Aretha Franklin, “Rock Steady” on The Flip Wilson Show, aired January 20, 1972.
Released as a single in February 1971, peaking at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #2 on the Soul Singles chart, this Aretha-penned track gets a blazing new life just 4 days before the release of the astounding Young, Gifted and Black LP. Not only have you never heard this song like this before, you may never have heard Aretha like this before: pedal to the metal and soaring, even by her own elevated standards.
It’s also inspiring to see the Queen of Soul, “Natural Woman” resplendent in natural hair and an African-inspired gown in this pivotal TV appearance, as detailed in Rickey Vincent’s Party Music: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music.
Aretha herself said, “I believe that the black revolution certainly forced me and the majority of black people to begin taking a second look at ourselves. It wasn’t that we were all ashamed of our ourselves, we merely started appreciating our natural selves…you know, falling in love with ourselves just as we are. We found that we had far more to be proud of.
“I must say that mine was a very personal evolution – an evolution of the me in myself. […] I know I’ve improved my overall look and sound, they’re much better. And I’ve gained a great deal of confidence in myself.”
(More here, although note that Vincent is off on the date of this broadcast, which I verified here. A great read nonetheless.)
This is the sound of Aretha’s newfound confidence, my friends, with one of 1971′s greatest singles taken to new heights. “Rock steady, baby – that’s what I feel now. Let’s call this song exactly what it is!”
George Harrison’s demo for Ringo’s 1971 hit “It Don’t Come Easy”
Ringo co-wrote the song with George, who also produced this, added background vocals, and played bass and the wonderful guitar that’s so integral to this song’s success.
It’s quite ragged, but this version is AWESOME. There are no horns, and with fewer layers of overdubs, you can really hear backup vocals. George’s guitar is also truly sweet in this version – easily the equal of anything he played on All Things Must Pass. There’s even a bonus “Hare Krishna” chant in the middle!
Peter Frampton with Humble Pie, “Shine On”, 1971, in which our 20-year-old hero helps the band find its hardest-rocking groove on their 4th album together, at exactly the time he decides he wants to head in a more eclectic, acoustic direction himself, and soon departs for a solo career.
As a matter of fact, both Frampton and Humble Pie would quickly ascend to previously unimaginable heights once they went their separate ways that fall. 1971 offered some sneak peeks at what those peaks would look like, however, including their July performance in front of 100,000 fans in London’s Hyde Park, opening for Grand Funk.
Recorded in January 1971 and released in March, Rock On opened with Frampton’s composition “Shine On”, a mid-tempo funky groover featuring the Soul Sisters (P.P. Arnold, Claudia Lennear, and Doris Troy) on the chorus. This is the one song from Frampton’s years with Humble Pie that has been part of his concert repertoire ever since, as well it should be.
As an A-side in 1971 for Humble Pie, “Shine On” failed to chart, but the song featured prominently as part of Frampton Comes Alive, and was the B-side to the 1976 Top 10 single “Show Me The Way.”
So yeah, you’ve surely heard THAT version (my own play count is somewhere north of 10,000), but maybe not THIS one. This 971 studio version by our 20-year-old hero really is an all-time gem. The arrangement is a bit dated, but it’s also a clarion call, the sound of Peter Frampton finding his bedrock and stepping confidently into the light: somewhere between pop and rock, both rocking yet grooving. From here, our boy Peter would continue to Shine On.
HELP COMPLETE DAVID BOWIE’S LIFE’S WORK: FALL IN LOVE WITH FANNY!
Play that thang up there while you read this. Turn it UP.
The year is 1971. The band is Fanny.
That’s Nickey Barclay calling out the misogyny of the so-called progressive male leadership of the day (including the self-proclaimed moral superiority of the Jesus Freaks) taking women down a blind alley, pounding the keys as hard as anyone in 1971. Jean Millington’s voice right beside her, on a swooping bass rivaled only by John Entwistle and Chris Squire that year, June Millington crunching riffs and lead guitar alone with Pete Townshend at the top of that class, and Alice de Buhr bashing skins as hard as anyone this side of Bonzo.
Take care of yourself This is your story Your voice is shaking the walls And they’re crumbling down
Fanny wasn’t just a pioneering all-women hard rock band: they were terrific, and you need to know about them. As David Bowie told Rolling Stone in 1999:
“They were one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time. They were extraordinary. They wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever.
“Revivify Fanny. And I will feel that my work is done.”
Let David tell you again: “They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever.”
They weren’t even close to the first all-women rock group – after all, Fanny’s original trio of June and Jean Millington and Alice de Buhr had been in all-women groups as far back as 1963 – but they were the first to record a major-label album, 1970′s Fanny – and the first to achieve global acclaim.
1971 was the year it came together for Fanny, as the trio still known as Wild Honey added Nickey Barclay on keyboards (fresh from her stint touring as part of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen), all four of them singing and writing, and putting on a hell of a show – in 1971 in particular, starting January 1-4 at the Whisky on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.
Those dates were supporting The Flying Burrito Brothers, but they were headlining by spring. They played so many shows there in the early part of the year that it became all-but-a residency.
The title track from their 1971 album Charity Ball hit the US top 40 (pic via), propelling them to appear on the premiere season of Sonny & Cher, Dick Cavett, The Old Grey Whistle Test in the UK, and Germany’s Beat Club, among many others. Opening for acts as varied as Van Morrison, Jethro Tull, Slade, Humble Pie, Lee Michaels, and so many others had Sounds Magazine observing in 1971 that it “seems that they are the support group to everyone these days.”
My guess is that a band of men with these chops would have been headlining more than just the Whisky long before this point. The reviewer of their 1971 Fillmore East show for the New York Times (”Fanny, a Four-Girl Rock Group, Poses a Challenge to Male Ego”) observed that the merely polite applause they received would have been a standing ovation for similarly skilled men.
He went on to note, “Fanny sounds more like The Rolling Stones than a pop choir. It plays basic rock’n’roll featuring a barrelhouse piano style and prominent bass. Where other bands (male in this case) might aim for some special jazz-classical-rock minutiae and miss embarrassingly, Fanny aims at basic gut rock’n’roll excitement and hits it solidly.”
While most of their songs were originals, they tended to have one cover per album. This cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Special Care” from 1971′s Charity Ball (from Germany’s Beat Club) is one of my favorite performances of theirs at YouTube: Jean on lead vocals this time, with strong vocal support from all three bandmates.
Stick around for the last minute and a half, an instrumental breakaway: Nickey gives Elton John a run for his money, simultaneously whipped aloft on Jean’s soaring bassline and grounded by Alice’s syncopated beats,
with June single-handling the guitar parts of BOTH Neil Young and Stephen Stills just fine, thanks. TURN IT UP.
It’s unfortunate that their studio albums never quite captured that power. Their third album, Fanny Hill came closest, recorded in late 1971 at Apple Studios in London, engineered by Beatles board man Geoff Emerick.
Their cover song this time around is, appropriately enough, a Beatles tune, the oft-overlooked “Hey Bulldog”. There’s no point starting a “did it better than The Beatles” argument, so I’ll just say I personally think they wore it out better and leave it at that. Feel free to disagree, but in any case, turn it up and enjoy.
Another reason to avoid any “better than The Beatles” scuffles: all four Beatles were fans and friends of Fanny’s. Other fan-friends included Little Feat, Joe Walsh, Gram Parsons, Rod Stewart, Deep Purple, Chicago, and the aforementioned David Bowie among many others.
Indeed, Jean Millington sings on “Fame”, and later married David’s longtime guitarist Earl Slick – but not before she’d had a fling with David herself, immortalized in Fanny’s 1975 hit “Butter Boy” (which reached #29). (When asked if any butter was in fact involved, Jean laughs. “Er no! It was au naturel, if you will.”)
That said, one of the things that remains most remarkable to me is that Fanny absolutely did NOT emphasize their sexuality. Some of that was defensive. June and Alice are lesbians, and Nickey is bi, and their record label was desperate to keep a lid on it. Nickey later acknowledged that the pressure to protect themselves prevented her from acknowledging to herself that she was in fact bi, and always had been, until years after she left the group.
Even the “cheeky” marketing slogans (”Get behind Fanny”, etc) came from Nickey – more as jokes than not, but still, these were playful puns, and not backed with the sexist imagery that was all too common in the day’s marketing. The rather more explicit meaning of the band’s name in England was unknown to them when June suggested it as a reference to the spirit of womanhood watching over them.
They had to put up with incredible shit along the way, including promoters who assumed that they’d be performing topless, because hey, why else would anybody come see a band of women, right?
(In some fairness, Nickey herself thought an all-woman group sounded like a gimmick. She didn’t even return the band’s first phone call asking her to join. It was finally Joe Cocker who told her to forget all that nonsense and just go for it.)
Of course, Fanny certainly embraced the more explicit English heritage of the word when titling their 1971-recorded album for the 18th century English erotic novel of the same name! When Fanny Hill finally hit the streets in early 1972, Rolling Stone raved about it:
“June Millington’s guitar work is superb, uniformly functional from both the standpoint of lead and rhythm–and as good as it is, it’s merely typical of Fanny’s ensemble playing throughout the album, which is full of melodic hooks exactly when they’re most needed…The number of groups that can inspire affection the way Fanny have with this album, simply from the pure exuberance of their music, are far and few between.”
There’s a bunch more to say about Fanny, and I definitely will, but mostly, I hope you take some time to just listen. I’ll end with a couple more clips from 1971.
This mid-tempo romp, “You’re The One” from The Old Grey Whistle Test in November offers great 4-part group harmonies, an especially tasty bass line from Jean, and a short but stinging lead from June at about the 2-minute mark.
I’ve got another that I’m not going to embed here because to be honest, it’s not that great, but their 1971 appearance on Sonny & Cher playing their hit single “Charity Ball” was historic: the first time an all-woman rock group had appeared on national TV – certainly in the US, but as far as I know, anywhere in the world.
They lip-synced (as tended to be the rule in the US), which meant the milder studio version rather than the unleashed live versions I posted above… and it’s kind of hilarious how delicately Alice had to play the drums so that the rest of the band could hear the music track playback in the studio…but seriously, THIS HAD NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE 1971. AN ALL-WOMEN BAND PLAYING ROCK AND ROLL ON TV.So check it out when you get a chance.
Fanny, a fairly new West Coast group immediately demonstrated the joyous vitality that still courses through what has been described lately as a moribund form…Barclay and Jean Millington in particular are exceptional singers, but the group performed with such solid togetherness that I hesitate to single out anyone for special praise.
Anyway, I can’t embed this video because it’s licensed exclusively to Fanny’s own terrific website, FannyRocks.com (run by Alice, with major contributions from Nickey). It’s a must-see because it’s NOT lip-synced, and “Charity Ball” rolls straight into “Cat Fever” (another Fanny original), which lights up after a deceptively mellow intro. (Think Three Dog Night shifting gears into Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fanny-style.)
Watch their hands, though, all of ‘em: Jean up and down the neck of that bass, Nickey roaring across the keys, Alice slamming the skins, and June shredding the frets – if you can see her hands through her hair! She’s all over this shit.
Look, I don’t want to overstate the case. There’s no need. Zeppelin was coming fully into their own in 1971, The Who destroyed the stage that year, Bowie was remaking the world in his own image(s), plus all the usual suspects who make 1971 the year that rock became classic (including women having landmark years like Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Carly Simon, Rita Coolidge, Fanny’s good friend Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin’s Pearl released in January 1971, and even Barbara Streisand, who had Fanny members play on both her 1971 albums) –
– but seriously now, c’mon. Was there anybody else having as much fun in 1971 as these four women?
Carole King, James Taylor, and Jo Mama, 1971 (Charles Larkey, CK, JT, Lee Sklar, Abigale Haness, Ralph Schuckett, Danny Kortchmar, Joel O’Brien).
When I saw this pic on Carole’s Twitter (gently edited by me before posting here), I was reminded of Carole’s fantastic BBC concert from 1971 that I’ve posted quite a few clips from (here’s one) – well, here’s one more, a bonus track recorded that night, but not included in the broadcast!
The track is “Way Over Yonder”, which closes out Side 1 of Tapestry. In introducing it, Carole mentions that her band that evening was Jo Mama, and that she’s here joined by Jo Mama’s Abigail Haness. The two of them, alone save Carole’s piano, soar together through this blues-y, gospel-y gem of a ballad.
Many thanks to YouTuber ckovertime for rescuing this nearly-lost 1971 delight!
Robin Trower’s final gig with Procol Harum, April 12, 1971, WPLJ-FM, NYC, “Memorial Drive”
Procol Harum and their rock god guitarist Robin Trower pulled a nifty trick in 1971 – they parted ways, and both became much, much bigger.
Procol Harum would record their biggest album a few months after Robin left: Procol Harum Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, recorded in November 18, 1971, released in early ‘72, and peaking at #5 on the US chart (the band’s only album to break the top 20 here).
While Robin would take a few years to reach his solo commercial peak (4 consecutive Gold albums from 1974-1977, plus one more in 1980), he remains very active – 5 albums already this decade, with more coming! All highly recommended, too. He’s still playing with the creativity and grace of players a third his age.
In the meantime, Robin’s final tour with Procol Harum in 1971 was positively blazing. One of the few recordings that survives just happens to be a corker – their very final gig together, a radio show recorded at the mighty WPLJ at 2 Penn Plaza, broadcast from atop the Empire State Building…and did I mention blazing? Here’s the opening number for most of the tour’s dates (including this one), “Memorial Road.”
I normally recommend avoiding YouTube comments, but our man on the scene “fenderstratguy” gets it exactly right: “Robin’s puttin’ out some real STINK on this cut baby. Listen to that tone …..so thick you could stick a straw in it and it would stand right up.”
That’s Robin Trower for ya, my friends – puttin’ out the real stink for over 50 years, and still going strong! Enjoy this trip back to 1971, check out his mid-70s classics starting with Bridge of Sighs, but don’t miss his 21st century marvels, either.
(Top photo pastdaily, inspired by @snortleme‘s Happy Birthday Robin Trower posts)
This song was born in real time during the creation of a special called “Cash On Campus”, which aired on February 19, 1971. As John tells in the introduction, he’d spoken with students at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University a few days earlier. “You asked me questions, I asked you questions, and the idea for a song started brewing. Since I saw you last Saturday, I wrote this song.”
He also notes that his most recent draft of the lyrics had been completed just that morning, so he’d be using cue cards to help him remember the words!
It’s a bit rough, but so clearly heartfelt, it’s no wonder that it became his theme song, and something of an anthem. “It’s a very personal song, but it’s the way I feel about a lot of things,” he said.
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town, I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, But is there because he’s a victim of the times.
I wear it for the sick and lonely old, For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold, I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been, Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.
And, I wear it for the thousands who have died, Believen’ that the Lord was on their side, I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died, Believin’ that we all were on their side.
So yes, there was in fact a time when mainstream country music’s greatest talents allowed themselves to be shaped by student protests, with hearts open to young people’s most progressive impulses. Maybe another day we can wonder whether 1971 might have been the last time that was true, but today, we simply celebrate the 1971 arrival of “The Man In Black”, with thanks to the students who challenged and inspired Johnny to breathe him into life, and to Johnny’s never-ending quest to rise to each new challenge.
George Harrison, “Here Comes the Sun”, August 1, 1971. From the Concert for Bangladesh of course. You can see at the beginning how nervous George was. Not only his first solo performance, his first concert appearance at all since 1966, featuring his first performances of his own compositions ever – but here, also for the first time on stage, vulnerable and stripped down to an acoustic guitar. George’s little smile as the audience reaches out to him is priceless.
His duet partner, Badfinger’s Pete Ham,later revealed that they hadn’t even rehearsed! “George just wanted to keep it simple,” he said. After George told him the chord changes, Pete ducked into his hotel room to listen to the version on Abbey Road a couple of times, and that’s all there was time for!
The result: magic. And beauty and joy and, yes, sun, sun, sun! Here it comes!
(Mi pequeña, está toda bien!)
(Note that by the time you come across this post, the video may have been taken down. It happens. Here’s the YouTube search for you to find another version. Worth the extra clicks!)
George Harrison, “What Is Life”, released as a single February 15, 1971, reaching the Top 10 in the US, and #1 in Australia and Switzerland.
(In the UK, it had also been released as the B-side to the “My Sweet Lord” single on January 15, 1971.)
Its success meant that George was the first ex-Beatle to have two Top 10 US hits. The US single sleeve below:
The video at the top of this post was directed by Brandon Moore, chosen as the winner of a contest hosted by Olivia & Dhani Harrison to coincide with what would have been George’s 74th birthday in 2017. As they wrote at GeorgeHarrison.com at the time, “We were totally surprised and delighted by this video and it was a clear favourite for both of us. The dancer really expressed unbounded joy, and managed to capture the spirit of ‘What is Life’ through movement, which the director captured beautifully.”
You’ve heard the song before, of course, and are hopefully playing it now. Once you’re done with that, let’s break it down. It’s my favorite solo George song, definitely my favorite from All Things Must Pass, among my favorite 1971 singles by anyone, and more important for the proceedings here, it’s complex enough to both merit and benefit from a little closer scrutiny.
Although Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” approach to producing All Things Must Pass had its desired effect – Rolling Stone called it “Wagnerian, Brucknerian, the music of mountain tops and vast horizons" – George was the first to admit that some of it was a bit much. When remastering the 30th Anniversary Edition of All Things Must Pass released in January 2001 (see? Even George associated ATMP with 1971), he included a number of stripped-down demos that got closer to his original intent, but as a delightful contrast, he included Phil Spector’s original backing track for “What Is Life?”, which was way, way too much.
“When we were going through all the tapes, I just found this version that was like a rough mix on which I tried having this piccolo trumpet player like the guy who played on Penny Lane. It wasn’t actually the same bloke but I wanted that sound. So I had an oboe and a piccolo trumpet and I had this part for them all written out but they couldn’t play it the same; they couldn’t do this this kind of ‘hush’ phrase, and they played it very staccato like a classical player. So I must have just recorded them on it, then rough mixed it, and then ditched that.
And as I was saying earlier, most of it was live. I hadn’t done the vocal overdub because I’m playing the fuzz guitar part that goes all through the song. So all I could do on the take was to give the band the cue line – the first line of each verse – and then go back to playing that riff. So that rough mix without the vocal – I’d forgot all about it – was a novelty I found.” (more here)
One More For The Guitar Nerds!
What’s that you say? You want to hear George Harrison’s lead guitar isolated? Done!
It’s a lovely little fuzz tone that somehow simultaneously evokes surf music and Motown! Take a listen, see if you hear it.
But wait! ANOTHER For The Guitar Nerds!
The “Wall of Sound” wasn’t just a production trick. Yeah, George’s voice is layered onto 8 of the 16 tracks, but there’s also a ton of musicians here, playing mostly live, including all of Delaney & Bonnie’s backing band, all four members of Badfinger, and one Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Sir Eric Patrick Clapton.
Protect ya ears on this one! The video is very quiet for the first 20 seconds as George counts the band in and Eric waits his turn, so don’t be turning that volume up too high just yet – but once he takes off, he burns rubber. Listen to the first minute and a half or so to see what kind of chaos he’s laying down, then if you want to skip ahead, pick it up around the 4 minute mark, where he goes absolutely nuts on the outro. (Clapton nerds in particular won’t want to miss a lick, though!)
It’s easy to see why this was too much even for Phil Spector, who mixed this way the hell down. One enterprising lad created his own version of a mix that pulls Eric’s version equal to George (here if you want it), but I think it works better to hear it on its own as another bonus track, if you will.
Last but not least….
One For The Drum Nerds!
And honestly, if you’re not a drum nerd, you can skip this…but if you are, this’ll be the best thing you’ve heard in ages. Jim Gordon’s tale is a tragic one (drugs and paranoid schizophrenia don’t mix: he’s doing life in a California psychiatric prison, and we’re fortunate that the body count he left behind is as low as it is), but man, he gave us some amazing music, including this iso track of his drum work on “What Is Life?”
He was the definition of a “pocket” drummer, with an unerring sense of groove that transcended mere rhythm. High profile gigs with Delaney & Bonnie, Mad Dogs & Englishmen, Derek & The Dominoes, and here on All Things Must Pass are just the tip of it: he was surely among the top two or three most in-demand studio drummers in the 70s. This’ll give you an idea of why.
When everything else is said and done, the version to listen to is the good ol’ original. George was right, there’s too much reverb on it, but “What Is Life?” is still an amazing, exuberant track, an unforgettable peak for both George Harrison and 1971.
“Go up, Moses! You been down too long! Am I being clear, y’all? Am I being clear?”
Too often dismissed as smooth and middle of the road, the opening track for Roberta Cleopatra Flack’s third album, Quiet Fire, presents her casting a powerful incantation over one of the steamiest funk arrangements (HER arrangement, no less: full credit for her artistry here) that you’ll ever come across. It was a great start to a great 1971 for Roberta, as the album peaked at #18 (25 places higher than her second album).
Later in the year, she’d record an album’s worth of duets with Donny Hathaway, with the advance single from that album, “You’ve Got A Friend” reaching #29 on the Hot 100 chart, and #8 on the R&B chart, setting the stage for her true breakout the following year (”Where Is The Love”, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, and more).
But 1971 marked the year of her arrival, and “Go Up Moses” reminds us that, smooth, yes, she nonetheless arrives with groove, power, and authority. Quiet Fire is right.