Sticky Fingers, L.A. Woman and There’s a Riot Goin’ On get all the respect, but some of the year’s overlooked albums sound surprisingly good at 40.
By Gene Sculatti
The big hits get their props as “heritage” records, even “iconic” works of art whose contours and content are to be admired and analyzed for decades. Forty years ago, pop’s graduating-albums class included Led Zeppelin IV, Janis Joplin’s Pearl, There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Madman Across the Water, L.A. Woman, Joni Mitchell’s Blue and the Stones’ valedictory Sticky Fingers. But what of the rest of the hundreds of albums that stepped onstage in ’71: Do any deserve a replay today?
As it turns out, yes. The year 1971 was a good one for sleepers, among them this half dozen, most now available on CD.
The Band: Cahoots (Capitol). Music from Big Pink and The Band rightly grabbed prizes as groundbreakers, but The Band’s fourth also belongs alongside their best work. Looser, with less to prove than its august predecessors, it’s chock full of wry songs and considerable rockin.’ In the former category, count the cover of Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” in the latter Richard Manuel’s high-spirited duet with Van Morrison on “4% Pantomime.” “The Moon Struck One” is a chilling tale of childhood tragedy, and the requiem for peace and quiet, “Where Do We Go from Here,” resonates deeply, heard now in a world of public cell-phone calls, booming car stereos and coercive ad clutter.
Crazy Horse: Crazy Horse (Reprise/Rhino). The debut of Neil Young’s backup band drew critical praise but barely edged into the top half of Billboard’s LP chart. In retrospect, it reveals itself as a crucial album, one of the last to successfully straddle the divide then opening between “rock” and “pop,” a chasm that defined contemporary music until the Ramones’ arrival (and departure). Jubilant and heartbreaking melodies mix with lean, unvarnished performances throughout, but the highlights are Jack Nitzsche and Russ Titelman’s “Gone Dead Train” and their girl-groupish “Carolay,” Nils Lofgren’s “Beggars Day” and Young’s bi-polar rocker “Downtown.”
Daddy Cool: Daddy Cool Who?…Daddy Cool (Reprise). It’s no small feat to have produced music this fresh-sounding out of the rock ’n’ roll revival, which Frank Zappa had hot-wired into existence three years earlier with Cruising with Ruben & the Jets. But Ross Wilson’s Australian quartet does it, striking a balance that has eluded nouveau “oldies” acts of all eras—between affectionate covers that capture the dumb grace of ’50s rock without mocking it (“Lollipop”) and originals that reprogram the form’s DNA into loose-limbed—and irresistible—“newies,” as in Wilson’s country-blues-meets-sock-hop “Come Back Again” and the laconic “Zoop Bop Gold Cadillac.”
The Guess Who: So Long Bannatyne (RCA). Canada’s worst kept secret is one of rock’s best kept. Burton Cummings will always be one of the genre’s great vocalists, as proved by the Guess Who’s pre-success garage classic “It’s My Pride” and this, their fifth U.S.-released album. Strong and melodic, moody and funny, his singing here animates a cache of tunes (mostly Cummings co-writes) whose lyrics rival Steely Dan’s in the cryptic, WTF department. The semi-hit “Rain Dance” takes the prize, with Cummings’ quizzical chorus line “Where’d you get the gun, John?” capping verses like “Christopher was askin’ the astronomer/ ‘Can you tell me where the sun’s gone?’” “Life in the Bloodstream” is a kooky close second, an impassioned doowop ballad—complete with deliberately inept “Angel Baby” sax break—that seems to be about contraception, DNA or the death of a twin. Or maybe not.
Lonnie Mack: The Hills of Indiana (Elektra/ Sundazed). By 1971, the six-string gunslinger famous for the furious 1963 instros “Memphis” and “Wham!” had reinvented himself on a pair of Elektra albums. His third, Hills of Indiana is somewhat downtempo, deemphasizing guitarring (though he tears up “Asphalt Outlaw Hero” with wild soloing) in favor of soulful vocals. Mack breathes churchy passion and credible self-reflection into country (“She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye”) and gospel-pop (“Lay It Down”) and, most surprisingly, transforms Cymarron’s forgotten Bread-lite hit “Rings” into something truly touching.
John Stewart: The Lonesome Picker Rides Again (Warner Bros./ Koch). The former Kingston Trio singer-picker and Bobby Kennedy compadre invented what would later became known as Americana with 1969’s California Bloodlines. Less stark than Woody Guthrie’s anthems, more tuneful than the somber professions of the Boss, Stewart’s songs love the land, its vanishing past and the hopes of its people.
This set features his Monkees hit “Daydream Believer” (recast as a campfire sing-along), as well as the caustic “Wolves in the Kitchen” (corrupt pols get their comeuppance), the comforting “Little Road and a Stone to Roll” and nine more that warmly mix folk, country, Copland and rock. On hand for support: guitarist Chris Darrow, pedal-steel legend Buddy Emmons, pianist Glen D. Hardin, with Buffy Ford and Peter Asher (vocals).