Never a Dull Moment: 1971 – The Year That Rock Exploded
by David Hepworth
If there is a Rock and Roll Hell, an inner circle is devoted for old fans who insist on telling you how the music was so much better back in the day. You know the argument: musicians were more creative, the songs were better, etc.
David Hepworth, a veteran British music journalist in his mid-60s, has essentially written an entire book making this argument. Specifically, he says 1971 was pretty much the most innovative, explosive and awesome year of the rock era. Yet Never a Dull Moment isn’t an overbearing trip to purgatory. It’s fun, mostly.
Hepworth knows how to tell a story, be it about Motown mogul Berry Gordy’s reaction to Marvin Gaye’s landmark single What’s Going On (“the worst piece of crap I ever heard”) or the jet-set hippie excesses of Mick and Bianca Jagger’s wedding.
And, admittedly, Hepworth has a lot of material to work with. This was the year of Led Zeppelin IV, the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story and David Bowie’s Hunky Dory.
This also was the year of Who’s Next by The Who. Hepworth argues that the lead-off track, Baba O’Riley, propelled by that distinctive synthesiser riff and thundering power chords, is a high-water mark of an incredible year and a precursor to what would become known as arena rock.
Hepworth occasionally veers into get-off-my-lawn territory. He blithely dismisses punk as being mostly about nostalgia, and his assertion that the Rolling Stones did little musically interesting since 1971 might make you want to whap him on the head with the album sleeve for Some Girls.
But he memorably writes about troubled artists such as Karen Carpenter and Nick Drake. Drake was a shy upper-class kid whose particular talent was to be able to write and perform beautifully ethereal rock songs. His curse was being decades ahead of his time.
His music never got much exposure until late in the century when his indie-sounding songs showed up in a Volkswagen commercial and Hollywood movie soundtracks. By that time, he was long dead from an overdose of antidepressants.
Oh, and Elvis appears in this book, too. The King was past his prime in 1971, but Hepworth employs him as a sort of white-jumpsuited Ghost of Rock Future. In 1971, Elvis was taking the stage to the self-important strains of Also Sprach Zarathustra for shows in which fans paid high ticket prices to hear the hits and “bask in a precious moment of shared proximity” with their idol.
In other words, the sort of high-priced nostalgia shows the cool kids of 1971 have put on for decades now.