While sitting at the Jethro Tull concert in mid-June, I gazed out at the moonlit and strobe-lit hills behind the stage at Harrah’s Rincon Casino’s Open Sky Theater in San Diego, CA … and passed 40 years back in time.
That was the point of the night, anyway: Ian Anderson, Martin Barre and gang were commemorating the 40th anniversary of their epochal album, Aqualung, turning back the clock with their magical blend of flute and guitar, a worthy signature to a great era in rock history.
Since I’m prone to fits of nostalgia (I serviced my ‘60s music jones so well during the 40th anniversary of Woodstock in August 2009 that I watched the movie on my 50th birthday [literally the 40th anniversary of Woodstock’s opening day], and ended up forming a friendship with one of the stars of the concert and movie, Santana drummer Michael Shrieve), I spent the rest of the night recalling some songs that populated my then 12-year-old brain in the Summer of 1971.
Here it is, mid-summer, and I’m still at it, officially embarked on yet another 40th anniversary tour. Just got done listening to Grand Funk Live and Ten Years After’s A Space In Time, as a matter of fact. Summer is always a great time to reminisce about, well, those perfect lazy summers of playing baseball, catching waves, frying the skin and listening to great music on crackly radios. However, those albums of ’71 fly in on the breeze and roast in the sun, never getting old, every song a stitch in the experience, thrilling the soul and heart all over again … Who’s Next, A Space In Time, Grand Funk Live, Allman Brothers At Fillmore East, Aqualung, Electric Warrior, Fireball, Santana III, Roundabout.
There were, of course, the Robert Plant lyrics that kicked off the greatest album of that year:
Hey, hey mama
Said the way you move
Gonna make you sweat
Gonna make you groove
And the Plant lyrics that filled every AM and FM station:
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven…
And the Marc Bolan lyrics that also became everyday fodder:
Get it on, bang a gong,
Get it on
And, not to be outdone, Alvin Lee’s anthem:
I’d love to change the world,
But I really don’t know…
Riders on the storm,
Like a dog without a bone
And an actor out on loan,
Riders on the storm…
Yes, 1971 was the summer the electric guitar ascended the mountain upon its young maestros and became the instrument of the rock gods. While the Summer of 1972 will always be remembered as one of the greatest live concert summers the U.S. has ever seen, 1971 brought out the axes and their genius owners through a never-ending assortment of expressions and unforgettable albums. Of course, a great guitarist becomes further emblazoned in lights with a great band, and these guys had it all — great vocalists, bass guitarists who held down the bottom and ran bass lines like soloists (Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and Uriah Heep’s Gary Thain come to mind), magnificent drummers (John Bonham, Bill Ward, Chick Churchill, Ian Paice, Clive Dunbar, Keith Moon, Michael Shrieve, etc. etc.) and, in some cases, fabulous keyboard players … (tell me you don’t stop, feel the sweetness and pay homage every time you hear a sumptuous Hammond B3 organ).
It also was the first big summer of the live album, with George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh triple album, The James Gang, the Allman Brothers Band and Grand Funk Railroad leading the way. Criss-crossing the skies of the U.S. and England were Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple), Alvin Lee (Ten Years After), Pete Townshend (The Who), Eric Clapton (Derek & The Dominoes), Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers), Carlos Santana, Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad),Mick Taylor and Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), Steve Howe (Yes), John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival), Marc Bolan (T. Rex), Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), Robby Krieger (The Doors), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Joe Walsh (The James Gang) …
The beauty of these guitarists lies in the diversity they brought to a musical world still in mourning from the recent breakup of The Beatles and death of perhaps the greatest guitarist of all, Jimi Hendrix. With album-oriented rock a fixture on FM stations, bands and musicians could write and record seven or eight-minute songs and get airplay.
We’d rush to the stores, get the albums, rush home, tell our parents to leave us alone, slam the bedroom door and … depart. With stereo systems in full swing (an old school friend and I were talking Marantz and JBL just the other night), we’d slap on the headphones and take one six-string journey after another with the musicians. We’d play the music over and over until, 40 years later, we can readily identify the melodies of Baba O’Riley, Black Dog, Aqualung, Statesboro Blues, Layla, Get It On (Bang a Gong), Walk Away and I’d Love to Change the World after hearing five notes or less. I thought Cameron Crowe, one of those young San Diego teens wearing headphones in 1971, captured this fact of life masterfully in his 2000 movie, Almost Famous.
Attention spans and our sense of imagination ran at peak levels, thanks to a welcome lack of electronic playthings, along with feats that stirred our vision and dreams, such as man’s walks on the moon (there were two in 1971). Furthermore, if you wanted to hear a band, you bought the album, read every word of the cover, fired up the stereo, placed the needle on the vinyl record, and played it over and over again, crackles and all. (Sometimes, I wish more of our kids and, gasp, grandkids would try listening to an album cover-to-cover, rather than downloading individual songs on iTunes and creating mixes that give no musical story at all – only sound bites.)
If they did, they would hear the guitar at its finest. Its geniuses of the day played blues rock, country rock, folk rock, hard rock and rhythm & blues, along with the first utterances of what became prog rock and heavy metal, often accompanied by vocalists who could write incredible poetry — who, in this poet’s mind, were poets as well as lyricists. Some of the most beautiful lyrics were written in 1971 by Robert Plant, Pete Townshend, John Fogerty, David Byron of Uriah Heep, Alvin Lee, David Gilmour and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd (Meddle, released that year as a movie soundtrack, is an incredible acoustic prelude to Dark Side of the Moon), Gregg Allman, and an eccentric genius in anyone’s book, Marc Bolan.
So, for those of you who were there (and those who weren’t, but know a good thing when you hear it), take a moment to revisit the magical summer of 1971 and the artists who made it happen. A partial list of releases below:
Allman Brothers At Fillmore East
Creedence Clearwater Revival Pendulum
Doobie Brothers The Doobie Brothers
The Doors L.A. Woman
Grand Funk Railroad Live and E Pluribus Funk
Mountain Nantucket Sleighride
James Gang Live In Concert
Steppenwolf For Ladies Only
Black Sabbath Master of Reality
Deep Purple Fireball
Derek & The Dominoes Layla & Assorted Love Songs (on tour in US)
Jethro Tull Aqualung
Led Zeppelin IV
Pink Floyd Meddle
Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers
T. Rex Electric Warrior
Ten Years After A Space In Time
Uriah Heep Look at Yourself
The Who Who’s Next
Bob Yehling blogs at Rock Choice.
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