‘You Had The Whole Damn Thing All Wrong . . .’

Since we’ve puttered around for a while with singles from the summer of 1971, what about the albums? What was heading out the doors of stores that summer? Here’s the top ten albums listed in Billboard the week of July 17, 1971:

Tapestry by Carole King
Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones
Jesus Christ Superstar
Carpenters by the Carpenters
Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney
Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon by James Taylor
Aqualung by Jethro Tull
What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye
Tarkus by Emerson, Lake & Palmer
4 Way Street by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

That’s an incredibly good Top Ten. I know eight of those albums well, being unschooled about the James Taylor album, which I should know, and Tarkus, about which I should maybe care but don’t. (I have one album by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, their self-titled first album with “Lucky Man” on it, and that, it has always seemed, is enough ELP for me.)

Of the eight I know, three may not have aged as well as the others: 4 Way Street was kind of ragged, and Jesus Christ Superstar remains, I think, one of those “you had to be living in those times” kinds of albums. And then there’s Aqualung, which I’ll deal with in a little while.

As long as we’re talking about aging well, perhaps the album among that top ten that has done that the best is the still vital, vibrant and (sadly) pertinent What’s Going On? And I think Sticky Fingers, Ram and Tapestry are still good listening.

So how many of these was I hearing during that summer of 1971? I had Ram, one-half of my high school graduation present from the man who would turn out to be my brother-in-law. (The other half of the gift was Janis Joplin’s Pearl, which had been No. 1 for nine weeks earlier in the year.) My sister had a copy of Tapestry, and late that summer, I got a copy of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Beyond those, when I was in the rec room, I was still listening to a lot of the Beatles as well as to Crosby, Stills & Nash (with and without Young), Stephen Stills on his own, The Band and the Bee Gees from my own collection. My sister’s collection added – as I said – Carole King as well as a few other current things, Cat Stevens and Leo Kottke primary among them. I was certainly a lot more plugged into current music than I had been two years earlier when the most recent pop album I’d owned was a Herman’s Hermits offering that was three years old.

So what about Aqualung? I didn’t get my own copy of the album until that autumn, but I know I heard some of it on the radio, maybe on KQRS or perhaps on a local FM station – call letters long forgotten – that played a fair amount of album rock, or maybe even on KAAY’s “Beaker Street” as it sliced through the late-night static from Little Rock. I might have borrowed a workmate’s copy of the album for a week or so.

However I heard them, I knew at least two songs on the album that summer: the title song about the homeless wretch and the anti-religion but pro-God closing track, “Wind Up.” And I most likely was one of those that the book All Music Guide to Rock refers to when it notes that the album “probably got lots of teenagers wrestling with these ideas for the first time in their lives.” The book goes on to call Aqualung “one of the most cerebral albums ever to reach millions of rock listeners.”

I can’t dispute that. I was seventeen that summer, and I might have already started to think about the big topics of life: religion, yes, but also poverty, loyalty, love, obligation and more. Even so, Aqualung addressed those, some directly and some obliquely, and made me more aware of them. I’m not sure Anderson and the other members of Jethro Tull managed to put on the table a cogent series of answers to any questions about those topics, but it was pretty impressive getting the questions out in the open. (Regarding musicians questioning the order of things, it should probably be noted that I dug into Aqualung nine months or so before I began to dig into anything Bob Dylan ever recorded.)

And I liked the music. Just listening to snippets of the album this morning as I write – and I’ve not heard many of those tracks for years – reminded me how much I enjoyed not just the lyrics but the music backing those words. From Anderson’s flute onward, I found the tunes hummable, and listening this morning was an exercise in pleasant familiarity. So how much of my enjoyment this morning is tied to the memory of the seventeen-year-old whiteray nodding his head as Anderson and the rest did their part in trying to tear down the temple? And how much comes from merit?

Right now, I don’t know. I suspect Aqualung will be in heavy rotation in the CD player for a week or so, joining a stack that these days includes a Tower of Power anthology, albums by Robert Cray, the Freddy Jones Band, the Civil Wars, Jorma Kaukonen, the Cowboy Junkies and – almost always – Fleetwood Mac’s Bare Trees. And we’ll see how I feel about the album after that. Here’s the album’s closer, “Wind Up.”


One Response to “‘You Had The Whole Damn Thing All Wrong . . .’”

  1. Tim McMullen Says:

    Great post, and that was an alarmingly strong chart. I know that you tend to put much of your focus on the charts; that is a very fun and interesting approach, and I really appreciate your postings although my interests in music ran more toward the more obscure singer-songwriter; nonetheless, ’71-’72 was an incredibly fertile time in American music, a temporary transition to literate and articulate music.

    The folk singers like Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Eric Anderson, Mark Spoelstra, Buffy St. Marie, Patrick Sky, Bert Jansch, Donovan, Ian Tyson, Gordon Lightfoot, Steve Gillette, followed by a more “folk pop” wave led by Jerry Jeff Walker, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Buffalo Springfield, Simon and Garfunkel, Jethro Tull, Seatrain, Neil Young (solo) and Elton John, paved the way for 1971 and 1972 (give or take a year), which saw debuts (or first significant albums) from Jackson Browne, Danny O’Keefe, Paul Simon (solo), Billy Joel, J.D. Souther, Carole King (in her transition from songwriter to singer-songwriter), Jonathan Edwards, The Eagles, Ned Doheny, Jimmy Buffett, Dave Loggins, Randy Sharp, Casey Kelly, Jim Pulte, just to name a few: all of whom continued a revitalization of the music scene in which lyrics actually began to matter. Happily, for many of us on the fringes, they still do. Thanks again, for a great post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: