David Hepworth highlights 1971 in music and culture in his new book “Never A Dull Moment.”
Michigan rock band Grand Funk Railroad would not hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 until 1973, but by the end of 1971 they released five albums in three years. According to British journalist David Hepworth’s new book Never A Dull Moment, the band was one of the first rock bands led by image first, music second. Their manager and producer Terry Knight “could see that there was a market for music that was above all loud, particularly if it was purveyed by a bare-chested high school Adonis such as [Grand Funk Railroad lead singer] Mark Farner.” The marketing strategy worked. In July 1971 the band sold out Shea Stadium, becoming the first musical act since the Beatles to achieve that feat. Neither Hepworth nor members of Led Zeppelin appreciated Grand Funk’s antics, which included the drummer playing drums with his head during live shows.
Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant still trolling Grand Funk Railroad
The media feud between the overachievers in Led Zeppelin and opportunists in Grand Funk is just one vignette of hundreds that populate Never A Dull Moment, which is focused on the year 1971, “the busiest, most creative, most innovative, most interesting, and longest-resounding year of [the rock] era.” Critics may argue that other years are more deserving of the “best year” moniker, but to me, the value of the book is not in its central thesis but in the characters and stories that certainly confirm that there was never a dull moment in 1971. The year not only provided adequate sex and drugs and rock & roll, but also an obscenity trial of an alternative magazine in Britain, the largest mass arrest in U.S. history in Washington, D.C., and the first American television reality show.
The stories of 1971 are stories of recklessness, innocence, guilt, triumph, tragedy, and redemption. The music industry of 1971 was still defining itself as a business and most participants in it were making it up as they went along. The artists who stumbled into massive financial earnings in their twenties often did not know what to do with them. James Taylor’s girlfriend Carly Simon discovered that Taylor’s new property on Martha’s Vineyard “had been designed with more thought for recording than food preparation.” Elvis Presley, not new to wealth, but newly putting on Las Vegas shows to monetize on 1950s nostalgia spent his earnings on his entourage, prescription drugs, and toys. The Rolling Stones were an exception to the rule. Mick Jagger, who briefly attended the London School of Economics in the early 1960s, moved the Stones from Britain to France in order to save on taxes.
@mickjagger might have had the least dull 1971 of all. To this day he has only been married once, to Bianca de Macias Jagger, and the wedding took place in May 1971 in Saint-Tropez, France. The marriage lasted 7 years. As for the wedding, while A-list rock guests jammed at the Café des Arts after party, Keith Richards never showed up because he was already “passed out on his back with his mouth open.”
Mick Jagger is expecting his eighth child this year, his first with 29-year-old girlfriend Melanie Hamrick
Perhaps the biggest flaw of Never A Dull Moment is that it gets encyclopedic in its 300+ page catalog of what nearly every rockstar was doing in 1971, and it is not easy to keep track of all the names, places, albums, and singles. Despite all the mentions, a few classic tracks from the year are not in the book – John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain.” Hepworth also does not have much sympathy for Eric Clapton, brushing him off as drug-addicted and barely-functioning in the year he made it big with “Layla.”
Having said that, over a hundred albums and singles are highlighted, many of which remain ubiquitous and still relevant in 2016. To keep the list at bay, below is my top five of 1971, in no particular order:
- Don McLean’s “American Pie” – “one of the first great pop records that is about great pop records”
- Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” – a song that Gaye was reluctant to take on initially, and unintentionally made more awesome by having friends from the Detroit Lions talk over at the beginning of the track
- The Carpenters’ “Superstar” – an early power ballad that originated as a much darker Delaney & Bonnie recording called “Groupie” and has since evolved to be Ruben Studdard’s signature song
- John Lennon’s “Imagine” – Never A Dull Moment implies that Lennon spent the whole year mostly feuding with Paul McCartney but that did not stop him from recording his signature song
- Led Zeppelin’s IV – the album not only features “Stairway To Heaven,” perhaps the Greatest Rock Song Ever, but a clever album cover revealing a knocked-down house set against a bleak suburban landscape