My Desert Island list has 12 singles from 1976 on it. To readers of this blog, that’s news approximately on par with the sunrise. Eleven are from 1971, which is not exactly news either. Forty years ago, it was a year of discovery—no, the year of discovery. Absolutely everything was new because I hadn’t been listening long enough to know the context of very much. But since we often love the stuff of youth more than the stuff that comes along later, some of what I discovered that year has never left me. I’ve written about a couple of them recently, and here are a few words about some more of them.
“Rings”/Cymarron. I know people still do it, but a barefoot beach wedding seems like a thoroughly 70s thing to do. “Rings” is a lovely frozen moment from the summer of 1971 that ran the charts right alongside “Here Comes that Rainy Day Feeling Again” by the Fortunes. The only thing wrong with the song is that it’s too short—a defect remedied here.
“Spanish Harlem”/Aretha Franklin. Ben E. King may have done it first, but Aretha owns it. By the time “Spanish Harlem” hit the radio late in the summer of ’71, I had already developed a hearty appreciation for soul music, despite also being devoted to Dawn and the Partridge Family. Me and Walt Whitman, we contained multitudes.
“Do You Know What I Mean”/Lee Michaels. Three minutes of glorious bashing that has never sounded right to me on anything other than AM radio, although this guy’s 45 gets close.
“I’ve Found Someone of My Own’/Free Movement. I would not have understood the emotional dynamic of this record in 1971, which is best described as “You can’t leave me because I’m already gone.” All I heard was how great it sounded on the radio.
“Have You Seen Her”/Chi-Lites. In which the line between the pain communicated by the lyric and pleasure generated by the vocal performance becomes too thin to perceive clearly, or even to matter.
“Respect Yourself”/Staple Singers. Good lessons for an 11-year-old boy, and for everybody else, wherever they are, down unto the present day. If you aren’t inclined to listen when your mama tries to school you about how to behave, you better not pull that shit with Mavis.
That’s not everything on the list from 1971, but it’s enough for today.
Recommended Reading: I think I’ve mentioned the Daily Mirror before—it’s an online feature of the Los Angeles Times that reprints old stories, columns, and photos from the paper’s archives. Yesterday it featured a fascinating column by music critic Robert Hilburn, written in the runup to the 1981 Grammy Awards. Grim as this year’s list of nominees seemed to me, 1981 may have been grimmer, dominated by Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and Christopher Cross, the eventual big winner. (That year represented the nadir for Record of the Year nominees: “The Rose” by Bette Midler, “Lady” by Kenny Rogers, Sinatra’s “New York New York” and Streisand’s “Woman in Love,” and “Sailing” by Cross, the eventual winner—the dullest and most uninspired set Grammy ever yakked up.)
Our friend Jason Hare found a great artifact over at Buzzfeed—five-second snippets of every Billboard Number-One single from 1955 through 1992, edited into a two-part audio montage. The thing runs about 74 minutes, but once you start listening, it won’t seem nearly that long.