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Any Major Albums of the Year: 1971

September 9th, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments



Was 1971 the greatest music year? The riveting recent series on the impact of music in that year, titled 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything, made a comprehensive case for 1971 being the greatest year in music, with the release of landmark albums that actually did change music. And the fact that I’ve “recovered” three of these — Tapestry, What’s Going On and Blue — suggests that I might agree with that.

1971 — fifty years ago, FFS! — certainly was a better year for albums than it was for singles, though even among those there were some great cuts. Some of them made it onto the Any Major Hits From 1971 mix.

So here’s my Top 20 of albums released in 1971. As I made my shortlist, I became rather intimidated as its length grew. What would I have to leave out. There are years where I’d struggle to compile a really good Top 20. With 1971, I could have made a Top 40 and feel entirely comfortable commending all of the albums. Just a few 1971 albums that failed to make the cut:

David Bowie – Hunky Dory; Sly & the Family Stone – There’s A Riot Going On; Baby Huey – The Baby Huey Story; Leonard Cohen – Songs Of Love And Hate; Curtis Mayfield – Curtis Live; Serge Gainsbourg – Histoire de Melody Nelson; Dolly Parton – Coat Of Many Colors; Carole King – Music; Little Feat – Little Feat; Don McLean – American Pie; Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story; Isaac Hayes – Shaft;  Shuggie Otis – Freedom Flight; Led Zepellin – IV; The Who – Who’s Next, and others…

Maybe on another day, this or that album from the list above might displace some of the ones I picked for my personal Top 20. But these 20 are the ones I’ve chosen. Some of them are obvious, others betray my particular personal taste. I’m a little bit too young to have known any of these albums from the time of their release. I think I’ve owned Jethro Tull’s Aqualung the longest. I bought it when I was 12, after my older brother played it for me. I also bought Sticky Fingers early enough to own it with the cover that has an actual zipper. And my mother had Cat Stevens’ Teaser & The Firecat album, so I was sort of familiar with it in my childhood (though I didn’t really play LPs until I was 10 or 11).

Other albums crept into my life in the intervening years: some came into my life inspired by some song or other; some because I felt I had to investigate whether they satisfied their big reputation; some I have no idea how I came to them; I just did. Some I fell in love with instantly (John Prine’s eponymous debut, for instance), others were a struggle to fall for initially and required a bit of work (such as What’s Going On or Blue).

I won’t list my Top 20 in order, and the playlist runs in a random sequence, as far as rankings are concerned. If forced to choose a Top 3, I might go with Tapestry, John Prine and Pieces Of A Man. But one contender I deliberately omitted: Kris Kristofferson’s Me And Bobby McGee, which was released in 1971, but in fact was just a retitled release of KK’s sublime self-titled 1970 debut.

So, what are your albums of 1971?

1. The Rolling Stones – Sway (Sticky Fingers)
2. John Lennon – Gimme Some Truth (Imagine)
3. Jethro Tull – Mother Goose (Aqualung)
4. James Taylor – Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox (Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon)
5. Carole King – Home Again (Tapestry)
6. Gil Scott-Heron – When You Are Who You Are (Pieces Of A Man)
7. Isaac Hayes – Never Can Say Goodbye (Black Moses)
8. Bill Withers – Moanin’ And Groanin’ (Just As I Am)
9. Kris Kristofferson – Loving Her Was Easier (The Silver Tongued Devil And I)
10. Judee Sill – The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown (Judee Sill)
11. Joni Mitchell – All I Want (Blue)
12. John Prine – Pretty Good (John Prine)
13. Cat Stevens – Tuesday’s Dead (Teaser & The Firecat)
14. Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey (Tupelo Honey)
15. Roberta Flack – Let Them Talk (Quiet Fire)
16. Marvin Gaye – Mercy Mercy Me (What’s Going On)
17. Curtis Mayfield – Keep On Keeping On (Roots)
18. King Curtis – A Whiter Shade of Pale (Live At Fillmore West)
19. Barbra Streisand – Space Captain (Barbra Joan Streisand)
20. Elton John – Razor Face (Madman Across The Water)

As ever, CR-R length, home-grooved covers, text in illustrated PDF. PW in comments.


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  1. September 9th, 2021 at 18:26 | #1

    Here are my twenty favorite albums from 1971, which was a great year. The greatest? Can’t say, except to say that the years of high school and early college – 1968 through 1974 – were the best years for music for me. One album that I wrestled with was The Concert For Bangla Desh, but I decided that all-star live albums have an unfair advantage. I’ll just note that Leon Russell’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” medley at that concert might be the single best thing released in 1971.

    Tapestry by Carole King
    Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones
    It Ain’t Easy by Long John Baldry
    Naturally by J.J. Cale
    The North Star Grassman and the Ravens by Sandy Denny
    Madman Across The Water by Elton John
    Pearl by Janis Joplin
    Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney
    Mudlark by Leo Kottke
    Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by the Moody Blues
    Stargazer by Shelagh McDonald
    Leon Russell & The Shelter People
    Stoney End by Barbra Streisand
    Moments by Boz Scaggs
    Teaser & The Firecat by Cat Stevens
    Every Picture Tells A Story by Rod Stewart
    The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys by Traffic
    Just An Old Fashioned Love Song by Paul Williams
    2 Years On by the Bee Gees
    Chase (Self-Titled)

  2. amdwhah
    September 9th, 2021 at 22:17 | #2

    Oh, I have the Concert for Bangla Desh set down as a 1972 release. A wikicheck reveals that in the US it was released on 20 December 1971, but in the UK (and, presumably, Europe) only in January 1972. I’ve done my Top 40, and “Ram” just failed the cut. There are a few albums on your list I ought to check out.

  3. Mr Loog Oldham
    September 10th, 2021 at 00:13 | #3

    Since when has The Rolling Stone’s album ” Sticky Fingers” been called “Brown Sugar”?

  4. amdwhah
    September 10th, 2021 at 09:44 | #4

    Ugh, brain-freeze…

  5. September 10th, 2021 at 20:48 | #5

    I guess I’m not as much of a deep-cut fan as I should be. I recognize all the albums, but most of the cuts aren’t ringing any bells.

    And a plus 1 to the comment about Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood! That is an all-time classic in my book. I remember playing that for anyone who would listen back in college, and no one cared but me.

  6. amdwhah
    September 11th, 2021 at 11:08 | #6

    Well, for many of the tracks, I deliberately went for lesser-known cuts. It might help illustrate why I rate those albums.

  7. Philo
    September 11th, 2021 at 14:04 | #7

    For me then and now are like two different people.
    Trying to place myself in 1971. 14 year old, small city, no FM radio so information was limited
    to reading RS, Cream, and the back of album covers.
    At the time a Marvin Gaye or a Curtis Mayfield record would’ve never been something I’d have.
    Thought of myself as a RnRer that could tolerate Carole King and Elton John.
    The LP’s that would have the most influence from 1971 I wasn’t even aware of yet until years later.
    Flamin’ Groovies – Teenage Head.
    MC5 – High Time.
    Savoy Brown – Street Corner Talkin’

  8. rat-a-tat-tat
    November 8th, 2021 at 21:04 | #8

    This was fantastic. I have listened to it repeatedly: like a great “deep cuts” FM station from back in the day. Thx much for your hard work.

  9. amdwhah
    November 9th, 2021 at 10:03 | #9

    Thank you! And the second 1971 mix went up this morning!

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