Never a Dull Moment: 1971 The Year That Rock Exploded

Never a Dull Moment: 1971 The Year That Rock Exploded

by David Hepworth


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A rollicking look at 1971, rock’s golden year, the year that saw the release of the indelible recordings of Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, the Who, Rod Stewart, Carole King, the Rolling Stones, and others and produced more classics than any other year in rock history

The Sixties ended a year late. On New Year’s Eve 1970 Paul McCartney instructed his lawyers to issue the writ at the High Court in London that effectively ended the Beatles. You might say this was the last day of the pop era.

1971 started the following day and with it the rock era. The new releases of that hectic year—Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Sly Stone’s “Family Affair,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven,” the Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” and many others—are the standards of today.

David Hepworth was twenty-one in 1971, and has been writing and broadcasting about music ever since. In this entertaining and provocative book, he argues that 1971 saw an unrepeatable surge of musical creativity, technological innovation, naked ambition and outrageous good fortune that combined to produce music that still crackles with relevance today. There’s a story behind every note of that music. From the electric blue fur coat David Bowie wore when he first arrived in America in February to Bianca’s neckline when she married Mick Jagger in Saint-Tropez in May, from the death of Jim Morrison in Paris in July to the reemergence of Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden in August, from the soft launch of Carole King’s Tapestry in California in February to the sensational arrival of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” in London in November, Hepworth’s forensic sweep takes in all the people, places and events that helped make 1971 rock’s unrepeatable year.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250130914
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/16/2017
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 214,666
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

DAVID HEPWORTH is a music journalist and publishing industry analyst who has launched several successful British magazines, presented the BBC rock music program Whistle Test, and anchored the coverage of Live Aid in ‘85. Winner of the Editor and Writer of the Year awards from the Professional Publishers Association and the Mark Boxer Award from the British Society of Magazine Editors, he is the radio columnist for the Guardian and a media correspondent for the newspaper.

Read an Excerpt

Never a Dull Moment

1971 â" The Year That Rock Exploded

By David Hepworth

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2016 Henry Holt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62779-400-8



Get Down and Get With It

January 1971. The United States is in recession. Unemployment in the inner cities is nearing 10 percent. New York City subway tokens have just gone up to thirty cents. Transport, like much of the city, is in crisis. The streets are full of potholes. The wind that blows down the avenues blinds pedestrians with grit and makes uncollected garbage gather round their ankles. Gasoline is thirty-six cents a gallon. OPEC is imposing a 50 percent tax on oil extraction. Ford is thinking about making smaller cars. A seventeen-year-old from Washington Heights who calls himself TAKI 183 is becoming famous for leaving his tag on subway cars.

People are leaving the city in the face of crime and filth. Property values are dropping. An apartment in one of Manhattan's smartest addresses is on the market for $225,000, half of what it cost in 1969. All the movies made in New York, such as the recent Jack Lemmon–Sandy Dennis hit The Out-of-Towners, depict it as a place only the foolhardy would choose to visit. The city's magazines all carry sardonic survival guides. A picture of the half-finished World Trade Center illustrates an article in the New York Times promoting the unfashionable view that the city might yet be a desirable place to live. Someone in the convention business timidly suggests reviving a musician's saying from the 1920s and christening the city the Big Apple.

Some 85 percent of New York's twenty-five thousand police patrolmen are on strike over a pay claim. A cop earns around $11,000 a year, just above the national average. According to a detective named Frank Serpico, giving evidence to an inquiry into corruption, many can earn an additional $600 a month in bribes from illegal gambling rackets. Serpico will eventually be played on-screen by Al Pacino. Already in early 1971 the real-life corner-cutting detective Eddie Egan is the model for the fictional Popeye Doyle in the upcoming movie The French Connection.

Consumer prices are beginning to rise too fast to make it worth printing prices on menus. McSorley's Old Ale House, which has just been compelled to admit women for the first time, has adjusted its draft ale from 50 to 60 cents. However, a McDonald's hamburger is 20 cents and a Coke can be as little as 10 cents. It's still possible to have dinner for four at a smart place like 21 for $130 including wine and tips. The new John Lennon solo album is $3.49 at King Karol while George Harrison's triple album All Things Must Pass is $6.98.

The Tonight Show on New Year's Day 1971 is the last episode to carry a commercial for cigarettes. It's for Virginia Slims, a brand aimed at women that uses the slogan "You've come a long way, baby." Walter Cronkite presents the seven o'clock news. Ed Sullivan still fronts his variety show on Sunday nights. He is beginning to lose his memory. Sullivan won't be renewed, nor will The Beverly Hillbillies or Petticoat Junction. There are no celebrity magazines. The foremost celebrity of the year is Tricia Nixon, who is engaged to be married. The big media organizations are terrified that they are losing touch with the young audience. National Lampoon satirizes their attempts to stay in touch, such as Cosmopolitan's search for a nude male model. A Life magazine survey finds America's most admired names are Robert Kennedy and Bill Cosby. Least admired are Fidel Castro and Eldridge Cleaver. Jimmy Carter, newly sworn in as governor of Georgia, says the state may have finally accepted integration. In cities like Cleveland, integration is resulting in the flight of second-generation European immigrants to the suburbs and the consequent hollowing out of the centers.

Hot pants are everywhere. "They are the kind of fad that topples institutions," one fashion observer tells Life. Men's barbershops are closing. Every businessman is growing sideburns. Jane Fonda, thirty-three, her blond, curly hair transformed into a harsh shag, has just completed her role as the call girl Bree Daniels in Klute. She has driven alone from California to New York to play the part. Once on set in a studio in Harlem, she insists the director let her sleep the night in her character's apartment, the better to identify with her pain. The film glories in the squalor of the city. "After you've been in New York a month, you become tense and nervous and alienated," says Fonda. Returning to California, determined to put her privileged life behind her, she sells her possessions and moves with her daughter into a house in a cul-de-sac in the shadow of the freeway.

Fonda puts her energies into supporting the increasing number of soldiers' organizations opposing the continuation of the Vietnam War. The nation is riven with mistrust over the conflict, and its political poles seem entirely incapable of dialogue. Speaking for the older generation, Bob Hope, profiled in Life, says that 80 percent of the hippies on Sunset Strip "have a social disease." The voting age is in the process of being lowered from twenty-one to eighteen. Employees report that the baby boomers now entering the workforce in unprecedented numbers want faster advancement and less formal dress codes, and in some cases even have to have the profit motive explained to them. On January 12 the gap between the older and the younger generation is dramatized in a new TV series called All in the Family, which pits Glenn Miller–loving working stiff Archie Bunker against his long-haired liberal son-in-law. Within months, even Richard Nixon can be heard complaining about the son-in-law on the newly installed recording system in the Oval Office. But for most young people TV is an irrelevance, as are the movies. Music is where it's at.

* * *

In January 1971 Bruce Springsteen of Asbury Park, New Jersey, was twenty-one and still unknown beyond the immediate area, which was leaving fame perilously late. He had just returned from a visit to his parents at their new home in California, where he had time to reflect on the future of his band Steel Mill. They had endured a rather traumatic night on September 11, 1970, only four months after national guardsmen had opened fire on demonstrating students at Kent State University, killing four of them, when local police moved in with clubs swinging to enforce a curfew at an open-air show that Steel Mill were playing in the deceptively idyllic surroundings of the Clearwater Swim Club. Although they met the invasion with a certain amount of bravado, reconnecting the power after the police had cut it off, Danny Federici pushing a stack of speakers in the direction of some police who were trying to climb onto the stage, and Springsteen using his emerging stagecraft to keep the crowd on his side, the experience put Springsteen off any further "kick out the jams" rebel rhetoric.

Like bands the world over in 1971 who weren't known for their own material, Steel Mill played anything and everything they could. Springsteen's bands performed Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," they knocked out an Allman Brothers tribute called "Goin' Back to Georgia," and sometimes they even played a thirty-minute rock opera called "Garden State Parkway Blues." When Steel Mill played shows in New Jersey, sometimes attracting as many as four thousand people despite never having been on the radio, there wouldn't have been a single soul over the age of thirty, and there probably wouldn't have been anyone under the age of eighteen. Audiences were uniformly young and unjaded; whatever they were hearing they felt as if they were hearing it for the first time.

During Springsteen's holiday in California, he had been listening to the local FM stations, and his imagination had been captured by the breezy sound of Van Morrison's His Band and the Street Choir, with its attendant hit record "Domino" and the soul revue force of Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen. It was during this trip that he decided Steel Mill would be no more, the band was going to boast horns, line up more like Morrison's and Cocker's, and the name on the marquee would henceforth be Bruce Springsteen.

There are few moves that require as much self-belief as taking a band that has previously been, at least notionally, a democracy and naming it after yourself. It can occur only if the leader has the nerve to lead and the musicians involved recognize the strength of his claim to do so. At the time Springsteen was living in a ground-floor apartment in Asbury Park, which he shared with Steve Van Zandt, John Lyon, and Albee Tellone. Once a week they invited more musician friends round and played Monopoly. (Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas would invite friends round to their Fulham flat to do the same thing, a good indication of how little was on the TV in 1971.) It was during those games, which involved all manner of rule bending, covert alliances, bribery, and skullduggery, that the twenty-one-year-old Springsteen took to referring to himself, with tongue barely an inch into his cheek, as "the Boss."

By the end of 1971 he would bestow similar honorifics on the rest of his growing crew — "Miami" Steve Van Zandt, "Southside" Johnny Lyon, Vinny "Mad Dog" Lopez, and Clarence "Big Man" Clemons — as he played night after night at the Student Prince in Asbury Park and farther afield, where the band's standard performance would consist of four forty-minute sets with breaks in between.

Recalling this time in later years, Springsteen said, "Sometimes you'd come home with five hundred dollars in your pocket, and you could live on that for months. For a local band, that was a big success. And in that area, we were big local stars."

* * *

You couldn't really be a local star in the UK. You had to travel. In January 1971 Neville "Noddy" Holder, born in 1946, raised in a council house with an outside lavatory, his only proper employment a short period buying and selling auto parts, was the leader of a group called Slade. In his twenty-five years Noddy had already packed in a lifetime of experience of playing live: in his native Black Country, in German dance halls where the waiters carried guns, up and down the United Kingdom, and on a two-month residency entertaining holiday makers in the Bahamas.

On New Year's Day 1971 Slade played Wolverhampton Civic Hall, which was right in the middle of their industrial heartland. This was the first of no less than 150 shows they were to play in the next twelve months. Through that year Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill, and Don Powell toured the United Kingdom with an intensity that hasn't been equaled since.

One of the reasons it hasn't been equaled since is that the venues they played that year either no longer exist or for various reasons no longer host amplified popular music. Because Slade hadn't had a hit, they couldn't do the big dance halls where the hit acts played and could play only what was known as the rock club circuit. However, that circuit was extensive. Among the 150 shows were such venues as the Queen Mary Ballroom at Dudley Zoo, the St. Giles Youth Club in Willenhall, the curiously named Farx in Potters Bar, and the misleadingly genteel- sounding Ballerina Ballroom in Nairn. Slade performed amid the art deco splendor of the Floral Hall in Southport and the provisional prefabrications of Blades in Bexley. They rolled up and rocked in venues whose names still reverberate down the years, like the Marquee in Soho's Wardour Street. They played no less energetically at scores of places whose names no longer reverberate down the years yet still hint at a vision of a future that never entirely materialized in the way the namers might have wished. Places like the Teenage Centre in Fareham, the Showboat in Mumbles, and the Cosmos Youth Centre in Fife.

Slade didn't turn up their noses at any of this. They actively sought out people to play to. Sometimes they seemed to be almost harrying them. At the end of July, they played no less than three consecutive nights for Scottish holiday makers on the Isle of Arran. This was such a success that they returned to do a further show in late September.

Because Slade were not what anyone would call a headline name, they didn't only play in their own right. They also opened for others who were slightly better known. They supported Argent at the Lyceum in London, Yes at the Marquee, Atomic Rooster at the Kinetic Cinema in Birmingham, and the Alan Bown in Exeter.

Slade had no fear of distances. On September 4 they played the Kilmardinny Stadium in Glasgow; the following night they were at a schizophrenia benefit in London. In the days when the motorway system was not fully networked, this was a journey that would have consumed an entire cheerless, tedious, smoke-wreathed, bone-rattling day.

Slade's 1971 act was a crowd pleaser all the way. They began with their version of Ten Years After's "Hear Me Calling" (borrowed from the Woodstock sensation's recent album Stonedhenge), finished with Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," had room to "slow things down a bit" with John Sebastian's "Darling Be Home Soon" and the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin," which featured the group's proper musician Jim Lea on violin and climaxed with their bravura, speaker-shredding version of Little Richard's "Get Down and Get With It." Through it all, they kept up a stream of patter, exhortation, and private jokery. Nobody could come away from a Slade show without feeling that they had been entertained by a band who didn't look down on them. "We wanted to have fun with our audience," recalled Noddy many years later.

Scores of other British groups would have followed a similar trail in 1971, rattling around in the backs of ill-maintained Ford Transits, sleeping with the wheel arch as their pillow, relieving themselves in milk bottles, doing the NME crossword with a blunt guesthouse pencil, dreaming of a cold Wimpy and chips, probing for each other's personal weak spots and exploiting them without mercy, and often risking life and limb by putting themselves in the hands of a driver who had taken a few drinks and didn't wear a seat belt. (The British folk-rock group Fairport Convention had been involved in an accident in May 1969 when returning to London from a gig at Mothers in Birmingham. The driver was not feeling well and the other band members were asleep when the van came off the road and two passengers, their nineteen-year-old drummer Martin Lamble and a friend, Jeannie Franklyn, were both killed.)

The difference is that for Slade it somehow miraculously worked. It worked in a way that allowed all concerned to look back and claim they'd planned it that way. In late October they went into Command Studios in Piccadilly in London and recorded this by now road-hardened set for the record that became Slade Alive! By then they had already had a hit with "Get Down and Get With It," which was almost comically shrill but perfectly suited to the fine art of wardrobe- mirror miming, a sport in which Britain led and still leads the world.

The next step was to take the live energy into the studio and bake it into bite- sized biscuits. Like Brian Epstein bullying Lennon and McCartney into forming a partnership and Andrew Oldham locking Jagger and Richards in a room with instructions to compose, Chas Chandler insisted Holder and Lea write their own follow-up. Lea took him at his word and turned up — with his violin — at the Walsall council house where Noddy lived with his parents. Within half an hour they had written "Coz I Luv You," the first of their deliberately misspelled money spinners. They thought it was a joke. Chas Chandler thought it was number one. Chas would turn out to be right.

The year that had begun with them at Wolverhampton Civic Hall ended with them at number one. They got the good news while they were playing the Melody Rooms in Norwich. The cover versions were slowly dropped from the set. They soon had quite enough hits of their own, a string of hits that would eventually make them Britain's most popular band since the Beatles. Unlike the Beatles, the more records they sold, the more shows they played. They began all over again on New Year's Day 1972 at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. This time they played more than 150 shows. Having hit records was all very well, but the heart of the music business and, at the beginning of 1971, the money were in playing live.

* * *

At the same time as Slade were starting out on their 150 dates, the rising progressive group Yes were also trying to make their way via an apparently different route. They had recently finished recording their third album, The Yes Album. This record would be released in March, by which time they would have been playing the songs from it onstage for fully six months.

Yes were one of the first rock groups to build their career on the virtues of practice. Their growing live reputation was rooted in the fact that they didn't record anything that they couldn't play and, more impressively, sing onstage, without any help from technology. Yes were big favorites of BBC radio producers because they could be relied on to turn up, set up, and record three tunes in three hours, which is what a session with the Corporation, still one of the key routes to wider exposure, demanded.


Excerpted from Never a Dull Moment by David Hepworth. Copyright © 2016 Henry Holt. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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Table of Contents

Foreword 1
1. January: Get Down and Get With It 5
2. February: I Feel the Earth Move 20
3. March: Rock and Roll 46
4. April: Inner City Blues 68
5. May: Brown Sugar 91
6. June: Won’t Get Fooled Again 122
7. July: Every Picture Tells a Story 141
8. August: Wild Night 167
9. September: Family Affair 195
10. October: Will the Circle Be Unbroken 216
11. November: Hunky Dory 238
12. December: American Pie 263
Epilogue 281

Appendix: 1971 in 100 Albums 287
Selected Bibliography 289
Acknowledgments 293
Illustration Credits 295
Index 297

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