Imagine – John Lennon
Starting off this post with, arguably, the most beloved song to come from 1971… as well as one that I actively cannot stand. Whilst I appreciate the idealism here of a multi-millionaire playing a song about having no possessions whilst he is sitting in a mansion, it still comes across to me as being something vague that a high school student might write and think that they’re being very deep.
I can also appreciate what Phil Spector was trying to do with the production here, but it just comes across as overwhelmingly sentimental when it could have stood to be a little subtler.
Laughing – David Crosby
Usually when I listen to a song for this list I tend to write some notes as I go along and then fluff them a bit out later. With ‘Laughing’ I found myself a bit bewitched at trying to work out all the individual parts of the song that I didn’t manage to get a single word written down.
It’s what tends to happen when I am presented with a song with this many layers and sections. My brain tries to work out everything rather than trying to feel. A second listen really helped. This song is beautifully layered and complex to the point that I still find myself swept up in it rather than finding a way to actually talk about it… so let’s move on.
When The Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin
Well, this is a real flashback to about two years ago where I last heard this track as part of its parent album. Back then I wasn’t too impressed with the album, to the point that I barely wrote anything about it and instead focused more on Led Zeppelin.
As with ‘Eleanor Rigby’, this is a song that I was better able to appreciate in isolation. I am still not the biggest fan of this type of heavy blues rock, but at least I can better appreciate the number of different things going on here. The weird sounding harmonica, for example, makes this track unique.
It’s just that, as with most things Zeppelin, I would not have minded a few minutes being shaven off.
Surf’s Up – The Beach Boys
Feels like forever since I last heard something by The Beach Boys. It’s been even longer since I listened to the Brian Wilson’s Smile, where this song finally found it’s proper home.
Songs like this are why I will always prefer the Beach Boys to the Beatles. The level of complexity present puts it on par with a lot of what prog rock was starting to do and continues to do so to this day. However, this is still very much planted in the chamber pop landscape. It’s a lovely song and it makes me want to listen to the album again.
Theme from Shaft – Isaac Hayes
This must be one of the most quoted and pastiched themes of all time. The Simpsons, Father Ted, Scrubs and even the video game LEGO City Undercover have all borrowed from it. Yet this is actually the first time I have heard the whole song.
How is it that such a famous film theme contains no lyrics until over halfway through? Well, maybe because Issac Hayes’ vocals are mixed right down to the point of being nearly completely drowned.
Interesting to see another song where funk and soul are beginning to morph into disco. I wonder how long it will be before that onslaught truly begins.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott-Heron
In the context of this list, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ feels a lot like a sequel to ‘When The Revolution Comes’ by the Last Poets. Both songs are spoken word poems referencing ‘the Revolution’ and are set to some sort of funk music.
The key difference is Gil Scott-Heron is able to better articulate his message. His choice of words is more careful, the music better supports his voice and he, at no point, has a random backing singer come onto the track.
Seeing how this sort of spoken-word funk has developed between these two songs, it’s only a matter of time before rap starts.
It’s Too Late – Carole King
Tapestry is an excellent album. It would have been easy to choose a large section of songs to be prospective entries on the list – so they went for one of the two that managed to snag a Grammy.
It isn’t just the Grammy win for Record of the Year that gave ‘It’s Too Late’ a place on this list. Carole King is one of those great workhorses of this era of American music with her penning hit songs for the likes of Aretha Franklin and The Shirelles.
With this song you see the RnB influence mixed with some soft rock to make a track about a break-up that is mature, honest and mutual.
Dum Maro Dum – Asha Bhosle
Okay, so we’re ending on a drastically different song here. I guess it’s only fair to have a song by Lata Mangeshkar‘s younger sister seeing how they are both Bollywood playback singer royalty.
You start a song from a Bollywood film with a certain preconception and ‘Dum Maro Dum’ walks in a shatters them. Sure, you have the backing singers singing so loud that they end up distorted (which is something I really cannot abide) as well as the almost lilting vocal delivery by the lead, but something is really different.
This is, basically, a Bollywood rock song that takes notes from what was happening in the West at the time. There are electric instruments like synthesisers and guitars that really drive this song. Looking back on the other Bollywood song for this list, ‘Dum Maro Dum’ must have felt like a huge shift in what could make for a successful Bollywood song.
It would be utterly brilliant if it wasn’t for that hideous distortion.