Tired of Being Alone – Al Green
Having spent the last few months listening to modern music or classical music, it’s weird to be back in the songs list where this type of soul music is on the menu. This is very much not Kacey Musgraves or tune-yards.
I know we have some Marvin Gaye coming up to finish 1971 out and that is going to be a more edged soul that I would expect from the 1970s. This feels like a song that belongs in the 1960s and is very much something I can imagine on one of those bargain bin Valentine’s Day compilations.
Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who
Right, so THIS is what I am expecting from a song from 1971. This is a year where we haven’t quite reached metal, punk or the hard rock that we know nowadays, but this is a light on the path towards it.
The old psychedelic are still there with the organ in the background, but this isn’t just any organ – it’s a sythesised organ. So here we have an 8 and a half minute long song with thrashing guitars, a synthesiser and a heavy metal scream.
It’s songs like these that make me happy to be back doing the songs list.
Vincent – Don McLean
‘Vincent’ is on this list, but ‘American Pie’ is not. Let’s let that sink in for a little bit and move on. I mean, I have always preferred ‘Vincent’ as a song but that isn’t the popular opinion.
As the title suggests, ‘Vincent’ is a folk song about the end of Vincent Van Gogh’s live. It manages to be a beautiful tribute to a troubled man whilst not delving into being overly sentimental. It does this with a sparse arrangement, which makes an interesting use of the marimba.
It’s clear that, in writing this, Don McLean is influenced by Nick Drake and Simon & Garfunkel. However, we have a bit of world music seeping in through that marimba, which moves it forward.
City of New Orleans – Steve Goodman
In Ireland you have Don McLean creating a thing of folk-beauty in ‘Vincent’, on the other side of the Atlantic you have ‘City of New Orleans’ for folk music.
To call this traditional would be an understatement, but it’s meant to be. This song was made to harken back as it highlights the disappearing rail services across America, which was starting to affect people living in rural areas.
An interesting history, but not really a song for me.
Peace Train – Cat Stevens
Talkin’ of trains and songs that we inspired by a train journey. We have the images of trains being evoked for an anti-war song. It’s worth remembering that, in 1971, we are still 4 years away from the Vietnam War from ending.
It’s a nice message, but it feels a bit limp. Maybe, because of how it sounds compared to the likes of ‘Ohio’ and ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, it just feels a bit complacent and lacking in urgency. I mean it’s nice to know about the Peace Train, but I’m not convinced by this song to buy a ticket.
Superstar – The Carpenters
Okay, now here’s a song I absolutely adore. The Carpenters have always had a reputation for being a bit twee at times, but there is no denying how fantastic the production and instrumental arrangements are on this song. Same goes for the always faultless and crystal-like vocals of Karen Carpenter, which are all from the first take.
There is an underlying darkess to this song that her vocals pierce through, which makes this a dark pop song unlike anything we have yet heard on this list. It’s a song that you can see being in the back of ABBA’s minds as they later created their darker tracks like ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’.
A Nickel and a Nail – O.V. Wright
O.V. Wright really had a fantastic set of pipes. We’re in a blues-style soul song, where his gospel roots are showing. It’s just a pity that the recording equipment is having trouble capturing the full range of his vocals as he really starts belting.
I could probably do without all the funk-style horns and, instead, up the ante on the bass guitar and the backing vocals. I know this isn’t in the style of Southern soul to do so, but I would have been interested to hear this sung as a straight blues recording.
Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) – Marvin Gaye
We’re finally finishing 1971! Man, it’s taken months and we’re ending with one of the greats and with a song that still feels relevant to this day.
This is a song about black pain, anger and protest that chooses to speak through it’s lyrics and a low hum of a then-modern take on blues backing. Later on, songs like this would become grouped under the name of ‘quiet storm’, but because of the politcal nature of this song – ‘Inner City Blues’ would just about be inelegible for this classification.
Listening to this, I do wonder about how much more music we would have gotten out of Marvin Gaye if he had not been murder by his father. How would he react to the politics of his country right now. Guess we’ll never know.