1973: The greatest year for music ever?
Other than the last four months of it, all of my teenage years were spent in the 1970s.
That makes me a bit of an expert on the decade and completely biased about the fact that the greatest music ever made was created in the ’70s.
Maybe it’s because my generation listened to music with powerful amplifiers and stereo speakers that would eat up a large portion of a dorm room’s square footage. These were made-in-America speakers made of hardwood and steel, featuring a variety of woofers, tweeters and midrange cones.
When I see college kids today listening to music with tiny ear buds or through pathetic computer speakers, it makes me want to cry. No wonder they think “Harlem Shake” is good music. Their speakers are too inferior for them to hear it for the unlisten-able garbage that it really is (plus, this current No. 1 hit appears to be a dance song for people who can’t dance).
Recently, there have been some articles about this month being the 40th anniversary of the release of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Apart from it being one of the best albums of all time to listen to with headphones (quality headphones, not ear buds), it also holds the record for the most weeks spent on the Billboard Top 200 list.
From 1976 to 1988, the album spent 591 consecutive weeks in the Top 200. Counting the time it spent there before and after the consecutive streak, it has spent a total of 741 weeks in the Top 200.
Match that, Bruno Mars.
You could make a case that this is the 40th anniversary of the greatest year of all time in recorded music.
Pink Floyd was not the only British rock band to put its stamp on 1973. No, it was also the year that saw the release of The Who’s “Quadrophenia,” The Rolling Stones’ “Goats Head Soup,” Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy,” The Faces’ “Ooh La La,” The Kinks’ “Preservation Act 1,” Traffic’s “Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory,” David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” and Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”
The Beatles had broken up four years earlier, but that didn’t mean the Fab Four weren’t keeping busy. All four ex-Beatles released albums in 1973, and Paul McCartney and Wings actually put out two that year: the exquisite “Band on the Run” and the underrated “Red Rose Speedway.” Ringo Starr released “Starr,” which featured the songs, “Photograph” and “You’re Sixteen,” two of his biggest solo hits. George Harrison released “Living in the Material World” in 1973, which included “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” and the remarkable title track. And John Lennon released “Mind Games” with its timeless title track.
As psychedelic sounding as “Dark Side of the Moon” was, it barely scratched the surface when it came to trippy albums released by the Brits in 1973.
King Crimson’s “Lark Tongues in Aspic,” Yes’ “Tales of Topographic Oceans,” Genesis’ “Selling England by the Pound,” Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” Electric Light Orchestra’s “On the Third Day” and Roxy Music’s “For Your Pleasure” and “Stranded” all pushed the limits of the electric rock genre that year.
On this side of the pond, 1973 produced some mind-bending rock, as well. Frank Zappa’s “Over-Nite Sensation” and Todd Rundgren’s “A Wizard/A True Star” sound as delightfully weird today as they did four decades ago. And Steely Dan’s “Countdown to Ecstasy,” with songs, such as “My Old School” and “Bodhisattva,” truly blended pop, rock and jazz.
But it wasn’t just electric rock music that was enjoying a heyday in 1973. Blues rock, Southern rock and country rock were all hitting their stride that year.
Some of the albums hitting the record racks in those genres included Gram Parson’s “GP,” Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken,” the Allman Brothers’ “Brothers and Sisters,” The Byrds’ “The Byrds,” Johnny Winter’s “Still Alive and Well,” The Eagles’ “Desperado,” Arlo Guthrie’s “Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys,” Jimmy Buffett’s “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean,” Bob Dylan’s “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” ZZ Top’s “Tres Hombres,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Pronounced,” New Riders of the Purple Sage’s “The Adventures of Panama Red,” Greg Allman’s “Laid Back,” John Prine’s “Sweet Revenge,” Bonnie Raitt’s “Takin’ My Time,” and Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen’s “Country Casanova.” Whew.
Rhythm and blues and soul were genres that were going through a transition in 1973. The Motown sound of the Supremes and the Temptations was giving way to a more revolutionary style of music.
Soul discs released that year included Stevie Wonder’s “Inner Visions,” James Brown’s “Black Caesar,” Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Neither One of Us,” Al Green’s “Call Me,” The Isley Brothers’ “3+3,” Ike and Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits,” Sly and the Family Stone’s “Fresh,” Curtis Mayfield’s “Back to the World,” Isaac Hayes’ “Joy” and Marvin Gaye’s miraculous “Let’s Get It On.”
Jazz was another genre that was entering a transition period in the early 1970s. Electric guitars were infusing some rock elements into the genre and one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time, John McLaughlin, produced two albums in 1973 with his Mahavishnu Orchestra: “Birds of Fire” and “Between Nothingness and Eternity.”
Another jazz highlight of 1973 was the release of Herbie Hancock’s “Head Hunters,” an organ-led masterpiece that has stood the test of time.
Many of the artists who are now enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (either the real one or the one in your music collection) made their debuts in 1973.
Bruce Springsteen released “Greetings from Asbury Park,” and Tom Waits released “Closing Time,” while Aerosmith, Tower of Power, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Queen, Foghat, the Marshall Tucker Band, the New York Dolls, 10cc, the Chi-Lites, Montrose, Ozark Mountain Daredevils and Camel all released self-titled debuts.
Other 1973 discs that deserve note, and are still being played regularly today (at least by this child of the ’70s) include Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Babies,” John Martyn’s “Solid Air,” the Doobie Brothers’ “The Captain and Me,” John Cale’s “Paris 1919,” Bob Marley’s “Catch A Fire,” Jethro Tull’s “A Passion Play,” Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle,” Family’s “It’s Only a Movie,” The Band’s “Moondog Matinee,” the Grateful Dead’s “Wake of the Flood,” Jackson Browne’s “For Everyman,” Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”
With all of these great titles released in one year, one would have to think that the following year, 1974, would be somewhat of a letdown. Not to worry, that year was just as notable, if not better. Stay tuned.