1971 might not be talked about as one of the great years in music, but on reflection, it was a pretty special time. Some guy named David Bowie headlined the little known UK festival Glastonbury, glam and progressive rock entered the mainstream and the late great Marvin Gaye crossed over into the pop charts with “What’s Going On.” It’s also the year some of music’s greats released albums that went down in music history. With many of those records celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, here’s a look at eight of the best from the magical year that was 1971.
The Rolling Stones | Sticky Fingers
Much like Andy Warhol’s provocative cover, featuring a close-up of a male models crotch and his large bulge, Sticky Fingers is a sultry blues-rock masterpiece containing some of The Rolling Stones greatest songs. “Brown Sugar,” “Wild Horses” and “Bitch” are clear highlights, while covers of the gospel song “You Gotta Move” and Marianne Faithfull’s “Sister Morphine” are given the Stones treatment and end up sounding like originals.
The Doors | LA Woman
Released three months before the tragic death of frontman Jim Morrison, The Doors’ sixth record is a blues-centric collection of groovy rock songs. Similar to previous albums, the heartbeat of The Doors lies in Ray Manzarek’s keys and Morrison’s poetic lyrics and baritone croon. This album has it all, from the sing-along pop of “Love Her Madly” to the driving blues of “L.A. Woman,” with final track “Riders On The Storm” a philosophical-influenced mystic experience featuring a sample of a thunderstorm and Morrison’s haunting, whispered overdubs.
David Bowie | Hunky Dory
Retrospectively acclaimed by critics, Hunky Dory finds David Bowie in a transitional phase. After the rock heavy The Man Who Sold The World, Bowie swapped the guitar for the piano on this keys heavy pop album. Joined by a new band that included Yes wizard Rick Wakeman on piano, Hunky Dory marks the beginning of Bowie’s musical evolution and the wild artistic streak that would see him move to Berlin and continue to push the boundaries of pop music. Hunky Dory is also responsible for “Changes” and “Life On Mars?’ both amazing songs that are important to Bowie’s legacy.
Carole King | Tapestry
There’s a reason why Tapestry has sold over 25 million copies worldwide since its release. Carole King’s sophomore album is a masterclass in songwriting, with the revered singer crafting emotionally relatable tales about heartbreak and love that hit you at the core. There’s not a wasted moment on Tapestry, with every track dripping with King’s heart and soul. From the bawdy opening number, “I Feel The Earth Move” to the piano ballad “You’ve Got A Friend” and album closer “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Women,” an awe-inspiring cover of the Aretha Franklin classic, Tapestry is a truly timeless album.
Led Zeppelin | Led Zeppelin IV
Considered by many to be Led Zeppelin’s magnum opus, Led Zeppelin IV is a spectacular rock and roll album from a band that could do no wrong. Merging their heavy rock sound with elements of blues and folk, IV is eight tracks of foot-stomping goodness that includes the hard-edged “Black Dog,” feel-good folk of “Going To California” and mystic grandeur of “Stairway To Heaven.”
Janis Joplin | Pearl
Janis Joplin’s second and last solo album is mesmerising from start to finish. Possessing a voice unlike any other, Joplin’s raw vocals collide with the soul meets blues instrumentation that underpins her songs, with her personality laid bare within her soulful lyrics. Backed by the Full Tilt Boogie Band and a cameo from Bobby Womack, the album packs an emotional punch, especially “Mercedes Benz.” Recorded in one take, it’s a stripped-back a Capella ballad capturing the very essence of Joplin in under two minutes. Pure magic.
John Lennon | Imagine
A call for peace, “Imagine” is hands down one of the best songs ever written, but there’s much more to this album of the same name than its hit single. Across 10 eclectic productions, John Lennon shows his vulnerable side on the twinkling keys of "Jealous Guy," talks shit about Paul McCartney on "How Do You Sleep?" address political issues on the guitar fuzz of "Gimmie Some Truth" and gets playful on "Oh Yoko!" an ode to his muse and wife. An impactful album from a man taken too soon.
Joni Mitchell | Blue
Along with Joplin’s Pearl and King’s Tapestry, Joni Mitchell’s Blue makes up the holy trinity of female singer-songwriter albums released during 1971. Written during her late 20s, the album details the highs and lows of Mitchell’s relationships and her experiences living abroad. The Canadian bares her soul on this record, exposing every part of her personal journey. Mitchell yearns to be living back in the States on “California,” mourns a breakup on “River,” celebrates the time she spent living with hippies in Crete on “Carey” and speaks on the dissolution of her first marriage on “The Last Time I Saw Richard.” Mitchell helped create the blueprint for stripped-back acoustic albums, with Blue a record everyone needs in their collection.
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