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.
1. Sly and the Family Stone: There’s a Riot Goin’ On (10/10)
So crazy that it’s practically a career-suicide record that somehow topped the charts. Read the review.
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.
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 Allman Brothers Band: Fillmore East (10/10)
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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
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.
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)
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. 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.
25. Funkadelic: Maggot Brain (8/10)
26. Janis Joplin: Pearl (8/10)
27. 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.
28. Budgie (8/10)
29. Caravan: In the Land of Grey and Pink (8/10)
30. Gene Clark: [White Light] (8/10)
31. 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.
32. The Yes Album (8/10)
33. B.B. King: Live in Cook County Jail (8/10)
34. T. Rex: Electric Warrior (8/10)
35. Traffic: The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys (8/10)
36. David Crosby: If I Could Only Remember My Name (8/10)
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.
37. Uriah Heap: Look at Yourself (8/10)
38. Carole King: Tapestry (8/10)
39. 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.
40. Gong: Camembert Electrique (7/10)
A little too derivative of Allen’s former band for me. Read the review.
41. 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.
42. 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.
43. Van Morrison: Tupelo Honey (7/10)
Very pleasant but that’s it. Read the review.
44. Rod Stewart: Every Picture Tells a Story (7/10)
45. 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.
46. Deep Purple: Fireball (7/10)
47. The Band: Cahoots (7/10)
48. Ten Years After: A Space in Time (7/10)
Contains their greatest song, and some things that don’t work. And some filler.
49. King Crimson: Islands (7/10)
50. Crazy Horse (7/10)
51. 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. Read the rest of the review.
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-hoping (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.
52. Graham Nash: Songs for Beginners (6/10)
53. Paul and Linda McCartney: Ram (6/10)
54. 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.
Read the rest of the review.
I don’t know that I disagree in 2016.
55. CSNY: 4 Way Street (6/10)
56. Genesis: Nursery Cryme (6/10)
57. Hawkwind: In Search of Space (6/10)
58. Stevie Wonder: Where I’m Coming From (6/10)
59. 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.
60. Al Kooper: New York City (You’re a Woman) (5/10)
61. 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)