David Hepworth’s Never A Dull Moment: 1971 claims that 1971 was the most important year in rock history. While many fans are sentimental about specific years or time spans, Hepworth makes the case that no other year has produced so much influential, memorable music or generated so many currents that rippled through what came after.
Let’s begin with a list of some of the albums released in 1971:
Carole King: Tapestry
The Allman Brothers Band: At Fillmore East
Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On
The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers
Led Zeppelin: IV
Jethro Tull: Aqualung
Carly Simon: Carly Simon and Anticipation
The Who: Who’s Next
John Prine: John Prine
The Beach Boys: Surf’s Up
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Black Sabbath: Masters of Reality
Nilsson: Nilsson Schmilson
The Doors: L. A. Woman
Isaac Hayes: Shaft
Van Morrison: Tupelo Honey
On that list are some of the best-selling albums of all time, including work that influenced what would become blues-rock, heavy metal, country-rock, and folk-rock. Some of these albums are from established bands; others are by newcomers. And it’s just the beginning.
Here are some songs released in 1971 that have stood the test of time, although they were not on albums as distinguished as those above. (Get ready to hum.)
Neil Diamond: “I Am … I Said”
Elton John: “Tiny Dancer”
Jackson Browne: “Doctor My Eyes”
America: “Ventura Highway”
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band: “Power to the People”
John Lennon: “Imagine”
Don McLean: “American Pie”
Badfinger: “Baby Blue” and “Day After Day”
Rod Stewart: “Maggie May”
Al Green: “Tired of Being Alone”
Janis Joplin: “Me and Bobby McGee”
Ringo Starr: “It Don’t Come Easy”
Paul and Linda McCartney: “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”
James Taylor: “You’ve Got a Friend”
Bill Withers: “Ain’t No Sunshine”
The Jackson 5: “Never Can Say Goodbye”
Sly and The Family Stone: “Family Affair”
Stevie Wonder: “If You Really Love Me”
Whew. Those albums and those songs seem like they should be a decade’s worth of music, but they all arrived in 1971.
Never A Dull Moment: 1971 isn’t a book of lists. It’s a book of stories. The stories and personalities blend to create a vivid picture of that year in music. Hepworth takes us through 1971 month by month, telling about the most important recordings and happenings from each flip of the calendar. By examining in more detail some of what was going on, we see the recordings in a context as rich as the individual records. For example, Motown was changed forever by the 1971 work of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Then the first big rock concert staged for a cause was George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh with Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Badfinger, and Leon Russell. Rock journalism also took a big step forward as something separate from entertainment journalism with Rolling Stone‘s “The Beach Boys: A California Saga” cover story about the darker side of the band. Mick Jagger got married in a frenzy, and Stevie Wonder was introduced to new musical technology. All of these events wrap around the music to provide insights into the culture on both sides of the Atlantic. Any discussion of rock music in 1971 requires a balanced view of the British and American scenes, and Hepworth handles that masterfully without any obvious bias toward one side of the Atlantic or the other.
Some of the smaller moments are the most memorable, including juicy bits such as Cat Stevens introducing his then-girlfriend Carly Simon to her future husband James Taylor, and John Prine’s first record deal growing out of a serendipitous late-night prowl with … Paul Anka.
1971 was also the beginning of what Hepworth calls “heritage rock” as the first generation of rock stars attempted to figure out how to look forward and backward at the same time. 1971 was the first post-Beatles year. George and Ringo did the Bangladesh concert while John and Yoko did their thing, and Paul and Linda did theirs. The Rolling Stones were re-tooling but created Sticky Fingers, their first record conceived as an album rather than as a song collection. The Beach Boys had their distinctive sound but wanted to move beyond songs about girls, cars, and surfing with Brian Wilson largely sidelined by mental problems. Bob Dylan reunited with The Band. And Elvis Presley went on tour for the first time in almost fourteen years.
In addition to the rock veterans, some newcomers were making impressive stirrings: Kraftwerk, The Eagles, Roxy Music. 1971 also saw the emergence of Alice Cooper, Cat Stevens, David Bowie, and Rod Stewart. Think about it. That’s an amazingly diverse group of artists to be surfacing at the same time.
Never A Dull Moment: 1971 is an absorbing, fascinating, thoroughly satisfying romp through twelve months of glorious music, dynamic personalities, and raucous goings-on.
I can recommend the audiobook version of Never A Dull Moment: 1971 narrated by Hepworth himself. His British accent with a touch of the Liverpudlian is charming and energetic. Hepworth never seems to be reading as he enthusiastically tells the tales of this remarkable year.