It’s only when scouring the internet that it suddenly becomes apparent the sheer wealth of musical content out there. Scratch the surface, and you will find a plethora of pop songs, some of which may have broken into or even topped the charts, that have completely passed by a new generation of listeners. But, as younger audiences continue to look to the past for their musical nourishment, it seems likely that a new audience will make more and more excavations. If that’s the case, consider this playlist the first shovel into the dirt.
We’ve looked through our libraries and picked out fifty of the best songs from 1971. It may seem like a recent memory to some of us, but five decades have passed since the debauched decade, and that means some songs have been lost to the wind. We’re doing our best to try and bring a little of that retro flavour back into our musical palettes by collating fifty of the greatest tracks from the year, all as part of one handy playlist. Expect to see additions from John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye and Carole King to make this reem of songs completely unforgettable.
1971 was a good year for music. No matter where you looked, there was an artist establishing themselves as iconic or a breakthrough act defining a budding new genre. It makes picking a playlist of fifty of the best songs extremely difficult. Artists such as David Bowie released the landmark album Hunky Dory, his first real success story, while The Beatles had broken up and were all contributing their own records to the reeling music scene, an industry still fleeing the swinging sixties. With that in mind, we’ve put in one proviso for our playlist: no double entries for bands or artists.
Therefore, you can forget thinking that John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ will appear because we’ve already picked the infinitely better song ‘Jealous Guy’. Likewise, all of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and a fair chunk of Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate could equally be up for contention, instead, their songs ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ make it in respectively. It’s a neat trick that opens up some space for some less explored artists and genres.
Though rock and roll was still the hottest ticket around, by 1971, different opportunities for genre exploration had opened up, meaning acts like Funkadelic and The Jackson Five could move along the Motown sound into something more original. We also get to see the opening moments of entire sonic structures being erected. From Marvin Gaye establishing himself as quite possibly the world greatest male vocalist, a fight we’re sure he would have endured with Bill Withers, to Black Sabbath cementing their heavy metal sound.
Within the playlist, there are also some bonafide timeless anthems. Of course, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ makes it on to the list, despite being disliked by the band. Likewise, Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ and Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ deserve their spot. But we’d also implore you to pay special attention to artists such as Karen Dalton and Jean Knight, who never truly gained the respect they deserve.
Check out the fifty best songs of 1971 below in one handy playlist. But, just remember, think of this as just one part of your musical education on this year. 12 months may seem like a short time, but a lot of great music was released within that year and the below is just a fraction of it.
50 best songs released in 1971:
- ‘Jealous Guy’ – John Lennon
- ‘Stairway To Heaven’ – Led Zeppelin
- ‘Let’s Stay Together’ – Al Green
- ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ – Janis Joplin
- ‘Changes’ – David Bowie
- ‘Bang A Gong’ – T. Rex
- ‘Riders on the Storm’ – The Doors
- ‘Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers
- ‘What’s Going On’ – Marvin Gaye
- ‘Family Affair’ – Sly and The Family Stone
- ‘American Pie’ – Don McLean
- ‘Your Song’ – Elton John
- ‘Mr. Big Stuff’ – Jean Knight
- ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ – James Taylor
- ‘Case of You’ – Joni Mitchell
- ‘Spanish Harlem’ – Aretha Franklin
- ‘Another Day’ – Paul McCartney
- ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ – Leonard Cohen
- ‘Don’t Knock My Love’ – Wilson Pickett
- ‘Baba O’Riley’ – The Who
- ‘Statesboro Blues’ – Allman Brothers Band
- ‘Echoes’ – Pink Floyd
- ‘If You Really Love Me’ – Stevie Wonder
- ‘Wild Horses’ – The Rolling Stones
- ‘Maggot Brain’ – Funkadelic
- ‘Without You’ – Harry Nilsson
- ‘Just My Imagination’ – The Temptations
- ‘Maggie May’ – Rod Stewart
- ‘It’s Too Late’ – Carole King
- ‘My Sweet Lord’ – George Harrison
- ‘I’m Still Waiting’ – Diana Ross
- ‘Did You Ever’ – Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood
- ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ – Ringo Starr
- ‘I’ll Be There’ – The Jackson Five
- ‘No Matter What’ – Badfinger
- ‘Stoned Love’ – The Supremes
- ‘The Night We Drove Old Dixie Down’ – Joan Baez
- ‘Strange Kind of Woman’ – Deep Purple
- ‘Fallin’ Rain’ – Link Wray
- ‘Something on Your Mind’ – Karen Dalton
- ‘Move on Up’ – Curtis Mayfield
- ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ – John Denver
- ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’ – Creedence Clearwater Revival
- ‘Do You Know What I Mean’ – Lee Michaels
- ‘Superstar’ – The Carpenters
- ‘Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get’ – The Dramatics
- ‘She’s A Lady’ – Tom Jones
- ‘Cause’ – Rodriguez
- ‘Children of the Grave’ – Black Sabbath
- ‘Long Promised Road’ – The Beach Boys