The other day I was putting gas in the car and because I never fill it up all the way unless I’m traveling (it’s this whole anti gas prices/OCD thing), I usually cap off around $20, or $19 and some change. Anyway, I randomly stopped at $19.83 and I thought, “You know, some good albums came out in ’83…,” and from there I decided I’d do a series of posts under the Year That Was category based on my gas pump costs. Over the next couple of weeks I randomly stopped around the $20 mark and came up with two more years. And again because of OCD, I have to start in chronological order, which is not 1983 but 1971.
The 70s brought a mixed bag of all sorts of styles, from dirty and nasty (punk) to glossy and chic (disco), but all essentially rock music, with 1971 providing some heavy hitters that simultaneously signaled the high mark and the decline/end of true grit rock n roll as part of the public mainstream. Many of the below artists were holdovers and mainstays from the hippie generation and the infamous Summer of Love, and in some instances a counter response to that, with these albums paving the way for the “classic rock n roll” sound that dominated and defined the first half of the 70s, and ultimately defeated the genre.
Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers: My hands down favorite Stones album, it’s the perfect blend of blues and sleaze, with foot stomping rockers, sublime ballads and extended jams that cover pretty much everything these guys were best at in the midst of their heyday.
Michael Nesmith – Nevada Fighter: Perhaps an ever so slight dip in quality from previous efforts (I blame stiff/stifled production), Nevada Fighter is still a highly enjoyable album with an almost experimental bend. Full of Papa Nes' quirky humor and flawless song craft, side two displays his unique interpretation of other artists’ songs. All in all, it’s another example of country rock in its earliest and best form.
The Doors – LA Woman: A difficult album personally, but a favorite for fans overall, this was the Doors getting even deeper and further back into their roots. Sounding road weary and battle hardened, they’re veterans of the rock n roll war but still have plenty of fight and energy to show the new recruits exactly how it’s done; a logical, if unintended, swansong to the Morrison era.
Black Sabbath – Master of Reality: Providing another installment of “hard n heavy 101,” the godfathers of modern metal further expand their sound by incorporating ballads and brief classical pieces into their signature fuzz and doom, while maintaining the signature dark imagery that gave them so much notoriety, reflecting on drugs, Christianity, the socio-political fears of the times and not worshiping Satan.
The Who – Who’s Next: Ambition was always the key with Pete Townshend, and while folks will argue which of his masterpieces is THE masterpiece, I would nod towards Who’s Next for the ultimate culmination of pop perfection and a progressive, genre breaking finesse that continues to reach forward as it both defines and defies all categories 40 years later.
Fleetwood Mac – Future Games: The first of the era that eventually moved them into superstardom, with Bob Welch and Christine McVie firmly in place, Fleetwood Mac sounds reenergized, relevant and (no pun intended) futuristic, as they break new ground for what would become standard 70s AOR rock, while retaining a uniqueness that is in all ways timeless.
Led Zeppelin – IV: The last in the series of blues-infused folk rock, this is the album that you need and yet after listening to it over and over again, never really need to hear again since it becomes engrained into your very soul. I’m not saying it’s their best, but it’s their most essential.
Kris Kristofferson – The Silver Tongued Devil and I: Capitalizing on his debut’s success, Kristofferson offers a set of songs that, for me, are stronger, deeper, and more poetic, cutting straight to the bone (pun intended this time). Kristofferson makes country “cool” with a gritty elegance and a melodic, woe is me humor never achieved by any other artist of the genre.
David Bowie – Hunky Dory: Bowie was still shedding his hippie skin here, but also developing his own voice with a collection of “safe” yet progressively unique folk-pop tunes that, with Mick Ronson at his side, would set the stage to blow the walls off of the confines of rock n roll forever. This is either the last of the “pre-Bowie” Bowie, or the beta version of Ziggy Stardust. You decide.
Pink Floyd – Meddle: Truly stepping from beneath the shadow of Syd, here the Floyd begins to flex the muscles that would bring on later masterpieces like Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of the Moon, though in a rougher, more embryonic and, in some ways, more satisfying package.
Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey: When Van is at his prime, as he is here, you can pick up any album and get everything you need. Tupelo Honey is just one of the many tastes, combining funk and soul with folky pop in a affecting, down and dirty, up on your feet way that, when coupled with his all powerful and expressive voice, is truly like nothing else on the planet.