Arguably one of the most influential years in music is 1971. This was also a year that signified rebellion, as the Pentagon Papers were leaked and Americans rallied in their opposition to the Vietnam War.
While David Hepworth’s “Never a Dull Moment: 1971 - The Year That Rock Exploded” refers to the year as “rock’s golden year,” as rock music reflected the events of such tumultuous times.
“Sticky Fingers” by The Rolling Stones
“Sticky Fingers” was the band’s first album released on its own record label, Rolling Stones Records, accompanied by the birth of the infamous tongue and lips logo. The most successful song on the album, “Brown Sugar,” covers a slew of controversial topics such as interracial sex, drugs, slavery and sexual violence.
“Hunky Dory” by David Bowie
The opening album track, “Changes,” became one of Bowie’s most famous songs and was a means of connection to the younger generation growing up during those times.
“Tapestry” by Carole King
Prior to “Tapestry,” the music industry didn’t think much of the female market. That quickly changed when they noticed venues packed with fans, mostly women, at Carole King shows. Singles like “It’s Too Late” and “I Feel the Earth Move” hit the charts, while her album’s extraordinary success inspired the singer-songwriter movement.
“Whatcha See is Whatcha Get” by The Dramatics
President Nixon declared a war on drugs in June 1971, and “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” was the band’s black pride-influenced ballad. With Latin percussion and fuzz guitar throughout, the songs on this album set an uncompromising tone in regards to this political climate at the time.
“Blue” by Joni Mitchell
Rooted in second wave feminism, Mitchell’s fourth studio album is a product of the revolutionary bohemian and feminist culture in the 1960s and 1970s. The song “The Last Time I Saw Richard” reflects the hope for peace in her generation while currently living through dark times in history.
“Led Zeppelin IV” by Led Zeppelin
Definitive records like “Stairway To Heaven” and “Going To California” encompass the essence of Led Zeppelin’s musical legacy, while the album broke down the door, changing the audience's expectations of what rock is and should be.
“The Cry of Love” by Jimi Hendrix
Released as a posthumous tribute, this album consists of unfinished recordings prior to Hendrix’s passing in September 1970. The song “Freedom” on the album exemplifies the new style of rock music Hendrix was erring towards, coinciding with the new era artists were approaching in the music industry.
“What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye
The album is filled with subject matter most albums at the time seemed to avoid, including racism, poverty and injustice. Gaye painted a picture of the painful realities of America at the height of the Vietnam War.
“Who’s Next” by The Who
“Who’s Next” is packed with rock music staples that are now considered somewhat mainstream. From experimenting with synthesizers to adding in elements of rock opera, this album served as a forward-looking symbol of what was to come in the next age of rock and roll.
“Pearl” by Janis Joplin
Released three months after her death, “Pearl” embodies the real, raw voice of Joplin that dubbed her the first queen of rock ‘n’ roll. She’s considered to be the first woman to make it big in rock, and this album paved the way for women like Joplin who rejected the status quo.