Nick Drake is like one of those classical painters who died penniless before their work became widely known. The three albums he recorded before his suicide at age 26 sold fewer than 10,000 copies combined. But after his death, mostly in the last two decades, all three have reached Gold status.
1971’s Bryter Later was his second album and many critics consider it his best. I’m familiar with only his final album, the wonderful Pink Moon, but a single listen to this one had me swooning.
Of all the albums I sampled to prepare for my look at the music of 1971, none hooked me as quickly or completely as T. Rex’s Electric Warrior.
My knowledge of T. Rex pretty much began and ended with today’s SOTD, ‘Get it On (Bang a Gong),’ the band’s only U.S. hit. It’s a great song, but one of many on an album that maintains that infectious glam rock groove throughout.
When it comes to 1971 albums released by ex-Beatles, you have John Lennon’s Imagine on one end of the spectrum and Paul McCartney’s Ram on the other.
Written and recorded by Paul and wife Linda, Ram is a bit of a mess, sounding more like a poor Beatles imitation than a coherent solo album by one of the world’s great songwriters. Listening to this record and Imagine side by side, it would be easy to conclude that John was the driving force behind all those classic Lennon/McCartney songs.
Aqualung was the fourth, and most successful, album by British prog rock band Jethro Tull. A loose concept album about faith, religion and the downtrodden, featuring plenty of lead flute, it’s one of the unlikeliest hit rock albums ever.
I remember listening to this album fairly often during high school, when 70s bands were the musical bread and butter for me and my fellow classmates.
My top ten 1971 albums represent some of the best music of the whole era, but that year was loaded enough to produce even more albums worth mentioning.
This week, I’ll feature tracks from five celebrated 1971 albums I don’t know very well. Some I’ve heard before, some I’m hearing for the very first time. They might not have cracked my own top ten list, but they all help round out the musical portrait of 1971.
When I first perused the lineup of albums released in 1971 to prepare for this list, I immediately knew which would wind up at #1. Carole King’s Tapestry is one of the greatest albums of the 70s and one of the greatest of all time. It’s certainly the best album of 1971.
Recorded in January of that year and released in February, Tapestry would eventually sell more than 25 million copies worldwide and spend more than six years on the Billboard charts, second only to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It took home Grammys for Album, Record and Song of the Year.
Not bad for the sophomore album by a woman who was told she was better off writing songs for other singers.
My #2 album of 1971 is one of The Rolling Stones’ best albums ever, Sticky Fingers. This was the third album in a run of four classics that stand up as one of the best all-time musical streaks. Between 1968 and 1972, The Stones reeled off Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street.
Ranking those four would be tough, but I can definitely make a case for Sticky Fingers as the best of them.