1971 COUNTDOWN: #2—#1

2  MARVIN GAYE — What’s Going On

Soul gets serious with Marvin Gaye’s ground breaking album. In a year full of turbulence and change, the golden voiced hit-parader found a new groove, eschewing fantasy to write about what was really going on. The result was one of the great albums of its era, one that—amazingly, stunningly—manages to transcend time in a way that Dr Who could only envy. 

When I began this project late, What’s Going On scraped into the Top 50. Around May, the month it was released in 1971, I listened again, more attentively. The segues between songs caught my ear, as did the codas that appear on several songs. The deft and subtle use of strings hit me like a velvet glove and Marvin’s narrations seemed like more of a spoken counterpoint than an interruption to the music. The album jumped into the Top 20.

Later in the year things got serious with the rankings. And also less significant. All the music was great, all the albums worth celebrating. Most of the Top 10 seemed settled; the recordings seemed to choose themselves. Except, except… What’s Going On, perhaps benefiting from the fascinating doco 1971: The Year That Changed Everything, seemed to be gathering both kinds of momentum. It’s place in that storied year seemed more and more significant as the breadth of my appreciation increased while its resonance with 2021 became more and more apparent to the extent it was almost spooky.

From the opening title track through to “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” Marvin Gaye sang with heart and soul, sprinkling in jazz, funk, a touch of latin, a leavening of blues. Even the god bits seemed OK in an immersive experience covering everything from religious sermonising to a love song about drugs—”Flying’ High (In The Friendly Sky)” is a strong contender for the award of Most Groovy Song Ever (About the Ravages of Addiction).

So there it is. The #2 slot filled by Mr Marvin Gaye, still observing on What’s Goin On fifty years later. Not sure we know quite yet.

[Released May 1971]

*

1  LED ZEPPELIN — (The Fourth Album)

No better rock album preceded Led Zeppelin’s fourth LP, and precious few that followed can compete with its complete mastery of both power and finesse.

Opening with the one-two salvo of “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll”, you are still picking yourself up off the floor when the folk-infused magic of “The Battle of Evermore” transports you to a place where all that glitters is, indeed, gold. Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention) was the perfect choice for the female voice; she gives no quarter to Robert Plant and lifts the energy of the record into a new, rarified zone. After being greeted with confusion and disdain for their folk/mythological pretences on III, this fabulous song was the best of all possible answers. And just to ram the point home, the next song isn’t bad either. It’s called “Stairway to Heaven” and is worth a listen. (Personally, these days I go for the Heart version, played live to Page, Plant, Jones and a few other guests, at the Kennedy Centre in 2012.)

The second side of the album is not as famous, but just as satisfying. John Paul Jones displays his keyboard skills on “Misty Mountain Hop” (apparently a drug lyric; who’d have guessed?) while the title of “Four Sticks” references drummer John Bonham’s doubling up of his woodware to increase power, something he obviously needed. “Going to California” is an acoustic song dripping with early Seventies sentiments; it’s pretty, smells heavily of pachouli,  and cleanses the palette (sonically speaking) for the thunderous finale, Memphis Minnie’s “When the Levee Breaks”.

As I write, I’m listening for perhaps only the third time this century and it. is. good.

[Released November 1971]

*

Phew. Made it with hours to spare.

Thank you to those who have trodden this meandering path through seventy-one albums released in 1971.

May your stairway ascend and your levee remain intact.

Bruce

.

..

I wonder if any half-way decent albums came out in 1972?

40 comments

  1. “Stairway to Heaven”? Never heard of it but I will take your advice and give it a listen. All kidding aside, a great countdown, now onto 1972

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Rick.
      Do you know how many 1972 albums I have? No, nor do I. But it has to be close to 300.
      I think I need a little break before making a decision!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Great countdown, Bruce. Well done and Happy New Year, my friend.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you good Sir. And the same to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting how Marvin Gaye moved up steadily through the pack to reach second place by 31 December 2021. Would a 35 day month have seen him take first place?
    Anyhoo, Led Zeppelin lV sounds like a good recovery album for New Year’s Day.
    Thank you for an entertaining and informative top 50 of 1971 count down.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You pose an interesting question, Sir. We’ll probably never know, except that for this old fart, I think it had to be ‘the’ rock album of the Seventies.
      Very good wishes to you and inner circle.

      Like

      1. Yes, What’s Going on has great overall coherence, with meaningful and touching lyrics that remain relevant fifty years on. The music is silky and varied yet physically and emotionally moving too.
        Wishing you and yours all the best for 2022.
        Cheers,
        DD

        Liked by 1 person

  4. What a trip this has been. I thought about that fourth album today. I haven’t played it this century and yet when I read this it felt like I’d heard it today. I think it’s in my blood. Enjoy the new year. All the best to you and yours and 1972?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s right! For a certain gen, that album is encoded.
      (I’m sorting the database chronologically right now)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Good timing, getting in right at the end of the year. I’m a little down on both of these albums – I think they each have a couple of amazing tracks that make the rest look a bit pedestrian in comparison. Off the top of my head, Sticky Fingers and Who’s Next might be my 1971 favourites.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Two very fine albums indeed.
      Cheers for the new year, Graham.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Even with the number of albums to choose going up by one, I suspect that you can skip the half-way decent albums from 1972 and start with the really good to finish with the excellent.

    Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. tedlindsay0170 · · Reply

    Nicely done! This blog has been a nice companion through 2021. Looking forward to the look back at 1972. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, and NY greetings to you too! Yes, I am planning 72 From ’72. 😬

      Liked by 1 person

      1. tedlindsay0170 · · Reply

        Great to hear. On occasion I focus on songs and albums celebrating 50 years in my blog so I will share them with you.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Remind me what your blog is called, please! 😜

          Like

  8. Ah, What’s Going On…a very worthy #2. Its messages, alas, resonate in any year. And though I, personally, would have paired either Tapestry or Blue with Marvin in the top two, I’m certainly not going to quibble with Zep. I can recall watching them watch the performances on stage at the Kennedy Center back in 2012 and they all looked so thrilled (Plant, especially so)…it was so…heartwarming (not a word frequently used to describe Led Zeppelin!) Happy New Year to you, Ms. Connection and the boy/young man, and thank you for all that you offer us music lovers scattered around the globe…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you JDB. It’s hard to avoid mawkishness at this time of year, but I trust you know how much your thoughtful responses mean.

      Like

  9. Thanks for the inspired and thrilling ride through 1971’s musical highlights Bruce! Very much looking forward to your take on 1972. A lot of my personal favourites are from that year. Have a great New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Guy! May the rarest of Warhol album covers fall gently into your path in ’22.

      Like

  10. Two absolute monster albums, so good! As for 1972, ever heard Exile On Main St.? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nah. Only have three copies. Never play them.

      Like

      1. Shame, that. There are a couple of tunes on there true fans might halfways enjoy… LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  11. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    There’s still time to change the road you’re on. Thanks for this Bruce, was so fun and rewarding…hope it was for you too. I just listened to the Led Zeppelin this month on vinyl, a rare thing for me to do, and it’s Four Sticks that keeps swirling around my head…when the owls cry in the night…that loping, visceral rhythm. Have a great start to your new year old friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you good sir. Been thinking of you recently. Hope ’22 brings health and creativity.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        Likewise

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Man, “What’s Going On” is such a soul gem and Marvin Gaye’s Mount Rushmore.

    In retrospect, I probably should have included this record in my top 5 of 1971, though with “Tapestry”, “Who’s Next”, “Led Zeppelin IV”, “Sticky Fingers” and “Meddle”, there was mighty competition.

    Looking at my picks now, as much as I love it, “Meddle” would be the one I’d remove. Or maybe, I should have come up with the top six instead! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And, btw, Happy New Year! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. You’ve absolutely nailed the problem of lists, Christian. Not just the conceit of ranking things on dubious criteria, but the way our enjoyment and appreciation can be seasonal. I guess, in the end, it’s just about celebrating the music. Here’s to more of that in ’22!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I like that motto! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Man, just enjoyed the Sydney fireworks, eheh. Crazy! They blazed in our eyes here. May 2022 be all lights and smiles to you all there, friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, man. I am afraid that, there being an absence of carousing ’round our way, I retired just before the gong. But that doesn’t diminish the good wishes I’m beaming your way, Cap’n P!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Can’t argue with these, although there’s a couple that would nudge Marvin slightly further down the list for me. I’d take Black Dog over almost anything else released in ’71.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. TBH, it rather surprised me that WGO ended up so, um, up.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Well done completing the countdown on schedule, Bruce – and I believe these 2 would qualify as a Grand Finale, nice choices!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Just listened to the Zep album a while ago. Not bad. Mentioning Jones I just discovered him and Fripp teaming up on a piece. Very good indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

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