Category: 1971 single

Aretha Franklin, “Rock Steady” on The Flip Wil…

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!” 

TURN IT UP!

Aretha Franklin’s Grammy Award for Best Female…

Aretha Franklin’s Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for her 1971 single, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” one of 8 in a row she won from 1968-75, via Billboard

And here’s the performance from that year’s Grammy telecast, which aired March 15, 1972 from New York’s Felt Forum.

Aretha Franklin, working up a mighty sweat for…

Aretha Franklin, working up a mighty sweat for “Rock Steady,” released November 26, 1971, from the album Young, Gifted and Black.

American Pie, by Don McLean, released November…

American Pie, by Don McLean, released November, 1971.

Funny thing about this one: the single version is longer than the album version! The album version runs 8:33, but that was too long to fit on one side of a single in 1971. Instead, it’s split into sections of 4:11 (A-side) and 4:31 (B-side), to allow a little overlap when turning the record over.

It’s understandable that people bring up “American Pie” when the anniversary of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper (JP Richardson) comes around every Feb. 3, because that’s where the song starts. After that, though, it goes further into America, politics, religion, fantasy, reality, dreams, and more. As Don McLean said on his website:

Metaphorically the song continues to evolve to the present time. It is not a nostalgia song. American Pie changes as America itself is changing.

…but tumblr folks should also note two things.

1) Don McLean was a huge fan of Buddy Holly in high-school, and had no idea why the rest of the kids in his school didn’t get it. They didn’t even care when Buddy died.

I mean, I went to school and mentioned it and they said, ‘So what?’ So I carried this yearning and longing, if you will, this weird sadness that would overtake me…

Sound familiar? 

2) Maybe it was more than just “weird sadness.” Don has talked about wrestling with depression – which of course is different than being sad. “American Pie” was a huge hit, but that only made things worse. 

The success I got with ‘American Pie’ really threw me off. It just shattered my lifestyle and made me quite neurotic and extremely petulant. I was really prickly for a long time.

If the things you’re doing aren’t increasing your energy and awareness and clarity and enjoyment, then you feel as though you’re moving blindly. That’s what happened to me. I seemed to be in a place where nothing felt like anything, and nothing meant anything.

Literally nothing mattered. It was very hard for me to wake up in the morning and decide why it was I wanted to get up.

Sound familiar?

This really is one of the most amazing pop songs ever recorded, for so many more reasons than most people ever talk about.

George Harrison and Bob Dylan rehearsing “If N…

George Harrison and Bob Dylan rehearsing “If Not For You” before the Sunday afternoon show of the Concerts for Bangladesh, Sunday, August 1, 1971. It’s messy, but adorable.

Like The Beatles, Bob Dylan had quit touring in 1966. Unlike The Beatles, and apart from  a 1969 TV performance with Johnny Cash, and an appearance with The Band at the Isle of Wight, Bob had all but disappeared. While he was generally up for lending a hand to George’s effort, he was by no means sure what to sing, and was even less sure if he was going to be able to pull himself together to even show up at the appointed hour. When George introduced him that afternoon, he was by no means certain that Bob would actually walk out. 

While they were working out which songs to perform together, “If Not For You” was an obvious place to start. A lovely tune that Bob introduced on New Morning almost exactly a year earlier (August 12, 1970), George covered it on his own album All Things Must Pass, which was the #1 album in the US for the first 7 weeks of 1971, and for the months of February and March 1971 in the UK

Neither Bob nor George released “If Not For You” as a single, but in May 1971, it was the debut single for 22 year old Olivia Newton-John. Based on George’s arrangement rather than Bob’s, it reached #7 in the UK, and in the US, #25 on the Billboard Hot 200, and eight weeks straight at #1 on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart! 

(Yes, I bought it. Yes, I still love it. Yes, I will post it later.)

Our boys passed on performing this for the big show(s), but this rehearsal is an enduring reminder that beyond being two of the all-time giants of popular music, and rock gods, they were also both just so incredibly fucking adorable.

T. Rex, sheet music for “Get It On (Bang A Gon…

T. Rex, sheet music for “Get It On (Bang A Gong)” from Electric Warrior, September 24, 1971.                                                                                          

Bob Dylan, Brown Sugar (2002) OMG, you gotta h…

Bob Dylan, Brown Sugar (2002) OMG, you gotta hear this! I do emphasize “hear” because the picture is blurry (pre-HD, pre-smartphone – it’s a miracle this exists at all), but don’t miss Bob’s shimmying and shaking his way through the 1971 Rolling Stones classic. 

Taken from an October-November 2002 run that became known as The Tribute Tour, this was Rockin’ Bob with a twist: it featured a solid handful of covers every night. Specifically, in tribute to Warren Zevon, who’d just announced that he had terminal cancer. Most often played were “Accidentally Like A Martyr” and “Mutineer”, two of Warren’s loveliest ballads (at least one of these was played every night; often both), but Warren’s “Lawyers Guns and Money” and “Boom Boom Mancini” also popped up along the way, as did songs like “The End of the Innocence” (Don Henley), “Old Man” (Neil Young), and “Carrying A Torch” (Van Morrison), among others. 

I don’t know which date this video is from, but it definitely captures the vibe of the night I saw it myself, November 16 in Boston. That night, he played the two Warren ballads (both perfect), “Old Man” (which I found deeply moving), and this rip-snorting “Brown Sugar” that brought the house down. 

I had seen The Stones themselves play this very song in this very room just weeks earlier, and they were fantastic (complete with Bobby Keys blowing his unforgettable sax part like his life depended on it)…but it felt like Bob added a little something.  Maybe it landed with extra weight just because it was so unexpected, but I think that stripping out the sax and putting three guitars up front also made it feel even crunchier than usual.

My favorite Stones cover is always going to be Linda Ronstadt’s “Tumbling Dice”, but this is giving that a run for its money in a very close second. That said, this one might well be my favorite cover tune (by anyone!) to have witnessed in person. Many thanks to YouTuber luistoluces for capturing this gem of a performance!

George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord.” A 1971, Sing…

George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord.” A 1971, Singapore-only EP that also includes “What Is Life,” “Isn’t It A Pity” and “Apple Scruffs.”

David Bowie, “Queen Bitch” (from 1971′s Hunky …

David Bowie, “Queen Bitch” (from 1971′s Hunky Dory) broadcast February 8, 1972 on Old Grey Whistle Test

The Doors, “Love Her Madly” single, from the a…

The Doors, “Love Her Madly” single, from the album LA Woman. Seen here: the Swedish sleeve, March, 1971. Check the name of the b-side!