1971: Music From 50 Years Ago

What a great mix of musical styles. Pop, rock, heavy metal, R&B, blues. This was the singer-songwriter era too, the laidback Southern California sound.

Carole King would have the largest selling album with Tapestry, the touchstone for the singer-songwriter generation.

Other landmark albums were: Led Zeppelin IV, Fragile, Who’s Next, Sticky Fingers, Aqualung, What’s Going On, Blue, Master of Reality, Imagine, Teaser and the Firecat, American Pie, Meddle, Nilsson Schmilsson, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, The Concert for Bangladesh, America, Ram.

Fifty years ago! How can that be? I was in junior high school and trying not to be awkward. Hint: it didn’t work. That’s about the time my musical interests took a serious turn. Santana, King Crimson, CSN&Y, Carole King, Three Dog Night, War, The Moody Blues, Joe Cocker, Delaney & Bonnie, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Chicago, Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin.

In 1971, AM radio still ruled the charts. FM was just an infant, but it’s power to drive more serious music was increasingly felt. Hard rock, as well as progressive rock would thrive on FM radio as stations were looser about format and sticking to a regimented schedule. Deeper cuts, longer tracks and genre-bending styles found audiences on FM. Younger, hipper listeners flocked to this alternate to the thin, predictable sound of AM.

In my junior high school chorus class, Mr. Carson introduced us to “Joy to the World” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, both very popular songs. Mr. Carson reminded me of Robert Young from Father Knows Best, square, but making an effort to bring different types of music to smart-aleck kids.

In 1971, there was bubble-gum pop, catchy songs by squeaky clean artists like the Osmonds, and emerging sibling, Donny Osmond.  “One Bad Apple”, “Sweet and Innocent”, “Yo-Yo” and Go Away Little Girl were big hits. The Jackson Five alternated between the pop and R&B charts.  The Partridge Family, courtesy of the TV show, had radio play with “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” and “I Woke Up In Love This Morning.”

There were country-pop hits like “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver, “Amos Moses” and “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” by Jerry Reed, “If Not For Your” by Olivia Newton John, “Rose Garden” by Lynn Anderson, “Mr. Bojangles” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” by Charlie Pride, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” by Glen Campbell, “Help Me Make It Through the Night” by Sammi Smith.

Soul/R&B songs “Shaft” by Isaac Hayes, “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, “Just My Imagination” by The Temptations, “What’s Going On” and “Mercy, Mercy Me” by Marvin Gaye, “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, “Spanish Harlem” by Aretha Franklin, “Proud Mary” by Ike and Tina Turner, “Betcha By Golly” by the Stylistics, “It’s a Family Affair” by Sly Stone, “Respect Yourself” by the Staple Singers, “Hot Pants” by James Brown.

Soft rock was represented by “If” by Bread, “If You Could Read My Mind” by Gordon Lightfoot, “It’s Too Late” by Carole King, “You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor, “For All We Know” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” by The Carpenters, “Knock Three Times” by Tony Orlando and Dawn, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees, “Colour My World” by Chicago, “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo”, “One Toke Over the Line” by Brewer & Shipley, “Indian Reservation” by The Raiders, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” Paul & Linda McCartney, “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be” by Carly Simon, “Wild World” by Cat Stevens, “Horse With No Name” by America, “Brand New Key” by Melanie.

More traditional pop with “She’s a Lady” by Tom Jones, “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” Cher, “Don’t Pull Your Love” Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” Helen Reddy, “Lonely Days” the Bee Gees, “(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story” by Andy Williams, “I Am…I Said” by Neil Diamond, “One Less Bell to Answer” by The 5th Dimension, “The Wedding Song (There Is Love)” by Paul Stookey, “Without You” by Harry Nilsson, “Levon” by Elton John, “Domino” by Van Morrison, and “Stoney End” by Barbra Streisand.

Mainstream rock hits were “Joy to the World” and “Liar” Three Dog Night, Maggie Mae” by Rod Stewart, “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by Joan Baez, “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones, “It Don’t Come Easy” by Ringo Starr, “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison, “Imagine” by John Lennon, “Riders On the Storm” by The Doors, “I Hear You Knocking” Dave Edmunds, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who, “I Just Want to Celebrate” by Rare Earth, “Changes” by David Bowie, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, “Roundabout” by Yes, “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull, “Bang a Gong (Get it On)” by T Rex, “Stay With Me” by the Faces, “Day After Day” by Badfinger, “Hold Your Head Up” by Argent, “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” by Traffic, “Slipping Into Darkness” by War, “I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After, “Have You Seen the Rain” by CCR, “I’m Eighteen” by Alice Cooper Group, “The Story in Your Eyes” by The Moody Blues and “Toussaint L’Overture” by Santana.

It was quite a year.  How many of these songs do you still listen to on your streaming service or on your home stereo?

3 thoughts on “1971: Music From 50 Years Ago

  1. I wasn’t even born yet in 1971 not for four more years, but I often get lost in the music from this era/ Even today you can find me belting out Joy to the World, or pumping my confidence levels by listening to Joplin’s “Bobby McGee,” although I still appreciate it’s original version by Kristofferson. The music of Joe Cocker lives on a playlist on my iPhone as does much of the Stones, and you didnt even Mention Gram or Emmylou Chris Hillman and the Flying Burritos. 1971 was brought in when George Harrison topped the charts with “My Sweet Lord” WoW what an Era.


    1. Thanks. I had to leave out a lot of musicians unfortunately. You mentioned some of the folks who brought country, folk and roots to popular music in those years. I don’t believe we would have such a rich amount of current music that embraces the organic essence of the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco, Emmylou and others without drawing from music of that period.

      Liked by 1 person

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