Never a Dull Moment: 1971 – The Year That Rock Exploded
By David Hepworth
Just look at this list of albums that came out in 1971 and are still staples on your (or your parents’) listening list: Led Zeppelin IV, Who’s Next, Tapestry, Aqualung, Blue, Madman Across the Water, Allman Brothers Band Live at Fillmore East, Tupelo Honey and Sticky Fingers. Not to mention singles that still form a chunk of any FM classic rock playlist. I mean, “Stairway to Heaven,” “Baba O’Riley" and “American Pie?”
English music writer Hepworth is so enamored of the year, in fact, that this entire book is a passionate thesis on how 1971 was Rock’s Year One. And like a well-prepared lawyer, he lays out his convincing case, proceeding month by month. That Paul McCartney filed legal papers to dissolve the Beatles on New Year’s Eve 1970 only seems fitting.
In addition to the parade of rock royalty that walk (or, in some cases, trample and stumble) through these pages, the real star is Hepworth’s trenchant and pithy observations, and lyrical writing like this: “The Atlantic seaboard is littered with the whitened bones of those acts who thought their celebrity in the UK entitled them to a free pass in the United States.”
It does get annoying that Hepworth, in attempting to give context to the year, rushes through a chop-chop hurricane of facts and anecdotes about historical, social, pop culture and political stories. And seemingly every act that ever produced something on vinyl that year gets some mention.
Hepworth also does a little myth-busting, taking down some cherished rock tales. Like just how boring the “elegantly wasted” days of the Rolling Stones recording Exile on Main Street at a luxury home in France were as the assembled waited hours for Keith Richards to come out of his bedroom (and his heroin haze) to record.
And how the legend of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On we’ve been spoon-fed – how he fought the Motown hierarchy to produce a contemporary and creative vision that touched on social, political and environmental issues – had less to do with Gaye’s convictions and passion and more to do with luck and help.
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Fleetwood Mac: The Complete Illustrated History
By Richie Unterberger
In 1971, Fleetwood Mac had just started its chaotic “middle period” as the group (and its lineup) transitioned between the Peter Green-led years as a British blues group and had yet to encounter the California singer/songwriter couple Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who would take the band into the stratosphere.
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But that period – and all the various Macs – get solid treatment in this lush, beautiful tome. While not digging too deep, it encapsulates the band’s nearly 50-year history and all its musical (and personal) ups and downs quite well, right up to the group's 2016 activities…come on, new record!
While “illustrated histories” of bands tend to just skim the surface of biography, in the hands of a skilled, practiced music journo like Unterberger (whose two-part history of L.A. folk rock is required reading), it satisfies both hardcore fans and owners of just Greatest Hits. The text is a clip job from previous sources, but an artfully woven one.
And the scores of rare photos (many in concert), posters, record covers and ticket stubs (one from a December 3, 1975, stop in Houston at the Music Hall) makes the handsome package high in visual appeal. Though I will nitpick and call out the fact that the book doesn’t include a single photo of one-time members of the Mac lineup Bob Brunning, Rick Vito, Dave Mason and Bekka Bramlett.
And yes, Bob Welch didn’t deserve to be left out of the band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee list. This book is the go-to Christmas gift for fans of the band, even if they have no clue who Jeremy Spencer or Billy Burnette are.