A little perspective is needed here. In 1970, I ended my first grade year in elementary school and started my second grade year. What that means is my actual musical tastes at the time ran the gamut from the Banana Splits and The Archies to The Partridge Family and Bobby Sherman. However, on occasion, something by the likes of Elton John or George Harrison would break through my love of bubblegum music to slightly expand my music palette. And although I actually experienced only a few of these albums during their heyday does not diminish the impact of each one on my life and on rock history.
On with the countdown!
Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection (1970). What is the fascination of the Old American West in the minds of the older Baby Boomers? It’s probably due to all of those old Western TV shows and films they watched while growing up. Me? I preferred the sci-fi world of Wild, Wild West when I was a young lad. Anyway, the motif in the hands of great songwriters, such as Elton John and Bernie Taupin, the Old West can be a compelling metaphor for their lives up to this point in their careers. In all honesty, this might me one of their finest moments as an album, all the while it lacks a hit song. Go figure! A major album statement created by one of the all-time great hit-making songwriting teams.
George Harrison – All Things Must Pass (1970). The quiet Beatle never really got much of his music on the Fab Four’s albums, but when he did, they were major statements. So, when it came time for George to release his first solo album, he had enough quality material for a triple album. When I was younger, I was a Lennon guy. But, when my older son began to learn to play a guitar, he got hooked on Harrison. One day I asked him why. His replay was simple, “I want to hear a musician, not a poet.” From that point onward, Harrison’s star rose with me.
Grateful Dead – American Beauty (1970). The Dead released two absolute classic albums in 1970, and American Beauty is the standard barrier in the band’s illustrious career. It’s as if they decided they could one-up CSNY at their own game, which of course they did. Many of the great Dead songs are here, such as their theme song “Truckin’,” “Sugar Magnolia” AND, my personal fave, “Friend of the Devil.” This is perfect summertime music.
Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead (1970). This is the first of the two landmark Grateful Dead albums dropped in 1970. It must have been a bit disorienting when the Dead Heads first heard the band’s new direction. Yet, it only expanded Dead Head Nation and laid the groundwork for the band’s future concert setlists. If you don’t own this album and American Beauty, your music collection is incomplete.
James Taylor – Sweet Baby James (1970). Back in the day, James Taylor HAD to be a stud! Seriously! I don’t know a woman my age who still doesn’t swoon a bit when they hear a James Taylor song. And the man married Carly Simon too. I honestly don’t think the man understood his power at the time. Hell, did any of us guys realize it? Still, this one remains the best Taylor album because he was cutting through the crap and singing and playing the truth. Plus, drugs weren’t numbing his ability to channel the music gods yet.
John Lennon – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970). This album is not for the weak of heart, as it is John exorcising the demons of his past on one album. He attacks everything, from God to The Beatles to his childhood, releasing himself of as much pain as a person could on one album. If you are looking for “Strawberry Fields, Part 2,” you’ve come to the wrong place. However, if you want to take a journey with an artist coming to terms with all the good and bad things in his past, this album is your primal scream therapy.
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III (1970). On the Zep’s first two albums, they helped create the whole classic rock sound. And, on Side One of this album, the foursome expanded upon that sound. But, the jarring thing happened on Side Two. When you flipped the record, you got some of the heaviest sounding acoustic music ever put to vinyl. That’s when you realized that these guys had much more depth than peers Black Sabbath. This remains my favorite Zeppelin album for that diversity.
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (1970). What’s a restless jazz man to do when all of the cool musical innovations are taking place outside of his niche? What Miles Davis did is to grab the more interesting sounds coming from popular music and integrate it into his sound. Davis grabbed some funk rhythms, a Hendrixian guitar sound, a little Sly Stone, a pinch of psychedelia and created something others called jazz fusion. But, this wasn’t the boring jams of the mid- to late-Seventies fusion, this was exciting poly-rhythmic, funk based sounds with flourishes of rock god guitar mixed with jazz keyboards and, of course, Davis’ ultra-cool trumpet.
Neil Young – After the Gold Rush (1970). In 1969, Young had discovered a ragged rock band that became his muse called Crazy Horse. Now, in 1970, he discovered a teenage prodigy named Nils Lofgren (future E-Street Band member) who took this mix to yet another level on this album. Young is so prolific that he released this album before his transformed CSN into a powerhouse foursome.
Randy Newman – 12 Songs (1970). Unfairly, Newman was immediately lumped into the singer/songwriter category. The problem was Newman was much more cinematic in his songwriting, which is why he has made such an impact on soundtrack writing. But, when left on his own, Randy Newman is a master at creating a give-and-take between his New Orleans-influenced sound and his poignant, sarcastic, caustic lyrics. This album only hints at his greatness.
Santana – Abraxas (1970). So, Santana further expands the Latin-influenced rock/blues/jazz mix on this classic album. If you look at the cover alone, you might think this is something of a Hispanic version of Sgt. Pepper. But, nothing is farther from the truth. This is a set of terrific songs being played by one of the hottest bands in the world. The album is best known for the band’s covers of “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” and “Oye Como Va.”
Next time, we’ll finish off 1970! Peace to you all!