Nicole Herhusky | KCPR
Nicole Herhusky | KCPR

Some of the most influential works of music came out in 1971 and I find myself revisiting these albums constantly. I just wanted to wish a happy 50th birthday to a collection of albums that shaped music (and me) with their innovation, storytelling and artistry.

Again, these are in no particular order because I’m so indecisive and could never rank such raw talent:

  1. Pearl – Janis Joplin 

Few people had vocals like Joplin, in fact, no one did. “Pearl” is her greatest album and highlights her stunning voice and intense passion through every track. Joplin’s album showcases why her legacy has withstood the tests of time and inspires so many musicians today. 

Listen To: “Crybaby,” “A Woman Left Lonely” and “Get it While You Can”

  1. Nantucket Sleighride – Mountain 

Mountain often goes unrecognized and are known best for their track “Mississippi Queen.” However, this album showcases their ability to produce a cohesive set that combined rock, blues and psych. They performed at Woodstock and this album is reminiscent of the music played there.

Listen To: “The Great Train Robbery,” “Nantucket Sleighride (To Owen Coffin)” and “Tired Angels”

  1. Carly Simon – Carly Simon 

This was Simon’s debut album and it showcased her unique style, that ended up shaping folk rock entirely. It’s filled with bluesy, jaunty instrumentals that pair beautifully with her voice.

Listen To: “Rolling Down the Hills,” “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be” and “Another Door”

  1. Tapestry – Carole King 

Few artists had the lyrical ability of King. She’s responsible for some of the most covered songs of all time and wrote for a plethora of other artists. However, it’s her own album “Tapestry” that is indicative of her talent. She was a pioneer of folk and is regarded highly  by artists today. 

Listen To: “I Feel the Earth Move,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “It’s Too Late”

  1. LA Woman – The Doors 

Jim Morrison’s haunting vocals make this album so unique and one of The Doors’ best. Each song feels like its own performance and breathes so much life into the listener. It’s easy to envision a setting for every song and this album always transports me whenever I listen. 

Listen To: “Riders on the Storm,” “Hyacinth House” and “Crawling King Snake”

  1. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye 

This was one of the defining albums of Gaye’s career and the decade in general. “What’s Going On” is emblematic of the smooth soulful ballads that shaped soul, r&b and, eventually, hip hop. This album contains Gaye’s political and social commentary of the times, which produced deeply meaningful songs.

Listen To: “Inner City Blues,” “What’s Happenin’ Brother” and “Flyin High”

  1. Just As I Am – Bill Withers 

As one of the most remarkable voices of soul, Withers’s debut album highlights his vocal ability and the vulnerability that he expresses throughout all of his music. Not many artists can move me in the way that Withers does and this album is exemplary of his talents. 

Listen To: “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Better off Dead” and “Hope She’ll Be Happier”

  1. Blue – Joni Mitchell 

Arguably one of the greatest albums of all time, and a massive influence on music, “Blue” is one that means so much to me. Few artists can or could convey the raw vulnerability and storytelling that Mitchell does, which was often backed by just a single instrument. If I were to rank these albums, this would be #1. Listen to “Little Green” and it’ll make sense why.

Listen To: “Blue,” “Little Green” and “California”

  1. At Fillmore East – The Allman Brothers 

Filled with hard hitting blues guitar riffs and several ten plus minute tracks that have one of the greatest guitar solos of all time, “At Fillmore East” is the epitome of the classic rock sound that materialized in the 70’s. 

Listen To: “Whipping Post,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Stormy Monday”

  1. Maggot Brain – Funkadelic 

This album seamlessly blended soul and funk over smooth instrumentals. It was an earlier body of work to defy genres, making it playable 50 years later. It’s opening track is a breathtaking ten minute guitar solo by Eddie Hazel that immortalizes this album.

Listen To: “I Miss My Baby,” “Can You Get to That” and “Maggot Brain”

  1. Master of Reality – Black Sabbath 

This is an exemplary and defining album for the emergence of heavy metal. There are some heavier cuts, paired with mellow guitar interludes, that make “Master of Reality” a unique and surprising listen. 

Listen To: “Solitude,” “After Forever” and “Into the Void”

  1. Imagine – John Lennon 

Besides “Plastic Ono Band,” this is Lennon’s best body of solo work due to his songwriting capabilities being paired with his honest and vulnerable perspectives on the nature of relationships and his take on society. The album birthed perhaps one of the most well known songs of all time (“Imagine”), proving the longevity of Lennon as an artist.

Listen To: “Jealous Guy,” “Oh My Love” and “How?”

  1. Labelle – Labelle 

Another debut album from a groundbreaking group, Patti Labelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash produced a flawless funk and soul album with early sounds of disco. Patti Labelle delivers unbelievable vocal performances and, when paired with Hendryx’s songwriting and Dash’s backups, the trio never missed. 

Listen To: “Too Many Days,” “Heart Be Still” and “Shades of Difference”

  1. Electric Warrior – T Rex 

I think this album gets overlooked amongst all the masterpieces in this list. However, this was an album that incorporated numerous genres to create a stunning set of work. Listening to this album start to finish, all at once, is a bucket list experience.

Listen To: “Monolith,” “Girl” and “Planet Queen”

  1. Coat of Many Colors – Dolly Parton 

“Coat of Many Colors” is one of Parton’s earlier works, trademarked with her unique twang and charm and is one of the most influential country albums of all time. Parton’s voice paired with jaunty instrumentals make this a fun and necessary listen.

Listen To: “Coat of Many Colors,” “Traveling Man” and “Here I Am”

  1. American Pie – Don Mclean 

1971 was certainly a year for debut albums and Don Mclean was no exception. This album is obviously known for Mclean’s breakout track “American Pie,” but also consists of some beautifully, poignant deeper cuts. McLean’s soft vocals, over stripped down guitar instrumentals, make this album a raw and comforting listen.

Listen To: “Till Tomorrow,” “Vincent” and “Empty Chairs”

  1. Roots – Curtis Mayfield 

Full of well put political commentary, Mayfield continues to find his voice which was so bold coming off his debut album “Curtis.” Roots contains funk riddled instrumentals that captivate listeners to move, both mind and body. 

Listen To: “Get Down,” “Beautiful Brother of Mine” and “Now You’re Mine”

  1. “Madman Across the Water” – Elton John 

The second “Tiny Dancer” comes on, you know the entire album is going to be flawless. Not many artists have the soulful voice that John has, and this earlier album is filled with life. It is an album I’m truly able to derive joy from and it reminds me that one can always be moved by music.

Listen To: “Rotten Peaches,” “Razor Face” and “Goodbye”

  1. Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin 

This album features Led Zeppelin’s most famous track ever recorded – “Stairway to Heaven” – but holds some of their greatest songs. “Going to California,” was inspired by Joni Mitchell’s track “California,” off of “Blue.” The album cemented Led Zeppelin as one of the most successful and influential rock groups in history. 

Listen To: “Going to California,” “When the Levee Breaks” and “Black Dog”

  1. There’s a Riot Goin On – Sly & the Family Stone 

Full of some of the most entrancing bass hooks, “There’s a Riot Goin On” is the embodiment of funk. This is one of the albums that made me want to pick up bass, and, besides the amazing instrumentals, it is full of political commentary and thought provoking lyrics.

Listen To: “Poets,” “Africa Talks to You” and “Time”

  1. No Answer – Electric Light Orchestra 

This is the debut album by one of the groups that trail-blazed psychedelic rock. “No Answer” is a spectacle for your ears – if that makes any sense. Each track is full of orchestral swelling and the production quality for 1971 is astounding. This album is one of the most innovative bodies of work to emerge from the decade.

Listen To: “Mr. Radio,” “Loot at Me Now” and “Queen of the Hours”

  1. Hunky Dory – David Bowie 

This album was the one that quickly buckled down Bowie as one of the most legendary artists of all time. Few artists knew how to utilize piano instruments like Bowie and his unique vocals, in conjunction with almost showtune-esque instrumentals, made this album one of the most defining of the decade. 

Listen To: “Fill Your Heart,” “Queen Bitch” and “Song For Bob Dylan”

  1. Teaser and the Firecat – Yusuf and Cat Stevens 

Stevens’s soothing vocals over bare guitar and piano instrumentals make such simplicity seem like masterful artistry – which it is. The album has one of Stevens’ most popular tracks, “Morning Has Broken,” but contains tons of gems from one of the most influential folk artists of all time.

Listen To: “How Can I Tell You,” “Bitterblue” and “If I Laugh”

  1. Songs of Love and Hate – Leonard Cohen 

Cohen has one of the most unique voices in music and, while this album is tonally very dark, it is breathtakingly beautiful. The songs complement each other nicely and they are full of minor chords and wistful choruses. It is one of my personal favorite albums ever recorded. 

Listen To: “Famous Blue Raincoat,” “Love Calls You By Your Name” and “Last Year’s Man”

  1. Ram – Paul and Linda McCartney 

Lennon wasn’t the only one who’s solo career was taking off in 1971. With the help of his wife, Paul released one of his greatest non-Beatles works. Paul had a true gift for songwriting and this album contains a series of charming tracks with folkier instrumentals than his previous release “McCartney.”

Listen To: “Heart of The Country,” “The Back Seat of My Car” and “Dear Boy”

Honorable Mentions:

  1. “Sticky Fingers” – The Rolling Stones
  2. “The Cry of Love” – Jimi Hendrix
  3. “Who’s Next” – The Who
  4. “If I Could Only Remember My Name” – David Crosby
  5. “Pieces of a Man” – Gil Scott-Heron

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