambitious) songs to date with their most ambitious (and progressive) arrangements.

For me the main thing keeping it from being a masterpiece is Anderson’s lack of lyrics – an odd thing to say, given his verbosity – or the desire to stretch out songs with not enough lyrics: Anderson repeats lines way too many times for my liking and if the concept was so damn important, I don’t know why he didn’t flesh it out more (I know he could have, witness the next record).

But mostly an essential prog rock album.

22. Leonard Cohen: Songs of Love and Hate (9/10)

My first encounter with “classic” Cohen yields the following: Extremely depressing and dark lyrics – and a delivery that is almost anti-musical at times – and elaborate, sometimes almost “wall of sound” arrangements. It’s a bizarre combination one that reminds me slightly of a less musically ambitious, less boisterous, more obviously dark Forever Changes.

I feel like this is the kind of record that rewards many, many more listens than I have given it. Cohen’s lyrics are dense at times – not Dylan-dense by any means but dense compared to just about anyone else – and he is so willfully unwilling to make his music more accessible that it is something that warrants a great deal of attention.

But though I’m not sure I’ve given it enough listens, it’s pretty apparent to me that this is a near-classic, at bottom. And I am starting to understand the hype around perhaps the most famous songwriter I’ve somehow managed to ignore.

23. Yes: Fragile (9/10)

I am constantly internally debating what I think of this record:

On the one hand, it has some of the best Yes songs ever; three or four of the tracks are absolute classics and would belong on any Best Of compilation. They are really strong and the reason to listen to Yes is basically these four tracks and Close to the Edge.

On the other hand, there are the solo pieces, most of which are just filler. Squire’s piece is really cool – the birth of the “bass orchestra” – and Howe’s would be fine on a Howe solo album or something, but the others are just filler. Yeah, they do a better job of showing off their individual personalities than The Floyd, bub it’s still a really scattershot way of doing it, and keeps the album from being one of the very best prog rock records.

24. The Last Poets: This Is Madness (8/10)

This might belong lower on this list – given how unmusical it is – but I have never quite heard anything like it. Read the review of This Is Madness.

25. Roy Harper: Stormcock (8/10)

Harper’s middle name should be Idiosyncratic. This is the first studio record of his that I’ve heard and, if anything, his idiosyncrasies are even more on display in the studio. He doesn’t seem to care for segues, he just pastes bits together to form these 4 “songs” (the shortest of which is nearly seven and a half minutes). That was quite common at the time, of course, but the prog rock bands did it with more obvious musicality (for lack of a better term). And this particular set of songs is hardly Harper’s most direct set of lyrics. So those two things together make this a little difficult to get into.

But Harper has a real knack for melody, his idiosyncratic arrangements somehow eventually endear you to him, and he is a great guitar player (and he is abetted by Jimmy Page on one track, so that makes things even better).

For though Harper may not have been the most consistent songwriter or lyricist, he was one of the most musically interesting singer-songwriters of his generation (even if he got there without a map) and that’s what really sticks out about this. It’s so crazy it works.

Later: I don’t know if I completely agree with the above review. I think it’s a near classic, pretty underrated.

26. Funkadelic: Maggot Brain (8/10)

My first exposure to Funkadelic didn’t exactly endear me to them and I generally want to like this record more.

It opens with what I am assuming is the definitive Eddie Hazel guitar solo – that’s all it is, really, though it is pretty great – but the rest of the record is a far cry from that title track. The rest of the record is more what I was expecting. Though the lyrics are just about as inane as I was expecting, the bother me less this time out. And the music underlying it those lyrics is pretty much exactly what I was expecting: slightly psychedelic funk, just about definitively so.

Though the two types of music are kind of oddly juxtaposed, it basically works and I can understand why people like this so much. I think I would have eaten it up when I was a teenager or in my early 20s.

27. Janis Joplin: Pearl (8/10)

I haven’t heard her debut, and it’s been ages since I listened to Big Brother and the Holding Company, so I honestly don’t know how this compares to her previous work.

It definitely has the reputation it has in part because it’s a (good) posthumous record. But, to my knowledge, this is as good a showcase of perhaps the greatest female rock singer ever as I’ve heard.

The covers are solid choices – and her “Me and Bobby McGee” is obviously the definitive version – and her own contributions are strong (“Mercedes Benz” is a highlight).

There’s just one thing I don’t know what to do with: the instrumental track. What the hell is it doing here?

28. Oliver Knussen: Symphony No. 2 (8/10)

The second symphony won a prize, so I’m told. It doesn’t resemble symphonies I’m familiar with in many ways; in terms of its brevity, in terms of the vocal soloist. The music has lots of components I like but, as with the other symphony of Knussen’s I’ve heard. I’m not entirely sure how it all fits together. So I find myself enjoying it but wondering if, were I bigger snob, would I think less of it? I have no idea.

29. Budgie (8/10)

If you watch Metal Evolution or other documentaries, you will see various major NWOBHM figures claiming they weren’t influenced by punk at all, claiming they hated punk and that punk had literally nothing to do with NWOBHM. That’s not entirely true, but listening to Budgie it’s clearer as to where NWOBHM came from if it didn’t actually come from a combination of punk and the first wave of British heavy metal.

Because if there’s such a thing as proto-NWOBHM (that’s a meaningless term there!) then this is it. Budgie sometimes play faster than just about every other British metal band of the era. (Deep Purple occasionally played this fast.) And there’s that distinctive gallop on at least one song, well before “Achilles Last Stand” supposedly invented it. Of course, they still play like a more traditional British metal band of the era a lot of the time – slow and bluesy – and they have songs here that a NWOBHM band wouldn’t be caught dead performing, but it’s still pretty apparent to me that this is one influential record.

Now if only the songs were better.

30. Caravan: In the Land of Grey and Pink (8/10)

When I first listened to this I didn’t like it at all, and I’m not sure why. I didn’t like it to the extent that I removed it from our next podcast, telling my cohost that it “wasn’t one of their best.” I guess maybe it was the lack of Hastings songs – his are a little more immediate, I think.

Anyway, now that I’ve had some time to digest, it’s pretty great. It’s very Caravan, but that’s not a bad thing – the weird and whimsical lyrics and the keyboard solos (and occasional winds and reeds). I don’t like it as much as its predecessor and I’d say that I am a little surprised its considered their best album, but it’s pretty good.

31. Bill Withers: Just As I Am (8/10)

A pretty great debut. Read the review of Just as I Am.

32. Gene Clark: [White Light] (8/10)

33. Alberto Ginastera: Milena for Soprano and Orchestra (8/10)

The ‘Milena’ is chaotic, wacky and frightening. It’s everything I love about post-tonal music. I am surprised it is one of Ginastera’s lesser known pieces.

34. The Yes Album (8/10)

Read the review The Yes Album.

35. Al Green Gets Next to You (8/10)

Classic Al Green. Read the review of Al Green Gets Next to You.

36. B.B. King: Live in Cook County Jail (8/10)

Clearly inspired by the seminal Johnny Cash prison albums, this record finds BB and his band performing for a local county prison (so it’s not quite going to a max security place).

I like this better than Live at the Regal, but I don’t know whether that’s because of the atmosphere or because of the performances, which feel rawer to me. The whole thing is much more in line with what I was expecting from a blues live album, though BB is still a little too professional for my tastes.

37. T. Rex: Electric Warrior (8/10)

I understand why this was such a big deal and why people continue to celebrate it: at the very apex of complicated, weird rock music, Bolan went out and put out 11 straight-ahead, catchy rock songs performed by a band with two guitars, bass and drums, with an image that was pretty unique. It made a big impression on a lot of people.

As a record, I think it holds up pretty well – Bolan is a decent songwriter with a really strong knack for melody. I am not one who loves supposedly “disposable” music, but I don’t particularly find this as “disposable” as many have made it out to be.

But what I do struggle with is that I just like other songwriters better and I like other styles of music better. I also wish this record was played harder and faster (which is unreasonable of me, I know).

I understand it’s importance, but I don’t love it.

38. Traffic: The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys (8/10)

39. Uriah Heap: Look at Yourself (8/10)

40. Carole King: Tapestry (8/10)

First off: this is not my kind of music at all – the songs, the instrumentation and arrangements both not my thing.

That being said, the band is good for what it is and there are lots of star guest appearances – if Mitchell and Taylor were stars at the time – that blend into the background. King’s songs are certainly decent, though I’ve never been a fan.

But for me, the thing that makes this listenable is King herself, who certainly appears to be living/feeling these songs in a way in which most “soft rock” performers absolutely do not.

This may not be my thing, but I’d rather listen to this than, say, mid-70s Fleetwood Mac.

41. Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On (7/10)

For me, the way to approach what is going on is how Sly Stone did it, not how Curtis Mayfield did. Gaye chose Mayfield. Read the review of What’s Going On.

42. Santana [III] (7/10)

Santana’s third record continues their fusion of psychedelic music with their patented Latin/blues fusion thing, but it’s considerably jazzier and, at times, funkier. There’s a definite trend towards a sort of jazz rock type thing and away from the more straight ahead “psychedelia” of the earlier records.

For me, the songs aren’t quite as strong as before – particularly that pop song Santana wrote – but I still very much enjoy the musicianship.

Not the best introduction to the band if you only know “Black Magic Woman” but still a solid record.

43. Gong: Camembert Electrique (7/10)

This is the first proper Gong album I’ve heard, because, for some reason, I’ve only heard their jazz rock spinoff to date.

It seems pretty obvious to me that Allen was once in Soft Machine because this sure sounds to me like the kind of music The Softs were making early in their career. And maybe that’s why I find the record a little underwhelming. It is wacky, out there, fun, and ridiculous, as well as well-played, but I sort of feel like I’ve heard music like this from The Softs back in the ’60s. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it feels little bit like a goofier version of the early Softs records. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s underwhelming.

I think that, at least at this stage, that Ayers, Ratledge and Wyatt were better songwriters. But I look forward to listening to more Gong to see what happened next.

44. David Crosby: If I Could Only Remember My Name (7/10)

Sometime after 2005, but likely before 2010, I wrote the following:

There’s some of his usual nonsense (“What Are their names?”) but I can’t help enjoying this, particularly the songs without lyrics, but also Kaukonen and Garcia really help things along. I can’t help but think that a man with the same voice but a different attitude might have been really incredible. Better than I thought it would be…by a lot.

The biggest problem I have with Crosby is his lyrics, and there are fewer of them here than there would normally be. (I find it hilarious that he actually shows what’s wrong with his way of thinking on “What Are Their Names”. Exactly, David, what are their names?) Backing by the Dead and the Airplane also help. It’s a fairly compelling record despite my feelings for him.

45. Led Zeppelin: Mudslide (7/10)

Note: Pretty sure this is a 1970 concert, but the original (bootleg) LP was available in 1971.

This is a pretty strong show – notable for particularly great performances of material from the second album, especially “Thank You”, which can be wussy.

But, as someone who has listened to relatively few Zep shows, it’s clear to me that the band improved with time, like a fine wine really. And I find myself generally preferring later, crazier, shows.

This is all very professional, and the performance of “Thank You” might be the definitive version, but there are better versions of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and other material out there. Still well worth listening to, though.

46. Jack Bruce: Harmony Row (7/10)

So gone are the horns and the cellos (well mostly) but we still have the idiosyncratic amalgam of various genres all fitting with his odd voice. The mix is hilarious, as Bruce’s Bass is way up and Spedding’s guitar is not only not up front but also played with so few loud effects for the time it’s remarkable. But I guess we can excuse the second greatest rock bassist of all time for having an ego. The one thing I have to knock him for is the songwriting (despite what the liner notes must say). He never really had a way with melody and though he is creative, it takes a long time for these things to stick.

47. Van Morrison: Tupelo Honey (7/10)

Before I heard Astral Weeks, I had an idea of Van Morrison and what he sounded like (without listening to him). And this album is what I was thinking of. I’d never heard it, but it’s pretty much what I expected from Astral Weeks. I guess that’s why this one is disappointing.

“Pleasant” gets thrown around a lot with this record and that’s what I think of while I listen to this. It sounds like someone who is pretty happy and that’s fine, but his earlier records are so cool that this feels like someone resting on their laurels – actually more throwing the laurels away and resting somewhere comfy and pleasant.

This is well written and well played but it’s not exciting or inspiring. I might come to like it more given time, but I just don’t know that I care enough.

48. Kris Kristofferson: The Silver-Tongued Devil and I (7/10)

Some of the tracks are horribly overproduced but this is a good set of country songs. Read the review of The Silver-Tongued Devil and I.

49. Rod Stewart: Every Picture Tells a Story (7/10)

Read the review of Every Picture Tells a Story.

50. Humble Pie: Rock on (7/10)

I have always wanted to like this band for some reason. There’s something about it that appeals to me, beyond the sort of “poor man’s super group” aspect of a bunch of established musicians getting together to make the music they really want to make.

And it’s pretty good stuff: the playing is good and there’s a depth of feeling to the performances that is absent from some blues rock/hard rock.

But for me the songs aren’t really here – saved “A Song for Jenny,” which is my favourite Marriott song ever – to make it a classic. And it’s no surprise that they’ve sort of fallen by the wayside compared to their peers.

51. Deep Purple: Fireball (7/10)

I feel like Fireball perfectly illustrates why Purple are known less than Zeppelin and Sabbath:

  • the playing is excellent as it feels like Blackmore and Lord just keep trying to push each other,
  • Gillan is doing his insane over-singing thing
  • and the record is actually more diverse than you might guess,
  • but the songs aren’t great – though I will say that some of Gillan’s lyrics here are better than some of his lyrics on other records.

That’s the problem with this record, that keeps it from being among the great early metal records. They just didn’t write great songs. I will be hard pressed to remember a number of these once I stop listening to it over and over again.

52. The Band: Cahoots (7/10)

53. Ten Years After: A Space in Time (7/10)

Contains their greatest song, and some things that don’t work. And some filler.

54. King Crimson: Islands (7/10)

55. Crazy Horse (7/10)

Depending on how you count, this is either Crazy Horse’s debut, their second album or their third album: there’s The Rockets album from 1968 and there’s their first collaboration with Neil Young from 1969. I haven’t heard The Rockets’ album, but the Neil Young album is one of my absolute favourites.

There are two things missing from this record: Neil Young the songwriter (present on only two songs) and Neil Young the guitarist (entirely absent). The band has compensated by featuring Jack Nitzsche, Ry Cooder and others. (I had no idea that Crazy Horse wasn’t a trio when it was without Neil Young.)

The results aren’t bad. Some of Whitten’s songs are pretty good. And Nitzsche is in borderline Time Fades Away mode, rather than Spector mode, which is a good thing.

You’re still better off listening to Neil Young and Crazy Horse together, but this seems better than it should be. (Though the production is dated.)

56. Isaac Hayes: Shaft Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (6/10)

Not as big a deal as people think, I think. But also way too long. Read the review of the Shaft Original Motion Picture Sountrack.

57. Nick Drake: Bryter Layter (6/10)

I’ve vacillated greatly on this one over the years. I wrote a “review” sometime between 2005 and 2016 saying the following:

Most of this doesn’t work, except for Poor Boy, Northern Sky and maybe one or two others.

That feels harsh to me but there’s no denying this record is incredibly overproduced and Drake’s music is best when it is simpler, whether on his debut (where there are some frills, but nothing like this) or on his final record.

58. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Tarkus (6/10)

A few years ago, I wrote the following review:

I think if anyone had any doubt back in 1971 that Emerson was the greatest rock keyboardist ever, the title track probably proved them wrong. It’s too bad that it doesn’t really have the same coherence and oomph of the best side-long prog epics. But it is still the highlight of an album that I guess set ELP on their path of trying to be eclectic – or trying to please different demographics of their fans, not really sure which – which set them up to have such uneven studio albums.

I mean the first side is a true prog epic – even if it isn’t among the best – but the second side is all over the place:

  • first we get the (first) obligatory pseudo-honky tonk number, which would have benefited from a proper piano, not to mention some better lyrics – science Greg Lake is a horrible “poet”;
  • then there’s a return to the prog for a song;
  • then there’s some Bach book-ending one of those misguided hippie attempts to be philosophical, though at least the organ is well done, but it’s certainly not rock;
  • then we’re back tot he prog again for a couple minutes
  • and the album ends with one of the band’s seemingly numerous attempts at convincing us they can play traditional rock and roll – so why do they suck so bad at it?

This is probably the weakest thing they recorded before Works.

I think I was a littler harsh. In retrospect, the title track is a bit of a landmark in the genre and the playing on the second side sometimes makes up for the lyrics and the rather pathetic genre-hopping. (And, jesus, Keith, play a real piano on all the tracks; if you’re going pull off boogie, you can’t use a keyboard.)

It’s still lacking in songs (what ELP album isn’t?) but I think I was a little cruel to insinuate only the title track is worthwhile.

59. Earth Wind and Fire (6/10)

In utero, but still pretty good. They’d write better songs and they’d stop sounding like the Family Stone soon enough. Read the review of Earth Wind and Fire’s debut album.

60. Graham Nash: Songs for Beginners (6/10)

Graham Nash is my least favourite member of CSNY. Crosby is a great singer and an interesting guitarist. Stephen Stills is a good singer, a good guitarist and had interesting musical ideas. Neil Young is my favourite songwriter and one of the most unique guitar players in rock. Nash appears to pale in to comparison.

But though Nash’s lyrics are often full of mindless hippiness and pseudo-profundity, they have aged far better than Crosby’s bizarre “hippy paranoia” and his “did I just blow your mind?!?!” persona, and better than Still’s blustery self-righteousness – all the more hypocritical for his real life behavour.

And Nash has a strong sense of melody. And with the arrangements, which are simpler than you would expect, and the guests – some of whom you can identify by ear, some not – the lyrics are ignorable.

So I was pleasantly surprised by this record. Thought I would hate it. I do not.

61. Paul and Linda McCartney: Ram (6/10)

This album got bad reviews when it was released. However, time has been kind to it and some people now view it as one of his best. I can see both sides. I understand what people are saying when they view it as “the first indie pop album” – in content, not in concept, as McCartney, the best selling artist in history, is the last person who could ever release an indie album. I prefer to think of it as the first “bedroom” pop album, only McCartney was that record, and this one has a band.

The problem is that it sounds like it was recorded by him and his wife with no other input. McCartney indulges every whim he has here, regardless of the strength of the material, and he is often goofing about. It’s like a more serious “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” at times. That’s not a compliment.

And it’s hard to see what Linda brings. She’s not a good singer, at least here. And she sounds awful in comparison to the best male rock singer of his era showing off his voice as much as he possibly can. (Seriously, the vocal noodling on this record…)

He needed a producer. Or, you know, three other musicians and a producer telling him which ideas were shit (and when to stop singing…).

62. John Lennon: Imagine (6/10)

In 2011, I wrote the following review:

It’s hard to know what to make of this. On the one hand, there is some music that sounds like an overproduced version of Plastic Ono Band, but a little less personal and certainly attempting to be more fun. Then there’s the other tracks: ballads galore with strings galore. I don’t really know what to make of it. At one point he is singing about how great communism would be if we all would just recognize it, and then later he is basically saying McCartney is horrible tool – which certainly hurts the whole “Paul broke up the Beatles thing” because Lennon sounds pretty fucking pathetic. That juxtaposition might work on something so clearly honest as the previous outing, but here it seems…odd to say the least.

Lennon benefits from some excellent sidemen – the greatest R&B saxophonist of all time, King Curtis, Nicky Hopins, Harrison – and sometimes they elevate things. Some of his songs are almost amazing. “Imagine” might be great if it weren’t so unbelievably naieve. (Remember, this guy wrote “Revolution” like five years earlier…what happened?). “Crippled Inside” nearly works but still seems a little joky. “Gimme Some Truth” seems to be a few lyrics away from something really classic. “How do you sleep?” might be slightly accurate (at least with the muzak reference) but I still think it’s more than a little ridiculous.

Really I want to like it less than I do. But Curtis’ few parts are awesome. George plays some of the best slide of his career. Nicky Hopkins is his usually great self. These folks make it better. And Lennon performs well, even if his material isn’t remotely up to the standard of his previous album, and even if the album as a whole is over done.

I don’t know that I disagree in 2016.

63. Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire de Melody Nelson (6/10)

Scandalous when it came out. I really, really don’t understand what the big deal is 50 years later. Read the review of Histoire de Melody Nelson.

64. CSNY: 4 Way Street (6/10)

Read the review of Four Way Street.

65. Genesis: Nursery Cryme (6/10)

65. Hawkwind: In Search of Space (6/10)

67. Stevie Wonder: Where I’m Coming From (6/10)

I’m glad that Wonder was breaking away from the creative constraints of his label and his handlers. And maybe, if I’d heard those earlier albums, I’d see more daring in this record, in his freeing himself creatively. I’d like to hear that, but without listening to those earlier records, I can’t.

Instead, I hear a precocious, bratty kid who has just discovered a whole lot of things including, it seems, some philosophy. And like anyone in their early twenties, he’s really obnoxious about it. (I mean, we can’t possibly know what he’s just read, right? He needs to tell us!) His lyrics that aren’t about love are such pseudo-philosophical bullshit (and they’re lectured at us…).

The music behind the lyrics is poppy funk. There are a couple pretty strong melodies but most of it is rather unmemorable. There was a lot of pretty great funk being made at this time.This doesn’t belong with that stuff.

But I bumped it up a bit because it’s apparently a brave departure from his earlier music.

68. Pete Townshend: Who Came First (6/10)

Not really a solo album, so that bugs me. His stuff is good. The stuff from the others is a little hit and miss.

69. Al Kooper: New York City (You’re a Woman) (5/10)

Al Kooper fascinates me. He had a bizarre career: writing a hit pop song, becoming Dylan’s keyboardist, turning into a jazz rock pioneer and then having a career as a record producer. But despite my fascination, this is the first proper solo album of his I’ve heard. Maybe I’m disappointed because I was expecting something very different. Maybe I’m disappointed because, much like Kooper does here, I have mythologized his life a little too much. I don’t know.

Reviews I have read compare this to Elton John around the same period. I have no idea if that’s apt or not (though the cover suggests it), having not heard his records. [Note: I have since heard many Elton John records.] For me, the touchstone on at least two of these songs (“John the Baptist” and “Nightmare #5”) suggest The Band to an extent that would border on plagiarism if they were better songs. (He even sings like Richard Manuel on them!)

And that’s the fundamental problem here. (Well, one of them.) Al Kooper, as much as he is a great performer, is not a great songwriter, as far as I can gather. He copies from Robbie Robertson here, and he copies (poorly) from Bob Dylan there – mostly in his attempts to mythologize his own life – and apparently he also copies from the John/Taupin songbook. (Though I wouldn’t know about how much he copies John/Taupin and I’m not sure they were established enough at this point, though they were established enough for him to cover them.) His attempts to be original don’t hold up. And the covers just further testify that he couldn’t get enough quality material together.

But this is not my kind of music anyway. Kooper emphasized his singer-songwriter side but also his Baroque Pop and Blue-Eyed Soul side, over the parts I liked most about his earlier music.

70. Mark-Almond II (5/10)

This is the kind of album that could only be made in the early ’70s. What we have here is some kind of bizarre amalgam of really downbeat folksy pop (or popsy folk) mixed in with jazz fusion and / or jazzy prog. It’s a really strange mix that really could only exist in the ’70s. It’s very low key for most of its run, which is initially grating and eventually slightly endearing. It doesn’t really feel like that much of a band outing, the drummer is often left off and I often can’t here the bass either.

I don’t know what else to say. The songs aren’t memorable so it’s hard to get hooked into it. The guy’s sax playing is probably the highlight. Some of the fusion stuff would be good if they could ever figure out how to end it. Just very middle of the road for that time. Nothing especially great about it, but too competent to be bad.

Maurice Durufle: Lux aeterna (??/10)

Not Ranked: Neil Young: Live at Massey Hall, 1971 (8/10)

It’s a strong set of songs (covering his early solo career, CSNY and even a little Springfield) and it’s cool to hear him working out new material. But I think Canterbury House is the better album for fans, as you get to see him really early on in the career (and the banter is a lot more endearing that time out).

Not Ranked: The Who: Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy (8/10)


James Brown: “Hot Pants (She Got to Use What She Got to Get What She Wants)” (??/10)

James Brown: “I’m a Greedy Man” (??/10)

James Brown: “Make it Funky” (??/10)

James Brown: “Soul Power” (??/10)