1971-2021: A Classic Golden Jubilee Year!

At The Barrier takes a look back at 1971 and celebrates a seminal year for the Rock Album.

We all know that 1971 was a seminal year for album releases.  Just at the point that The Beatles passed their breakup point of no return, the rest of the music industry shifted into gear and, right from the start of the year, commenced firing a barrage of classic albums that, in a phenomenal number of cases, continue to resonate today.  Pink Floyd, The Doors, The Who, John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Cat Stevens and many, many more all produced works that remain highly popular 50 years later. 


The 1971 phenomenon was celebrated in marvellously entertaining detail by the great David Hepworth in his book: 1971 – Never a Dull Moment, a must-read text in which David identifies 1971 as “The Annus Mirablis for the rock album.”  And here at At the Barrier, we couldn’t agree more.  Indeed, we each own a good number of 1971 albums and, for several of us, albums released in 1971 probably form the backbone of our respective collections.

It’s now 2021 and those great albums that first saw light of day in 1971 will all mark their 50th birthdays – or perhaps, more appropriately – their Golden Jubilees, during the coming 12 months and At the Barrier believes that a celebration is in order.  Our writers have looked through the list of albums that are approaching this milestone anniversary (and WHAT a list it is!!) and we’ve each made a selection of albums that changed our lives when we first heard them and which, in common with virtually every other album on the list, continue to sound as good now as they did when they were first released.

The Doors - LA Woman

I mean, just look at PART of the list we’ve had to choose from:

  • Pink Floyd – Meddle
  • Funkadelic – Maggot Brain
  • The Doors – LA Woman
  • The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
  • Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
  • Black Sabbath – Master of Reality
  • Deep Purple – Fireball
  • The Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East
  • The Who – Who’s Next
  • John Lennon – Imagine
  • David Bowie – Hunky Dory
  • Yes – The Yes Album AND Fragile
  • Jethro Tull – Aqualung
  • Elton John – Madman Across The Water
  • Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story
  • T.Rex – Electric Warrior
  • Badfinger – Straight Up
  • Alice Cooper – Killer AND Love it To Death
  • Paul & Linda McCartney – Ram
  • Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Tarkus AND Pictures at an Exhibition
  • Genesis – Nursery Cryme
  • The Faces – Long Player AND A Nod Is As Good As A Wink… To A Blind Horse
  • George Harrison & Friends – The Concert For Bangla Desh
  • Santana – Santana III
  • Cat Stevens – Teaser and the Firecat
  • James Taylor – Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon
  • Crosby, Stills and Nash – 4-Way Street
  • Carole King – Tapestry
  • David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name
  • The Moody Blues – Every Good Boy Deserves Favour
  • Electric Light Orchestra – The Electric Light Orchestra
  • Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
  • Chicago – Chicago III
  • Joni Mitchell – Blue
  • Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey
  • Sly and the Family Stone – There’s a Riot Going On
  • Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners
  • King Crimson – Islands
  • Jimi Hendrix – The Cry of Love
  • Fairport Convention – Angel Delight AND Babbacombe Lee
  • The Kinks – Muswell Hillbillies
  • Uriah Heep – Look At Yourself
  • The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up
  • Janis Joplin – Pearl
  • Mountain – Nantucket Sleighride
  • Nick Drake – Bryter Later
  • Nilsson – The Point AND Nilsson Schmilsson
  • Leonard Cohen – Songs Of Love And Hate
  • Can – Tago Mago
  • Little Feat – Little Feat
  • Lindisfarne – Fog on the Tyne
  • Sandy Denny – North Star Grassman and the Ravens
  • John Martyn – Bless The Weather

And there are many others, equally deserving of a mention.  So, in order to get our Jubilee celebration rolling, we’ve asked writers to each pick half a dozen of their 50th Anniversary favourites. Mike Ainscoe, Dominic Walsh, John Barlass and Howard King all wax lyrical on a few of their personal album highlights from 1971.


Lindisfarne – Fog on the Tyne

Fog on the Tyne was a game-changer for me.  I was 16 in 1971 and rock music was my passion.  I’d entered the genre after exposure to the early albums from The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Led Zeppelin, but this was something different.  Instead of feedback and virtuoso soloing, these guys played acoustic guitars, mandolins and violins and, instead of voyaging out into space and returning Dazed and Confused, they sang about meeting on corners, having a drink on a Friday night, sitting on the front seat upstairs on the bus and pee-ing against a wall – stuff that I related to.  It’s an album I played over and over again and which provided one of my entry points to my lifelong passion for folk-rock. JB

Carole King:  Tapestry

This was one of the must-buy albums no matter what genre of music was your favourite; it seemed to transcend  whatever bias music lovers had at that particular time. Its wide appeal , bearing in mind that as far as production was concerned it was stripped down to the bare minimum, was that  her soulful rock and roll  showed that these songs, although some were successful rock n roll money spinners, came from the heart and were not written just to add dollars to the bank account. Not one track to me stands out above the others! HK

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain


A true landmark album. George Clinton and Eddie Hazel cooked up some magic whilst they were cooked up themselves. The story goes that for the title track, the pair took a lot of LSD and George locked Eddie in the studio and told him to play like his mother had just died. The result was a weeping guitar solo to open an album; clocking in at over 10 minutes it was the song that made me a die hard fan of P-Funk. I got a sampler off Mojo containing drug songs, of which Maggot Brain was one. I was hooked. There is also the wigged out madness of Back In Our Minds and Wars Of Armageddon that are clearly songs developed under the influence to create an unbelievable psychedelic trip.

Whilst the title track takes the plaudits, You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks and Can You Get To That have the swagger of Motown whilst adding a harder edge. In Super Stupid, I believe that Eddie Hazel made his mark on the guitar world. The rolling guitar lines and furious soloing gave Jimi Hendrix a run for his money. This is hard rock for the ages and came at a time when Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were blazing a trail. I’ve been lucky to see George Clinton and his band perform many of these songs live. Hearing Maggot Brain being played is a spiritual experience. Timeless. DW

Jethro Tull – Aqualung

The point at which it all came together for me, as far as Jethro Tull was concerned.  Like many others, I’d loved their early singles but I’d struggled to gain any real enjoyment from the band’s first three albums, This Was, Stand Up and Benefit (a situation I’ve since corrected – they’re all now albums I love!)  Tull were starting to move away from the blues-rock that had been their stock-in-trade and were exploring new themes and genres from the quasi-traditional folk of Mother Goose and Wond’ring Aloud through the proto-prog of the title track and Wind Up and into the straight-ahead heavy rock of Cross-Eyed Mary and Locomotive Breath.  To many, Aqualung is still the ultimate Jethro Tull album. JB


Black Sabbath – Master Of Reality

There are many points in Back Sabbath’s iconic discography that you can pinpoint a direct influence on a metal sub genre. Symptom Of the Universe off Sabotage is essentially thrash metal, Vol. 4 contained Supernaut which is very sludgy and was apparently Frank Zappa’s favourite Black Sabbath song.

Master Of Reality is the blueprint for Stoner Metal and Doom Metal. Children Of The Grave, After Forever and Sweet Leaf are classics. There is also the wonderful low key ambience of Solitude. Black Sabbath were ripping up the rulebook in 1971. Master Of Reality is a part of an insanely good run of albums between 1970-1975. DW

Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Tarkus & Pictures At An Exhibition

The pompous Prog Rock trio received more than their fair share of the vitriol aimed at the genre, especially doing two albums in a year. However, Prog was in the ascendency so a live album of them performing a classical piece (Pictures…) rocked up with a fizz and fire with some knife stabbing of the Hammond thrown in for good measure, was just the ticket to pour scorn on the doubters. The Great Gates Of Kiev as a finale is an undoubted piece de resistance in a piece they used throughout their career. Tarkus showcased the pretentious (a side long piece about a warlike armadillo tank) and the lighter (and shorter) side. Yes, they did have a sense of humour – Are You Ready Eddy? although Jeremy Bender would make the PC brigade cringe. Great cover too. MA

Genesis:  Nursery Cryme

This wasn’t the first  Genesis album I bought – I didn’t actually  join the Genesis throng until  Genesis Live – but the 2 standout tracks to me on that album  were The  Musical Box and Return of The Giant Hogweed.  Seeing Peter Gabriel  leaning over the edge of the stage  screaming ‘Now , Now, Now, Now, Now,’ (the final line of TMB)  firmly planted  it as my all time favourite Genesis song. Yes, even in front of Supper’s Ready! The addition of Harold The Barrel showed that progressive music, or were we still calling it in 1971, ‘underground,’ showed that this particular genre could be funny as well as possessing  English quirkiness that only we can do and the Americans can’t, and still can’t! HK


Fairport Convention – Angel Delight & Babbacombe Lee

1971 started badly for Fairport Convention. Wonder guitarist and master songwriter Richard Thompson left the band in January of that year and then, on the 20th February, the band’s communal home, former pub The Angel, in Little Hadham, Hertfordshire, was wrecked by an out of control lorry heading for Harwich. Despite these massive setbacks, the band regrouped, with Simon Nicol taking on the daunting task of replacing Richard as lead guitarist, and in June they released their first album as a four-piece, the magnificent, chart-busting, Angel Delight, Although Angel Delight was the band’s highest charting album (it reached the giddy heights of No.8) it has, to an extent, been sidelined in the band’s history. This is a great pity, as songs such as Lord Marlborough, Sir William Gower, Wizard of the Worldly Game, Banks of the Sweet Primroses and the autobiographical title track all compare with the best that the Fairport canon has to offer.

Amazingly, before 1971 was over, Fairport also managed to compile and release their “folk-rock opera,” Babbacombe Lee, their story-in-song of John “Babbacombe” Lee who, in 1885, was convicted for the the murder of his employer and sentenced to death. Remarkably, the gallows apparatus failed to operate – not once, not twice – but three times and, in accordance with the laws that applied to this type of eventuality, Lee’s sentence was commuted to a long prison term. Fairport’s album was different to anything they’d ever done, or have ever done since, but it contains some fine moments, including the “navy” sequence of songs and tunes, Simon’s Breakfast in Mayfair, Cell Song and the breathless Hanging Song. Babbacombe Lee is a Fairport favourite as far as the team at At the Barrier are concerned! JB


T Rex – Electric Warrior

For a very young youngster used to watching Top Of The Pops and buying (‘having them bought’ is more like it) singles from the shop in town that sold a bit of everything, this ‘big’ black record was a strange sight. I’d been used to singles! Playing one song and then flipping it over to listen to another song that probably wasn’t quite as good (although George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord/What Is Life was a good pairing). Hot Love was the first thing I heard by T Rex – TOTP as usual. Imagine my shock when I found a record that had a lot of songs. My very first LP and yes it had Jeepster and Get It On but also lots more. I always have a very nostalgic moment when the cool Mambo Sun kicks in. Imagine my shock at seeing the words on the back – “See the girl dance in her man skin pants” and “rocking in the nude I’m feeling such a dude” from Rip Off. A whole new world was about to open up (FYI not the dancing in man skin pants bit) so thanks Marc. MA

Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story

It’s hard to imagine the impact that this album had, following its release in May 1971.  At one point, the album topped both the UK and US album charts simultaneously, whilst, at the same time, its lead single Reason To Believe/Maggie May topped the UK and US singles charts.  We all now know that Rod Stewart has a remarkable talent for interpreting the writings of others and it was this album that first made us aware of that.  This isn’t the overblown, over-produced Rod Stewart that went on to conquer the world and its blonde, female inhabitants – these songs are generally laid back and folky.  The versions of Tim Hardin’s Reason to Believe, Bob Dylan’s Tomorrow is a Long Time and Whitfield/Holland/Grant’s (I Know) I’m Losing You are definitive, but it’s Rod’s own compositions – Maggie May and Mandolin Wind that truly transform Every Picture Tells a Story from a merely great album into an all-time classic. JB


Pink Floyd – Meddle

Echoes was the first Pink Floyd song that really stuck in my mind. I was being introduced to the band via my dad as we watched The Australian Pink Floyd Show in Bolton. That would have been around 1998. I was 15. My dad told me that it took up a whole side of an album. As it was the 90’s and I had only really been privy to CD’s and cassettes as my listening medium so I thought a whole side was 45 minutes!

Luckily it was only 23; 23 glorious minutes that still gets me going today. The version from Pompeii in 1970 is stunning, and David Gilmour’s take in 2006 also resonates and will probably be the last time it will ever be performed live due to the passing of Richard Wright. Gilmour stated he wouldn’t play it without him; from the clip below from Gdansk in 2006, you can see why.

On top of this you have Fearless which Nick Mason resurrected joyously with his Saucerful Of Secrets Band and One Of These Day’s which has been a perennial Floyd mainstay. More recently, Roger Waters included this in his Us+Them release to devastating effect. It’s still brilliant and continued a run of albums that would see Pink Floyd scale huge heights. DW

Nick Drake – Bryter Later

Nick Drake – such a talent but one that remained underappreciated in his brief lifetime. Since then he’s attained cult status with his handful of albums. Featuring Fairport Convention‘s Dave Mattacks and Dave Pegg, Bryter Later is often cited as his best work with its diversity showing there was more to him than romantic and gentle acoustic songwriting. To be honest you can’t go wrong with any of his work (namecheck to Pink Moon that sees a stark and fragile template reflecting his personality). Ethereal and whimsical, his influence and the impact of his body of work can be heard to this day and his name mentioned in the same breath as Bowie, Fripp, Gabriel and Hammill as a musical innovator. MA


Cat Stevens – Teaser And The Firecat

This album brought me more female attention than I’d ever had, and probably more than I’ve ever had since.  As a schoolboy in 1971, you didn’t wear your heart on your sleeve, but you carried your music under your arm…  When I turned up at school with this album, I was inundated with requests from girls who wouldn’t have previously glanced in my direction for a loan of the album.  But, surprisingly, it’s not the album’s pulling power that has left the lasting impression.  Teaser And The Firecat is packed with classic songs – Peace Train, Bitterblue, Tuesday’s Dead, How Can I Tell You and of course, Moonshadow all sound as fresh and relevant today as they did then.  A superlative album. JB

Deep Purple – Fireball

Perhaps not one of the ‘major’ Purple albums, anything by the ‘Mk II’ line up – Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord, Paice – couldn’t really be ignored. They did ignore Strange Kind Of Woman that went out as a single and is instantly recognizable but the album sees them shift from full-blown Purple Power to slightly more bizarre interludes. No One Came is a personal favourite track in marrying the two with some off-kilter Gillan lyrics rapped out as the instrumental trio provide a groove for his musings over the whereabouts of his Robin Hood outfit. MA

The Who – Who’s Next

The best Who album by a country mile.  Baba O’Riley is surely the best ever opening track of any album ever made; Behind Blue Eyes describes inner sadness and insecurity in a way that has never been equalled; The Song is Over and Getting in Tune are further examples of Townshend’s magical, perceptive songwriting and Won’t Get Fooled Again is simply the most accurate, relevant and exciting statement ever to be made about political evolution and revolution.  OK – there’s a couple of duffers on here – I never really took to Going Mobile (although I love the concept of the “Hippy Gypsy” that the song introduces) and I usually skip John Entwistle’s My Wife, but otherwise, this is a solid platinum classic. JB


Badfinger – Straight Up

Was Badfinger (and not Wings) really the band The Beatles could have been? McCartney did his bit in helping the Apple labelmates with Come And Get It and Straight Up did have a tremendously bonafide ‘hit’ song with Day After Day (covered recently by Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy and Randy George). George Harrison even handled some production before Todd Rundgren did the polishing off. With such a backup team, Straight Up could hardly fail and is regarded as pretty much the best Badfinger album. And was singer/guitarist Pete Ham really the next Paul McCartney? MA

The Kinks – Muswell Hillbillies

It wasn’t cool to admit to a liking for The Kinks in 1971.  Their best days were perceived to be behind them and they were generally viewed as a 60’s pop band that had had their day.  How misguided could people be?  Ray Davies is, in my opinion, the best songwriter these islands have ever produced and Muswell Hillbillies is an album of songs that match his very best work.  The Kinks had just switched from the Pye label, via which all their many hits from You Really Got Me to Apeman had been released and had signed, instead, to RCA, and hopes were high.  Sadly, or incredibly, Muswell Hillbillies flopped, despite its intrinsic quality.  Despite the Appalachian-leaning album title that may have led the misinformed to conclude that this was a C&W album, the songs on Muswell Hillbillies are very, very English and, like much of The Kinks’ output (and Ray’s compositional work), they’re hugely bittersweet with the humorous veneer of many of the songs typically tinged with frustration and loneliness.  Muswell Hillbillies ranks alongside Village Green Preservation Society, Lola vs Powerman and the Moneygoround and Arthur as a Kinks’ masterwork – it’s a brilliant album that deserved far, far more attention and success than it achieved. JB

Led Zeppelin IV


I recall after first hearing Zep IV (or whatever you wanted to call it) that I now understood why it was being heralded as their best album. People might talk about II and the diversity of Physical Graffiti but there’s no denying that as a set of eight tracks, there’s not a duff one in there. The anonymity of the sleeve, the four symbols that you could draw on your school bag and Stairway. Even their anthem gets enveloped in the might of Black Dog and Rock And Roll and they retained and refined their Led Zep III acoustic ramblings with arguably the pick of their lighter work with Going to California and The Battle Of Evermore. The latter, like most albums in 1971, featuring a Fairport! My pick of the album though is the track that much discussion, the wailing blues stomp of When The Levee Breaks. A track up there with Stairway, Achilles and Kashmir. MA

Groundhogs: Split

An album which had a theme on schizophrenia also split opinion on whether Groundhogs were prog or solid rock. Although  Tony McPhee himself admitted his reluctance to be lumped in with the prog leaders of the day he was not shy of seeking to develop new trends. After the acclaimed , controversially titled Thank Christ For The Bomb,  this follow up also showed experimental features. On original release only on vinyl with one side dedicated to one title in four parts with the second side spawning a single Cherry Red earned them a  TOTP appearance. Both TCFTB  and Split  firmly planted The Groundhogs in the grossly  underrated bracket  so much so that Split was not included in our original selection list!! But their sound is as fresh today when many of their higher famed contemporaries’ efforts are dated.  HK

What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye

A true masterpiece. Cut together seamlessly a la Abbey Road side B, What’s Going On has politics at it’s core with the narrative of a returning Vietnam soldier horrified at everything he is seeing in his home country. Whilst being 50 years old, it still sounds like it could soundtrack the madness we have already experienced in 2021.

The title track, Mercy Mercy Me and Inner City Blues played the lead roles as singles but the rest of the album and it’s concept ensured that it was a critical and commercial success. It still sounds huge, and still tugs at the heartstrings. In 2019, a new ‘Official’ video was cut that enhanced the pertinence of the title track. DW


The Songs of ’71

With such a treasure chest of albums hitting the racks in those golden days of ’71, it’s inevitable that there was also a plethora of great tunes. On top of that, 1971 was also a pretty good year for singles as well. Top Of The Pops was still ‘must see’ viewing every Thursday evening, regardless of your musical taste, and Rock Gods, Teen Idols and Mothers’ Favourites stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Outré, the Bizarre and the sheer Crass in the nation’s consciousness.

So, to follow one impossible task with another, we’ve asked our writers to suggest what their favourite songs of that year were. Some of our choices are based upon the impact that a particular song had when our writers heard them for the first time, probably on TOTP; others are slow burners that we grew to love following repeated plays of a favourite album over the intervening years.

Mike’s 1971 Top Ten songs:

  • T Rex – Hot Love
  • Slade – Coz I Luv You
  • George Harrison – My Sweet Lord
  • Mungo Jerry – Baby Jump
  • Cher – Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves (the Hallmark TOTP record version!)
  • Led Zeppelin – When The Levee Breaks
  • Genesis – The Musical Box
  • Yes – Starship Trooper (but as performed live in 1978…)
  • The Who – Won’t Get Fooled Again
  • The Rolling Stones – Brown Sugar / Wild Horses

John’s 1971 Top Ten songs:

  • Brown Sugar – The Rolling Stones
  • Devil’s Answer – Atomic Rooster
  • Jig a Jig – East of Eden
  • Back Street Luv – Curved Air
  • Maggie May – Rod Stewart
  • Children Of The Grave – Black Sabbath
  • Give Me Some Truth – John Lennon
  • For A Spanish Guitar – Gene Clark
  • Muswell Hillbilly – The Kinks
  • Black Dog – Led Zeppelin

Dom’s 1971 Top Ten songs:

  • For God’s Sake Give More Power to the People – The Chi-Lites
  • What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
  • Echoes – Pink Floyd
  • Super Stupid – Funkadelic
  • Sweet Leaf – Black Sabbath
  • Willin’ – Little Feat
  • Melting Pot – Booker T and the MGs
  • I’m Eighteen – Alice Cooper
  • Riders on the Storm – The Doors
  • Tiny Dancer – Elton John

Howard’s 1971 Top Ten songs:

  • Aqualung – Jethro Tull
  • The Musical Box – Genesis
  • Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – Carol King
  • Mandolin Wind – Rod Stewart
  • Roadhouse Blues – The Doors
  • Brown Sugar – The Rolling Stones
  • Yours is No Disgrace – Yes
  • Queen Bitch – David Bowie
  • Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  • Ernie – Benny Hill (Editor’s Note: Possibly a tongue-in-cheek selection)

So those are our selections from that momentous year. Maybe you agree with some of these selections, or maybe you have a whole list of your own that you believe knock our choices into a cocked hat… Whatever… In any case, we’d LOVE to hear your views, so why not contact us and let us know what YOUR favourite tunes of ’71 were. These will form our At The Barrier readers’ chart of 1971. Over to You!

To get you into a 1971 mood, here’s T.Rex performing their 1971 Number One hit, Hot Love.

COMING SOON! Keep an eye on our Time Tunnel feature for a forthcoming series of reappraisals of some of our writers’ favourite 1971 albums…

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