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What is it about journalists that they must always assess, always evaluate? It seems as though rock critics have the 'evaluation bug' worse than anyone, hence this section and this article. So, what was 1971 like?
First of all, it was a year of change, a year of death. The casualty list of rock stars grew as Jim Morrison sang his last song and Duane Allman played his last note. But as if to show the world that rock would live despite its losses, the Doors released an album and went on tour, and the Allman Brothers said they too would continue to tour, although they would try to replace Duane (as if it were possible). Reprise posthumously released two Jimi Hendrix albums, The Cry of Love (representing his last studio work) and Rainbow Bridge, the soundtrack from a yet-to-be-released movie.
1971 was also a year of re-vitalization and, if you will, resurrection. Bob Dylan appeared in public for the first time in years at the Concert for Bangla Desh, and Jeff Beck made a come-back with a new album and a new group. Even the Beach Boys were able to draw critical acclaim with the release of the surprising Surf's Up.
But for many people 1971 was a year of decline. The Band continued to slide downhill with the release of Cahoots. Jethro Tull became self-indulgent with Aqualung. If anyone had ever questioned the death of the San Francisco sound, Grace Slick et-al. confirmed their suspicions with Bark, and a spate of pseudo-solo albums. With the release of Future Games, Fleetwood Mac proved conclusively that it will never make it without Peter Green. And Peter Green with the release of his solo album proved conclusively that he'll never make it without Fleetwood Mac. Ram and Wings helped Paul McCartney put his foot further into his musical mouth.
The real greats, however, remained on top. The Rolling Stones' only new release was Sticky Fingers and it proved to be one of their best. Who's Next was a powerful statement from a powerful group. The Mothers showed they were still the most inventive group in rock with their Live at the Fillmore East.
Led Zeppelin had its ups and down. First they released III that was without a doubt their worst work. Their U.S. tour was something less than successful and a long-promised fourth album was not released until the end of the year. Led Zeppelin IV, however, turned out to be one of the best albums of the year.
1971 was also a year of discovery. People like Carole King and Rod Stewart who had been around for years suddenly rose to dominate the rock scene. The super group Emerson, Lake, and Palmer composed of veteran English rockers became the leaders of progressive rock.
Neil Young and Eric Clapton managed to remain everyone's favorites without either of them releasing an album during 1971. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young put out a live album that was something less than exciting, and Steve Stills' solo efforts were both praised and maligned.
Sly Stone (Mr. Black-White) and Steve Winwood (Mr. White-Black) both released long awaited albums, and both were very good. Anxiously anticipated albums were also released by James Taylor (Mud Slide Slim) and Joni Mitchell (Blue).
Religious rock came into vogue with the popularization of Jesus Christ, Superstar. Talented former jazz-blues guitarist John McLaughlin organized a travelling revival group and released two astounding albums, Devotion and My Goal's Beyond. George Harrison also caught the fever and produced The Radha Krsna Temple London.
1971 proved to be a very good year for local talent. It seems as though the Reprise-Atlantic-Elektra conglomerate is trying to gain a monopoly on the Boston talent market. They released works by Bonnie Raitt (Warners-Reprise), Jonathan Edwards (Atlantic), and J. Geils (Atlantic). Guns and Butter, another local group, recorded an album for Atlantic but it won't be released until this year. The quality of the Boston albums was excellent, with Raitt's album being the standout.
And as if to end the year on a pleasant note, the record companies decided to stop hassling and release The Concert for Bangla Desh. It served as a summation of hundreds of different musical statements, a dozen different roots. It gives one hope for 1972.
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