George Harrison, “Here Comes the Sun”, August 1, 1971
From the Concert for Bangladesh of course. You can see at the beginning how nervous George was! Not only his first solo performance, his first concert appearance at all since 1966, featuring his first performances of his own compositions ever – but here, also for the first time on stage, vulnerable and stripped down to an acoustic guitar. George’s little smile as the audience reaches out to him is priceless.
His duet partner, Badfinger’s Pete Ham,later revealed that they hadn’t even rehearsed! “George just wanted to keep it simple,” he said. After George told him the chord changes, Pete ducked into his hotel room to listen to the version on Abbey Road a couple of times, and that’s all there was time for!
The result: magic. And beauty and joy and, yes, sun, sun, sun! Here it comes!
(Mi pequeña, está toda bien!)
(Note that by the time you come across this post, the video may have been taken down. It happens. Here’s the YouTube search for you to find another version. Worth the extra clicks!)
Just Janis Joplin and a guitar: Me and Bobby McGee demo, July 28, 1970.
What a gem this is! Janis playfully lamenting that her Texas accent is back, to the delight of producer Paul Rothschild and the fellas in the booth, followed by an achingly intimate first take on “Me and Bobby McGee” that reveals the searing pain that you believe would make her willing to trade all of her tomorrows for a single yesterday.
She never sounded more vulnerable, more melodic, and not-so-ironically when you think about it, more powerful. Set yourself at the feet of a master storyteller and prepare to be amazed by a song you only thought you knew.
The familiar (perhaps now even too-familiar) Full Tilt Boogie Band version of the single was released on January 11, 1971, and would spend 9 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s surely been played somewhere on earth every hour of the day since then.
The album Pearl was released the same day and also spent 9 weeks at #1 (the last week of February, and all of March and April), winding up as the 4th best-selling album of 1971.
Janis hadn’t quite completed work on Pearl before she passed, but this was hardly the work of bone-picking scavengers capitalizing on her tragedy. On the contrary, this was the celebration of an artist entering a peak whose height we’ll never know. As you’ll hear here, even Janis had no idea what she was about to unleash.
Unleash she did, nevertheless.
(Tip o’ the hat to the fantastic Barry Feinstein photos in this clip, and the strongest possible recommendation to check out the rest of the gems on the Pearl Legacy Edition, available at your favorite retailer and streaming at Spotify.)
Aretha Franklin, “Rock Steady” on The Flip Wilson Show, aired January 20, 1972.
Released as a single in February 1971, peaking at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #2 on the Soul Singles chart, this Aretha-penned track gets a blazing new life just 4 days before the release of the astounding Young, Gifted and Black LP. Not only have you never heard this song like this before, you may never have heard Aretha like this before: pedal to the metal and soaring, even by her own elevated standards.
It’s also inspiring to see the Queen of Soul, “Natural Woman” resplendent in natural hair and an African-inspired gown in this pivotal TV appearance, as detailed in Rickey Vincent’s Party Music: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music.
Aretha herself said, “I believe that the black revolution certainly forced me and the majority of black people to begin taking a second look at ourselves. It wasn’t that we were all ashamed of our ourselves, we merely started appreciating our natural selves…you know, falling in love with ourselves just as we are. We found that we had far more to be proud of.
“I must say that mine was a very personal evolution – an evolution of the me in myself. […] I know I’ve improved my overall look and sound, they’re much better. And I’ve gained a great deal of confidence in myself.”
(More here, although note that Vincent is off on the date of this broadcast, which I verified here. A great read nonetheless.)
This is the sound of Aretha’s newfound confidence, my friends, with one of 1971′s greatest singles taken to new heights. “Rock steady, baby – that’s what I feel now. Let’s call this song exactly what it is!”
The first time that most people had ever seen or heard Richie
Havens wasn’t at Woodstock. It was when they saw Woodstock the movie. That’s the thing about Woodstock.
Only a relative handful of people knew much about what happened there – and there
was nothing resembling a consensus on even the basics – until long after the
So not in 1969. Not even necessarily 1970. For a lot of people, it wasn’t
even until well into 1971, when Woodstock was awarded the Best Documentary
Oscar in April and the film was subsequently re-released into theaters with a much, much
higher profile than before.
As a result, quite a few of the performers featured in the
film had their chart peaks and released their best-selling albums not in 1969,
not in 1970, but in 1971. These included performers as varied as Joan Baez, The
Who, and Melanie, among others – like Richie Havens.
Richie been kicking around Greenwich Village since the 50s, when Beatnik poets were still the biggest draws in the local clubs. He wasn’t the first act scheduled to appear at Woodstock. He was simply the only one there at allby the time the crowds were
starting to get restless, and promoters were already afraid that the whole thing
was about to get away from them.
The legend is that he played the better part of three hours
as staff kept pushing him back on stage to keep the crowd occupied, and
that having sung every song he knew (including “Handsome Johnny”, already on
its way to becoming a standard), he was left to make something up on the spot,
riffing on “Freedom” over the base of “Motherless Child”.
While the reality is somewhat less dramatic than the legend,
what we saw in the film was jaw-dropping. It translated into chart success in 1971,
with by far his highest charting album, Alarm Clock (peaking at #29; his next album
peaked at just #55, with no others after that breaking into the Top 100), and the
one and only charting single of his long and distinguished career in the spring
of 1971, a glorious cover of“Here Comes The Sun”.
Richie’s version is so different from The Beatles that there’s
really no point in arguing which is better. They barely seem like even the same song, but I’m glad we live in a world where we have both. I think it’s also safe to say that even if we’d never had The
Beatles version, Richie’s version would have been a hit on its own. He packed an incredible amount of music into
his 72 years, and this one is one of the true gems.
This live version has an even shaggier charm than the
version on Alarm Clock, and if Woodstock the movie taught us anything, it’s that
the best part of any Richie Havens performance isn’t his soothingly ragged
voice, or the relentless innovation and drive of his open-chord strumming, but
the pleasure of watching him play and sing.
“Here Comes The Sun” spent 14 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart,
peaking at #16 on May 21, 1971, just about a month after Woodstock won its
Oscar. Even more than that one, this is the version you need to hear…and see.
TURN IT UP! Joe Walsh with The James Gang, “Walk Away”, 1971
The James Gang was one of those bands that hit so much harder live than on their studio records that it’s almost impossible to believe that they’re the same guys. Their two 1971 albums offer the perfect contrast, Thirds (a solid but tame record from whence comes this glorious single), and James Gang In Concert, recorded in May 1971 at Carnegie Hall and released later that year.
I’m surprised the hall was still standing when they were done. It’s the loudest slab of vinyl I’ve ever put on a turntable – even with the volume turned all the way down, the racket coming straight out of the needle scraping through the grooves unamplified was flat out unbelievable. Very much in keeping with the ethos proclaimed in the liner notes of the previous year’s James Gang Rides Again, “Made Loud To Be Played Loud.”
This performance from Germany’s Beat Club, first aired July 24, 1971, somewhat splits the difference between the civilized, if still loud, studio band, and the utter savages (in a good way!) of James Gang on stage. Surely you’ve already pressed play, and heard Joe Walsh absolutely ROAR into this thing. If all you know of him is what you’ve heard on the radio or with the Eagles, you’re in for an eye-opening, and ear-opening delight.
I had once thought of this song as a pleasant bit of science fiction. The MAN in the song is the one who wants to talk about his feelings and where the relationship is going, while “you just turn your pretty head and walk away.” Riiiight. Because that’s how men are. Just won’t shut up about relationships. ‾\_(ツ)_/‾
Well, maybe Joe really IS that way, because the song sounds pretty damn persuasive, and other than being a little condescending, it’s not especially mean, which automatically sets him above most men of the day.
(1971 was the first great year for a wide swath women artists in classic rock, but women as a lot were alas still not faring well at the hands of male writers. Still aren’t, either, which is a story for another day.)
I actually started rethinking this song when I read what Stevie Nicks had to say about Joe Walsh, whom she describes as “the great, great love of my life.”
She said of their breakup: “It nearly killed me. We had to break up or we thought we’d die. We were just too excessive.
We were busy superstars and we were doing way too much drugs. We were really, seriously drug addicts. We were a couple on the way to hell.
But there was no closure. It took me years to get over it — if I ever did. It’s very sad but at least we survived.
He was the one I would have married, and that I would probably have changed my life around for a little bit, anyway. Not a lot.
[my note: the fact that she concedes that she’d have changed only a little bit, and only “probably”, suggests that she’s maybe not exaggerating the rest.]
There was no other man for me. I look back at all the men in my life, and there was only one that I can honestly say I could truly have lived with every day for the rest of my life, because there was respect and we loved to do the same things. I was very content with him all the time. That’s only happened once in my life.
This man, if he’d asked me to marry him, I would have. There was nothing more important than Joe Walsh — not my music, not my songs, not anything. He was the great, great love of my life.” (more here)
So on top of being better at relationships and rocking harder than you might have thought, he’s also a terrific technical guitarist, and a hilarious storyteller. I heard him tell a story on the radio in 1988 or so, involving him and George Harrison, that I’ve never seen documented, but I dropped everything I was doing to listen.
I even remember exactly where I was – in the back room of the bookstore I managed in Washington, DC, way past time to go home, but I didn’t want to miss the end of the story during the long walk to my car.
This is paraphrased, but it’s pretty damn close. I started telling this story to everyone within earshot right away, and you’ll get why.
(btw, I don’t have a picture of Joe and George together, although they shared a stage a time or two. There are quite a few pictures of Joe and Ringo, though – not only did Joe play in some editions of Ringo’s All-Star Band, they’re married to sisters! Marjorie and Barbara Bach, so yeah, they’re brothers in law.)
Anyway, Joe said that the one piece of advice he gives every guitarist trying to learn the instrument, “Learn to play every song The Beatles ever did, and sound exactly like they did. Doesn’t matter if you hate The Beatles or don’t want to sound anything like them when you’re done, because once you can play everything they played, exactly the way they sounded, you can do anything that it’s possible to do on a guitar.”
Well, there was one song that was vexing him, the very last one that he still couldn’t figure out – “And Your Bird Can Sing” from Revolver. When he finally got it, he was beside himself. He called up George Harrison to make sure he was home (both fellas were living in Los Angeles at the time), said, “Stay there, I got something you gotta hear!”
He packed up his amps and his guitar, drove over to George’s house, and started setting up. “What is it?” asked George. “Just wait,” replied Joe, and kept setting up.
When Joe finally unleashed a note-perfect “And Your Bird Can Sing”, George fell out of his chair laughing. “How the hell did you do that?” “Well, it took me long enough to figure out,” Joe said, “so I was going to ask YOU how YOU did it.”
George said, “The way *I* did it was John and me playing in unison, and then double-tracked! I can’t figure out how you did it by yourself, even though I just saw you do it!”
Well, Joe was left feeling pretty good about himself, managing to sound like the equivalent of four Beatles guitarists all by himself, if a little exasperated to have spent so much time figuring out something that he should have known better than to try – but he did it anyway. THAT’s Joe Walsh for ya.
I hope you’ve already hit play AGAIN on that blistering take on 1971′s “Walk Away” up top, because Joe really was killing it that year. There’s more to him than you probably think, too, so if you’re into the heavy guitar thing, you should definitely do some exploring.
Led Zeppelin fans in particular, I’m looking at you. Joe and Jimmy were friends from Jimmy’s days in The Yardbirds, and it was Joe who said, man, you’ve gotta quit monkeying around with that Telecaster. When you’re ready to rock, switch to a Les Paul – and indeed, Jimmy bought his first Les Paul (known as “#1″) from Joe in 1969, for $1200, which Joe says he flew out to hand-deliver to Jimmy. Says Jimmy, “Joe brought it for me when we played the Fillmore. He insisted I buy it, and he was right.”
(btw, nifty pic from Joe’s Twitter feed of him and Jimmy hanging out after LZ’s February 12 show at The Garden in 1975!)
I wouldn’t want to say that Led Zeppelin’s approach to live jamming was necessarily influenced by James Gang, but I’m saying that they were similar and Joe got there first. LOL And seriously, if you dig live Zeppelin, you NEED to know more about live James Gang and early solo Joe.
(More details about #1 than anyone but a gearhead would want here, here, here, and here, but hey, maybe you’re a gearhead!)
To give you a head start for exploring more James Gang and early solo Joe, I’ll add one more video, from 1972, “Turn To Stone” featuring Fanny’s Jean Millington on bass absolutely slaying dragons on this monster. As Joe told Rolling Stone,
“Turn to Stone” was written about the Nixon administration and the Vietnam War and the protesting that was going on and all of that. It’s a song about frustration. Also, I attended Kent State. I was at the shootings. That fueled it, too. In those days it felt like the government’s priority was not the population. They had an agenda that was about something other than doing what was necessarily good for the country.
A few years later [in 1980], I decided to run for president myself. [Ed. Note: Walsh pledged to make “Life’s Been Good” the new national anthem.] I thought it’d be a great idea and I had fun with it. And the reason I did it is because there was, and there continues to be, a very apathetic attitude toward voting. There’s a total separation between the federal government and the people. So running for president was an attempt on my part to get people to care enough to go vote. But people just don’t bother. And that’s why it’s not working.
TURN IT UP!
Oh what the heck, and one more from July 20 1971, from the French TV show Pop2, “The Bomber” (from 1970′s Rides Again) which includes a quick little nod to “Beck’s Bolero” along the way. (Well, technically I suppose, Ravel’s “Bolero”, and indeed, Ravel’s estate made them remove the reference from initial pressings of the album!)
And another note for LZ fans: Joe does some crazy stuff with his bare hands at around 2:30-3:30 going into “Bolero” that Jimmy did with a violin bow. THAT’s Joe Walsh for ya.
Together, they co-wrote all nine songs on Stevie’s 1971 album Where I’m Coming From, including the Billboard #8 hit “If You Really Love Me”, which also features Syreeta’s strong harmony vocals. Photo by Terry O’Neill.
The album they wrote together, Where I’m Coming From, was released in April 1971, and here’s the mono single mix of their song, “If You Really Love Me” released in August 1971.
George Harrison’s demo for Ringo’s 1971 hit “It Don’t Come Easy”
Ringo co-wrote the song with George, who also produced this, added background vocals, and played bass and the wonderful guitar that’s so integral to this song’s success.
It’s quite ragged, but this version is AWESOME. There are no horns, and with fewer layers of overdubs, you can really hear backup vocals. George’s guitar is also truly sweet in this version – easily the equal of anything he played on All Things Must Pass. There’s even a bonus “Hare Krishna” chant in the middle!
You’ve heard the 1976 hit version from The Electric Light Orchestra, a pop classic by any measure – but this stripped-down 1971 version by The Move SLAMS! It’s obviously the same song of course, but it really sounds beamed in from another dimension as peeling back all the layers reveals the downright weirdness at its heart.
(Seriously, one of the weirdest songs ever to become a hit.)
Presumably you’ve already hit play and heard the biggest difference between this and the 1976 ELO version: that one had an orchestra and choir, and this one is just composer Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood, and drummer Bev Bevan BANGING. Although Jeff wrote it, the song’s original title was named for a spontaneous outburst of Roy Wood’s at the end of the song, “Look Out Baby There’s A Plane A-Comin’”. (Yes, that was the original title! I think “Do Ya” works better tho.)
(Tom Petty later told Jeff that he thought “Look out baby there’s a planet coming” was one of the coolest lyrics he’d ever heard, and was disappointed to learn the proper words.)
Although the song had been a staple in ELO’s live sets, they didn’t get around to recording it until 1976, after Todd Rundgren’s cover on Another Live became something of a hit itself in 1975 (with Todd repaying a favor to Jeff, who’d regularly been performing Todd’s early Nazz track “Open Your Eyes”).
In fact, it was this original version’s complete lack of orchestration that landed the song with The Move rather than ELO. (Both Message From The Country and ELO’s debut were recorded more or less simultaneously, with the more orchestral tracks naturally landing with ELO.)
Recorded December 19, 1971, and released as the B-side to “California Man”, it failed to chart in the UK, and in 1972, barely cracked the US Top 100, landing at #98. Its days as a chart-topper were yet to come.
I do love ELO’s 1976 version, and the 1975 version by Todd Rundgren’s Utopia (which I’ll discuss in full another day) might even be my favorite, but there’s something special and irreplaceable about the original “Do Ya” from 1971.
Turn this tf up, play it again, and let me know what you think!
Dave Mason & Cass Elliot, “Something to Make You Happy” (1971)
Something to make YOU happy! One of the most incandescent singles of 1971, featuring Traffic’s Dave Mason and The Mamas and The Papas’ Cass Elliot embarking on an all-too-brief duo excursion.
A rare co-writing credit for Cass adds another touch of magic to this career highlight for her, its soaring chorus highlighting the ways that she and Dave Mason brought the very best out of each other in this hidden gem from 1971.
They’d been introduced by mutual friend Gram Parsons soon after Dave’s arrival in LA. As she had for so many other artists before (including another recently solo Englishman, Graham Nash), Cass took Dave under her wing, and it didn’t take long for them to realize that they sounded amazing together. As Cass told Rolling Stone, “I sing better with David because he’s so good. You want to do better. I’m singing notes I never sang with The Mamas & the Papas.”
Released in March 1971, Dave Mason & Cass Elliot had in fact begun as a Dave solo album, his second after leaving Traffic (to whom he’d return for a brief summer 1971 tour and live album).
He’d written all the songs and recorded all the lead vocals up to the point that Cass came on, but it was immediately obvious that they had something special together, so Dave reshaped the album more collaboratively from there: adding a couple of songs Cass wrote (indeed, the last time in her career she’d record her own compositions), more lead vocals, lots of harmonies on Dave’s earlier tracks, and joint billing as both performer and producer.
They played a few shows together (Santa Monica Civic and Fillmore East, where the photo above was taken by Amalie R. Rothschild) as well as a couple of TV appearances (The Andy Williams Show, The Tonight Show), and while they remained close and spoke about recording a proper collaboration someday, Cass’ untimely passing came first.
In any case, 100% magic for fans of both artists, and one of 1971′s hidden gems.
George Harrison and Bob Dylan rehearsing “If Not For You” before the Sunday afternoon show of the Concerts for Bangladesh, Sunday, August 1, 1971. It’s messy, but adorable.
Like The Beatles, Bob Dylan had quit touring in 1966. Unlike The Beatles, and apart from a 1969 TV performance with Johnny Cash, and an appearance with The Band at the Isle of Wight, Bob had all but disappeared. While he was generally up for lending a hand to George’s effort, he wasn’t sure what to sing, and was even less sure if he was going to be able to pull himself together to even show up at the appointed hour. When George introduced him that afternoon, he was by no means certain that Bob would actually walk out.
While they were working out which songs to perform together, “If Not For You” was an obvious place to start. A lovely tune that Bob introduced on New Morning almost exactly a year earlier (August 12, 1970), George covered it on his own album All Things Must Pass, which was the #1 album in the US for the first 7 weeks of 1971, and for the months of February and March 1971 in the UK.
Neither Bob nor George released “If Not For You” as a single, but in May 1971, it was the debut single for 22 year old Olivia Newton-John. Based on George’s arrangement rather than Bob’s, it reached #7 in the UK, and in the US, #25 on the Billboard Hot 200, and eight weeks straight at #1 on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart!
(Yes, I bought it. Yes, I still love it. Yes, I will post it later.)
Our boys passed on performing this for the big show(s), but this rehearsal is an enduring reminder that beyond being two of the all-time giants of popular music, and rock gods, they were also both just so incredibly fucking adorable.