Following our ten vinyl picks from the 1960s, we move on to the following decade. Often dismissed as being a time when taste was forgotten, the 1970s were actually filled of brilliant music, with the LP format being exploited to its potential. This included a myriad of musical styles, including progressive, glam, stadium and punk rock, funk, reggae and disco adding to a rich melting pot of aural heaven.
For me, this was the hardest list to narrow down to just ten choices. As before, they are purely personal – the chances are I’d pick another ten if you asked me again – and the order is purely chronological. Some have been re-released, whilst others may only be found on the second hand market.
The Doors – LA Woman – released April 1971
Many pick The Doors self-titled debut album from four years earlier, but I have a particular taste for their blues-heavy swansong, which was finished after frontman Jim Morrison had made his fateful final move to Paris. Years of alcohol abuse hadn’t done much for the lizard king’s physique, but it curtained added authenticity to his voice, at its best delivering Been Down So Long and Crawling King Snake as well as the title track. The latter contained the famous line Mr Mojo risin’, an anagram of Jim Morrison, fuelling conspiracy theories about whether he had actually met his demise. The band’s unsettling psychedelia was still present in the mix, especially on L’america, and Riders on the Storm remains as familiar to casual fans as Light My Fire from the start of their career.
Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street – released May 1972
Also bringing the blues into the 1970s, the Rolling Stones delivered this wonderfully-sprawling double album that in parts sounds like one long amazing jam session. The stories behind Exile on Main Street are just as legendary; having decamped to France as tax exiles and recovering from addictions, the band ended up recording much of the album at night in a basement of a villa in the south of France, not too far from Marseille, which had a reputation at the time for drug-smuggling…Most of the Stones expected Keith Richards would not survive the experience, and it’s these extremes that brought out the best in the band. Don’t expect a barrage of hits; Tumbling Dice made the top ten, but this is much more than the sum of its parts. Even so, Loving Cup, Shine a Light and Happy, on which Richards provides the lead vocal, all remain popular live staples for the band.
Stevie Wonder – Innervisions – released August 1973
The Motown empire migrated from Detroit during the late 60s and for some, this freedom allowed their artistic abilities to flourish. In the case of Stevie Wonder, the singer of label classic Uptight immersed himself in new electronic sounds in New York, teaming up with musicians and producers Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff. Together they utilised the emerging synthesiser technology to create a series of revolutionary techno-funk albums, of which Innervisions was the third. Whilst the second of these, Talking Book, had Superstition, Innervisions is near-perfect from start to finish, taking in a variety of social issues, from drug abuse in opener Too High to an attack on President Nixon in He’s Misstra Know It All. There’s plenty of musical joy in the latin-tinged Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing and funked-up classic Higher Ground, but the stand-out track is Living For the City. In this tale of racial inequality, Stevie’s voice reaches genuine anger, allegedly because the producers deliberately shut down the synthesisers to stir up the singer’s emotions. Days after release, Wonder was seriously injured in a car accident, but would recover, recording further classics Fulfillingness’ First Finale and Songs in the Key of Life.
Wings – Band on the Run – released December 1973
Due to the looming shadow left by The Beatles, Wings are often dismissed when assessing the huge musical output of the 1970s. Certainly without John Lennon’s often cynical input, Paul McCartney’s songs could err on the sentimental side, but Band on the Run is possibly the finest post-Beatles production from any of the former fab four. It was recorded in Lagos amid band troubles and a robbery by knifepoint, which saw lyrics and demo tapes disappear. Bereft of a drummer and half of the guitar output, McCartney took on both instruments as well as his usual bass, the latter of which provides the driving force of Mrs Vandebilt. The title track and Jet are probably Wings’ finest singles, whilst Let Me Roll it recalls the bluesy rock of I Want You (She’s so Heavy) from Abbey Road. No Words also has a late Beatles-y feel, but this is a confident Macca, as also witnessed on closing track Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five, which comes with a grandiose title-track-reprising ending.
Tom Waits – The Heart of Saturday Night – Released October 1974
Tom Waits has never courted commercial success, but his 1970s output is amongst his most traditionally musical. His voice was at its most soulful then, and whilst it would continue to be ravaged by tobacco and alcohol, it’s always had an unconventionally rhythmic quality. Any of his LPs from this decade are great listens, especially late at night with a glass of wine or something stronger in hand, and are filled with humour to chase off any melancholy thoughts that the hour often brings. The title track pays tribute Jack Kerouac and is a definitive a statement of Waits’ style of the era as any; shaking off the stresses of the working week in order for some Saturday night gratification in a late night bar. The rest of the album could almost be described as ‘uneasy listening’ – it’s laid back, yet his brilliantly-written tales of hard-drinking and bottom-of-the-bottle laments demand your attention.
Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks – released January 1975
Though no longer the formidable force that he had been in the 1960s, Bob Dylan released one of his finest LPs the following decade. Once motivated by political dissent, this opus was fuelled, like many of the early 70s introspective artists, by personal circumstance. In this case it was estrangement from his then wife, making it the definitive break-up album, but that doesn’t mean it’s a depressing listen. Opener Tangled Up in Blue is one of the more familiar tracks from Dylan’s canon, but he saves his best vitriol for side one’s Idiot Wind, the album’s second-longest track and all the more glorious for it. The introspective feel is amplified by the instrumentation on Simple Twist of Fate, If You See Her, Say Hello and Buckets of Rain. Dylan has denied that the songs are autobiographical; nevertheless they portray a brutal honesty that assured Blood on the Tracks a deserved place in anyone’s collection.
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here – released September 1975
Dark Side of the Moon may be on most lists of definitive 1970s albums, and it’s certainly the first Pink Floyd LP I listened to, but the follow-up is, to my ears at least, the one I most return to. It was one the band agonised over as they experienced a creative and motivational slump following the huge success of their breakthrough recording. Disillusion, loss and absence recalled themes from Dark Side, especially the regret felt over leaving former frontman Syd Barrett behind on Shine On You Crazy Diamond, which bookends the album. The title track carries a similar message, and is one of the band’s more compact recordings, but Welcome to the Machine and Have a Cigar rail against the music business. The latter is wonderfully cynical, thanks to a masterful vocal delivery by Roy Harper, after the band felt Roger Waters was unable to effectively convey the message. The song ends with one of David Gilmour’s best guitar solos and a filter-sweep effect that provides the link to the title track.
David Bowie – Low – released January 1977
David Bowie had switched genres several times before, of course; from Anthony Newley-inspired English whimsy in the late 1960s to folk, glam rock and soul, he had garnered a reputation as a chameleonic presence in pop. Nothing, however, prepared his followers for Low, recorded in Berlin where he had absconded with Iggy Pop to overcome drug addiction. Teaming up with producers Tony Visconti and Brian Eno, half of the album is instrumental with synthetic soundscapes inspired by German acts Kraftwerk and Neu! as well as Eno’s own compositions. The opening side has just one familiar song from the Bowie catalogue; the sublime Sound and Vision, and a fresh, clean sound that looks to the future. It rankled with many critics and even before then, Bowie’s label RCA had tried to reject the album. Yet it inspired another two LPs, an Iggy Pop revival, assured Eno’s reputation as a producer and inspired countless bands for years to come. It’s also a terrific listen.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours – released February 1977
Whilst the UK was being taken over by Punk Rock, the Californian lifestyle continued to invade the charts, and no better example of this was the second release by the former British blues band. Since their eponymous release two years earlier, the soft rock Fleetwood Mac line-up was under threat of disintegrating as the two couples in the band split acrimoniously. Somehow they all held together, yet the conflicts came across on the recording; Stevie Nicks sang Dreams as a lament on her failed relationship with Lindsey Buckingham, who wrote the much more caustic Go Your Own Way in response. Meanwhile Christine McVie penned You Make Loving Fun about her new love, on which estranged husband John had to play bass. The whole band even managed collaboration on The Chain, which took on a whole new life as the soundtrack to hundreds of Formula One races. Remarkably, an existential threat to the band ended up keeping them recording and playing for decades since, even if the line-up is rarely the same.
The Clash – London Calling – released December 1979
Bursting out of London in 1976, Punk Rock lasted barely two years before imploding, but while the Sex Pistols collapsed under the weight of controversy, The Clash transcended the genre to become a worldwide stadium act. They did this without ‘selling out’ too, and London Calling is their manifesto for the future, simultaneously wearing their influences and embracing new styles. It almost a revue, where traditional rock and roll, including a cover of Brand New Cadillac, sits alongside reggae on Rudy Can’t Fail, R&B on Wrong ‘em Boyo, and a Phill Spector-style Wall of Sound on The Card Cheat. There’s plenty of political comment too, and 18 months before riots broke out, bassist Paul Simonon voiced the depth of feeling on Guns of Brixton. The title track, a call to arms itself, heralds the state of the nation whilst looking across the Atlantic for musical inspiration as the decade drew to a close.