1971 COUNTDOWN: #10 — #8

10  KING CRIMSON — Islands

Perhaps the most misunderstood album in the King Crimson catalogue, Islands signalled a change in direction for Robert Fripp’s merry band. With Keith Tippet on piano and compositions that took elements of the band’s live improvisational style into the studio, the pieces on Islands stretch and search, incorporating woodwinds and orchestrations dancing with the Crimson rhythm section. Yes, there are jazz elements here, but none that should deter fans of adventurous, accessible progressive music. 

When they regrouped for 1973’s Larks’ Tongues In Aspic King Crimson were a far more muscular rock outfit, and produced some of their best work. But that is certainly no reason to skim over this gem which—with the exception of the of-its-time-and-really-cringe-worthy-now “Ladies of the road”—is a deep, mysterious album that work that richly rewards attention. For those seeking further adventures in the Islands archipelago, the anniversary boxed set is a feast of gargantuan proportions. [Released December 1971]


9  TRAFFIC — Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys

After the stripped down beauty of John Barleycorn Must Die and the stop-gap live album Welcome To The Canteen, the core Traffic membership of Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood expanded their membership and made their most musically accomplished and progressive album. With both rollicking rockers (“Light up or leave me alone”) and wistful excursions (“Many a mile to freedom”), Low Spark was characterised by a laid back groove that reached its pinnacle with the twelve minute title track. From the hypnotic bass line to the enigmatic lyrics, this epic captures not just a fine band at their peak, but also the adventure and cross-genre exploration of the era. 

I’d heard and liked earlier Winwood efforts, but when I first sat down to immerse myself in Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys I was transfixed. I still love it, all these years later, from the moment I am drawn into the marvellous alt-universe of the album’s cover to the final haunting strains of “Rainmaker”.  [Released November 1971]


8  MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA — Inner Mounting Flame

What do you do when you’ve helped create jazz-rock? 

After playing on Miles’ Bitches Brew and the extraordinary Jack Johnson (here and again here), mercurial English guitarist John McLaughlin conjured the Mahavishnu Orchestra into existence. Recruiting violinist Jerry Goodman from Flock and fellow Davis alumnus and drumming power house Billy Cobham, McLaughlin completed the first Mahavishnu line-up with two relative unknowns. Keyboard player Jan Hammer had toured with Sarah Vaughan and was playing jazz in NYC, while Irish-born bass player Rick Laird was a highly respected session and touring musician. 

The delicately balanced alchemy of these musicians produced a work of spine-tingling energy and complex beauty. Following a jazz model of soloists over a tight rhythm section, Goodman’s violin and McLaughlin’s fiery guitar are super-charged by Laird, Cobham, and the pulsing keyboards of Hammer. Best don your asbestos underwear; this one will hit your fire chakra hard.  [Released November 1971]



  1. Dr Richard Varey · · Reply

    That’s quite some territory covered in these three albums!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it though! Other worlds. 🌏


  2. I like that formatting distinction, Bruce – I would always italicize albums and songs, but I prefer how you italicize the album and then the song in quotes (such as „Light up or leave me alone“).
    Do you have to ‘subscript’ to get the opening quotation mark?
    As a word processing enthusiast, I’m curious!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Geoff. No special tricks, other than I’m usually pasting into WordPress from a Mac.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That might be the secret – it reminded me of the inverted exclamation mark in front of an enthusiastic Spanish statement, always liked that punctuation detail!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love Inner Mounting 🔥 I also always mistake the cover of Islands for Free.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember you writing enthusiastically about IMF. 🧡
      Islands always reminds me of the 2021 Lorde album cover. Has done since 1971.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, Islands. My brother’s album, so it carries a heavy weight. But comforting too. Especially Side 2. Thanks Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ♥️ Thanks for visiting, Vin.


  5. All three high in my music memory. You have nudged me to Islands. Will be putting the needle down in 5..4..3..2..1 .. see ya later.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope the Island trip was pleasurable, CB.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very enjoyable. I forgot how much Collins is all over this one. Thanks for the shake. It made my night.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m with Dr. Richard, this was a full listening experience!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We’re all agreed, then. Three magnificent albums. (Except for Ladies of the Road.)

    Liked by 1 person

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