Sunday’s “1971” presentation at the Downtown Arts Center by Lee Carroll and a number of his local music co-horts is hitting home for a number of reasons.
Though in my early teens, I recall the year – at least in terms of the contemporary music it yielded – quite well. The quality and quantity of the output was breathtaking, producing an artistic renaissance the countered by the coarse taste of the preceding year. The same topical ghosts were still there – Vietnam, Nixon, racial strife and more – but given how 1970 began with the breakup of the Beatles and ended with Altamont, 1971 had to be an improvement. And it was. Folk, soul, rock and a booming underground prog movement soared. There were still the rough patches. The death of Jim Morrison less than three months after the release of his finest album with The Doors, “L.A. Woman,” served the most pronounced jolt. But there were also many triumphant releases that defined still-active careers. Discovering the music of 1971 greatly shaped my own musical tastes for the years to come.
Assembled below is a sampling of 10 albums that remain favorites from that year, but there were so many more. Not making the cut were classics by John Lennon, Santana, Elton John, Humble Pie, Al Green, Van Morrison, The Moody Blues, The Faces, Weather Report, Traffic, T. Rex, Ten Years After, Soft Machine, The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, The Grateful Dead, Procol Harum, Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Yes, Mountain, King Crimson, Paul and Linda McCartney, Leon Russell, Jethro Tull, Hot Tuna, King Curtis, Deep Purple and more.
Here at the 10 listed in order of release in 1971
+ Carole King: “Tapestry” (February) – A perhaps obvious choice, but there is no way to underemphasize King’s full and unassuming transformation from Brill Building pop princess to confessional pop-folk monarch. A complete generational and genre game changer of a record.
+ David Crosby: “If I Could Only Remember My Name” (February) – Released at the height of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young-mania, this debut solo album corralled a who-who’s of West Coast psychedelic folkies for a trippy, hippie electric summit. A sublime moodpiece of the era.
+ Marvin Gaye: “What’s Going On” (May) – The definitive statement of the early ‘70s Motown, “What’s Going On” was a gloriously cool but often unsettling meditation on the times – a prayer for peace from a soul titan previously fascinated by largely carnal concerns.
+ Joni Mitchell: “Blue” (June) – Joni’s finest hour? Perhaps. But “Blue” beautifully placed her Laurel Canyon musings on stark, brilliant display. Future records heightened the musical sophistication with increasing inferences of jazz. “Blue,” however, was all folk poetry.
+ The Allman Brothers Band: “The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East” (July) – Fans love to place “Fillmore East” atop the Southern Rock mantel. But the record’s reach extended far beyond that for a distinctive portrait of blues, rock and even jazz driven jams set to a guitar sound of peerless taste.
+ The Who: “Who’s Next” (August) – Another obvious choice. What seems remarkable today, though, are the killer Pete Townshend songs (“The Song is Over,” “Getting in Tune,” for starters) that were forgotten through the years in the face of the album’s career-defining hits.
+ Pink Floyd: “Meddle” (October) – Far darker than the forthcoming “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Meddle” represented Pink Floyd’s last true glimpse of post-Syd Barrett experimentation. A trippy snapshot of the band taken before the Roger Waters narcissism completely took hold.
+ Sly and the Family Stone: “There’s a Riot Going On” (November) – Few records, outside of “What’s Going On,” mirrored the dispirited post ‘60s mood more than Sly Stone’s turnabout soul sound on “Riot.” A ruminative, disturbing but, always, groove-friendly sign of the times.
+ The Kinks: “Muswell Hill-billies” (November) – The follow-up to the smash “Lola” was largely ignored upon its initial release, but Ray Davies’s Americana references on “Muswell” have since been championed by subsequent generations of country-leaning rock scholars.
+ Alice Cooper: “Killer” (November) – Cooper’s finest hour with what may be his greatest composition (“Desperado”). Cut before his surrender to stardom, “Killer” captured a daring Detroit-drenched rock sound that never bowed, as Cooper’s later records did, to sensationalism.
“1971 – A Happening with Lee Carroll and Friends” will be presented at 7 p.m. March 12 at the Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main, as part of the Sunday Sessions series. Call 859-423-2550 or go to https://tickets.vendini.com.