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1971 Albums

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Untitled (IV) > Led Zeppelin

November, 1971
United States
Atlantic
4.75
Led Zeppelin was already a household name by 1971, due in part to Jimmy Page’s huge guitar riffs and singer Robert Plant’s voice and good looks. Their first two albums were mostly hard rock rip-offs of blues standards-albeit excellent hard rock rip-offs of blues standards. Their third album, however, stretched out musically, particularly with British folk influences; that’s further exploited here on “The Battle of Evermore,” a vocal duet with Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny. But whether called IV, Untitled, ZoSo or The Runes Album, Led Zeppelin’s fourth album will always be their best known, and for one reason: “Stairway to Heaven.” Page’s guitar work is classic, erupting into one of his most blistering solos; but Plant’s lyrics, very much of the era, offer the hook that caught the world’s attention. Of course, Led Zeppelin were still a heavy rocking blues band, and the hard riffing of “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll” remain just as essential. Subsequent albums would introduce further musical diversity as the songwriting of Page matured, but none of their recordings would be better known, and no record collection at the time would have been complete without this album. As with all other Zeppelin albums after their first, it topped the UK charts; but this album would only reach No. 2 in the US.

Meddle > Pink Floyd

November, 1971
United States
Harvest
5
After the critical (and self-critical) reaction to their previous album Atom Heart Mother, Pink Floyd spent a great deal of time on their follow-up, Meddle. The album is often mistakenly called “Echoes,” as the track of the same name encompasses the record’s entire second side. Except for a break to compile Relics, the band spent the better part of six months on the track, which they first played live under the name “Return of the Son of Nothing” in April 1971. Using Morgan, AIR (with 16-track capabilities) and Abbey Road Studios, the band finally finished the track in July. The wait was worth it. Rising from Rick Wright’s patented sonar ping, the central melody is mature; it shows exactly where the band’s next album would draw from. The following extended instrumental workout confirms the band could still flex their muscle and that David Gilmour is one helluva guitarist. The obligatory drift of the middle section is a clichéd throwback; but thankfully, the band reprises the central melody again, closing the track in a similar way to how it began. (Be sure to check out the live version on Live At Pompeii, filmed in October 1971.) As a composition, “Echoes” was a major success for the band, picking up and progressing from where “Careful with That Axe, Eugene” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” left off. Unfortunately, the first side of the album wasn’t as successful; recorded quickly in July and August, most of the tracks are throwaways. The exception, “One of These Days,” centers on Roger Waters’s echoed bass line and Gilmour’s lap steel guitar, fading nicely into the gentle “A Pillow of Winds.” The guitar riff of “Fearless” is Zeppelin-esque—fine enough, but not essential. The album hit No. 3 in the UK, but surprisingly only reached No. 70 in the US. A quadraphonic mix of the album was completed in September 1971 at Command Studios; however, it remains unreleased. The group photo on the inside of the gatefold speaks a thousand words of the era.

Blitzkrieg > Wallenstein

November, 1971
Germany
Pilz
3
Though originating from Mönchengladbach, Germany, Wallenstein sported an international lineup: Keyboardist Jürgen Dollase and drummer Harald Grosskopf aided American Bill Barone on guitar and Dutchman Jerry Berkers on bass and vocals. Their debut album Blitzkrieg shared the band’s original name; their choice of using a term associated with Nazi Germany was controversial for the time. Released on the Pilz label, the album was produced by Dieter Dierks. Written by Dollase, Wallenstein’s symphonic styling is based on his classically-trained piano playing. The lead-off track “Lunetic” (sic) attests. With phase-drumming and wah-wah guitar contrasting with Dollase’s harpsichord, a frenetic, almost claustrophobic arrangement ploughs forward; it’s very different from any other prog rock, British or otherwise. “The Theme” continues, this time with Mellotron and piano dominating the relatively straightforward composition. The near 14-minute “Manhatten Project” (sic) offers a few minutes of respite before the band breaks into an extended jam with Barone’s guitar taking center stage. Finally, the more plaintive and conventional “Audiences” closes, with the extended middle section showcasing the band’s skills. Their next album, Mother Universe, followed in 1972 and charted a similar path. An excellent drummer, Grosskopf’s services would be sought by many others, including Ash Ra Tempel and Klaus Schulze. Both Dollase and Grosskopf then participated in the ultra-psychedelic Cosmic Jokers sessions for Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser of Ohr/Pilz fame. Along with Klaus Schulze and Manuel Göttsching, and with engineer Dieter Dierks at the helm, Kaiser released three albums of unauthorized music from the ensuing sessions, most of it exemplary space-rock. Yet years later, legal proceedings over the records would collapse Kaiser’s empire.

Islands > King Crimson

December, 1971
United States
Atlantic
3.90909
Beginning on April 12th, 1971, at the Zoom Club in Frankfurt, Germany, King Crimson returned to live performance with a lineup comprised of Robert Fripp, Mel Collins and newcomers Ian Wallace (ex-The Warriors) on drums and Boz Burrell on vocals, with Pete Sinfield back-of-the-house on VCS3 synthesizer and lights. Per legend, auditions for bassists proved so unsuccessful that Fripp eventually taught Burrell how to play the instrument. The band toured extensively, breaking only to record their fourth album, Islands. King Crimson’s stage repertoire mainly consisted of selections from their first two albums, but live documents include the band’s rendition of Pharaoh Sanders’s “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” Prone to digress into jam, this King Crimson was known as the “blowing” band. Listening to the album, though, you might not get that connection. “Formentera Lady,” the album’s opener, is representative: After a colorful string bass introduction, the relatively sparse arrangement floats over a metronome-like bass line, with Collins’s sax adding the most color. In fact, only “Sailor’s Tale” contains the guitar fury of previous Crim work, but what a racket Fripp conjures. Here the band finally finds their footing. “Ladies of the Road” is a bawdy classic, with Collins’s sax and Burrell’s bass line emanating poignancy to match Sinfield’s tale of life on the road. “Prelude: Song of the Gulls” and the title track set the balance of the album with equal equanimity: The former employs a string quartet, while the latter traverses beneath a humble harmonium, offering a kind of chamber music. More spacious than the previous Lizard, the album is just as rewarding. The band’s last act was a tour of the US in the spring of 1972, after which Fripp threw in the towel and fired the lot (they all went on to Alexis Korner’s Snape). A posthumous live album Earthbound was released in 1972, but its poor audio quality kept it import-only in the US. More significantly, this would be the last album on which Fripp and Sinfield would collaborate. From here, Crimson would begin and end with Robert Fripp, though don’t tell him that.

Hold Your Fire > Patto

December, 1971
US
Vertigo, Vertigo
4.75
Amazing musicianship already given, for the band’s second album, Hold Your Fire, Patto pulled out some of their best songwriting. The lead-off and title track “Hold Your Fire” is the post-hippie anthem, complete with some of Ollie Halsall’s slickest guitar work at the fade. Note the release date; this is some of the earliest “shredding” on record. “You, You Point Your Finger” cops a somber mood, with more of Mike Patto’s poignant lyrics about the counter-culture vs. the establishment; again, Halsall’s emotive lead toward the end just kills it. “Give It All Away” has a nice hook, and more of Halsall’s guitar histrionics swinging underneath the potent rhythm section of Clive Griffiths and John Halsey. “Air Raid Shelter,” however, is the album’s paragon. Much like the previous “Money Bag,” it owes more to jazz than to rock, and is simply unparalleled by any contemporaneous group. Yet even a high-profile tour supporting Ten Years After didn’t change Patto’s fortunes: The album did not chart. In early 1972, Halsall recorded the lost Blue Traffs album with John Halsey and Gary Windo; Robert Fripp produced. Patto’s Roll ‘Em Smoke ‘Em Put Another Line Out was released on Island Records in October 1972 and then the band went off on a world tour supporting Joe Cocker. A fourth and final album was recorded, but Halsall quit before it was finished. After that, Patto split, with Halsall joining Tempest and Mike Patto briefly working with Spooky Tooth (appearing on the excellent album The Mirror). With Keith Ellis and ex-May Blitz drummer Tony Newman, Patto and Halsall reunited in 1975 as Boxer, recording a pair of (more or less) mainstream rock albums over the next two years. Griffiths and Halsey kept busy as session musicians; the latter was part of Eric Idle and Neil Innes’s Beatles 1978 spoof, The Rutles’ All You Need Is Cash. Halsall would also participate in the film and soundtrack, yet despite his supplying the voice of the Paul McCartney character, Dirk McQuickly, he was relegated to just a brief cameo as the fifth Rutle, Leppo, in the film. Sadly, Mike Patto would succumb to throat cancer in 1979, while Griffiths would never physically recover from a road accident in 1983.

The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys > Traffic

December, 1971
United States
Island Records
4.714285
After their triumphant return, Traffic assembled a live unit with two members from Ginger Baker’s Airforce, bassist Ric Grech and percussionist Reebop Kwaku Baah. Drummer Jim Gordon came in to allow Jim Capaldi to concentrate on vocals. Even Dave Mason returned for a few gigs in mid-1971, as documented on the interim live album, Welcome To The Canteen. However, the oddly titled The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys was another masterpiece for the band. The album’s bookends, “Hidden Treasure” and “Rainmaker,” offer subtle folk flavorings; while the Capaldi-sung “Rock & Roll Stew” (a Grech/Gordon composition) and “Light Up or Leave Me Alone” rock in fine tradition. The gem of the album though is the head-nod rhythm of the title track—the slow-motion syncopation of Kwaku Baah and Gordon is simply exquisite as is the track’s slow fade-out. The album broke the US Top 10, rising to No. 7; but strangely, it didn’t chart in the UK. Winwood suffered some health problems that delayed Traffic’s next album, Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory, until February of 1972, by which time Capaldi had brought in the Muscle Shoals (Alabama) rhythm section of David Hood and Roger Hawkins (replacing Grech and Gordon). In 1973 they added Barry Becket on keyboards and recorded the excellent live double-album On The Road, although Live At Santa Monica, a video of a concert recorded in 1972, would become more essential viewing (it first saw release in 1987). Their final album, the excellent When The Eagle Flies, was released in 1974 with bassist Rosko Gee augmenting the original trio. Despite reaching No. 9 in the US and breaking the UK Top 30, the band called it quits shortly thereafter. Capaldi released his first solo album, Oh How We Danced, in 1972, his first of many. Following a stint in Stomu Yamash’ta’s Go, Winwood would slowly gear up for mammoth solo success in the 80s.