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

Ten Days of Tapestry

A legendary album turns 50 – part IX

We’re almost there. Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of Carole King’s Tapestry, her iconic album from 1971, which I’ve been celebrating with this series over the past eight days. Up to now, I’ve explored all of side A, i.e., I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, It’s Too Late, Home Again, Beautiful and Way Over Yonder, and the first three tracks on side B: You’ve Got a Friend, Where You Lead and Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Next up: Smackwater Jack.

Smackwater Jack is Tapestry’s second tune Carole co-wrote with Gerry Goffin. Unlike Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Smackwater Jack wasn’t released until Tapestry. It’s a great mid-tempo bluesy rocker. Rolling Stone’s Jon Landau called it an “uptempo shuffle.” In particular, I dig the piano work including Ralph Schuckett’s electric piano, and Danny Kortchmar’s electric guitar. Also, as a retired bassist, I have to call out Charles Larkey’s great bassline.

In addition to its music, Smackwater Jack stands out lyrically. It sounds less personal and less emotional than the other tunes on Tapestry. This doesn’t make it any worse; in fact, I think it’s a great outlaw story told in a very cinematic fashion you could picture in a Western movie.

Check out this excerpt from the lyrics: …The account of the capture/Wasn’t in the papers/But you know, they hanged ol’ Smack right then/Instead of later/You know, the people were quite pleased/’Cause the outlaw had been seized/And on the whole, it was a very good year/For the undertaker…

Smackwater Jack also appeared separately as Tapestry’s second single, paired with So Far Away. Like the album’s first single It’s Too Late/I Feel the Earth Move, Billboard treated it as a double A. It peaked at no. 14 on the Hot 100.

Interestingly, Quincy Jones covered Smackwater Jack as the title track of his studio album that also appeared in 1971. I had not been aware of this. I can’t say I like it as much as Carole’s original version. Still, I think Jones deserves credit for making the tune his own by giving it a funky soul vibe – check it out!

Sources: YouTube; YouTube

Ten Days of Tapestry

A legendary album turns 50 – part VIII

Part VIII of my 10-day celebration of Carole King’s Tapestry is bringing us close to the album’s 50th anniversary day, which is this Wednesday, February 10. The previous parts have featured all of side A – I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, It’s Too Late, Home Again, Beautiful and Way Over Yonder – and the first two tracks of side B, You’ve Got a Friend and Where You Lead. Next up is the third track on the B side, and it’s a true standout: Will You Love Me Tomorrow.

Also sometimes known as Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, this beautiful ballad is one of two tracks on Tapestry, co-written in 1960 by Carole and her then-husband and lyricist Gerry Goffin. It was first recorded and released by American girl group The Shirelles that same year. The song became their first no. 1 single in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It also climbed to no. 4 in the U.K., giving them their biggest hit there. Will You Love Me Tomorrow became the breakthrough hit for Goffin-King.

On the Tapestry version, James Taylor not only provided acoustic guitar but also backing vocals. Oh, and there was another prominent backing vocalist: Joni Mitchell. The vocals of the three artists beautifully blend, making the tune one of the outstanding gems on Tapestry.

According to Songfacts, apparently because of its perceived sexual lyrics, Will You Love Me Tomorrow met with some resistance from radio stations, but not enough to stop it from becoming a huge hit – absolutely laughable, especially from today’s perspective!

Songfacts also notes Shirley Alston, the lead vocalist of The Shirelles, initially dismissed the song as “too Country and Western”. But producer Luther Dixon reassured her the group could adapt the tune to their style. He also asked Carole and Gerry to add strings and speed up the tempo. They did and the rest is history.

Tapestry producer Lou Adler, who also owned King’s record company, explained, as quoted by Songfacts: “The only thing we reached back for, which was calculated in a way, which of the old Goffin and King songs that was hit should we put on this album? And, that’s how we came up with ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.’ I thought that song fit what the other songs were saying in Tapestry. A very personal lyric.” Interestingly, Carole’s version of Will You Love Me Tomorrow was not released as a single.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Ten Days of Tapestry

A legendary album turns 50 – part VII

On to part VII of my mini-series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Carole King’s iconic Tapestry album that’s coming up in just a few days on February 10. So far, the previous parts have highlighted all six tunes of the record’s A-side, I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, It’s Too Late, Home Again, Beautiful and Way Over Yonder, as well as the first track on side B, You’ve Got a Friend. Next up: Where You Lead.

Where You Lead is a nice mid-tempo soft rocker. Carole composed the music; her collaborator Toni Stern provided the lyrics, the second such tune on Tapestry. According to Songfacts, While it is a love song rather than an inspirational song, the lyrics are inspired by the Biblical Book of Ruth.

Songfacts also notes Carole subsequently decided to drop the tune from her set list, feeling uncomfortable singing about following a man around. “After I recorded it for the ‘Tapestry’ album, we women decided that we didn’t actually need to follow our men anymore,” King said in a 2004 interview.

In the early 2000s, Where You Lead became the theme song to the U.S. TV series Gilmore Girls, for which Carole re-recorded the tune with adapted lyrics, sharing vocals with her daughter Louise Goffin, who also is a singer-songwriter with 10 published solo albums to date.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Ten Days of Tapestry

A legendary album turns 50 – part VI

This is part VI of Ten Days of Tapestry, a celebration of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the legendary Carole King album released on February 10, 1971. Parts I-V covered the six tracks on the record’s A-side: I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, It’s Too Late, Home Again, Beautiful and Way Over Yonder. On to side B!

The opening track of the B-side is one of Carole’s best known tunes, mainly because of James Taylor’s great cover: You’ve Got a Friend. It’s yet another track with beautifully written lyrics by Carole who also composed the music.

When you’re down and troubled/And you need some love and care/And nothing, nothing is going right/Close your eyes and think of me/And soon I will be there/To brighten up even your darkest night…Such a great pick her upper!

As quoted by Songfacts, Carole said the song “was as close to pure inspiration as I’ve ever experienced. The song wrote itself. It was written by something outside of myself, through me.”

Notably, You’ve Got a Friend never became a hit for Carole. Instead, it was the aforementioned great cover by her friend James Taylor that topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974, giving him his only no. 1 single in the U.S. to this day. Taylor, who played guitar on Tapestry, was working on his third studio album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon in parallel and recorded the tune for that album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Ten Days of Tapestry

A legendary album turns 50 – part V

On we go with the next installment of my series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Tapestry, the signature album by the great Carole King. Parts I through IV featured the first five tracks of the record’s A-side: I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, It’s Too Late, Home Again and Beautiful. This brings me to Way Over Yonder, one of my favorite tunes on the album.

Way Over Yonder is the sixth and last track of Tapestry’s A-side. It’s another beautiful ballad solely written by Carole. This tune always puts me at ease with its mellow music and the lyrics. Way over yonder/Is a place that I know/Where I can find shelter/From a hunger and cold/And the sweet tastin’ good life/Is so easily found/A way over yonder, that’s where I’m bound…

One of the musical standouts on this track is the amazing tenor saxophone solo by Curtis Amy. There’s just so much feeling behind it. James Taylor is playing acoustic guitar. Last but least, the backing vocals by Merry Clayton still give me the chills. So good!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Ten Days of Tapestry

A legendary album turns 50 – part IV

This is part IV of my series to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Carole King’s Tapestry album, which is coming up on February 10. The three previous parts covered the first four tunes on side A: I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, It’s Too Late and Home Again. Here’s the fifth track aptly titled Beautiful.

Citing Carole’s 2012 auto-biography A Natural Woman, Wikipedia notes she did not consciously attempt to write “Beautiful” but it came to her spontaneously. It stemmed from her realization while riding the New York City subway that the way she perceived others reflected how she herself felt. She has also stated that because it came to her spontaneously, she initially didn’t realize some of the professional details of the song, such as the lack of rhyme in the refrain, which if she was writing the song consciously she would have included.

Beautiful was covered by Barbara Streisand, among other artists. She recorded it for her 1971 studio album Barbra Joan Streisand. Beautiful also became the title track of the musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. It started with a try-out in San Francisco in October 2013 before moving to New York’s Broadway where it was shown from January 2014 until October 2019. There was also an original production in London from February 2015 to August 2017. In addition, there have been various tours of the musical in the U.S., UK and Australia.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Ten Days of Tapestry

A legendary album turns 50 – part III

Here’s part III of my series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Carole King’s Tapestry album. After I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away and It’s Too Late, we’re up to the fourth track of the album’s A-side: Home Again.

Carole wrote both the music and the lyrics for this ballad. While it’s fair to say it’s a deeper cut, I’ve always dug this song. Carole just has a gift for great lyrics. An excerpt: Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever gonna make it home again/It’s so far and out of sight/I really need someone to talk to and nobody else/Knows how to comfort me tonight/Snow is cold, rain is wet/Chills my soul right to the marrow/I won’t be happy ’til I see you alone again/’Til I’m home again and feelin’ right.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Ten Days of Tapestry

A legendary album turns 50 – part II

This is part II of my 10-day celebration of the upcoming 50th anniversary of Carole King’s Tapestry album. In the previous post I covered Tapestry’s great opener I Feel the Earth Move and So Far Away, the first of many beautiful ballads on this record. Next up is the third track on the A-side, It’s Too Late.

This tune, one of my favorite Carole King songs, is bringing up the speed to mid tempo. L.A. painter and lyricist Toni Stern provided the lyrics, while Carole wrote the music. “I’m sure there was a California quality in me that appealed to Carole,” Stern stated according to Musicfacts. “She was moving from a familial, middle class lifestyle to Laurel Canyon, where she started to let her hair down, literally and figuratively. We worked off our contrasts.”

It’s Too Late also appeared separately as the B-side to the lead single I Feel the Earth Move. As noted in my previous post, after giving initial preference to the latter tune, DJs discovered It’s Too Late and ended up playing it more than I Feel the Earth Move. While as such It’s Too Late may have been the actual no. 1, Billboard subsequently declared the single a double A-side. This meant the tunes were no longer tracked separately and are now both considered no. 1 songs. Regardless of these convoluted circumstances, there can be no doubt both tracks are outstanding.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube