Originally 1971 was dominated by the Partridge Family and this is still the case. The childhood impression of that group is indelible. 6 titles in the top 25 and 15 in the top 100 show the power that the music still holds for me. “Brand New Me” would not have been my #1 of the year back then, at 10 years old. Probably it would have been “I Woke Up In Love This Morning” (now at #23). The first time I did an all-time list was in 1978. On that list “Somebody Wants to Love You” (#15 on this list) was the highest-ranking PFam song from this list at #190. At the age of 17, the music of my 10-year-old self was still there but was eclipsed by Elton John and a slew of more current music.
The next time I did an all-time list was in 2001. On the list “You Are Always On My Mind” (#7 on this list) was the highest-ranking at #157. 4 songs were in the top 200 while only 2 were in the top 200 in 1978. With 23 more years of music to absorb for the 2001 list, that indicates that the Partridge music was becoming more elevated in my overall assessment. Right on its heels was “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat” (#10 on this list) at #170. I believe that if Billboard’s Hot 100 criteria was similar to the way it is now ‘Heartbeat’ would have had a high peak position. It is truly one of their greatest hits and was featured in multiple episodes in the first season of the sitcom.
Another song that is considered one of their greatest hits is “Point Me In The Direction Of Albuquerque (#19 on this list). That song had an episode dedicated to it. Interestingly something about “Brand New Me” struck me in 2002, maybe because I did an all-time list in 2001. It and another song, “Friend And A Lover” from 1973, were on my personal chart and reached #2 and #5 respectively. I didn’t start my weekly personal chart until late 1974 so these songs never had a chart run for me previously (“You Are Always On My Mind” had a chart run in 1975). In the 2 decades since it has firmly become my favorite Partridge song. Ironically it is the first track on the first album.
A song that just impacted me just yesterday is “I’m On My Way Back Home Again” from their third album “Sound Magazine”. I was listening to the playlist while Ubering and I had this song around #115 for the year. When this came on the exuberance of the song struck me and I was brought back to my childhood and the TV show. The joy that I feel in these moments is so massive it is hard to explain. Thus I moved it up to #27 today (these things are very fluid).
A number of the early podcasts focused on The Partridge Family and its relationship to more current music. “Brand New Me” was one of the featured songs and it even ended having an impact on Jeff, my podcast partner. In all, 6 of the first 8 episodes of the “Beyond Radio Presents” focus on the Partridge Family. Some of the early episodes have not the greatest sound quality (it has improved much over time). This particular episode could be a good introduction to the arc. A fun and short episode that is making me laugh while listening to it again now. In this episode, there are some great stories and Jeff connects “I Woke Up In Love This Morning” to Jefferson Airplane!
There will be a new season of “Beyond Radio Presents” starting in January. The first arc is loosely related to boy bands through the years. I’ve also had the pleasure of introducing Jeff to some early Elton John through the podcasts. The album “Tumbleweed Connection” Has 6 of the 11 songs from Elton that are in my current top 150 of 1971. The moody “Where To Now St. Peter?” (#4) and “Burn Down The Mission” (#9) are the standouts from the album. I discovered this album probably late in high school or in college. Most likely the latter as that’s when I discovered used record stores.
On my first all-time list in 1978 these songs did not show up but in 2001 they showed up at numbers 257 and 688 in my top 1000. The other song from the album that is in the top 25 is “Son Of Your Father” (#20). The theme of the album revolves around the old west of the U.S., though neither Elton nor his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin had been to the States yet. Taupin says it was influenced by the songs of Robbie Robertson and his group The Band and their 1968 album “Music From Big Pink”. They were an early roots-rock band, and this album contains one of their most famous songs, “The Weight” with the more recognizable lyric “take a load off Fanny and you put the load right on me”.
Elton’s “Your Song” (#11) was from his debut American release in 1970 but hit its peak in February 1971. The song was first recorded by Three Dog Night on their 1970 album “It Ain’t Easy” but not released as a single. They wanted Elton to have his chance with the song at radio. If you read by current assessment of music from 2001, Ewan MacGregor’s version from Moulin Rouge is my number 9 of that year, and my favorite version.
Three Dog Night’s “An Old-Fashioned Love Song” (#12) was one of my favorites as a child, #303 on my original all-time list. Written by Paul Williams, the song was first offered to the Carpenters, but Richard Carpenter rejected it. Though the song starts out in a somewhat traditional ballad form (well the organ intro is not traditional), it ends in an upbeat layered vocal display which is what drew me to the song originally (“coming down in three-part harmony”). I can’t envision a Carpenters version at all, though both bands have employed fuzz guitar.
Williams, who was also an actor who made a lot of guest appearances on TV shows from the mid-70s through the early ‘80s would be recognizable if you saw his picture. As a songwriter, he co-wrote “Rainy Days And Mondays” (#21) for the Carpenters in addition to “We’ve Only Just Begun”. He also co-wrote “Evergreen” with Barbra Streisand (“Stoney End” (#29)) and “Rainbow Connection”, such a beautiful song.
My favorite Carpenters song is “Superstar” (#2), a song written in 1969, inspired by Rita Coolidge, and co-written by Leon Russell and the duo Delaney & Bonnie who first recorded it. The original title was “Groupie (Superstar)” and was a tad more risqué than the Carpenters version. Rita Coolidge sang it on a track from Joe Cocker’s 1970 live album “Mad Dogs And Englishmen” (co-produced by Leon Russell). The album spawned the top 10 single “The Letter”.
Like the organ intro in the Three Dog Night song, the oboe intro was unique a approach that makes the song stand out. The subdued verses are juxtaposed with the somewhat more upbeat chorus, yet the overall feel of the song is somber. This was one of the best showcases for Karen Carpenter’s rich voice. In the ‘90s there was a flourish of tribute albums to artists and in 1994 “If I Were A Carpenter” was a collection of their songs by Alternative artists, an inspired combination. I purchased it as a 7” boxed set, 7 45’s, and it is one of my most treasured possessions. “Superstar” was re-imagined by Sonic Youth, a stark yet atmospheric version with hushed male vocals. ‘Rainy Days’ was even starker as done by Cracker, it sounds like a person on the verge of a breakdown.
4 Non Blondes of “What’s Up” fame contributed a rocked-up “Bless The Beasts and the Children” (#63). That was the theme of the 1971 movie of the same name. From the same soundtrack was a song called “Colton’s Dream”. That song took on a different life over the years, in 1973 becoming the theme to the soap opera “The Young and The Restless” and in 1976 becoming a radio hit as “Nadia’s Theme” because of its association with Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci. Not that she used it in performance, instead it was used by ABC’s “Wide World Of Sports” as a theme to a montage of her performances. The things you learn.
Back to Elton John. At #33, “Madman Across The Water”, the title song from Elton’s fourth album released in November 1971, was originally supposed to be on “Tumbleweed Connection” featuring Mick Ronson on guitar. Ronson was an oft collaborator with David Bowie and a major part of the ‘70s glam rock scene. That version was scrapped, and a new version is contained on the ‘Madman’ album. The original 8:22 version was released on a re-issue of ‘Tumbleweed’. It has a much more prominent guitar than the more string-laden version that most people know.
The other major album for me from 1971 was “Jesus Christ Superstar”. That album was released in October of 1970 and was the #1 album on the Billboard 200 for 1971, just ahead of Carole King’s “Tapestry”. Her album has 6 songs in my top 150, the highest “I Feel The Earth Move” (#42). “It’s Too Late” (#53) and “So Far Away” (#61) I think falter from previous feelings about the songs due to over-exposure.
I didn’t discover JCS until 1976 when I was in our high school production of the musical in my freshman year. In late 1975 I played Young Patrick in our production of “Mame” and my young voice cracked on stage singing “My Best Girl”, seemingly an embarrassing moment. It was not my most embarrassing moment in high school, but that is not necessarily good subject matter for this discussion. Some people are aware of this episode in my life, LOL. In “Jesus Christ Superstar” I had the role of “Peter” with much less drama.
I fell in love with the music of both. 14 of the tracks from ‘Superstar’ are in my current top 150 of 1971. A surprise to me, the “Overture” (#17) placed not are behind Murray Head’s “Superstar” (#13), probably because it incorporates a lot of the most prominent musical aspects of the album. That is what an overture is supposed to do, right? “Heaven On Their Minds” at the start of the story sits at #22 and Jesus’ signature song “Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)” is #26. That song reached #1 on my personal chart in 1976 and just made my all-time top 1000 in 2001 at 962.
From Mame, “It’s Today” and “Open A New Window” both were on my weekly personal chart in 1976, reaching #11 and #30 respectively. I was a total unabashed music geek. If you’ve never seen “Mame” (the Lucille Ball 1974 movie version, not the best adaptation, Angela Lansbury originated the role on Broadway in 1966), “We Need A Little Christmas” is a song you may know. Mame’s sidekick Vera Charles was played by the fabulous Bea Arthur in both versions and their signature song together was “Bosom Buddies”. The musical was born from the 1958 movie adaptation of the 1956 novel “Auntie Mame”. Rosalind Russell was the quintessential Auntie Mame, though I did not discover the movie until much later in life. I have a number of friends who can quote the movie verbatim.
When the ‘Superstar’ album was put together it had not seen a stage production anywhere yet. I had not realized that. Producers and songwriters Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who went on to illustrious careers in musical theater, employed singers from theater (Head) and rock (Ian Gillan of Deep Purple as Jesus) for the album. Because they could not initially get financial backing, they decided to release the rock opera as a concept album. The success of that led to the Broadway and London stage productions.
Yvonne Elliman was an unknown singer when brought into the project and her song of unrequited love, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” (#52) became a radio hit with 2 versions at the same time. Hers reached number 28 on the Hot 100 but it was Helen Reddy’s version that performed better, reaching number 13. I don’t remember that version from the time, she didn’t come onto my radar until “I Am Woman” in 1972. Elliman’s version is definitely better. I find it funny that a Catholic high school in 1976 allowed a production featuring a prostitute, not something I thought about at the time. Mike D’abo sang “King Herod’s Song” (#73), a major highlight of the album. He had been the lead singer of Manfred Mann in the late ‘60s and was the co-writer of “Build Me Up Buttercup”, a song everyone knows now because of the Geico motorcycle commercials or for myriad other reasons, a pop-culture staple.
“Draggin’ The Line” (#3) by Tommy James has a very distinctive pre-chorus with a lower voice repeating the phrase and a simple horn line and again, a distinctive intro, an insistent bass and drum line. The song certainly had a subtle psychedelic feel to it, almost mysterious, that goes into a brighter chorus (more upbeat than “Superstar” however). This song is forever connected to driving to Darlington Lake in Mahwah, NJ the summer of ’71.
I wanted to use the word couplet for the bass/drum line but it didn’t fit. I am not a music theorist though I did take the class in freshman year of high school and used “Ballroom Blitz” as the showcase of a project. Back to the couplet, internet research led me to an article about Glen Campbell’s song “Wichita Lineman” stating it had the greatest musical couplet of all-time. The line is “and I need you more than want you, and I want you for all-time”. It certainly does conjure up something beautiful yet sad.
Why ‘Wichita Lineman’ Contains the Greatest Musical Couplet Ever Written ‹ Literary Hub (lithub.com)
This next song sums that up perfectly. Carly Simon’s “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” (#5) creates a dark and again mysterious mood, an overall feeling of sadness. I vividly remember the song as a child and though at the time it was not a favorite, it was indicative of an overall feel during that time. There was a heaviness to the early ‘70s that was explored through a lot of the music of the time.
I never disliked the song as I did with “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack. Some will cringe in horror as I think that is one of the creepiest songs ever recorded. Simon’s ode to the dysfunction of marriage is an exquisite production that I now treasure. Her voice, the strings, and the subtle piano lines create the haunting verses; the pronounced drumline that leads us to the chorus adds a perfect touch. It was a bold move for a debut single but garnered her a Grammy nomination for female vocal and helped her to win Best New Artist. It reached #10 on the Hot 100 but went to #1 on Boston’s top 40 station WRKO.
The recurring theme of heavy verses leading into upbeat choruses comes in again with the Bee Gees “Lonely Days” (#16), their first top 5 hit in the States. If you can believe it, by this time the Gibb brothers had released 8 albums and Robin had quit the group, rejoining for this album “2 Years On”. Their early history is too much to absorb right now.
It has been said about this song, well it’s easier to just quote the wiki article
“The song incorporated the innovative structure and knack for changing tempos exemplified by the second side of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album, released the previous year and a clear influence on this single. “Lonely Days” shifts back and forth between a piano-and-strings-dominated verse reminiscent of “You Never Give Me Your Money” and “Golden Slumbers,” and an up-tempo stomping chorus that echoes “Carry That Weight”; perhaps as an acknowledgment of the debt, as the record approaches its fade-out, the lead singer’s voice is filtered to sound like John Lennon’s.”
I can certainly see the comparison. The 2 former Beatles entries in my top 25 are vastly different. John Lennon’s “Imagine” (#18) fits into the beautiful and sad lane with a sprinkle of optimism. Well, maybe more than a sprinkle. More piano and strings but no upbeat chorus. The thought of ultimate peace is a lofty goal.
George Harrison’s “What Is Life” (#6) was recorded with the help of Eric Clapton and Delaney & Bonnie’s backing band. It is almost the opposite of the sentiment put forth in “Imagine”. Where that song speaks of “no religion too” this one and the other major hot from Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” album “My Sweet Lord”, speak to the existence of a higher power (though obliquely). I love, love, loved this song as a child and I still do. This song will fit nicely into their third edition of my Positively Happy Spotify playlist series which I am currently working on. You check out the first 2 here.
Not everything in 1971 was dark. Certainly, the Partridge Family weren’t. At #8, the Grass Roots “Sooner or Later” fits into the happy music lane. This and “Don’t Pull Your” (#25) by Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds were prominent songs of my childhood and most definitely associated with my dad. The funny thing is, and I’m just learning this, the song was originally pitched to the Grass Roots who passed on it because they felt it was a little lightweight. There are rumors that the song was written with Elvis Presley in mind, and I can certainly hear that as well (think “Suspicious Minds”). The Grass Roots also show up at #27 with “Temptation Eyes”, a song less familiar as a 10-year-old.
“If I Were Your Woman” (#12) by Gladys Knight & The Pips is a song much more appreciated as an adult. This is true of a lot of R&B/Pop of the era. Much of that music felt dark to my childhood brain. This one is elevated with a powerful vocal performance from Gladys Knight. Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” (#50) and “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” (#76) were major parts of the soundtrack of NYC area radio, as were Sly & The Family Stone’s “Family Affair” (#133), “Just My Imagination” by the Temptations, “Tried Of Being Alone” (#114) by Al Green and “Theme from Shaft” (#117) by Isaac Hayes. None of these would have shown up on an early list of favs from ’71. There are 2 episodes of the podcast dedicated to the connection between early ‘80s soul and the current revival of the style.
Paul Revere and the Raiders song “Indian Reservation” (#21) rounds out the top 25. A song that would not be recorded today. It was written in and originally recorded in 1959 and hit a minor hit version in 1968 by Don Fardon. The 1971 Raiders version altered the lyrics a bit and reached number 1 on the Hot 100.
One last thing, 3 songs that ended up in my top 100 were songs that I did not know by title at the time (or through the ‘70s) so they were fun discoveries. “Bitch” (#49) by the Rolling Stones is a song well-known by me throughout the years but I never gave a thought to the name. Santana’s “Everybody’s Everything” (#58), a rousing horn-laden Latin-tinged groover, gave me a wow moment, as the lyrics don’t appear anywhere in the song that I am aware of. This one I hadn’t heard since a child. At #878 Jethro Tull’s “Hymn 43” is one that I remember through the osmosis of classic rock radio, it was never a go-to song.