by Justin Crockett
If you’re a rock music fan, there really are few years that saw as many highlights and artistic freedom as did the year of 1971. Artists took incredible strides in those days, not bound to the “do or die” immediacy that seems to be the prevailing attitude with record companies these days. Funny thing is, the artists still saw phenomenal sales and glowing reviews, even while pushing the boundaries of music.
Some artists, such as The Doors, were(unknowingly), wrapping up their careers. Their last album with Jim Morrison dropped in April that year:
Featuring 3 Doors, and a man from the woods.
L.A. Woman would ultimately be their swan song, and a marked change from their synth-happy early days. Slow blues dirges, long, winding story tales set to sparse music, these songs were not of the same ilk as their hotshot debut was. These pieces were more meditative and somber, displaying Morrison’s tiring of the rock lifestyle.
He was still a pretty shitty poet.
While The Doors were putting a bow on their recording days, the large-pupiled lads over at Pink Floyd were just hitting their stride, putting out “Meddle”, a realization and culmination of their powers.
Is it an ear? The silhouette of a Koopa Troopa’s head? No one knows…
After a couple of albums where they seemed to have lost their way(but with some brilliant moments), the Floydians started what would be a streak of nearly-perfect albums. The serene “Fearless” and ” A Pillow of Winds” are sandwiched between the ominous, pulsing “One of These Days”, and, admittedly some filler, before opening up to “Echoes”. Their first fully thought-out and cohesive extended suite, “Echoes” juggles dreamy verses, intricate riffing, whale songs, and sonar pings, all to beautiful effect.
John Lennon built off the unanimous praise of “Plastic Ono Band” and released his trademark “Imagine”. Seemingly tired of putting out albums of his naked ass and shitty protest songs, he delved now into making good albums.
While the title track is a little sappy and played-out, the rest of the album is an in-the-pocket, even fun affair. “Oh Yoko” is a bouncy joy of a song, even making it to the stellar “Rushmore” soundtrack years later. “How Do You Sleep?” is a stinging barb directed at none other than Paul McCartney, basically shitting on all of Paul’s pop, bubblegummy sensibilities.
“How do I sleep? On gold bricks, motherfucker.”
Another band to crystallize their essence in 1971, Led Zeppelin made an orgy of Celtic ditties, white-boy blues, and lazy acoustic California love songs, with their aggravatingly self-titled fourth album.
Known to real fans as “Roughshod Hobo Carrying Branches”.
With the sexy swagger of “Black Dog”, the lead-off track, Led Zep crash through with the bravado of a band that has ruled the world for 5 straight years. “The Battle of Evermore” brings things down, with mandolin and light guitars fighting against the neutered banshee wails of Robert Plant and Sandy Denny. “When the Levee Breaks” is one of the heaviest songs to ever happen, ever. The booming, brick shit-house drum beat is iconic, but to only focus on that robs you of the dry, crackling guitar lines and lonely, desperate harmonica cries.There’s also some filler, sure, but that’s just “Stairway to Heaven”. Seriously, you don’t like it, you just wait for the drums to come in. Be real.
Even albums of B-sides and rarities were good enough to be considered classics decades later. The Rolling Stones put out their nastiest work with “Sticky Fingers”.
The CD reissue did not include the balls, however.
Songs like “Sway”, and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, and “Moonlight Mile” were towering achievements. Mick Taylor was on board for lead guitar, and would be an integral part of what is considered their classic lineup.
Even bands that put basically 4 fucking songs on an album kicked ass that year. Yes, known for progressive rock and 20 minute opuses, condensed things a bit with “Fragile”.
A hit single, in the form of “Roundabout”, didn’t hurt either. 1971 bitches! A year when pale Englishmen could sing about lakes, and sunrises, and counting to one hundred, and fucking rip up the charts.
Black Sabbath, “Master of Reality”
Sly and the Family Stone, “There’s a Riot Goin’ On”
Funkadelic, “Maggot Brain”
Mahavishnu Orchestra, “The Inner Mounting Flame”