For those of us who were listening, it has never got any better than 1971.
So says music journalist and broadcaster David Hepworth who admits, however, that at the time – close on half a century ago – it didn’t feel particularly exceptional. Apart from the fact he turned 21.
Would-be readers of his new book might well transfer his ‘rock’s glory year’ tag to any landmark 12-month span in their own lives. But, as he stresses in the prologue: ‘There’s an important difference in the case of me and 1971. The difference is this – I’m right.’
Well, how can you argue with that kind of logic? The good thing is you don't have to if you decide to approach with a completely open mind Hepworth’s month-by-month journey through the past.
With all the benefit that hindsight brings, musical milestones (and this book certainly shows there were many of those in 1971) are chronicled exactly as they happened.
Clearly their impact was not necessarily felt at the time, yet here they are shown not only in the context of what was going on in the wider world but also through how far their influence has since travelled.
Hepworth – who enjoyed a successful early 1980s stint as presenter on BBC’s Whistle Test during the time the influential TV showcase dropped Old Grey from the title – convincingly paints 1971 as the last year when, for those making the music, there was more to win than there was to lose, when things happened in a way that they could never happen again.
Impressively, he manages to pour all his music theories into a potent mix of pin-sharp memory, extensive research and the occasional irreverent interpretation.Even if you don’t always
agree with all that his instincts are now telling him, the author’s quirky personal flashbacks of life at that time, which are intersected with items that are a matter of record (no pun intended!), ensure the book is never in danger of descending into some sprawling one dimensional history lesson.
Helping to round out a picture of a remarkable year, the chapters themselves are named jointly after each month and an appropriate song title, taking in the likes of Inner City Blues, Brown Sugar, Family Affair and American Pie.
Spread over several pages at the end of the book is a list of 100 influential LPs released in 1971 which, Hepworth reckons, proves it was the ‘annus mirabilis of the rock album.’ From Carole King’s Tapestry, The Yes Album and Surf’s Up by the Beach Boys to Santana III, David Bowie’s Hunky Dory and Madman Across The Water by Elton John, they are all here.
Want more? Try The Temptations’ Sky’s The Limit, Nursery Cryme by Genesis or perhaps the movie soundtrack to Shaft which Isaac Hayes wrote and performed.
Still have open ears? Cat Stevens released Teaser and The Firecat, Sly and The Family Stone declared There’s A Riot Goin’ On whilst The Rolling Stones had Sticky Fingers.
And Rod Stewart was finally enjoying both sides of the disc at the same time with The Faces’ A Nod’s As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse and the big solo breakthrough he had been waiting for in Every Picture Tells A Story.
But Hepworth has another picture waiting up his sleeve… quite literally. Fold back the curiously-undersized sleeve of this hardback and you’ll stumble on a secret stash of cover photographs of 60 of those 100 albums adorning both front and back of the book.
I was surprised to discover that my own music collection boasts 29 of those covers, and 33 of Hepworth’s listed landmark albums. So it looks as though one of his readers, at least, must have been listening with him for a good part of that year!
(Bantam Press, hardback, £20)