To be honest, it really doesn’t matter. It’s pretty subjective really. We all have our personal preferences, and it’s interesting that David Hepworth himself was 21 in 1971. As music fans, lots of our most influential moments take place when we are teens or at least still young. My personal gamechanging year was 1994, for multiple reasons, but you can easily make a case for many years in practically every decade.
For some of my older readers this moment could have taken place in the 1950s or ’60s, but for some youngsters it could even have been in the ’00s or ’10s. But we can definitely make a great case for 1971.
I haven’t read the book, but the documentary is superb, and whether you have seen it or not, it’s worth looking back at that year more than 50 years on, and assessing it’s impact. It’s on Apple TV, which will probably mean most haven’t seen it yet, but regardless, we can look back at 1971 with awe. I wasn’t even born then, but it doesn’t mean that some of this music hasn’t impacted me in a big way.
The year started with the release of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ single, which was soon followed by the album of the same name in May. This is quite simply my favourite record of all time and it has only got better with age.
During my personal pivotol music year, the aforementioned 1994, I was a student in the United States, and I listened to a cassette copy of this album at least twice a day. I still listen to it regularly, and it’s a part of my DJ sets too. The themes, which range from ecological concerns to disgust at the Vietnam war, are more relevant than ever, and the music stands up too. It has influenced generations of artists, and I became so enamored with Marvin that I named my son after him 10 years ago.
But 1971 was more than ‘What’s Going On’. The amazing Sly Stone released There’s a Riot Goin’ On, and like many releases that year, he helped soundtrack the drugged out aftermath of the ’60s hippy dream, as it went up in flames. Musically as innovative as anything from that era, it became the prototype for not just Prince but for hip-hop and dance too, and sadly it also provided a portal into the troubled mind of a music genius who was fighting lots of demons.
The most refreshing thing about the Apple documentary, directed by Asif Kapadia, with a whole host of others, is that it looks at music history with a much wider lens than many Boomer retrospectives. The ’60s and ’70s were immensely important to music history, but all too often we see those decades from a white male perspective, heavily emphasising The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and other such acts while rendering everything else less important. 1971: The year that music changed everything recognises the importance of The Beatles and The Stones and their legacies, but also digs deep into black music and also puts women to the front and centre of the revolution.
Here we have Sly, Marvin, Curtis, Stevie, Gil Scott Heron, James Brown and Bob Marley running side by side with Aretha, Tina, Carole King, and Joni Mitchell, and those artists and many more are deserving of more indepth analysis and recognition.
The documentary seamlessly weaves the social climate of the US and Britain, the world’s two leading music markets, into a story that is about much more than the music. All the big hitters are there too, but it’s great to see Bolan share equal time with Bowie, and it’s wonderful to hear the Last Poets, The Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, Shuggie Otis, and many others, who are usually sidelined when history narrows its focus on the few.
As the ’60s fell apart, the ’70s children of the Revolution turned into adults, and the music changed forever. “1971” is a brilliant snapshot of an important year for music, and many of these wonderful songs and albums still sound amazing more than 50 years on.