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Best Albums Of 1971: The 10 Most Influential Records Of The Year
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List & Guides

Best Albums Of 1971: The 10 Most Influential Records Of The Year

The ten best albums of 1971 shine a light on a pivotal 12-month spell responsible for numerous highlights in rock and pop music.

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In rock’n’roll terms, 1971 doesn’t have the cultural cachet of, say, 1967’s Summer Of Love or 1977’s Year Zero – the latter a period in which punk blazed a trail through both music and society. However, as Apple TV+’s eight-part docuseries 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything reveals, it was still a pivotal year for popular music – as the best albums of 1971 prove.

The new series was inspired by David Hepworth’s book, Never A Dull Moment: 1971 The Year Rock Exploded. The author is on record as saying the early 70s “were the most febrile and creative time in the entire history of popular music”, and that 1971 in particular was “the most innovative, most interesting and longest-resounding year of that era”. Having closely examined the evidence, we can only concur as we present the ten most influential albums of that year.

Listen to the best of the 70s here, and check out our 10 best albums of 1971, below.

10: Deep Purple: ‘Fireball’

Though not as revered as the preceding Deep Purple In Rock, Deep Purple’s fifth album, Fireball, was still a mighty statement of intent, with the no-holds-barred title track and the epic, Isaac Asimov-inspired The Mule both ranking among the best Deep Purple songs. The album topped the UK charts, repeated the trick in numerous European territories and even out-performed Deep Purple In Rock in the US. Future metal titans such as Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen have also pegged the record as a game-changer, so its inclusion among the best albums of 1971 really is mandatory.

Must hear: Fireball

9: Van Morrison: ‘Tupelo Honey’

Van Morrison’s fifth album, Tupelo Honey, is less celebrated than critics’ choices such as Astral Weeks or his mainstream breakthrough, Moondance, but it’s still a quiet triumph. With country stylings adding to the Belfast bard’s already broad palette of R&B, blue-eyed soul and Celtic folk, the album reflected the domestic bliss Morrison enjoyed with former wife Janet “Planet” Rigsbee before he relocated to California’s Marin County. It also yielded two hit singles courtesy of Wild Night and the hymnal title track – not to mention a gold disc in the US.

Must hear: Tupelo Honey

8: Pink Floyd: ‘Meddle’

Even before 1973’s game-changing The Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd were established as one of the prog-rock underground’s biggest draws. Though entering the 70s without their talismanic co-founder Syd Barrett, they topped the UK album chart with 1970’s Atom Heart Mother, and arguably bettered it with 1971’s Meddle, which featured life-long fan favourites such as the menacing One Of These Days, the atypically gentle A Pillow Of Winds and the hypnotic, 23-minute epic, Echoes. Rolling Stone’s review perhaps nailed it best, declaring that the album “states forcefully and accurately that the group is well into the growth track again”.

Must hear: Echoes

7: The Rolling Stones: ‘Sticky Fingers’

The Rolling Stones’ ninth album, Sticky Fingers, wasn’t just one of the best albums of 1971, it was a defining moment in the group’s long-running career. Housed in its famous zipper-clad, Andy Warhol-designed sleeve, it was the band’s first post-Decca release on their own Rolling Stones Records, and it took Mick Jagger and co right back to the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. The record kicked off with its signature hit, the ageless Brown Sugar, but even lesser-celebrated tracks such as the sarcastic, country-flecked Dead Flowers, the chilling Sister Morphine and the glorious Moonlight Mile showed the Stones had no intention of surrendering to the new decade’s young pretenders anytime soon…

Must hear: Brown Sugar

6: David Bowie: ‘Hunky Dory’

… Coming for the Stones’ crown, however, was David Bowie. Such was the stratospheric level of success he attained with 1972’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders Of Mars, the album eclipsed virtually everything he’d previously recorded. Consequently, it was only after the dust settled a little that Bowie’s preceding title, Hunky Dory, achieved chart success and became appreciated as one of 1971’s most enduring releases. It did, however, receive an especially perceptive NME review in December of that year (“It’s very possible that this will be the most important album from an emerging artist in 1972, because he’s not following trends – he’s setting them”), and its best songs (Changes, Queen Bitch, the cinematic Life On Mars?) have long since enshrined Hunky Dory’s classic status.

Must hear: Life On Mars?

5: Alice Cooper: ‘Love It To Death’

Thanks to their theatrical and highly entertaining live shows, Alice Cooper (both the man and the band) built a sizable following on the local Detroit scene on the cusp of the 70s, but they only came into their own on wax with their third album, Love It To Death. Trailed by the US Top 30 hit I’m Eighteen, the album also included evergreen Cooper favourites such as Caught In A Dream and Black Juju, and it smashed into the US Top 40, where it established itself as one of the best albums of 1971. Later going platinum, Love It To Death was hailed as an inspiration by punk trailblazers Sex Pistols, who wrote Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols’ classic Seventeen in response to I’m Eighteen.

Must hear: I’m Eighteen

4: The Who: ‘Who’s Next’

It’s been well-documented that Pete Townshend intended to follow Tommy with an even more ambitious rock opera called Lifehouse: an elaborate affair with a script that hinted at the coming of what we now know as the internet. However, after even those closest to the band admitted it was too elaborate, Townshend reluctantly dropped the idea and concentrated on simply making a new studio album. It turned out to be exactly the right call, as all four members of The Who brought their A-game to Who’s Next: a barnstorming rock record featuring the likes of Baba O’Riley, Behind Blue Eyes and Won’t Get Fooled Again. Not just one of 1971’s greatest albums, Who’s Next is arguably The Who’s finest achievement.

Must hear: Won’t Get Fooled Again

3: The Doors: ‘LA Woman’

As Jim Morrison never returned from the ill-fated Paris sojourn which occupied the final few months of his life, we’ll never definitively know whether LA Woman was meant to be the final album from the group’s classic line-up. Setting that mystery aside, it was a hell of a record, with the whole band excelling on top-drawer material ranging from the chilling blues of Cars Hiss By My Window to the seductive pop of Love Her Madly and the glorious denouement of Riders On The Storm. Unquestionably one of the best albums of 1971, LA Woman still sounds potent, poetic and enviably fresh.

Must hear: Riders On The Storm

2: Joni Mitchell: ‘Blue’

Arguably the most fêted singer-songwriter of her generation, Joni Mitchell had already turned heads with Clouds and Ladies Of The Canyon as the 60s gave way to the 70s. However, her career-best arguably arrived in June 1971 with Blue: an intimate treatise on relationships and their numerous vicissitudes which Mitchell put together after she broke up with Graham Nash and embarked on an intense new romance with another rising star, James Taylor. Featuring classics such as River and A Case Of You, Blue went platinum and continues to be showered with plaudits, with The New York Times referring to it as “one of the turning points and pinnacles in 20th century popular music”.

Must hear: A Case Of You

1: Led Zeppelin: Untitled Fourth Album (aka “Led Zeppelin IV”)

All the records in this list of the best albums of 1971 made a hefty imprint, but one album bestrode the year like a colossus. Though technically untitled, Led Zeppelin’s fourth album is still better known as “Led Zeppelin IV” and remains the legendary hard rock act’s greatest success, eventually going on to move an estimated 37 million copies. Recorded primarily on location at Headley Grange in rural Hampshire, and first released on 8 November 1971, it features some of the band’s most storied material, including Black Dog, the ubiquitous Stairway To Heaven and a swaggering reinterpretation of the Memphis Minnie blues standard When The Levee Breaks.

Must Hear: When the Levee Breaks

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