Life at 33 1/3: The album classics of 1970

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Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin III (Atlantic) – Released: October 5, 1970.

In October 1970 a crestfallen 18 year old was wondering if he had bought a pig in a poke.  “Immigrant Song,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “Tangerine” were the only tracks justifying the album’s existence, I thought then – and returned to “Since I’ve Been Loving You” to soothe my disappointment.  Luckily, when you were young and poor, like most teenagers were at the time, there was no turning back.  If you bought an album you were stuck with it, so you you kept on playing it.  And slowly “Led Zeppelin III” started making sense.

“Out On The Tiles” was the first track that crept up on me, turning my favourite trio of songs into a quartet.  Then came “Gallows Pole”, and with that my appreciation for the acoustic soundscapes and quirky time signatures that characterise much of the album.

I do not remember exactly when the pieces fell into place, but some time during spring 1971 I realised that “Led Zeppelin III” had turned into my favourite Zeppelin-LP.  And if that wasn’t enough, the sequel even though it included the iconic “Stairway To Heaven”, failed to dethrone “Led Zeppelin III”.  44 years on it still sounds as fresh and full of life.

Contents: Immigrant Song/Friends/Celebration Day/Since I’ve Been Loving You/Out on the Tiles/Gallows Pole/Tangerine/That’s the Way/Bron-Y-Aur Stomp/Hats Off to (Roy) Harper

The Who, Live At Leeds (Track) – Released: May 16, 1970

The greatest live album of all time, warts and all.  Recorded on an extremely inspired evening at Leeds University on February 14, 1970.  The original release was the tip of the iceberg, as later deluxe editions have included the complete 33 song program (plus the Hull concert recorded the following night), but I still prefer the 6 track vinyl version.

The full “Tommy” performance drags on a bit, and the best bits are neatly incorporated into the 14 minute magnificent showstopper “My Generation” anyway.  These 6 tracks are like hand-picked cherries and capture The Who in their absolute prime.  A tour-de-force of maximum R & B, so powerful and thunderous it is hard to grasp that this wave of noise was created by just three instruments and a singer.

The brutally rolling bass-lines of John Entwistle interlocks with the chaotic brilliance of drummer Keith Moon, providing Pete Townshend with the perfect foundation for his monster riffs, tortured solo-runs and howling feedback.  On top of that you got the roaring voice of Roger Daltrey.  The Stones’ “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out” (also released in 1970) pales in comparison.

Contents: Young Man Blues/Substitute/Summertime Blues/Shakin’ All Over/My Generation/Magic Bus

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass (Apple) – Released: November 27, 1970

The quiet Beatle steps out of the shadows of John and Paul and delivers an impressive horn of plenty.  Some of the strongest tracks fell on deaf ears when introduced to The Beatles during the recording of “Let It Be” and “Abbey Road”.  What were they thinking?

This triple album (actually a double album of songs plus a bonus album of disposable jams) turned George into the coolest and most successful ex-Beatle for a while.  It still sounds as good as anything John and Paul did solo.

Contents: I’d Have You Anytime/My Sweet Lord/Wah-Wah/Isn’t It a Pity/What Is Life/If Not for You/Behind That Locked Door/Let It Down/Run of the Mill/Beware of Darkness/Apple Scruffs/Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)/Awaiting on You All/All Things Must Pass/I Dig Love/Art of Dying/Isn’t It a Pity/Hear Me Lord/Out of the Blue/It’s Johnny’s Birthday/Plug Me In/I Remember Jeep/Thanks for the Pepperoni

Neil Young, After The Goldrush (Reprise) – Released: August 31, 1970

The songs produce a strange mixture of happiness and sorrow, there’s mystery and dreams, a longing for a sanctuary that tastes of summer, meadows and girls with sun in their hair, but there is a scary undercurrent of doom here that won’t let go as dark clouds approach from the horizon.

“After The Gold Rush” is the soundtrack to the young generation who had just grown out of the 60’s and stood outside the gate, luggage in hand, with no idea whatsoever of where to go in a world so cruel.  They had rock music, and it truly was their property as both performers and listeners were of the same age, and now the performers found themselves outside the same gate.  A shared experience.  We were all heading for the great unknown.  A unique moment in history that will never repeat.

All you people who arrived later can appreciate the music of course, it is there for everybody, no matter how old or young you are.  But there was a time.  We’ll always have Paris.  Here’s looking at you, kids.

Contents: Tell Me Why/After the Gold Rush/Only Love Can Break Your Heart/Southern Man/Till the Morning Comes/Oh Lonesome Me/Don’t Let It Bring You Down/Birds/When You Dance I Can Really Love/I Believe in You/Cripple Creek Ferry

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Cosmo’s Factory (Fantasy) – Released: July 25, 1969

There’s nothing snobby about Creedence Clearwater Revival.  They are all lumberjack shirts and electric guitars with a solid roots awareness sprinkled with John Fogerty’s obsessions with the Mississippi river and the swamps around New Orleans.  And never did they do this stuff better than on “Cosmo’s Factory”, the group’s absolute masterpiece.

Fogerty drops his markers all over the thing; he does some extremely potent covers of Bo Diddley, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley and Marvin Gaye-tunes – and name drops Buck Owens for good measure.  It’s the entire American heritage distilled, spiced up with some testosterone and thrown back on the market with a cheer in its chest.

The album celebrates freedom, integrity and the joys of life, the essence of rock’n’roll, and updates it without dressing up in strange costumes (and drum solos).

Contents: Ramble Tamble/Before You Accuse Me/Travelin’ Band/Ooby Dooby/Lookin’ Out My Back Door/Run Through The Jungle/Up Around The Bend/My Baby Left Me/Who’ll Stop The Rain/I Heard It Through The Grapevine/Long As I Can See The Light

Simon & Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water (Columbia/CBS) – Released: January 26, 1970

You can’t avoid this one even if it turned into a MOR monster.  It contains some of Paul Simon’s greatest songs, and Art Garfunkel never surpassed his angelical contribution to them, especially on the exceptional title track.

Contents: Bridge Over Troubled Water/El Condor Pasa (If I Could)/Cecilia/Keep the Customer Satisfied/So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright/The Boxer/Baby Driver/The Only Living Boy in New York/Why Don’t You Write Me/Bye Bye Love/Song for the Asking

Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath (Vertigo) – Released: February 13, 1970

The thunder, the rain, the chiming church bells, a fantastic introduction to the dark world of heavy metal.  Black Sabbath arrived with this one, and everything fits – the sleeve, the voice of Ozzy, the fuzzy drone of Tony Iommi’s guitar, the muscular power of bass and drums.  A delight.

Contents: Black Sabbath/The Wizard/Behind the Wall of Sleep/N.I.B./Evil Woman/Sleeping Village/The Warning

The Beatles, Let It Be (Apple) – Released: May 8, 1970

It might well be their weakest effort, but it does have three classic number one hits on it, and the rest isn’t that bad either; try the redemptive “Two Of Us” for a start.  In the Beatle universe even lacklustre means great.

Contents: Two of Us/Dig a Pony/Across the Universe/I Me Mine/Dig It/Let It Be/Maggie Mae/I’ve Got a Feeling/One After 909/The Long and Winding Road/For You Blue/Get Back

Derek & The Dominos, Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (Polydor) – Relaesed: November, 1970

Eric Clapton went undercover, assembled a bunch of musicians around him and started recording this fabulous mix of electric blues and rock.  When Duane Allman checked in it took off big time.

Contents: I Looked Away/Bell Bottom Blues/Keep on Growing/Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out/I Am Yours/Anyday/Key to the Highway/Tell the Truth/Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?/Have You Ever Loved a Woman/Little Wing/It’s Too Late/Layla/Thorn Tree in the Garden

Grateful Dead: American Beauty (Warner Brothers) – Released: 1. November, 1970

“The Working Man’s Dead” and “American Beauty” were both released in 1970 and are the band’s most accessible albums by far.  Bluegrass, country, folk and rock’n’roll, it’s all here in a delightful mix.

Contents: Box of Rain/Friend of the Devil/Sugar Magnolia/Operator/Candyman/Ripple/Brokedown Palace/Till the Morning Comes/Attics of My Life/Truckin’