My Top 5 Studio Albums Turning 50

The other day while driving in my car, I caught a cool program on SiriusXM, Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26) titled the “Top 50 Albums Turning 50.” Hosted by former Doors guitarist and drummer Robby Krieger and John Densmore, respectively, it was a countdown of records that came out in 1971, as voted by listeners. Once again, this reminded me what an outstanding period the early ’70s were for music, and I’m not only talking about classic rock. The radio show also triggered the idea for this post. While I don’t want to call this a series, I have a funny feeling I’ll do more about 1971, now that I’ve been bitten by the bug.

The amount of great albums released in 1971 is mind-boggling, especially from today’s perspective. It’s a true gold mine! Some artists and bands like Johnny Cash, Carole King, Faces and Yes released even more than one record. Following are my top five albums turning 50 this year. I’m not great at ranking, so I’m listing my picks in no particular order. Live records and debuts are excluded, since I’m contemplating separate posts for these categories. I guess it’s another way to admit that if you love early ’70s music, summing up 1971 with just five albums is mission impossible!

The Who/Who’s Next

As my favorite album by The Who, including Who’s Next in this short list was a no-brainer. The fifth studio album by the British rockers appeared on August 14, 1971. It came out of Lifehouse, another rock opera Pete Townshend had conceived as a follow-up to Tommy. Eight of the nine songs from Who’s Next had initially been written for Lifehouse. Additional tracks from the abandoned project were subsequently released as singles and appeared on other Who and Townshend (solo) records. Except for My Wife, which was penned by John Entwistle, Townhend wrote all tracks. I pretty much could have highlighted any song from the album. Here’s Bargain, which according to Songfacts is an homage to Indian spiritual master Meher Baba. Townshend believed in his message of enlightenment, which also influenced songs like Baba O’Riley and See Me, Feel Me. “Bargain” refers to losing all material goods for spiritual enlightenment.

Carole King/Tapestry

Folks who follow the blog or know me otherwise won’t be shocked by this pick. When it comes to the singer-songwriter category, Carole King will always remain one of my all-time favorite artists. Tapestry, released on February 10, 1971, is her Mount Rushmore in my book. A couple of months ago, leading up to the 50th anniversary date, I devoted a 10-part series to the album (“Ten Days of Tapestry”, see final part here, which includes links to all previous installments). Therefore, I’m keeping it brief here. Tapestry’s great opener I Feel the Earth Move was solely written by King, like most other tracks on the album.

Led Zeppelin/Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin IV and Stairway to Heaven marked the start of my Led Zeppelin journey. While they were an acquired taste, Led Zeppelin have become one of my favorite rock bands. To me, their fourth studio album, which came out on November 8, 1971, remains one of the most exciting ’70s rock albums, though I’ve also come to really dig their other records. Instead of the obvious tune Stairway, which I would select if I could only choose one classic rock song, let’s do Rock and Roll. It’s the record’s only tune credited to all four members of the band. In addition to Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, Rock and Roll features Rolling Stones co-founder Ian Stewart on keyboards.

The Rolling Stones/Sticky Fingers

Speaking of the Stones, Sticky Fingers is another must-include on my top five short list of the greatest albums released in 1971. You can read more about my favorite Stones album in this recent post I published a few days ahead of the April 23 50th anniversary date. Here I’d like to highlight a track I did not call out in that post: Sway, which also became the b-side of the album’s second single Wild Horses, released on June 12, 1971. The slower blues track features some sweet slide guitar action by Mick Taylor. Another factoid worthwhile noting is the song marked Mick Jagger’s first electric guitar performance on a Stones album. Oh, and there were some notable backing vocalists: Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane (of Small Faces and Faces) and Billy Nichols, an American guitarist and songwriter who first came to prominence during the ’60s for his work with Motown.

Pink Floyd/Meddle

With so many great albums that were released in 1971, it’s tricky to keep this list to five, but that’s what I set out to do, at least for now. Meddle was the sixth studio album by Pink Floyd, which appeared on October 31, 1971. It foreshadowed the band’s mid ’70s masterpieces The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, especially on the 23-minute-plus track Echoes. While I was tempted to feature this epic track, I think it’s safe to assume very few readers would listen. Instead, let’s go with the opener One of These Days. The characteristic pumping bass line was double-tracked, played by bassist Roger Waters and guitarist David Gilmour. The instrumental is credited to all members of the band, which in addition to Waters and Gilmour included Richard Wright (organ, piano) and Nick Mason (drums, percussion). The only spoken line in the song, the cheerful and digitally warped “One of these days I’m gonna cut you up into little pieces,” was spoken by Mason.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Clips and Pix: The Faces/Maybe I’m Amazed

Holy cow, until I just came across a YouTube clip, I had not known The Faces covered Maybe I’m Amazed. I really dig their version. Musically, it’s similar to the original, but what stands out to me is Rod Stewart’s voice, which sounds perfect for this tune.

Maybe I’m Amazed was written by Paul McCartney and first appeared on his debut solo album McCartney from April 1970. I know I’ve said this before, the live version that appeared in December 1967 on Wings Over America is much better.

The Faces included their cover, which is also a live recording, on their second studio album Long Player that was released in February. The performance had been captured at Fillmore East in November 1970.

BTW, the guy who starts on lead vocals before Stewart takes over is Ronnie Lane, the band’s bassist. He later comes back to sing harmony. In addition to him and Stewart, The Faces included Ronnie Wood (guitar, vocals), Ian McLagan (keyboards) and Kenny Jones (drums). Man, what a fantastic band – I guess I have to listen to some more!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Faces/Ooh La La

Yesterday, I went to my great go-to little store close to my house, which is selling used vinyl records and vintage stereo equipment. While I can easily get lost there, I usually leave with one or two vinyl records. This time I also stroke out on the equipment front, getting an ’80s Nakamichi tape deck. I know in the age of streaming all of that sounds pretty antiquated. But my old tape deck had given up years ago, and I still have hundreds of music cassettes, mostly from the ’80s and ’90s when I was taping music like a maniac. I could never throw them out, even though the quality of most of these MCs inevitably has diminished over the decades.

Anyway, while I guess you can sense that I’m a happy camper with my newly acquired gear – and Nakamichi isn’t exactly a shabby name – this blog isn’t about stereo equipment. So to bring it back to the actual subject, one of the vinyl records I got is Ooh La La by Faces. Not only is this album a lot of fun to listen to, but it’s also great to look at.

Faces_Ooh La La Cover Detail

While I had seen images of Ooh La La’s cover art before, I had not appreciated how cool this cover is until I held the album in my hands. You can actually move the eyes and the jaw of the face by pushing the top of the cover down (see image above). In order to do that you have to remove the record from the cover. The cover also has a gatefold showing a can-can dancer admired by the band’s members (see image below). Yes, the age of streaming undoubtedly has many advantages, but it’s also true that some of the experience when dealing with old-fashioned vinyl gets lost, such as enjoying a great record cover.

Faces_Ooh La La Foldout

Ooh La La was the fourth and final studio album by Faces, released in March 1973. To quickly recap, the band was founded by the remnants of Small FacesIan McLagan (keyboards), Ronnie Lane (bass guitar, vocals) and Kenney Jones (drums and percussion), as well as Rod Stewart (lead vocals) and Ronnie Wood (guitar), who joined from the Jeff Beck Group. By the time Faces went into the studio to record the album, Rod Stewart’s solo career already had been in full swing and he had become “too big” for the band.

The recording sessions for Ooh La La were impacted by Stewart’s rising commercial success and apparent lack of commitment to the band. According to Wikipedia, he pretty much behaved like a jack ass, trashing the record the moment it came out. He described it as a “stinky rotten album” to New Musical Express and “a bloody mess” to Melody Maker. He later told Rolling Stone the band would have been capable to do a better album. Never mind Stewart had a little help from his band mates on his first four solo albums that had come out by the time Ooh La La was released. It’s unfortunate what success and fame can do! Time for some music.

Here’s the album’s opener Silicone Grown, a nice rocker that was co-written by Stewart and Wood.

Cindy Incidentally, which has a pretty similar flair to the opener, is credited to Stewart, Wood and McLagan. The track was also released separately as a single and climbed all the way to no. 2 on the U.K. charts in 1973.

Another great rocker is My Fault. It’s credited to McLagan, Stewart and Wood. The two latter share lead vocals.

Glad And Sorry is one of the three tracks on the album, in which Stewart apparently had no role, neither a co-writer or as a vocalist. It is solely credited to Lane, who also shared vocals with Wood and McLagan. The tune has a softer sound that is mostly driven by piano and acoustic guitar, as well as harmony singing.

The last song I’d like to call out is the title track. The beautiful folk tune was co-written by Lane and Wood, featuring the latter on vocals. The track was also released as a single in the U.S. in May 1973. It didn’t chart at the time. Stewart would cover the tune on his 1998 solo album When We Were The New Boys, scoring a top 20 and 40 hit in the U.K. and U.S., respectively. Stewart recorded the song as a tribute to Lane who had passed away in June the prior year at the age of 51.

Ooh La La was produced by Glyn Johns, a producer and recording engineer, who at the time already had worked with artists, such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and The Beatles. His experience working with the latter during a time of high inner tensions would come in handy for holding Faces together for their final studio record. BTW, the “stinky rotten album” ended up topping the U.K. charts and climbing to no. 21 on the U.S. Billboard 200.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: December 27

You’d think the time between the Christmas holiday and New Year would be dead when it comes to music. At least I didn’t expect to find much when I checked my usual sources for this feature. Well, it turns out that at least for December 27, the above notion is not exactly true.

1963: In a story titled What Songs The Beatles Sang William Mann, music critic of the UK newspaper The Times wrote, “The outstanding English composers of 1963 must seem to have been John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the talented young musicians from Liverpool whose songs have been sweeping the country since last Christmas, whether performed by their own group, the Beatles, or by the numerous other teams of English troubadours that they also supply with songs.” Only two days thereafter, Sunday Times music critic Richard Buckle kicked it up a few notches, proclaiming Lennon and McCartney were “the greatest composers since Beethoven.” Even as a die-hard fan of The Beatles, I have to say that Buckle may have had a few too many eggnogs before the wrote this!

Backstage At Beatles Christmas Show

1967: Bob Dylan released his eighth studio record, John Wesley Harding. After three electric rock-focused albums – Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965), Highway 61 Revisited (August 1965) and Blonde On Blonde (May 1966) – Dylan returned to acoustic and roots music on this album, which was recorded in Nashville. John Wesley Harding was liked by critics and fans alike. It hit no. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and no. 2 on the Billboard 200. Only less than three months after it had appeared, the album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Among others, John Wesley Harding includes All Along The Watchtower, which Jimi Hendrix widely popularized with his recording the following year. Here’s a clip of a Dylan live performance, which apparently was captured during a show in Italy in 1984.

1969: Led Zeppelin II, the English rock band’s second studio album, hit no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200. Released on October 22 that year, it was Led Zeppelin’s first record to top the charts in the U.S. and the UK. The album also became a big seller. On November 15, 1999, it was certified 12 times Platinum by RIAA. This album includes gems, such as Whole Lotta Love, The Lemon Song, Heartbreaker, Ramble On, Moby Dick and Thank You, one of my favorite acoustic Zep tunes.

1975: The Faces, one of the great British rock bands of the late ’60s and early ’70s officially called it quits. Lead vocalist Rod Stewart, who already had released six albums under his name and scored a big international hit with Sailing a few months earlier, decided to entirely focus on his solo career. Guitarist Ronnie Wood already had started recording and touring with The Rolling Stones and became an official member in February 1976. Bassist Ronnie Lane went on to form his own band, Slim Chance, while drummer Kenney Jones eventually joined The Who in November 1978, following the death of Keith Moon. Here’s a cool clip of a live performance of Stay With Me. If you ever doubted that Stewart once was a kick-ass rock & roll singer, check it out.

1980: Double Fantasy, the album credited to John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, reached no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200, where it would stay for eight weeks, while the record’s lead single Just Like Starting Over started a five-week run as no. 1 on the singles chart. Undoubtedly, the remarkable chart performance was driven by Lennon’s tragic death on December 8 that year, when he was shot at the entrance to his Manhattan apartment building by Mark David Chapman, an apparently mentally deranged former Beatles fan. Initially, Double Fantasy had been poorly received. While I’m not particularly fond of Ono’s songs, I’ve always thought the album includes some of Lennon’s greatest tunes of his solo period. Here’s a clip of one of my favorites, Watching The Wheels.

Sources: The Beatles Bible, This Day in Music.com, Songfacts Music History Calendar, Wikipedia, YouTube