Was 1971 the greatest year in rock history? Music journalist David Hepworth believes it was, and he's written an entire book to argue his case.
In 1971, Never A Dull Moment, Hepworth argues that this was the year rock came of age - the year of Hunky Dory, Sticky Fingers, Every Picture Tells A Story, Pink Floyd's Meddle, Elton John's Madman Across the Water, The Who’s Who's Next and Led Zeppelin IV. And that was just in the UK.
In California Joni Mitchell was putting out Blue, The Doors LA Woman, James Taylor Mud Slide Slim, David Crosby If I Could Only Remember My Name, Graham Nash Songs For Beginners and Carole King released Tapestry.
Hepworth admits it could look like it's just his personal opinion, given he turned 21 in 1971, but he says the difference in this case, is that he is right - it was the best year in rock - and will never be surpassed.
“Had there been a Mercury Prize in 1971 the shortlist in the UK would have been David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story, The Who, Who’s Next, the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers, John Lennon Imagine and Paul McCartney Ram
“The fact is that 45 years later those records are still very familiar to lots of people and not just to the people who remember them at the time, but also to my children in their teens and 20s. They’re records that are part of the furniture of everybody’s lives
Hepworth’s theory is that in 1971 the planets were aligned for the burgeoning rock star.
“I don’t think it ever could happen again – the uninterrupted focus isn’t there anymore.
“I wouldn’t inflict British TV from 1971 on my worst enemy, and there wasn’t a huge amount happening in the cinema in 1971. It was all about music and particularly the long playing album.”
And the record business was growing exponentially.
“Carol King’s Tapestry comes out in February 1971, no fanfare at all, it’s a very modest record, by the middle of the year it was selling 150,000 copies every week in the US alone.”
Hepworth says it’s hard now to imagine such a time, with the record business now all but gone.
The year was also notable for those absent. There was a large Beatles-shaped hole as the Fabs had effectively disbanded in 1970. Bob Dylan had nothing to offer this year; nor did Paul Simon.
The absence of the Beatles left some creative oxygen in the room, according to Hepworth
“One of the reasons there was this activity was there suddenly was vacant crown to be had.”
The Rolling Stones, newly tax-exiled in France, put out Sticky Fingers the middle child in their run of classic albums that started with Gimme Shelter in 1969 and culminated with Exile on Main Street in 1972.
Artists were also prolific, Hepworth says.
“Lots of these people were contracted to do two albums a year. Not one in three years. Those records have an immediacy about them.
“They weren’t remixed endlessly, they weren’t thought about endlessly; it was first thought best thought.”
Here’s David Hepworth’s 1971 Spotify list:
His favourite album? Who’s Next. Best track? Baba O’Riley. Best moment? 1 minute 6 seconds into that song.
"If you have to explain popular music to a Martian – that’s what you do. Play them that”
Ten of the best from ‘71
Led Zeppelin IV - Led Zeppelin
Sticky Fingers - The Rolling Stones
Who’s Next – The Who
Tapestry – Carole King
Meddle – Pink Floyd
Hunky Dory – David Bowie
What’s Goin’ On? – Marvin Gaye
Every Picture Tells a Story – Rod Stewart
Blue – Joni Mitchell
Songs of Love and Hate – Leonard Cohen