Benny Jay: Best Records of 1971

June 8th, 2021

First things first . . .

All credit goes to Mick Dumke, my former partner in crime here at the Reader. For as long as I can remember, Mick’s been telling me that 1971 was the greatest year for records—at least in the past century.

He fancies 1971 in part, I think, because that’s his birth year. Who knows—perhaps his birth had something to do with that great music. It’s one theory anyway.

Also, for as long as I can remember, Mick’s been saying we should do a show dedicated to the music of 1971, either on my podcast or on the Hideout stage.

And so, as I saw that everyone else was doing documentaries and writing stories about the music of ’71, I said—let’s get it on. (A great song from 1973. Which, by the way, may even be greater music-wise than 1971. Just throwing that out there for future debate.)

So we put together our lists. True to form, I was impulsive in my approach, rattling off the first albums that came to my mind.

In contrast, Mick was more scholarly. He made his list. Then he edited it. Then he edited it again. For all I know, he’s still editing it, even though we dropped our show this weekend.

My top three are Aretha Franklin’s Live at Fillmore West, the Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East, and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.

Mick’s top three are the Rolling Stones’ Sticky FingersLed Zeppelin IV, and What’s Going On. To hear our full rundown, check out the show.

I had so much fun doing the show that I couldn’t stop after it was over. And I’ve been asking random people for their lists. And the top threes keep rolling in.

My oldest daughter: What’s Going On, Aretha Franklin’s Live at Fillmore West, and Carole King’s Tapestry.

And Courtney, my oldest daughter’s friend: Aretha’s “Spanish Harlem,” Bill Withers’s “Grandma’s Hands,” and Aretha’s “Rock Steady.” (Obviously, Courtney went with favorite singles, not albums, but it’s all good.)

And Dave, a millennial DJ: Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson, Curtis Mayfield’s Roots, and What’s Going On.

And Stacy Davis Gates: Aretha’s Live at Fillmore West, the Isley Brothers’ Givin’ It Back, and What’s Going On.

And so on and so forth.

Curiously, no one mentioned Carpenters by the Carpenters, which made my extended list.

C’mon, everybody—”Hangin’ around, nothing to do but frown . . .

Man, I got a lot of grief for including the Carpenters. Rumor has it that Tim Tuten threatened to ban me from the Hideout for unspeakable acts of uncoolness.

Speaking of which, here are Tim Tuten’s top three: Sticky Fingers, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, and What’s Going On.

As you can see, the common denominator in these lists is What’s Going On. I’ve asked at least two dozen people for their list. And everyone includes Marvin’s masterpiece.

Here’s the funny thing. For all the people who say they love What’s Going On, not enough people are practicing its central theme.

You know—the part about “War is not the answer / For only love can conquer hate.”

I don’t want to get all grim. But every day brings more horrific news of shootings, bombings, beatings, rocket firings, fistfights, knifings, terror, random violence, and so on.

Any time we want to start living Marvin’s message as well as listening to it, it’s all right with me.

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