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!”
Shocking Blue’s song “Venus” hit so hard in 1970 that many folks today think of them as a one-hit wonder (whose biggest song was even bigger for Bananarama in 1986), but they had a remarkable run through the early 70s. Here they are in 1971, on the German series Disco, which debuted on ZDF that February. Mariska Veres is one of rock’s great vocalists, tearing it up here on “Shocking You” (following the pretty nifty opening titles for Disco 71).
I LOVE JAMES TAYLOR!!!Here’s my tag for him. I mostly blog harder rock, so there are only a dozen or so posts, but you’ve reminded me that I need to do more. There’s so so much great music in 1971 beyond classic rock, and James is a perfect example. He had a huge impact on me in the early 70s, and I’ve been a fan for well over 40 years by now.
It happens that there are some fantastic clips of James in 1971 floating around. Here are links to my three favorites:
1) You Can Close Your Eyes, from an episode of the BBC show In Concert. This is my favorite track on his 1971 album, Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon. One of my favorite tracks of 1971, or ever, by anyone, tbh. This one comes and goes (I’ve redone this embed a couple of times already), and if it’s not here when you see this post, I promise it’s worth the effort to track it down.
2) Love Has Brought Me Around, also from 1971’s Mud Slide Slim, a lesser-known gem in James’ catalog, well overshadowed by his biggest 1971 from Mud Slide Slim, “You’ve Got A Friend.” That song was written by Carole King, who’d have her own hit with it later in 1971. I mention this because Carole is playing piano here (she and James frequently played together live and in the studio in 70-71), and she has a very nice solo here. I play this song a lot.
3) Sweet Baby James was a 1970 album of course, but was an even bigger hit in 1971: the #7 bestselling album of the year! One of the albums I’ve played most often in my life, too.
The link here is to his performance on the Johnny Cash Show in February 1971, his American TV debut. He slayed. Even though it’s just James and a guitar, the audience explodes at the end of this. It’s really something special.
Note that Johnny had introduced it as the only lullaby he knew with the word “turnpike” in it, so when James gets to that line in the second verse, he turns and beams at John. Priceless!
So…flipping through my blog, you’d think that the biggest and most important artists of 1971 are people like Led Zeppelin. The Who, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones — and you’d be right, but James Taylor sold more than any of them in 1971.
And hey, even if he wasn’t selling more records than they did, he was, and remains, one of the artists who’s made the biggest impact on my life. These are a couple of highlights, but I think you’ll be greatly rewarded as you dig even deeper into his discography.
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!
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.