Tuesday, April 27, 2010

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1970

In the most literal and bluntly obvious sense, 1970 was the year following 1969; from a cultural standpoint, it was the morning after. The apex of Woodstock preceded the anarchy of Altamont, basically shutting down the '60s "free love" counter-culture. President Nixon was making the tough decisions on Vietnam that the Johnson administration couldn't, including the controversial decision to invade Cambodia. Criticism of the war reached a crux on May 4th of that year, when the Ohio National Guard fired at protesters on the Kent State University quad, killing four students and wounding nine. The revolution was over before it ever began, yet the generation gap between the older "silent majority" and the younger, more liberal peaceniks raged on.

In some ways, the music reflected the uncertainty of the times. Motown, the most successful and influential record label of the previous decade, found itself in a unique state of flux; Diana Ross dumped the Supremes to go solo, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye fought for creative control of their music (and won), The Temptations were dabbling in Swahili, and their best-selling singing act was a led by an exceptionally gifted 12-year-old boy who needed no introduction. Outside of the R&B scene, paradigm shifts came a dime a dozen. The center of the music universe temporarily shifted to the Isle of Wight, where The Who, Miles Davis, and The Doors performed career-defining shows. Davis more or less invented jazz fusion, psychedelia was giving way to country-rock and folk-rock, Led Zeppelin was diversifying its sound, while a new act called Black Sabbath set the blueprint for heavy metal. Regardless, all those musical wayposts paled to the three big bombshells of 1970: the breakup of The Beatles and the deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. The '60s were dead, yet a new, uncertain, and exciting era was just beginning.

Once again, my monthly musical montage has been expanded to 20 albums and notable songs. That might seem excessive, but even with a cap that high I'm bound to be overlooking something. (Considering that my 1969 list also had 20 albums and my 1971 rundown had nearly that many, I think it's safe to assume what my favorite era of music might be.) That's the charm of these audiophile blogs; arguing the merits of old LPs is fun yet oddly futile at the same time.

1. Bitches' Brew, Miles Davis. By 1970, jazz and rock had already been mingling and sonically fornicating for a couple of years. It wasn't until Davis brainstormed Brew, however that these friends with benefits could create something profound and meaningful. This undisputed be-all end-all of jazz fusion marked a new chapter in Davis' long and prolific career, built on dark and funky tones that made his 1950s output seem antiquated, perhaps even prehistoric. A mere phrase like "paradigm shift" doesn't begin to describe the territory that Miles explores on Brew.
2. Moondance, Van Morrison. Few artists are as stubborn and idiosyncratic, but fewer can make a growly Irish brogue sound heartfelt and soulful like the Belfast Cowboy. Where Van's solo debut Astral Weeks stands an individual work of art divided into seven-minute chapters, Moondance is a collection of brilliant songs. "Into The Mystic" is one of my favorite ballads ever; it's haunting, poignant, and for lack of a better term, perfect.
3. Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin. LZ's first two albums were heavy on acid blues and rockabilly riffs, a formula that was compelling and hard-charging but could've easily gotten tired in future efforts. Zeppelin had to grow musically at some point, and this album set the precedent for their '70s output; where Side A is a slow ween from their blues roots, Side B delves deep into English folk and American country music. Granted, III pales in comparison to the radio-friendly IV, but that album wouldn't exist without the other.
4. After The Gold Rush, Neil Young
5. All Things Must Pass, George Harrison
6. Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon & Garfunkel
7. Loaded, The Velvet Underground
8. Paranoid, Black Sabbath
9. Cosmo's Factory, Creedence Clearwater Revival
10. American Beauty, The Grateful Dead. If you were into rock music in the early '70s, it was hard to get past Jerry Garcia and his jamming minions. Released mere months after Workingman's Dead, Beauty builds upon the granola country and bluegrass stylings of their previous release. "Truckin'" and "Box of Rain" are amongst the standout tracks here.

11. Fun House, Iggy & The Stooges
12. Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon
13. Deja Vu, Crosby Stills Nash & Young
14. Abraxas, Santana
15. Weasels Ripped My Flesh, The Mothers of Invention. The next-to-last release from Frank Zappa's old band is the rarest of the rare: a B-sides and outtakes collection that's just as coherant and essential as a regular album. The Mothers had a brief yet very fruitful existence, and this collection proves that even the tracks that Zappa and company were least satisfied with have some artistic merit.
16. Let It Be, The Beatles
17. Workingman's Dead, The Grateful Dead
18. Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One, The Kinks
19. Chicago II, Chicago
20. American Woman, The Guess Who. The first Canadian rock band with any staying power south of the border, this Winnipeg-based quartet was better known for mid-tempo ballads like "These Eyes" and "Laughing" up to this point. Their natural gifts as boogie-rockers finally blossomed on Woman, carried by rollicking tunes like "No Time," "No Sugar Tonight," and the title track. Alas, success proved shorter and sweeter than planned; guitarist Randy Bachman left the band after "Woman" became a #1 hit, eventually founding Bachman-Turner Overdrive.


"A Song For You," Leon Russell
"We've Only Just Begun," The Carpenters
"Take Me To The Pilot," Elton John
"Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)," Melanie
"Little Green Bag," The George Baker Selection
"Funk #49," The James Gang
"Mississippi Queen," Mountain
"All Right Now," Free
"Hey Tonight," Creedence Clearwater Revival
"Stage Fright," The Band

"War," Edwin Starr
"Indiana Wants Me," R. Dean Taylor
"Ball of Confusion," The Temptations
"(I Know) I'm Losing You," Rare Earth
"Love Me Or Let Me Be Lonely," The Friends of Distinction
"Patches," Clarence Carter
"Ride Captain Ride," Blues Image
"Hard Headed Woman," Cat Stevens
"Sweet Baby James," James Taylor
"The Rapper," Jaggerz

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