1971 – The Albums

Posted: January 4, 2023 in MUSIC

The year 1971 was a 12-month period where everything seemed to come together musically. The world was ready to shake off the 60s and move forward into an uncertain future. This sense of possibility, both good and bad, hangs over the best albums of that year. The biggest acts of the 60s were trying new things, and plenty of new voices were emerging to challenge what had come before. Motown stars were taking big chances. The Beatles were going solo. It was a year in which a list of the 50 most influential 1971 albums still doesn’t feel like it begins to scratch the surface. So, take this list as a beginning, an invitation to explore a year that changed music forever.

1971 was “the most febrile and creative time in the entire history of popular music”. It’s an enormous assertion but he makes his point with infectious enthusiasm . . . Whether you agree is beside the point. 

This week in ‘71, Paul and Linda’s Ram LP reached number one on the NME. The album included Paul’s first number one single in America without the Beatles, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”.

The singer-songwriter movement was taking off in earnest via artists like Carole King, James Taylor, Harry Nilsson and Joni Mitchell. Other individual artists—David Bowie, Elton John,  Rod Stewart, Marvin Gaye, Van Morrison and the now-former Beatles—had very distinctive musical personalities that would help shape the future of rock. Several of the bands that would come to define classic rock were just beginning to put down solid foundations—some holdovers from the ’60s (Pink Floyd, the Stones, the Who, the Doors, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Santana, ), others brand new new to us (the Allmans, Sabbath, Yes, Alice Cooper)

It was an exciting time for rock music, which was still growing in influence, commercially and culturally. Bands that had only recently performed in ballrooms and college gyms now played arenas and stadiums, and it was not uncommon for an album to sell many millions of copies.

For this survey, we looked back at hundreds of albums released in 1971 and whittled the list down to the 50 that we think represent the cream of the year’s crop. Many of these titles remain cornerstones of any essential classic rock record collection, sounding as fresh now as when we first removed the vinyl from the shrink-wrapped album jacket.

The music critics were as negative as it gets: “Incredibly inconsequential” and “monumentally irrelevant”.

Paul benefited immensely from collaboration with the Beatles, particularly John Lennon, who held the reins in on McCartney’s cutsie-pie, florid attempts at pure rock muzak”. Playboy accused Paul of “substituting facility for any real substance”. “An excursion into almost unrelieved tedium” and “the worst thing Paul McCartney has ever done.”

“A bad record, a classic form/content mismatch”, and “obscenely producing a style of music meant to be soft and whimsical.” “Trouble is you expect too much from a man like Paul McCartney.”

“It would be naive to have expected the McCartneys to produce anything other than a mediocre record”.

Allman Brothers Band—”At Fillmore East”—Many consider it the greatest live rock album of all time, and it may very well be. If anyone still wasn’t sure if these southerners were a major new force, this slab of perfection put that doubt to rest. The Allman Brothers Band finally captured their unique on-stage chemistry in action with “At Fillmore East“, showcasing just how well the band jammed together. The Allman Brothers Band performed the two concerts that comprised their “Live at the Fillmore” album. Fillmore East closed three months later. 

Badfinger“Straight Up”—Their first two albums for the Beatles’ Apple label found them hovering in the Fabs’ shadows. With this Todd Rundgren-produced LP the British quartet truly came into its own, creating the prototypical power pop album.

The Band, ‘Cahoots’ – A surface reading of this album would have you to believe that chief songwriter Robbie Robertson was talking about a disappearing America. Dig deeper, however, and his lament seems aimed more at the disintegration of the Band. ‘Cahoots’ finds the group suddenly reaching backward, reaching for everything, and nostalgia – as their frequent collaborator Bob Dylan once said – is death. It would be more than four years, an eternity back then, before another original Band album appeared, and that was the last one the founding five-man lineup managed.

The Beach Boys“Surf’s Up”—The influence of Brian Wilson was on the wane as he retreated further from the band’s day-to-day activities. The tracks written by the others (“Disney Girls,” “Don’t Go Near the Water”) are fine, but the title track, co-written by Brian with Van Dyke Parks, is the album’s masterpiece. “Surf’s Up” saw The Beach Boys celebrating the natural world and warning of the dangers posed to it by encroaching industrialization in 1971. The album’s message only gets more powerful every year that passes. Originally titled, “Landlock”, “Surf’s Up” steals its name from closing track written by Wilson and Van Dyke Parks. Originally intended for “Smile”, an unfinished Beach Boys album that was scrapped in 1967, the track found its way to the album and made its dictating stamp on the name.

Black Sabbath“Master of Reality”—Their third album and first to sell in huge quantities, this set is often credited with pushing the metal genre into darker, deeper waters. If Black Sabbath was still finding itself before, now they knew what they were. Many point to the foundational influence of “Master of Reality” on other bands and genres, but the album is no time capsule. Its songs have lost none of their elemental power.

Booker T & The M.G.’s – “Melting Pot” – One of the funkiest bands to ever record, Booker T. & the M.G.’s “Melting Pot” may be one of their funkiest albums ever in 1971.

David Bowie“Hunky Dory”—It’s rarely cited as one of Bowie’s most significant works, and is more transitional than transformative. But there’s no denying that Bowie’s artistry was expanding into new areas, and the opening track, “Changes,” spelled out what he and the rock generation were going through. Featuring “Changes” and “Life on Mars?,” “Hunky Dory” served as an incredible prelude to Bowie’s transformation into Ziggy Stardust.

Alice Cooper“Love it to Death”—Alice Cooper still referred to the band itself, not just its singer, when they released their third studio album, It contained what is still probably their best-known tune, “I’m Eighteen.” Later in the year, “Killer” further established Alice Cooper Band as one of the most important hard rock bands of the day. With singles like “Under My Wheels” and “Be My Lover,” “Killer” was another solid entry to Alice Cooper’s catalogue.

The Alice Cooper band’s best album was a transitional one for the group, which relocated to Detroit and absorbed the city’s grime for its refurnished rock ‘n’ roll. Gone was the blurry psychedelia of the first two albums, replaced by meat-and-potatoes guitar and songs that reflected the fears, anxieties and libidos of their growing audience. They were never better.

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen“Lost in the Ozone”—Although best known for the hit single “Hot Rod Lincoln,” which appears on this debut, the eight-piece band slipped easily into western swing, rockabilly, country-rock and more.

David Crosby“If I Could Only Remember My Name”—For his first solo album, Croz dug into his phone book and called upon members of Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Santana and more, including pals Graham Nash, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. While his other band released the excellent live document “4 Way Street” and Graham Nash put out “Songs for Beginners, David Crosby’s “If I Could Only Remember My Name” remains the best-remembered 1971 album from the hugely talented Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young quartet. It remains emblematic of that certain time and place.

Deep Purple – “Fireball” – None other than Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich credits this 1972 album as being an inspiration for his interest in heavy music. ‘Machine Head’ gets all of the accolades, but Deep Purple had been building toward it on more underrated projects like this one for some time. A few tweaks to their bubbling gumbo of heavy rock, blues and prog were still needed before it all came together one album later, but ‘Fireball’ – which topped the U.K. charts and hit the Top 40 stateside – offered more than its share of predictive, often improvisational-sounding successes.

The Doors“L.A. Woman”—This is where it all ended for the Doors (if you discount those Morrison-less duds released after his death). And they went out on a high note, with the title track, “Riders on the Storm,” “Love Her Madly” and more. Six albums and a legacy that is still so strong.

With a miraculous ability to maintain a stripped back sound yet a ‘full’ sounding production, “L.A. Woman” remains up there with one of the greatest albums . With a combination of blues, funk and soul, it has been suggested that the best way to absorb “L.A. Woman” is to listen once for the sound and then listen again for the genius of Morrison.

With a blues voice from Morrison making it’s stamp on iconic tracks such as “Been Down So Long” and “Cars Hiss By My Window”, the record reeks with sophistication despite the stimulus taken throughout the creative process. The album acts as one of impeccable taste and musical judgement, being considered as one of their best and most disturbing pieces of work. There are wonderfully sensual moments on the record with bluesy rock beats combined with provocative timings and lustful beats. ‘Been Down So Long’ completes this fantasy perfectly and layers it with lyrics argued to be inspired by Richard Farina’s 1966 novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer“Tarkus”—The trio released two albums in 1971 that came to define prog: this one and the live “Pictures at An Exhibition”. Both are pretty ambitious, to say the least, but “Tarkus” is the more durable: the side-long title track is a full-blown epic in the true sense of the word.

Faces“A Nod Is As Good as a Wink…to a Blind Horse”—Following “Long Player” earlier in the year, “A Nod…” is where the Faces became something more than Rod Stewart’s backup band. Every track is a stone rock classic, starting with “Stay With Me,” one of their best loved tunes.

Aretha Franklin“Live at Fillmore West”—When the Queen of Soul pulled in to San Francisco’s hippie central she didn’t know if they would accept her. Ha! They adored her, and she gave them a show to remember. The companion album by her band (and opening act) led by King Curtis is also killer.

Rory Gallagher – Deuce – Irish blues-rock guitar virtuoso Rory Gallagher went for a raw feel on “Deuce“, and the decision paid off handsomely, with rollicking numbers like “I’m Not Awake Yet.”

Marvin Gaye“What’s Going On”Motown’s Berry Gordy Jr. was reluctant to release this concept album about a returning Vietnam vet who finds a different America awaiting him. Not only was it a huge hit, but today it’s regularly cited as one of the greatest albums of all time. Sometimes the boss is just plain wrong. An album so revered that Rolling Stone recently named it the best album ever made, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is a searing and important record that has transcended time.

Genesis – “Nursery Cryme” The first Genesis album to include Phil Collins and Steve Hackett, “Nursery Cryme” was the beginning of a new era for the group.

Grateful Dead“Grateful Dead”—The band’s eponymous second live album is usually called “Skull & Roses” due to its iconic artwork (the band wanted to call it “Skullfuck”), and it marks a time when they briefly scaled back to the original quintet lineup. They were doing some serious rocking out in 1971 and many tunes on here stayed in their setlists till they quit.

Jimi Hendrix“The Cry of Love”—Several of these recordings were not yet completed when Hendrix died in September 1970. The label released it as a posthumous tribute although we will never know if the artist would have been happy with the final product.

Humble Pie“Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore”—The English quartet led by former Small Faces singer Steve Marriott and guitarist/singer Peter Frampton had released four studio albums (including “Rock On” earlier in the year) but couldn’t catch a break in the U.S. Then they put out this live album. Bingo! Read our previously unpublished interview with Steve Marriott.

Isaac Hayes – “Theme From Shaft” One of the greatest soundtracks ever put together, “Shaft” sees Isaac Hayes at the height of his powers.

Jethro Tull“Aqualung”—They started out as a jazz-blues-rock hybrid, a formula they honed over three previous (and all excellent) studio albums. But it took a turn toward harder rock for Ian Anderson and company to break through to the top 10. The title track is a bona fide rock classic. Opening with one of 1971’s most iconic riffs, Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” was a flute-featuring prog rock album that heavily featured religious themes.

Elton John“Madman Across the Water”—Americans took readily to this British piano-playing fellow, sending his first couple of albums into the top 10. The live “11-17-70”, released earlier in ’71, demonstrated chops to spare.. This somewhat autobiographical affair (its songs, of course, were co-written with lyricist Bernie Taupin), featuring classics-to-be like “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon,” set the stage for the massive superstardom that would arrive the following year.

Janis Joplin“Pearl”—Sadly, she was gone by the time her second solo album, which dominated the #1 spot in the American charts for an astounding nine weeks, was released. Her only album recorded with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, it featured her definitive cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and several other soul-rock pearls.

John Lee Hooker & Canned Heat, ‘Hooker ‘n Heat’ Canned Heat had just split with two of their Woodstock-era contributors when they discovered a boogie-blues camaraderie with legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker after a chance meeting at a Portland airport. They’d lose another crucial member – harpist Alan Wilson – before it was released. ‘Hooker ‘n Heat’ withstood every setback, however, as this muscular collaboration helped Hooker to his first-ever chart success.

Paul Kantner and Grace Slick“Sunfighter”—With Jefferson Airplane nearing the end of its run (their 1971 album “Bark” sold well but was not as strong as previous ones), the individual band members concentrated on their own projects. Kantner and Slick were lovers at the time (their daughter China graces the album cover) and they invited a few dozen friends to help flesh out their newest songs.

King Crimson, ‘Islands’ – A transitional album that marked the last gasps of King Crimson’s earliest incarnation, ‘Islands’ relied on older material to round things out. (“The Letter” had been run through by the group’s original lineup, while “Song of the Gulls” traces back to the pre-Crimson band Giles Giles and Fripp.) That said, the brilliant, vaguely Zappa-esque “A Sailor’s Tale” points to the nervy genius just ahead as John Wetton came on board for a series of mind-blowing releases.

Carole King“Tapestry”—Having co-written dozens of smash AM hits for others, the songwriter decided to sit down at her piano and cut her own tunes using her own voice. The result was one of the best-selling albums in history, #1 for an amazing 15 weeks. The singer-songwriter movement kicked into high gear here.Carole King was already a celebrated songwriter by the time she went solo, but the 1971 album “Tapestry” truly brought her talent to the masses.

The Kinks“Muswell Hillbillies”—Moving to a new label (RCA), the stalwart English band did not have great commercial success with their latest (#100 in the U.S.), but it has grown in stature. Not quite a concept album like others before and after, it nonetheless contains some of Ray Davies’ most durable compositions. The Kinks’ portraits of everyday life in England throughout “Muswell Hillbillies” feel richer and richer with each passing year. The brilliance of Ray Davies’s songwriting is yet undeniable. Tongue-in-cheek lyrics, attention to texture, playful music-hall feel and poker face clownery – the familiar trademarks of The Kinks are also present on the album.

Led Zeppelin“IV”—The album actually does not have an official title, but it has always been called IV simply because that’s where it fell numerically in their catalog. Like its predecessors it was a massive success, as you might expect of an album that introduced “Stairway to Heaven,” “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” “Going to California” and more.

At the time, Led Zeppelin’s fourth album played like a summation of their career up to that point: part rock ‘n’ roll thunder, part Tolkien fantasy folk, part blues ripoff. But the band never played with more confidence, from Jimmy Page’s sterling production to the block-shaking rumble of John Bonham’s drums. Almost every song is a classic-rock staple now and for good reason: This is where Led Zeppelin sealed their legend once and for all.

John Lennon“Imagine”—Lennon’s second post-Beatles solo album was a highly personal affair. Alternately angry (“Crippled Inside,” “How Do You Sleep?”), sweet (“Oh My Love,” “Jealous Guy”) and always brutally honest (the title track, “Gimme Some Truth”), it defined Lennon in the immediate aftermath of the maelstrom. As if the title track weren’t enough, “Imagine” also includes the unforgettable “Jealous Guy.”

Paul and Linda McCartney“Ram”—The only album credited to both members of the couple, this followed Paul’s self-titled solo debut and preceded the debut by his new group Wings later in the year. “Ram” was a strong set of originals, some of them low-key to reflect the country life the couple was sharing. Regarded as one of the finest post-Beatles solo albums by Paul McCartney, “Ram” found Paul working hand-in-hand with his wife to create a masterpiece of small delights. Let’s briefly rewind a year. In April 1970, Beatle Paul released his first solo album, “McCartney”. On the day of its release he dropped a ‘self-interview’ into the hands of the media. From that moment on, it was evident that The Beatles were no more. Thirteen months later, people were still coming to terms with that, but Paul McCartney had already moved on. On the 17th May 1971, he released “Ram” and despite about a million more solo albums and stratospheric success with Wings, “Ram” is his best solo collection of work ever.
At the time of its recording McCartney was spending much of his time down on the farm. “Ram” wasn’t recorded at McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre home (it was actually recorded in New York), but it sounds as if it was. It’s homespun, a million miles away from the way Phil Spector overproduced the final Beatles album, “Let It Be“.

John Martyn – Bless the Weather– The melancholic folk troubadour returned to his solo career with this celebrated collection of songs, “Bless The Weather“.

Joni Mitchell“Blue”—Already beloved by a tuned-in segment of the rock/pop audience, Mitchell was still emerging as a wider commercial force. “Blue”, her fourth album, boosted her profile with brilliant songs like “A Case of You,” “Carey” and “California,” and has since found itself listed near the top of many all-time-greatest albums lists.This is the Joni Mitchell album. While the album is steeped in the artist’s personal life and is deeply tethered to specific times and places, it also transcends those boundaries. “California” isn’t just California. “Blue” isn’t just a person or a colour, but an atmosphere with dozens of shades that carry the listener from a playful mood to one that’s sentimental and melancholy. And “Carey” is so much more than a song about Cary Raditz, with whom Mitchell spent time as she wrote the album. It’s a song that’s a joy to sing and to play as it conjures some far-off place where worries ebb. We’ll go to the Mermaid Cafe, have fun tonight. By the time the album gets to “River”, I feel like I could cry. “Blue”, from start to finish, comforts and roars like a cinematic masterpiece. The songs are visual and evocative, tying us to Joni Mitchell’s memories while reminding us that each of the tracks are linked to our own recollections of the moments and spaces where we’ve heard them.

Van Morrison“Tupelo Honey”—Following the landmark “Moondance” and “His Band & Street Choir” albums with this somewhat subdued set (written while he was residing in bucolic Woodstock, N.Y.), the Irish bard captured the zeitgeist on tunes like “Wild Night” and the title track. his self-produced and commercially successful album of 1970.
“Tupelo Honey” captures the time of Morrison’s short-term family idyll. The title, deriving its name from a specific type of monofloral honey, refers to his wife Janet Planet Risgbee, a native of Texas where tupelo trees allegedly grow in abundance. Rigsbee is also depicted on the album’s cover. Hence the romantic mood of most of the songs. The emotional intensity reaches its height on “You Are My Woman”, a captivating ballad with overtones of blues. With the brilliant flexibility of his voice, Van Morrison displays various shades of affection – from adoration to passionate longing.

Mothers“Fillmore East—June 1971”—The incredibly prolific Frank Zappa recorded his latest group of Mothers (shortened from Mothers of Invention), fronted by former Turtles vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, and enjoyed one of his most successful albums to date. The live versions of tunes like “The Mud Shark” and “Peaches en Regalia” are definitive.

Graham Nash“Songs for Beginners”—His bandmates David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Neil Young had all released—or were about to—their own solo albums, so Nash gave it a shot. Turns out he had a lot to say too: songs like “Military Madness” and “Chicago” remain in his set list today, as relevant as they were in 1971.

New Riders of the Purple Sage“New Riders of the Purple Sage”—All of the songs on the debut by this California-based country-rock outfit were written by singer John Dawson, aka Marmaduke. But the instant high profile the band enjoyed was due to the input of Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar.

Pink Floyd“Meddle”—With “Dark Side of the Moon” just a couple of years away, “Meddle” sometimes gets overlooked. It’s something of a transitional album, bridging their psychedelic, experimental early work with the more mainstream rock that would come soon. The side-long “Echoes” is a masterwork. “Meddle” decisively proved that Pink Floyd could go on to even greater heights without their co-founder and beloved frontman Syd Barrett.

Arguably, “Meddle” is the last great Pink Floyd album, before the almost architectural structures and increasingly dark themes of “Dark Side of The Moon” and its successors. This was due in part to Waters’ increasing song writing dominance in the band, evidenced here by the opening track to side two, “One of These Days”, with its leaden opening bass line and thunderous delivery. Following is a glorious and whimsical suite of songs; “Fearless”, “A Pillow of Winds”, “San Tropez”, and “Seamus“, all of which had their origins steeped in Syd’s legacy.

Meddle is a great album and deserved of further listening. Echoes, whilst pointing to what was to come, still maintained the psychedelic core that set the band on their journey four years previously, and the later part of side two is Pink Floyd having fun.

Poco—”Deliverin’—Their third album, and first live one, is country-rock at its finest. With Richie Furay, Jim Messina, Timothy B. Schmit, Rusty Young and George Grantham in the lineup, they were at their peak as songwriters and players.

Rolling Stones“Sticky Fingers”—What can you say? One of the all-time great rock albums. This marked the first full Stones album for new guitarist Mick Taylor, who got to strut on tunes like “Brown Sugar,” “Bitch,” “Wild Horses” and the exquisite “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” One of the highwater marks of their ongoing career.

Songs like “Wild Horses”, “Sway”, and “Dead Flowers”. And I’m just a sucker for anything involving Gram Parsons. This is the best songwriting the Stones ever did, and it doesn’t feel like it’s fifty years old. They conjure the Delta blues like you’d never guess they could, and they perform a kind of sound that feels just at home in 2021 as it did in 1971. But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can trust the late, great Townes Van Zandt, whose cover of “Dead Flowers” has turned the song, and the album on which it appears, into something akin to an old-time standard.

Todd Rundgren“Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren”—Rundgren played most of the instruments himself, wrote all of the tunes, produced it and established his rep as a perfectionist. Heavy on the keyboard-based ballads, it’s not his best known and didn’t sell well, but it made many new fans.

Leon Russell – Leon Russell and the Shelter People“The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen” was the standout track from Leon Russell and the Shelter People that promised an eventual commercial breakthrough.

Santana“III”—It was actually self-titled, as was their debut, but has always taken on the Roman numeral to distinguish it. Whatever you call it, it marked yet another quantum leap for the San Francisco band, who watched it sail up to #1. They would continue to expand their musical horizons, not always to gratifying results, but this was a keeper. Carlos Santana’s unique Latin rock arguably reached its peak on this 1971 album, not least because of new hotshot guitarist Neal Schon.

Neal Schon, a teen prodigy who’d go on to co-found Journey, showed up just as the lineup that had powered Santana to fame at Woodstock began to fall apart. They still had plenty of fire left at this point (both “Everybody’s Everything” and “No One to Depend On” became radio favorites), but a subsequent turn toward jazzier fare split the band as it pushed Santana off the charts.

Sly and the Family Stone“There’s a Riot Goin’ On”—Having enjoyed a swift ascent with their Woodstock appearance and late ’60s hits, the future of the band was in doubt after some dodgy doings. But Sly and company rallied on this funky, somewhat darker effort. Sly and the Family Stone’s fifth album sounds like the ’60s coming down from a terrible, life-altering high. It’s murky, muddy, depressing, deep and dripping with thick, oozing muck that sounded like it just had enough of whatever the era was throwing at it. After the good-time party music collected on the previous year’s essential ‘Greatest Hits’ set, ‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On’ was the sound of the morning after seen through half-shut eyes and a mind caked in the era’s desolation.

Cat Stevens“Teaser and the Firecat”—Perhaps his most beloved album (along with the previous year’s “Tea for the Tillerman”), it contains such archetypal singer-songwriter classics as “Moonshadow,” “Morning Has Broken” and “Peace Train.”

Rod Stewart“Every Picture Tells a Story”—He was fronting the Faces but that wasn’t enough for the Scottish rocker. This was the one that included “Maggie May,” but the title track, “Mandolin Wind” and his excellent covers also contributed to his growing reputation. “Every Picture Tells a Story” went to the #1 spot in the U.K., the U.S. and many other countries. The album also includes choice covers of Tim Hardin (“Reason to Believe”), the Temptations hit “(I Know) I’m Losing You” and Bob Dylan’s (“Tomorrow is a Long Time”), as well as the great title track.

James Taylor“Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon”—Following up a career-making record like “Sweet Baby James” couldn’t have been easy, but Taylor was on a roll. “You’ve Got a Friend,” his cover of the Carole King song, gave Taylor his only #1 single, and the album was massively popular and influential.

T. Rex“Electric Warrior”—The former Tyrannosaurus Rex, led by the charismatic singer Marc Bolan, were glam royalty in the U.K., and while they never quite reached that level here, they did make a significant impact. Two of their most popular tracks, “Jeepster” and especially “Get it On,” originated here. It took Marc Bolan and T. Rex six albums before they finally hit on the formula that made them glam stars. A little glitter, a little sparkle and a whole lotta chunky guitar helped transition the group from starry-eyed folkies to gender-bending innovators. “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” was the hit, but all of ‘Electric Warrior’ sounds like that: the flashy future brought to life.

Traffic“The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”—The followup to “John Barleycorn Must Die” showed continued growth for the Steve Winwood-led band, with drummer Jim Capaldi taking more of a frontman’s role as well.  The title track is one of the group’s best-remembered tunes.”The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” saw the inimitable English group stretching out for lengthy jams with often surprising detours.

Various Artists“The Concert for Bangladesh”—When Ravi Shankar told his friend George Harrison that his homeland was in trouble, the former Beatle called up some friends—Clapton, Dylan, Ringo, Leon Russell and more—and asked them to meet him at Madison Square Garden to play some music. The concert was historic, and the album was and still is considered quintessential live rock.

The Who—”Who’s Next“—For some it’s not only the greatest Who album but the greatest of all rock albums. Hard to argue that one when it includes tunes like “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and “Baba O’Riley.” “Who’s Next” redefined what this band was—and what they were capable of. Following the success of rock opera “Tommy”, The Who looked to create something just as ambitious with Lifehouse. The project never materialized, but Pete Townshend and the rest of the band emerged with “Who’s Next“, which contained iconic songs like and “Behind Blue Eyes.”

Yes—”Fragile“—Coming off the very fine “The Yes Album” early in the year, the quintet (Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Bill Bruford)—possibly the band’s ultimate lineup—took their prog music up another level with radio favorites like “Roundabout” and “Long Distance Runaround.”

Even as Yes moved toward a creative apex, it seemed that the group was breaking apart. Of the nine tracks on ‘Fragile,’ only four were arranged and performed by the group as a whole. Still, ‘Fragile’ hurtled Yes – in their best-known lineup with the addition of endlessly inventive keyboardist Rick Wakeman – from cult favorites into a hard-charging, hit-making, standard-bearing phenomenon.

So, that’s it. 1971 in a nutshell. A year that brought album releases from three ex-Beatles, Bowie, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, The Who, The Doors, Marvin Gaye, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, T Rex, Sly Stone and The Beach Boys. There’s never been another year like it.

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