The longtime music journalist and founder of Mojo and Q delivers a month-by-month breakdown of the year that changed pop music history.
On New Year’s Eve 1970, Paul McCartney issued a writ of dissolution for the Beatles in Britain’s High Court. The anecdote, recalled by Hepworth (The Secret History of Entertainment, 2004) in the opening of his entertaining exploration of the year in music that was 1971, is a tidy reference to the changing moods in popular music and culture. “The sixties ended that day,” he writes. “You might say this was the last day of the pop era.” As a new era dawned, the potential for artists seemed limitless. Album-oriented rock was replacing the single-driven pop machine, allowing a wider range of artists to express themselves in unique and creative ways. In retrospect, it might seem easy to gloss over just how radical the musical landscape of 1971 was and how many disparate artists were releasing music and becoming superstars, which itself was a new phenomenon that was turning singers into de facto royalty—a fact epitomized by the wedding of Mick and Bianca Jagger. Hepworth tracks the changes that created this new environment, including a changing industry marketplace, new technological developments such as the synthesizer, and a rising generation of new listeners. The author painstakingly recounts the album releases, Top of the Pops performances, and endless touring dates that defined the year. Attempting to list the artists who dominated album charts, media, and collective consciousness of the year only proves the embarrassment of riches at Hepworth’s disposal: the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Led Zeppelin, Carly Simon, Marvin Gaye, the Who, Sly Stone, and Carole King, to name just a few. The author’s chronicle of the year is loaded with gossipy anecdotes, adroit criticism, and earnest affection for the musicians, record executives, and technicians who defined it.
An exuberant tour through a pivotal year in the development of popular music and culture.