The Hits of 1971: If It Ain't Broke...

Major trends continue

1971 was the beginning of the digital age - Intel manufactured and marketed the first microprocessor. Technology was advancing on other fronts with the use of transistors in more consumer products. The first handheld calculators came on the market and the costs were incredibly high at first, but came down quickly - a pattern we would get used to as technology started its amazingly fast march into the future. Two Apollo lunar missions were completed successfully, and we landed an unmanned spacecraft on Mars - the Mariner 9. Other milestones in 1971 were the end of cigarette ads on TV, the final Ed Sullivan Show, the lowering of the voting age to 18, the creation of Amtrak, the launch by President Nixon of the war on drugs, the opening of Disney World, and the first domestic terrorist incident when the Weathermen exploded a bomb in Washington D.C. War in Vietnam continued, and a poll showed that 60% of Americans did not support it, and massive protests continued. And another member of the forever 27 club, Jim Morrison, died at 27 in an apartment bathtub in Paris.
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What happened in 1971's music?
The ugly truth about the music of 1971 is that there were very few new trends. Soft rock and pop rock became more popular, but so did hard rock and progressive rock. The major trend seemed to be the clear triumph of the album over the single. The long-playing record had become an art form in itself. The increased number of longer compositions, concept albums, and song cycles meant that albums were being listened to in their entirety, as the artists intended. Top 40 was still a valid idea, and there were many radio staions that were following the old model, but there were new ideas about what should be played on the radio, and this was noticed by record companies and artists alike.
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Album Oriented Radio Rules
While Top 40 stations played and promoted the latest hit singles, another format was becoming popular - AOR. Radio stations started to encourage djs to play deep cuts from LPs - songs that had not been released as single, but that were on popular albums. In response, some of the greatest records released this year were seen as complete wholes, not collections of randomly recorded singles. Led Zeppelin's untitled 4th album, Who's Next by the Who, The Yes Album and Fragile by Yes, the Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore, Sticky Fingers by the Stones, LA Woman by the Doors,  and many others were the source for AOR programming. It was a great idea for music lovers, who could hear music from albums that had not been available on top 40 formats. And it was great for sales of albums.

Ex-Beatles Rule, Too
While the Beatle fanatics of the world mourned and listened to the records that made the Fab Four what they were, the individual members of the most famous group in the world moved on, and stayed on top in the process. Both John Lennon and George Harrison had songs in the worldwide top 5 - Imagine, and My Sweet Lord, respectively. All four Beatles had actually released their first solo albums in 1970, but hits were making their way to the top of the charts in 1971. George was also responsible for staging and recording the Concert For Bangladesh, the first of its kind as a charitable fund-raiser. Paul was no slacker, having a number 1 song in the US from his second solo album Ram, and before the year ended he had put together a band called Wings, and released their first album - Wild Life. John's Plastic Ono Band had become as well known as Wings, and the Beatles continued to make an impact on the music world, even if their trend-setting days were over.

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Wimp Rock Rules, Also
If you are a music lover and are interested in historical trends in popular music, you know what I am talking about when I say that the worst of 70s music is an acquired taste. It just seems like music from this era is hard to take seriously - not all of it of course, but the really popular stuff is very - well, wimpy. For example, some of the number 1 hits of the year were by the Osmonds, Cher, Dawn, 3 Dog Night, the Bee Gees (pre-disco), Melanie, Carole King, and James Taylor. And the trend seems to continue and run like a thread through the entire decade.


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