Category: 1971 music

Aretha Franklin, “Rock Steady” on The Flip Wil…

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!” 

TURN IT UP!

Aretha Franklin’s Grammy Award for Best Female…

Aretha Franklin’s Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for her 1971 single, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” one of 8 in a row she won from 1968-75, via Billboard

And here’s the performance from that year’s Grammy telecast, which aired March 15, 1972 from New York’s Felt Forum.

George Harrison and Bob Dylan rehearsing “If N…

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 was by no means 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.

George Harrison, “Here Comes the Sun”, August …

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!)

Bob Dylan, Brown Sugar (2002) OMG, you gotta h…

Bob Dylan, Brown Sugar (2002) OMG, you gotta hear this! I do emphasize “hear” because the picture is blurry (pre-HD, pre-smartphone – it’s a miracle this exists at all), but don’t miss Bob’s shimmying and shaking his way through the 1971 Rolling Stones classic. 

Taken from an October-November 2002 run that became known as The Tribute Tour, this was Rockin’ Bob with a twist: it featured a solid handful of covers every night. Specifically, in tribute to Warren Zevon, who’d just announced that he had terminal cancer. Most often played were “Accidentally Like A Martyr” and “Mutineer”, two of Warren’s loveliest ballads (at least one of these was played every night; often both), but Warren’s “Lawyers Guns and Money” and “Boom Boom Mancini” also popped up along the way, as did songs like “The End of the Innocence” (Don Henley), “Old Man” (Neil Young), and “Carrying A Torch” (Van Morrison), among others. 

I don’t know which date this video is from, but it definitely captures the vibe of the night I saw it myself, November 16 in Boston. That night, he played the two Warren ballads (both perfect), “Old Man” (which I found deeply moving), and this rip-snorting “Brown Sugar” that brought the house down. 

I had seen The Stones themselves play this very song in this very room just weeks earlier, and they were fantastic (complete with Bobby Keys blowing his unforgettable sax part like his life depended on it)…but it felt like Bob added a little something.  Maybe it landed with extra weight just because it was so unexpected, but I think that stripping out the sax and putting three guitars up front also made it feel even crunchier than usual.

My favorite Stones cover is always going to be Linda Ronstadt’s “Tumbling Dice”, but this is giving that a run for its money in a very close second. That said, this one might well be my favorite cover tune (by anyone!) to have witnessed in person. Many thanks to YouTuber luistoluces for capturing this gem of a performance!

Linda Ronstadt makes Little Feat’s 1971 classi…

Linda Ronstadt makes Little Feat’s 1971 classic “Willin’” her own

The first time Linda Ronstadt saw Lowell George, he was
singing in a bar in Atlanta, and she fell instantly in love. They embarked on a
torrid romance that came to a sudden end a week later when Linda found out that
Lowell was married, which he’d neglected to mention.

In fact, the news came courtesy of Lowell’s wife Elizabeth,
who showed up at Linda’s door one morning. I’ve never heard Linda tell the story in exactly these words, but I’m
under the impression that Elizabeth opened with something along the lines of, “I bet Lowell didn’t
even tell you he’s married, did he?” Linda made no apologies for her sexuality,
but she firmly drew the line at other women’s men, so that was
the end of that. 

For reasons that can best be summarized as “It was The
Seventies”
, the three remained friends until Lowell’s untimely passing in 1979
at age 34.

As far as the singles charts, AM radio, and the Grammys are concerned,
Linda’s 1974 breakthrough album Heart Like A Wheel was borne aloft by “When Will I
Be Loved”, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”, and especially “You’re No Good”, but I’m
here to tell you that over on the FM band, right after “You’re No Good,” Linda
Ronstadt was allllll about her cover of one of the gems of 1971, from Little Feat’s debut album,
a Lowell George track called “Willin’”.

The fact is that Feat’s 1971 version was a dud. The whole album wasn’t quite as good as it should have been, but “Willin’” in particular was a mess. The first
verse was spoken in a creepily cartoonish drawl that was seriously off-putting,
so the band re-recorded it in much finer fashion in 1972 for their terrific second outing, Sailin’
Shoes
. Linda’s version of “Willin’” on Heart Like A Wheel blows the shoes
off both of ‘em. 

In a way, it’s one of the ballsiest (sexist language duly
noted) cover versions that a woman had yet recorded. Not only did she keep the
gender as written (including the longing lament that “I see my pretty Alice in
every headlight”), but she fully took on the hyper-masculine dime-store noir persona
of the wounded, wasted truck driver in ways that nobody saw coming from this pretty
little thing.

image

(This is Lowell with Linda in a Polaroid taken by her producer Peter Asher; my edit of an original you can find here.)

Linda wasn’t that man in the song, but she KNEW that man,
she knew that man better than Lowell himself did.
She grew up with plenty of ‘em
passing through her family’s hardware store in Arizona (still Mexico when her family settled there in 1840), rolling through the grimy
backroads of the southwestern desert before the interstates were finished,
through the small towns that Linda had been through
way too many times herself, riding behind truckers taking longer routes to
avoid paying tonnage fees at interstate weigh stations.

And the drugs! Lord have mercy, the drugs. There’d never
been a chorus like this before. Not that this was at all a glamorous portrait of drug use, but the matter-of-factness made it all the more startling. This wasn’t some groovy encouragement to drop out. This was about doing whatever it takes to finish the job.

Well I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari
Tehachapi to Tonopah
Driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made
Ridden the back roads so I wouldn’t get weighed

And if you give me weed, whites, and wine
And you show me a sign
I’ll be willin’
To be movin’

Those words coming out of Lowell George’s mind are a wondrous
thing, and in Linda’s voice, they’re nothing short of a miracle.
When she sings
lines like, “I’ve been warped by the rain, driven by the snow, drunk and dirty
don’t you know” and “I’ve had my head stove in but I’m still on my feet, and I’m
still….willin’” – this is way, way past Rosie the Riveter. This isn’t just a
woman doing a man’s job. This is a woman the likes of whom had never come
bounding out of a radio speaker in human history.

Not that she didn’t get plenty of shit for it at the time,
and in many years since. A lot of men got very upset to find themselves made
redundant in their own songs, which is a story for another day. Lowell,
he loved what Linda did with “Willin’”, and incorporated some of what he learned from her into his own subsequent versions, which is also a story for another day.

For now, I’ve got two tasty live renditions of “Willin’” for
you, in two very different contexts. The first is the one you’ve hopefully already been playing from the top of the post, from 1976, Linda comfortably getting on
top of her game as the biggest woman in popular music (a fact WAY
too easily forgotten), selling records and filling arenas in numbers that no solo artist of any
gender had yet come close to achieving over such a long span (way WAY too easily forgotten).
 

She’s always been shy, never did
get comfortable talking on stage, but here opens with a great story featuring 70s concert legends Showco, the Dallas-based production company that put on pretty much
every great tour of the era. Those pictures of caravans of 18-wheelers carrying
sound and lighting rigs for people like Led Zeppelin? That was Showco. 

Linda
tells the tale of them getting stopped at the German border on the way to this
particular show, forced to unload and reload all the trucks for inspection and barely making this show in time,
before launching into a sweet, bright version of what had already become a highlight of
her set.

The second version is here below, for Lowell’s tribute concert in 1979.
When he died so young (albeit not too suddenly; a man of too many appetites to
stay ahead of them for long), his friends gathered in Los Angeles to raise
money for Elizabeth and their 5 year old daughter Inara. (Inara has grown up to
be a fine musician herself, btw. I first encountered her as one half of The
Bird and the Bee, and she’s also a member of two other bands: Merrick, and The
Living Sisters.)

Linda was there of course, as were Jackson Browne, Bonnie
Raitt, Nicolette Larson, and surviving members of Little Feat (notably on this
track: Billy Payne on piano). Other versions of “Willin’” were performed as an
anthem of sorts. A ballad yes, but a rollicking tale told by a snake charmer.
This time, Linda and friends slow it down half a beat to underscore the ache of loss that was always there in the song,
and here brought fully into the spotlight.

There are so many great Linda Ronstadt performances, so many
great songs by so many great male writers that she’s made her own, and yet to
me, her version of “Willin’” towers over all of them. 

While I’m here, I might
as well link you to the version that I first heard, and that still sounds
mighty fine, her recording of “Willin’” on Heart Like A Wheel.

Finally, it’s one thing to say that she used Lowell’s song
to create an unexpected and unprecedented portrait of a hard-working woman, but
it’s striking to see the ways in which women in popular music are still forced
into such a limited handful of acceptable roles, and to contemplate the number
of jobs and lifestyles that still aren’t realistically options for women in the
world, nearly 50 years after this remarkable song’s debut back in 1971.

1971: Christine McVie steps into the Fleetwood…

1971: Christine McVie steps into the Fleetwood Mac spotlight

Christine Perfect had been contributing to Fleetwood Mac even before she married the band’s bassist John McVie in 1968. By 1970, she even painted the cover of the band’s album Kiln House – but while you can hear clearly her background vocals, still no credit on the album sleeve.

(This has always struck me as insane, btw. She was one of the most highly regarded artists of the era, having won Melody Maker’s Female Vocalist of the Year in 1969 and 1970. How the hell do you not brag that you have HER on your record? Idiots. Well, they fixed it anyway, so 47 years later, I’m finally starting to let it go.)

Her joining Fleetwood Mac as a full-fledged member wasn’t the only change in the band that year. The departure of founding guitarist Jeremy Spencer and his roots in Buddy Holly and 50s, and the addition of American guitarist Bob Welch, put a definitive end to the blues era of Fleetwood Mac, setting themselves firmly on a path of singer-songwriter-based sophisticated pop.

There’s a lot more than that going on here, mind you. It’s like the entire band has been liberated from the shackles of traditional music styles, and is flowing in sweetly energetic new directions. It’s a quintessentially 1971 album in its innocence, hopefulness, and embrace of eclecticism. Joy. You’re gonna smile the whole way through this.

image

This 1971 ad via superseventies nicely tells the tale: “Rich and subtle addictive sounds from a British group whose changes are always positive.” Amen.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I may be slightly overrating it because of my deep fondness for the vibe they’re putting out, but you know what? I think this is their 2nd-best record after 1975′s Fleetwood Mac (where a Christine song, “Over My Head” was in fact their first breakthrough). “Woman of 1000 Years” and the title track are melodic and complex enough to border on jazz-prog, but it happens that both of Christine’s songs here are among my all-time favorites of hers.

The first one is the album’s second track, “Morning Rain” and it isn’t so much a showcase for Christine as a solo artist, so to speak, as much as it is a terrific band workout. That includes Christine, though, too, banging the shit outta them keys, a vastly underrated player.

I had no use for Fleetwood Mac as a blues band, but this? Oh my god, they are so freaking smooth here, it’s absolutely amazing. I love, love, love this, for a lot of the reasons I love The Yes Album which came out a couple of months earlier: melodic, elegant, with soaring choral harmonies, and a song structure built in a way that points to the future rather than the past.

Christine’s second track is the album closer, “Show Me A Smile”. It’s a gorgeous ballad for her son, with her voice and keyboards winding around Danny Kirwan’s sinuous guitar, and one of my all-time favorite things she ever laid to wax.

1971 was one of the all-time greatest years not just for music in general but for women in particular, with albums like Pearl, Tapestry, Blue, Carpenters, Fanny’s Charity Ball (the first all-women rock album to chart in the US; more here), two comeback albums from Barbra Streisand (both backed with Fanny),

the first two albums from Carly Simon, the first two from Rita Coolidge,  Grammy-winning early career peaks from Aretha Franklin & Tina Turner, debut albums from Bonnie Raitt, Helen Reddy, and Olivia Newton-John, Sandy Denny’s debut as a solo artist, and so many more….but I don’t think one of them had a song as pretty as this one.

So if you ask me about the BEST albums of 1971, well, I can’t honestly say that this makes the list….but the fact that an album this special doesn’t quite make that cut is one of the reasons that 1971 is such an amazing year. This is without question one of the half-dozen or so of the year’s true hidden gems

Welcome, then, to Future Games, my pick for Fleetwood Mac’s second-best record of all time. Start with the two songs from the woman born as Christine Perfect, but enjoy the whole thing as your entry into one of the most delightful and all-too-overlooked chapters in Fleetwood Mac’s legendary career. This five album run starting here, leading up to those two kids from California joining the band a few years later, is very much worth your attention, if for nothing else, to recall, or maybe even learn for the first time, what a powerful force Christine McVie was, building on long suits of melody and sweetness.

David Bowie, “Kooks”, solo acoustic, from Bowi…

David Bowie, “Kooks”, solo acoustic, from Bowie at the Beeb, recorded June 3, 1971, broadcast June 21.

Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones (b. May 30. 1971) was by no means the first rock kid, but he was perhaps the first whose dad wrote a song to him and put it on an album, 1971′s Hunky Dory

That version of “Kooks”, recorded in July, was quite elaborate, featuring the band soon to be known as The Spiders from Mars, with Trevor Bolder adding trumpet to his unusually busy bass, Mick Ronson’s string arrangements, and guest Rick Wakeman’s dance hall piano (who also played on “Changes”, “Life on Mars?”, and “Oh! You Pretty Things”). I think it’s perfect, one of the highlights of the album, and of David’s discography.

This is the first recording, though, recorded live by the BBC, with just David and a guitar, only 4 days after Duncan was born. This one is perfect in its own way, too, and quite a revelation. Before he starts the song, David notes that he’d been at home listening to Neil Young when he got the news of Duncan’s birth (Angela’s labor went on for 30 hours, so David left?), and this version of “Kooks” really does sound like it could have come straight off of After The Gold Rush.

That may seem an odd point of origin, especially given how very, very English “Kooks” sounds in its released version, but don’t forget that David started 1971 with his first trip to the US, traveling cross-country (from Washington DC to Los Angeles) by bus on a three-week press tour. As he said in 1999, “The whole Hunky Dory album reflected my newfound enthusiasm for this new continent that had been opened up to me. That was the first time a real outside situation affected me so 100 percent that it changed my way of writing and the way I look at things.” 

It was reflected in songs inspired by Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol (both of those by name, of course), and Lou Reed, among many others, including yes, Neil Young. After the Gold Rush spent that entire year on the Billboard charts, and landed as the 20th-best selling album of 1971. It would have been inescapable for David (as indeed it was for all of us!).

In fact, David’s next recording of “Kooks”, the first official demo, was even more Neil Young-inspired, verging on the downright derivative – slower, sleepier, folkier, and honestly, a little spooky. Neil would’ve been all over this, I think. You can hear that version over @bowiesongs, Chris O’Leary’s companion tumblr to his WordPress blog Pushing Ahead of The Dame (named for the great line from Hunky Dory’s Velvet Underground tribute, “Queen Bitch”), one of the best fan-based resources for any artist on the web, and the best textual resource on Bowie, period, as well as the first volume of the book(s) coming out of it, Rebel Rebel: All the Songs of David Bowie From ‘64 to ’76 (needless to say, highly recommended).

There was another version of “Kooks” that aired on the BBC on September 21, 1971, “Bob Harris’ Sounds Of The Seventies”, which had been recorded for what turned out to be  an extremely rare (500 copies) Hunky Dory promo called  BOWPROMO1, featuring 7 songs from David on side 1 and 5 from Dana Gillespie on side 2. (The Bowie tracks were officially released on Record Store 2017.) 

It’s quite charming, too – starting to sound considerably more British with Trevor Bolder on bass (but no brass), and Mick Ronson on acoustic guitar and vocals (but no strings) – but to me it falls short of both the polished gem of the Hunky Dory version, and the intimacy of the first BBC version. Still, you can hear David’s laughter as the song begins, and the smile of his that you hear throughout will wind up on your own face too.

(Young Duncan sucking Dad’s finger, June 29, 1971, by Ron Burton.)

My favorite versions of “Kooks” are definitely the ones from Hunky Dory and the June 1971 BBC version that I brought you at the top of this post, but all four are completely unique, and very much worth hearing. You’ll come away with an even clearer picture of how much craft David put into every aspect of his presentations, as well as a razor-sharp view of how much of it was all the way there from the very first moment. 

And yeah, a reminder of how closely connected David remained to Duncan through the rest of his life. Theirs is my favorite parent-child relationship in the rock pantheon, and you can hear the beginning of it right here, days after they met for the very first time.

twixnmix: Tina Turner performing at the “Soul…

twixnmix:

Tina Turner performing at the “Soul to Soul” concert in Accra, Ghana on March 6, 1971.

A concert (and film and album) that also featured Wilson Pickett, Santana, Roberta Flack and more.

Aretha Franklin, “Rock Steady” on The Flip Wil…

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!” 

TURN IT UP!