Happy 1971, friends! This is the fourth year for my blog, chronologically speaking, but since I mostly skipped the year 1969 it’s basically my third. If I were a baseball player, I’d be a streaky hitter and semi-reliable fielder. When it comes to my blogging I’m either all in or struggling to turn on my computer. I don’t know why I’m so consistently inconsistent, but writing helps keep my brain synapses firing and I mostly enjoy the process. I continue to love music from the now mostly bygone era of 50 years ago, and I’m still hearing some recordings from that era (and earlier) for the first time, so I’ll continue to babble about them in these pages.
By 1971, most of the dayglow optimism of America’s youth as found in popular music had been scraped off and painted over in various shades of gray. Songwriters were creating more introspective music reflective of that come down. Vietnam still raged on, and America’s racial and economic divide showed no sign of improving despite earlier socio-political efforts to that end (I found that filed in a folder labeled “The more things change…”). Hard drugs were taking a toll everywhere, from everyday young folk to soldiers returning from Southeast Asia, and of course on the music scene. As Joni Mitchell would lament in June of that year, “Acid, booze, and ass, needles, guns, and grass, lots of laughs…”
Some of the most popular music of the still new decade – often forgettable in any era – was vapid bubblegum dreck for people who didn’t want to know “what’s going on” in the first place.* As depressing as all this may sound, 1971 is the heart of my favorite ten year span of music. And beginning with album releases at the end of the second month of that year I can finally say I was alive when they came out. Let’s set the stage, shall we?
Bands that said sayonara in 1971: Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Country Joe & the Fish, Derek & the Dominos, Fotheringay, Free, The Mamas & the Papas, The Monkees, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, and Sounds Inc.
New acts in 1971: Big Star, Billy Joel, The Charlie Daniels Band, The Eagles, Foghat, Jo Jo Gunne, Loggins & Messina, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Manassas, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, The Motels, New York Dolls, Paul McCartney & Wings, Roxy Music, Sister Sledge, Split Enz, and Vinegar Joe (Robert Palmer).
There’s really nothing earth shattering about the first collection of bands listed above. Booker T. & the M.G.’s ended up re-forming, Derek & the Dominos & Fotheringay were basically one-off groups anyway, albeit with very well-known leaders who continued on, and a couple members of Free would form one of the biggest acts of the 70’s with an updated Free sound. The new acts contained part of the origins of glam, punk, disco, and new wave (and a former Beatle who dabbled in some of those genres at various points in the ensuing years), not to mention one of the most influential groups of all time when it came to future bands, yet who remain one of the most underappreciated groups ever to enter a recording studio when it comes to the masses.
So, here’s to 2021 being a better year than 2020. I hope you continue to stop by for a reminder of what was good in music 50 years ago as we once again ring in the new year of 1971. Cheers!
*Sometimes I don’t mind vapid bubblegum dreck.