The debts you make you have to pay: Best of 1971

“Seminal” doesn’t come close to describing this year. To consider omitting There’s a Riot Going On and Who’s Next would mean, I guess, I’m uncomfortable with a certain kind of murk-funk and the kind of halitosis confused with hyperemotionalism, respectively; but like Live-Evil, also included, There’s a Riot still fascinates me as aural object. We critics have written enough about John Cale’s organ grinding in “Sister Ray,” but Sylvester Stewart triumphs with a similar sound: as thin and sharp as a needle piercing soft skin. Even though I’d rather listen to Fresh (his best to my ears) and Stand! and will take Can and Maggot Brain‘s contemporaneous experiments, Sly Stone’s 1971 album deserves a place.

The rest — well, wow. Carole King’s natural woman voice making more out of her natural woman conceit than Aretha (and Aretha surpassing her again last December); Merle Haggard’s most concise studio statement (“Tulare Dust” vs “Hungry Eyes”? Why choose?); Bowie’s arrival as a pretty thing and threat to rock and rollers; Rod Stewart hacking phlegm on Maggie May and mandolins; Caetano Veloso with another eponymous collection of strange tales afloat on melodies I don’t even hear on John Prine’s marvelous debut (I want to know how many male songwriters have written about their sisters); a Beatle using mixing board wizardry for the equivalent of Miltonic detachment and applying it to Anne Sexton material; Joni Mitchell saying fuck all that — well, wow. I can even ignore What’s Going On.

I’ve paid scant attention to Joys of Cooking, which for many year I confused for a repository of gastronomic delights or gay sex manual.

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain
Merle Haggard – Someday We’ll Look Back
John Prine – John Prine
Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story
David Bowie – Hunky Dory
Caetano Veloso – Caetano Veloso
Miles Davis – A Tribute to Jack Johnson
Can – Tago Mago
Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
Led Zeppelin – IV
Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson
Al Green – Al Green Gets Next to You
Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey
John Lennon – Imagine
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate
Joni Mitchell – Blue
Carole King – Tapestry
Sly and the Family Stone – There’s a Riot Goin’ On
Miles Davis – Live-Evil
Alice Cooper – Love It to Death
Gil Scott-Heron – Pieces of a Man
Loretta Lynn – Coal Miner’s Daughter
The Who – Who’s Next

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