1971. Never a Dull Moment. Rock’s Golden Year by David Hepworth: Book Review.


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David Hepworth has researched a thoroughly entertaining and rapid-fire read in this paean to 1971.  The title is accurately describes its content which is a cultural contextualisation of why, in his and presumably many others’, view, in 1971, from a musical point of view you’d never had it so good and, as it transpires in Hepworth’s mind, never did again.

He makes a strong case.

It’s fundamentally a pivot year in musical history. Both rock and roll and pop have established themselves and ‘buying records’ is now a common practice.  Indeed it has replaced going to the cinema which is facing the low point in its history as TV and music have replaced the big screen in young people’s affections.

Furthermore the shift has begun to swing from 45’s (singles) to 33’s (LP’s), those beautiful 12″ platters that we thought had been consigned to history until Generation X discovered them to cover cracks in their bedroom walls.

This is a new dawn for music and it’s the year when many genres are emerging or evolving into more mature manifestations of their sixties’ inspiration.

The list of seminal 1971 records is not to be sniffed at (not all of these make Hepworth’s list).  I’ve picked out my own favourites in bold but there is so much to choose from. It’s an embarrassment of riches:

  • Janis Joplin’s Pearl
  • Tapestry by Carole King
  • The Yes Album
  • Tago Mago by Can
  • Aqualung by Jethro Tull
  • Tanz Der Lemminge by Amon Düll II
  • LA Woman and Other Voices by The Doors
  • War by War
  • Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones
  • The Stones also released their first ever compilation (a new thing at the time) this year
  • Maybe Tomorrow by The Jackson 5
  • Bryter Later by Nick Drake
  • Thin Lizzy by Thin Lizzy
  • Carpenters
  • Relics and Meddle by Pink Floyd
  • Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart
  • Ram  – Paul (and Linda) McCartneys’ first solo album
  • Marvin Gaye’s astonishing What’s Going On
  • Man in Black by Johnny Cash
  • Home Made by The Osmonds (the first real ‘boy band’ unless you consider the Jacksons as such – certainly the beginning of teen pop.)
  • Joni Mitchell’s seminal Blue
  • Surrender by Diana Ross
  • Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by The Moody Blues
  • Fireball by Deep Purple
  • Shaft Soundtrack by Isaac Hayes
  • Who’s Next – The Who’s best record
  • Surf’s Up – The Beach Boys mark II
  • Aretha’s Greatest Hits
  • Electric Warrior by T Rex
  • Judee Sill by Judee Sill
  • Trafalgar by Bee Gees
  • Teaser and the Firecat by Cat Stevens
  • Hawkwind’s In Search of Space
  • American Pie by Don Mclean
  • Fog on the Tyne by Lindisfarne
  • Reflection by Pentangle
  • Tupelo Honey by Van the Man
  • Zep 4
  • Nursery Cryme by Genesis
  • There’s a riot going’ on by Sly and the Family Stone
  • Muskel Hillbillies by The Kinks
  • Two Earth Wind and Fire albums
  • People Like Us by The Mamas and the Papas – pre-Ham sandwich?
  • Pictures at an Exhibition by ELP (their second of the year)
  • Nazareth
  • Islands by King Crimson
  • The Concert for Bangladesh (live) by George Harrison and friends – the precursor to Live Aid etc
  • The Electric Light Orchestra
  • Wild Life by Wings
  • America

And… on December 17th the greatest recording of all time.  Hunky Dory by David Bowie.

There’s 14 albums in bold there, more than one a month. (And I was only 9 year’s old at the time so I have had to discover every one of them retrospectively).

My Sweet Lord by George Harrison was the top selling single of the year, Imagine by John Lennon was runner up and Maggie May by Rod Stewart got the bronze. (Brown Sugar was fifth).

By any reckoning that’s a powerhouse of music with the emergence of AOR, Prog and heavy metal.  A golden year for folk. Seminal soul records (Shaft and What’s Going on in particular.) And the emergence of ‘Krautrock’ (Can and Amon Düll were contemporaries of Kraftwerk) which was to, in turn, influence the last 30 years’ dance music.

Hepworth tells this story month-by-month, cleverly cross-referencing collaborators, rock histories and using back stories to spice up the drug addled goings on of The Who, The Stones, Clapton and many more.

He drops in other cultural references, from cinema primarily, and peppers it with the politics of the time.

It’s an authoritative read with several eyebrow raising moments.

For real music lovers (like me) I’d go as far as to say it’s essential reading.  Hepworth’s style has its faults but I’ll forgive those for the quality of his research.  I’m not surprised it won 2016’s music book of the year in eight different newspapers.

Highly recommended (for music lovers.)

Footnote.

I don’t actually agree that it’s the greatest year of all time, but that doesn’t really matter.

I think 1979 saw a similar confluence of happenings.  (If you want evidence of that check out NME’s 1979 albums of the year.  It’s jaw dropping – London Calling only made number 8!)

  • The emergence of the new and highly influential post punk movement – Talking Heads Fear of music won NME”s coveted album of the year, PIL’s Metal Box was #2 and Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasure’s taking the bronze)
  • But with ‘Punk’ also maturing in its own right
  • The end of disco but still at creative high – 3 of the Top ten singles were disco (Gloria Gaynor, The Jackson 5 and Sheila B. Devotion)
  • Coventry Ska
  • Bowie still there
  • The emergence of electronica – Human League made the list with Reproduction

What do YOU think?