The question I have is did the Classic Rock radio format begin with music from 1971? Seriously! My list is stuffed with artists and music that is heard often on rock radio stations today. If you thought the previous list was full of them, just wait until you see what’s in store for you today. Perhaps, two of the biggest fish in the Classic Rock sea will be thrown out today.
So, tighten your metaphorical seat belts, because here we go.
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV (Zoso) (1971). There was NO way I could leave off this album. First, it’s Zep. Second, it’s the album upon which Seventies and Eighties hard rock is based. The most-requested radio song of all-time (“Stairway to Heaven”) is here, as are long-time radio staples “Black Dog,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “When the Levee Breaks” and my personal favorite “Rock and Roll.”
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate (1971). Leonard Cohen’s stuff is more about his lyrics than the music. The music is in place to enhance the mood of the music. If you follow his progression, you will notice that Cohen’s singing his becoming more self-assured. This is an intense set of emotional songs, highlighted by “Last Year’s Man,” “Famous Blue Coat” and “Joan of Arc.”
Nick Drake – Bryter Layter (1971). This album was a late discovery for me, and what a shame! It would have been a “go-to” album for me as a teen, since it’s full of angst, loss and loneliness. The music is beautifully melancholic while the lyrics fit perfectly. Why did this album fall through the cracks here in the US?
Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story (1971). Is there a better Rod Stewart album? Not at all! For me, this is the only album from his solo career to have, though Atlantic Crossing and A Night on the Town are pretty good. But, he always shined better when he sang with the Jeff Beck Group and The Faces outside of this classic album. And, yes, “Maggie May” is here.
Sly & the Family Stone – There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971). Of all the albums on race relations, this is the one album that still rings true today. I get it that every generation gets to choose the voice of their protests, but Sly is spot on with his social commentary here. What a better compliment than to say your musical message remains relevant nearly 50 years later.
T. Rex – Electric Warrior (1971). The Glam Rock granddaddy of the them, apologies to Mr. Bowie. Marc Bolan was the visionary of the glam movement in the UK and deserves his impending Rock Hall induction if only for this album. Unfortunately, at the time, it barely made a commercial dent here in the States. Now, it is considered a major landmark album both for the punk and hair metal movements down the road.
The Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East (1971). Hello, Southern Rock! We’ve been awaiting you. Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd perfected it, but the Allmans got their feet in the door. No, they actually knocked the whole damn thing down with this live album, which proved they were actually the best blues-based jam band. Proof? Listen to the last cut, a nearly 23-minute version of “Whipping Post,” where you hear everything that is glorious about the band.
The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up (1971). The Sixties dream was over. Creative visionary Brian Wilson had gone of the deep end. Drummer and Wilson brother Dennis had been tied to the Manson Family, so The Beach Boys were nearing a nostalgia act status. But, the remaining boys put that darkness into their music and delivered a darkened vision of their California dream that fit the times perfectly. It didn’t sell upon its release, but Surf’s Up has aged well as a grown-up statement.
The Doors – L.A. Woman (1971). The Doors are perfect for teens, all dark and angst-ridden. And, sometimes, I feel like they can be a bit overrated. Then, I listen to this album, and it reminds me of their short-lived greatness. The sound is more bluesy than other albums, but Jim Morrison’s poetic lyrics are here in all their majesty while his voice sounds tired, jaded, raspy and just plain worn out. Everyone should have known he wasn’t long for the world. Still, this album contains three of my favorite Doors songs in the title song, “Love Her Madly” and, best of all, “Riders on the Storm.”
The Faces – A Nod Is as Good as a Wink…To a Blind Horse (1971). This is NOT a Rod Stewart album, although many may think the hit song “Stay with Me” is his. A Nod is the sound of a great band actually fulfilling its promise. I would have rather the band stayed together and grown then to have had to hear Stewart’s Eighties albums. The Black Crowes copped the sound of their debut album from The Faces.
The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers (1971). Sorry everyone! This is the greatest Stones album ever (remind me I said that when we get to 1978, as I might get into hyperbole). We have THE classic Stones sound that everybody from Sex Pistols to The Replacements to The Black Crowes have tried to emulate right on display on Sticky Fingers. Seriously, half of their greatest songs are on this one album. We have “Brown Sugar,” “Wild Horses,” Sway,” “Sister Morphine,” “Bitch” AND “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”! This album is vastly underrated, especially when compared to Exile on Main Street, the band’s supposed classic.
The Who – Who’s Next (1971). Will you just look at today’s list? The Allmans, The Stones, Zeppelin IV, Rod Stewart and, now, Who’s Next? C’mon! Screw 1967! 1971 was an awesome year. And, Who’s Next is a darn-near perfect album. “Baba O’Reilly,” “Going Mobile,” “The Song Is Over,” “Behind Blue Eyes” AND “Won’t Get Fooled Again” are all here! Are you kidding me? This album IS Classic Rock.
Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey (1971). By now, Van Morrison was at his creative peak and would remain at it for a couple more years. If this only had “Wild Nights” on it, I would consider it a classic.
Yes – Fragile (1971). Here is the album that really solidified the career of Yes. They truly gelled on this album. The playing, as always was impeccable, while Jon Anderson’s vocals were pure and soaring. And “Roundabout” is an awesome song! I will always remember one of my fraternity brothers listening to music upstairs in the frat house. He would sit in a rocking chair and you could hear him rocking to the music. The more he got into the music, the faster that chair went. We actually thought the ceiling was coming down while listening to “Roundabout” one day.
And, folks, that ends 1971 on my list. Onward and upward!