Encore: Why 1971 Was The Greatest Year For Rock Music Ever – NPR



KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

This? This is James Brown.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “HOT PANTS”)

JAMES BROWN: One. Two. One, two, three.

MCEVERS: That song plus these songs – what do they all have in common?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “HOT PANTS”)

BROWN: (Singing) Hot pants.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Oh, coming over.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “BROWN SUGAR”)

THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) Brown sugar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “WHAT’S GOING ON”)

MARVIN GAYE: (Singing) Oh, what’s going on?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “ANTICIPATION”)

CARLY SIMON: (Singing) Anticipation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “UNCLE ALBERT – ADMIRAL HALSEY”)

PAUL MCCARTNEY: (Singing) The butter wouldn’t melt, so I put it in the pie.

MCEVERS: If you are thinking it’s a K-Tel golden oldies collection, it is not. All of the songs we just heard were recorded or became hits in the year 1971. They’re great for a summer holiday playlist, which is why we have pulled this next interview out of the NPR archives. Music journalist David Hepworth insists that 1971 is the best year in rock ‘n’ roll history. He makes his case in a book called “Never A Dull Moment.” And after reading it last year, I had to ask him, what was the big deal about 1971?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DAVID HEPWORTH: We go back and look at the records from that year. And I have to confess, it’s rather special to me because I was 21 in 1971, so I remember it very clearly. It’s the year of Elton John’s “Madman Across The Water,” Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Sly and The Family Stone’s “There’s A Riot Going On” and so on and so on. Loads of records that we still listen to today.

MCEVERS: Right.

HEPWORTH: And, you know, so my children in their 20s are aware of those records. I’ve just been killing time in a coffee shop around the corner where, you know, playing in the background was Al Green’s hit from 1971.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “TIRED OF BEING ALONE”)

AL GREEN: (Singing) I’m so tired of being alone. I’m so tired of on my own.

HEPWORTH: This music lives in the present in a way that lots of old music doesn’t, and that’s my point.

MCEVERS: Specifically from 1971?

HEPWORTH: Well, yes because there was a huge explosion of creativity in a very short period time. And a huge number of people were between the ages of 25 and 30, which is scientifically proven to be the most creative period for musicians. And so they did their best work during that period. And they did it very, very quickly. They did it with no second guessing.

MCEVERS: Yeah. There’s a point in the book you write about, this idea that record companies had that there shouldn’t be a delay. You know, once you’ve made one, make another one. Don’t hesitate. Don’t, like, edit yourself. Just make some more, like, you 26-year-old dynamo you. Just go for it.

HEPWORTH: They had no reason to believe that these people were going to continue to be popular longer than a few years. You know, so they were on contracts that meant that they were doing two albums a year. The most extreme case, David Bowie in 1971. He recorded – he releases “Man Who Sold The World”…

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD”)

DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) We passed upon the stair.

HEPWORTH: …Records and releases “Hunky Dory”…

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “CHANGES”)

BOWIE: (Singing) Changes.

HEPWORTH: …And then records all but one track of “Ziggy Stardust From The Spiders From Mars” (ph) in the year 1971.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “ZIGGY STARDUST”)

BOWIE: (Singing) So where were the spiders?

HEPWORTH: They were just racing, you know, to take advantage of the opportunity that they suddenly got. And they didn’t waste an enormous amount of time like they have done since in polishing the thing afterwards. They were working on the principle of first thought is your best thought. And then they were their best thought.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “ZIGGY STARDUST”)

BOWIE: (Singing) Ziggy played for time, jiving us that we were voodoo. The kids were just crass.

MCEVERS: Just on your David Bowie premise alone, I’m feeling more convinced that 1971 was a good year. But there were – there were just, I mean, you listed some of them, were so many major albums that did come out that year. And I just want to run through a couple of them and just get your thoughts on them. I mean, one that kind of took me by surprise that I hadn’t thought about in a while is Carole King’s “Tapestry.”

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “I FEEL THE EARTH MOVE”)

CAROLE KING: (Singing) I feel the earth move under my feet. I feel the sky tumbling down.

MCEVERS: You say this album took off for many reasons but one of them because she sang the way we all thought we could sing.

HEPWORTH: Well, that’s – yeah, that’s a quote from one of her fellow singers who said she has the voice that every woman likes to think she has. And I think it’s a fair point, you know, that it’s not like a performer’s voice. It’s a very personal voice, like an interior voice. You know, prior to that really, she’d only done demos for professional singers to do professional versions of. And so what Lou Adler, her producer, wanted to do was to make a record that felt like a demo that had that kind of integrity of a pencil sketch about it, which is one of the beautiful things about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “I FEEL THE EARTH MOVE”)

KING: (Singing) Tumbling down, tumbling down.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “BLACK DOG”)

LED ZEPPELIN: (Singing) Hey, hey, mama said the way you move going to make you sweat, going to make you groove.

MCEVERS: An album that I don’t think many people would argue is one of the great albums of all time – “Led Zeppelin IV” comes out in late 1971. And you talk about – in an interesting way, one of the reasons the band was so great was that they ignored the press. And they didn’t have the traditional album covers. And because of that, they were able to kind of create their own mythology. I mean, it’s something that you say would be impossible to do now.

HEPWORTH: Well, I think one of the points I make in the book is that social media has made it impossible for bands nowadays to have the mystique that Led Zeppelin had in 1971.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “BLACK DOG”)

LED ZEPPELIN: (Singing) Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

HEPWORTH: Because you never saw them on the television. You hardly ever saw a photograph of them. You had very little idea what they looked like or where they stood on stage or how they behaved. You can go to YouTube and look up loads of clips of them. You know, to say Led Zeppelin very cunningly exploited this mystique. And, of course, the classic case of the packaging of “Led Zeppelin IV,” which doesn’t have the name of the band…

MCEVERS: Right.

HEPWORTH: …Doesn’t have the name of the album…

MCEVERS: Right.

HEPWORTH: …Doesn’t have the name of the record company I think I’m right in saying. It’s got a guy on the cover with a load of sticks on his back, you know. And it didn’t matter at all. You know, this record didn’t quite get to number one in the United States. It went to number two I think but stayed on the charts for years and years and years.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “MISTY MOUNTAIN HOP”)

LED ZEPPELIN: (Singing) Walking in the park just the other day, baby. What do you – what do you think I saw?

MCEVERS: Do you think 1971 is the best year because it was a great year for you, it was a formative year for you? I mean, like you said, you were 21. It was the first year you were a music journalist. Of course that’s going to feel like a huge year. There’s other years, right? 1969 was also a major year.

HEPWORTH: There’s loads of very good years. And there’s books being written about other years. There’s a very good book about 1966. You know, there’s books about 1957. And they’re all perfectly admissible subjective accounts, but it stands to reason that one of us must be objectively correct. And I think that’s me.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

HEPWORTH: And I think you only have to go into your local coffee shop and the evidence of how correct I am will be available to you. Can I just say in terms of the fact that I was 21 at the time, I don’t feel nostalgic for any other aspect of 1971, not at all.

MCEVERS: Really?

HEPWORTH: I don’t want to sit there and watch an evening’s TV from 1971, thank you very much. It was a nightmare. But the music of 1971, you know, lives in the present.

MCEVERS: David Hepworth, thank you so much for your time today.

HEPWORTH: Pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WHO’S “BABA O’REILLY”)

MCEVERS: That’s David Hepworth. I interviewed him on this program last year about his book “Never A Dull Moment: 1971 – The Year Rock Exploded.”

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WHO’S “BABA O’REILLY”)

MCEVERS: Every time I hear “Baba O’Reilly” now by The Who, I’m going to be like, all right, 1971. There you go.

HEPWORTH: And the point about it is you will hear it.

MCEVERS: Yes.

HEPWORTH: And nobody’s playing it because it’s 1971. They’re playing it because it’s brilliant.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “BABA O’REILLY”)

THE WHO: (Singing) Out here in the fields, I fight for my meals.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Comments

Write a Reply or Comment:

Your email address will not be published.*