My Top Singles Turning 50

A final look at 1971, one of the most exciting years in music

As 2021 is drawing to a close, I decided to revisit 1971 one more time. With releases, such as Who’s Next (The Who), Tapestry (Carole King), Led Zeppelin IV (Led Zeppelin), Sticky Fingers (The Rolling Stones) and Meddle (Pink Floyd), it truly was an extraordinary year in music. And let’s not forget At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band, perhaps the ultimate southern and blues-rock record, and certainly a strong contender for best live album ever.

I wrote about the above and other records in a three-part series back in April, which you can read here, here and here. What I didn’t do at the time was to look at singles that came out in 1971. I’ve put my favorites in a playlist at the end of this post. Following I’m highlighting 10 of them, focusing on songs I didn’t cover in the aforementioned three-part series.

Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On

I’d like to start this review with What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, released in January 1970. Co-written by him, Al Cleveland and Four Tops co-founding member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, this classic soul gem was inspired by an incident of police brutality Benson had witnessed in May 1969 while The Four Tops were visiting Berkely, Calif. The tune became Gaye’s first big U.S. hit in the ’70s, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Best Selling Soul Singles chart.

Deep Purple/Strange Kind of Woman

In February 1970, Deep Purple released Strange Kind of Woman as a non-album single. The follow-on to Black Night was credited to all members of the band: Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover and Ian Paice, their most compelling lineup, in my view. The song reached no. 8 in the UK and Germany, but didn’t chart in the U.S. The track was also included in the U.S. and Canadian editions of Deep Purple’s fifth studio album Fireball from July 1971 in lieu of Demon’s Eye on the UK edition.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Hymn 43 is a great rock song by Jethro Tull. Penned by Ian Anderson, it appeared in late June 1971 as the second single off Aqualung, the group’s fourth studio album that had come out in March of the same year. Hymn 43 followed lead single Locomotive Breath. Incredibly, it only charted in Canada and the U.S., reaching an underwhelming no. 86 and no. 91, respectively.

T. Rex/Get It On

In July 1970, glam rockers T. Rex released one of their signature tunes, Get It On. In the U.S., it was re-titled Bang a Gong (Get It On), since there was a song with the same title by American jazz-rock band Chase. Get It On, written by T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, was the lead single from the British band’s sophomore album Electric Warrior that appeared in September that year. Get It On became the band’s second no. 1 in the UK and their only U.S. top 10 hit (no. 10) on the Billboard Hot 100.

Santana/Everybody’s Everything

In September 1970, Santana released their third studio album Santana III and lead single Everybody’s Everything. The tune was co-written by Carlos Santana, Milton Brown and Tyrone Moss. The classic Santana rock song became the band’s last top 20 hit (no. 12) in the U.S. until the pop-oriented Winning from 1981.

Sly and the Family Stone/Family Affair

Family Affair is a track off Sly and the Family Stone’s fifth studio album There’s a Riot Goin’ On that came out in November 1971. Released the same month, the psychedelic funk tune was the first single from that album. It became the group’s third and final no. 1 hit in the U.S., topping both the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles chart.

Badfinger/Day After Day

Day After Day, first released in the U.S. in November 1971 followed by the UK in January 1972, became the biggest hit for British power pop-rock band Badfinger. Written by Pete Ham, the tune, off their third studio album Straight Up from December 1971, climbed to no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached no. 10 in the UK. In Canada, it went all the way to no. 2. This gem was produced by George Harrison who also played slide guitar along with Ham.

Elton John/Levon

Levon is one of Elton John’s beautiful early songs that first appeared on his fourth studio album Madman Across the Water from early November 1970. Composed by John with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, the ballad also became the record’s first single in late November. Producer Gus Dudgeon has said Taupin’s lyrics were inspired by Levon Helm, co-founder, drummer and singer of The Band, a favorite group of John and Taupin at the time. Levon reached no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed to no. 6 in Canada.

The Beach Boys/Surf’s Up

Various music connoisseurs have told me their favorite album by The Beach Boys is Surf’s Up from late August 1971. I can’t say it’s been love at first sight for me, but this record is definitely growing on me. The Beach Boys released the title track as a single in late November that year. Co-written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, Surf’s Up originally was supposed to be a track for Smile, an unfinished album that was scrapped in 1967. Brian and Carl Wilson completed the tune. By the time Surf’s Up was released as a single, the last major hit by The Beach Boys Good Vibrations was five years in the past. While the single didn’t chart, the album reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200, their highest-charting record in the U.S. since Wild Honey from 1967.

The Kinks/20th Century Man

The last song I’d like to call out is 20th Century Man by The Kinks. Penned by Ray Davies, the tune in December 1970 became the sole single off the group’s 10th studio album Muswell Hillbillies. The record had appeared in late November that year. 20th Century Man stalled at no. 106 in the UK and reached no. 89 in Australia. It didn’t chart in the U.S. The album didn’t fare much better, though it received positive reviews and remains a favorite among fans.

Check out the playlist below for additional 1971 singles I dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

21 thoughts on “My Top Singles Turning 50”

  1. The early 70s were an amazing time for music and continued the diversity of the 60s music scene. Prog rock with its virtuoso musicians, glam rock’s trashy party sound, the beginnings of art rock and heavy metal. All great songs on your playlist!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Angie. For the past two years, I’ve made a deliberate effort to pay more attention to contemporary music. While I think you can still find good new music if you invest the time to look for it, I keep coming back to the ’60s and ’70s. I think I’d be a perfectly happy camper if all I had was music from these two decades!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep . The period from 1964 through roughly 1974 was the greatest in history for both singles and albums. And I wasn’t even born yet!! It starts to taper off a little bit after that, but you could probably extend it until about 1980 or so.

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  2. Great songs in your playlist. Just about all of them are in my top 20 also. Badfinger, Sly, and Carole King all in my top 10. And I have two Santanas. I’m surprised you don’t have Maggie Mae. People always talk about 1971 was the greatest year for albums, but it was also one of the greatest for singles too. Or at least the best since 65 or 66. It was so good that I didn’t even have room for CCR or the Doors or Nilsson or Elton John in the top 10. And that’s just the beginning. It goes on and on and on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Maggie Mae probably is my favorite Rod Stewart song and “Every Picture Tells a Story” would be the Stewart record I’d pick if I only could choose one. Instead of Maggie Mae, I went with “Reason to Believe,” another tune I’ve always loved.

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    1. You’re right, a great tune from what I think is George’s Mount Rushmore – and an oversight from my end for not having included it in my list. Oh, well, with so many great choices, I’m sure there are other great singles I missed.

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  3. Great list and I agree with the comments that the early 70s were a very special time musically – even though I was far too young to fully appreciate it at the time, being born in 1966. The burst of creativity following the immediate post-war years, the invention of rock n roll and the development of a specific teenage consumer market all really came of age by 1970 – and this is the result!

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  4. I’ll add and/or overlap with your list. I went over to the Billboard Hot 100 for 1971. The greatest (IMHO) rock and roll song of all time (“Brown Sugar”) came out that year. I’d read that the Stones had pretty much retired it based on it being, shall we say, somewhat politically incorrect. I desperately wanted to play it when I went to LA in 2020 to play rock star. But we had a female lead singer and she didn’t feel comfortable singing it. Can’t say I blame her. Anyway, here’s what I came up with.

    Me and Bobby McGee – Joplin
    Brown Sugar – Stones
    What’s Going On – Gaye
    Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey- McCartney
    Ain’t no Sunshine – Bill Withers
    Superstar – Carpenters
    My Sweet Lord – Harrison
    If You Could Read My Mind – Lightfoot
    Don’t Pull Your Love – Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds
    Proud Mary – CCR
    Beginnings/Color My World – Chicago
    One Toke Over the Line – Brewer and Shipley
    Liar- Three Dog Night
    Wild World – Cat Stevens
    I Hear You Knockin’ – Dave Edmunds
    Lonely Days – Bee Gees
    Won’t Get Fooled Again -The Who
    Theme From Shaft – Isaac Hayes
    Love Her Madly – Doors
    Riders on the Storm – Doors

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice list, Jim. Goes to show how much great music there was in 1971!

      I love “Beginnings” by Chicago. They were such a great band in their early years! I kept the list to singles that were released in 1971, not singles that were in the charts. That’s also why I left out CCR’s “Proud Mary” or Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” (US release: Nov 1970; though the UK version came out in Jan 1971)

      I didn’t know and like the Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds, Brewer and Shipley and Three Dog Night tunes.

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      1. Ah, I see your reasoning. And yeah, those three tunes were on the Hot 100, got tons of play and I still hear them when I click over to oldies radio. In fact, I heard all three of them within the last month or so. I featured “Liar” in my Three Dog Night post.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. You’re the first person I’ve come across who doesn’t think Don’t Pull Your Love is terrible. I happen to think it’s great and I love it. Its definitely one of the best songs of the year. I don’t know why people don’t like it. And I think the Dave Edmunds, Brewer and Shipley, and Gordon Lightfoot are best of the year also. All fantastic. I have Old Fashioned Love Song by Three Dog Night instead of Liar in my top 10 cuz I just like it more. And Beginnings is Top 10 in both 1969 and 1971 as far as I’m concerned, because it seems it was a single in both years. I guess it flopped the first time. I actually like the Bee Gees’ How Can You Mend a Broken Heart more than Lonely Days but both are great.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, and I say it unashamedly! 😀 I’m from Philly originally and grew up on tunes like that. I bet more people like it than either of us think. It’s just not cool, something I stopped caring about when I left adolescence behind. I like all those songs you mentioned as well. I’m fond of saying a good song is a good song is a good song.

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