Steve Braunias leads a special Spinoff investigation into fresh claims that 1971 was the greatest year in music ever.
David Hepworth makes the fairly audacious but sustained and kind of also really persuasive argument in his new book 1971: Never A Dull Moment that 1971 was the greatest year in the history of popular music. “I’m right,” he announces in the introduction. He then files fascinating chapters on Sly Stone, Carole King, T Rex, “Sweet Jane”, Led Zep, “Working Class Hero”, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, “Brown Sugar”, The Carpenters, Can, Modern Lovers, “Willin’”, Songs of Love and Hate, The Yes Album, Hunky Dory, and that year’s most stoned and beautiful album, If Only I Could Remember My Name by David Crosby.
Awesome book. Interesting argument. But does it stand up in New Zealand? What kind of year was 1971 for local music? Was it our “annus mirabalis” “exceptional”, “seismic”, as Hepworth describes the year in his book?
The Spinoff Review of Books and Music investigated.
Was 1971 the greatest year in New Zealand music?
The annual Loxene Golden Disc Award was the biggest thing in New Zealand music for about five or six years. It took the shape of a wildly popular TV show which resulted in the best tracks being recorded on a wildly popular album; in 1971, the LP featured the classic cover art of a faceless dude with a moustache playing a guitar that if you could hear it would probably sound like the kind of psychedelic freak-out that would BLOW YOUR MIND.
“Angelina”, by Featherston band The Kal-Q-Lated-Risk. A brilliant slow groove with sneaky little bursts of wah-wah guitar and a big, confident vocal. The song was also covered by UK glam band Slade, who did it harder and more kick-ass, but this version is a lot funkier and cooler. The argument is looking good!
“Garden of Your Smile”, by The Rumour. Forgettable ditty by the great Shade Smith, who now lives in Waihi. That guy wrote some classics. This limp little hippie anthem isn’t one of them. The argument is looking bad.
“People are People”, by good old Ray Columbus, and written by the aforementioned Shade Smith. This is more like it from Shade; the music’s pretty awful, and over-produced, but the lyrics are something else. “People are people,” sings Columbus, “whatever they get on payday!” Right on, man! “People are people,” he adds, “whatever they eat for breakfast!” What? The argument is looking sort of okay.
“Come to the Sabbat”, by Timberjack of Wellington. Incredible song. It’s got Satan in it! “I must learn the Secret Art…Discard your clothes…Bodies soaked in secret oils….Come to the Sabbat – Satan’s there!” Jesus! There’s a lot of evil chanting and a malevolent drum. The whole thing is diabolical and outrageous, and that’s even without the video which actually shows A NAKED WOMAN WALKING AROUND THE WOODS IN MT VICTORIA! IN 1971! Awesome song, as dark if not as heavy as anything by Black Sabbath when they had a Satan worshipping phase; the argument is looking fucking solid.
“Say a Prayer” by The Chapta. Wimps from Christchurch doing an awful ballad. The argument isn’t standing up bro.
“Stand by Your Man”, by Suzanne. Tired version of the Tammy Wynette hit. The argument sucks.
“Learning ‘bout Living”, by Farmyard. It’s got jaunty whistling in it and a dick singing like a country yokel, “I had my share of women!” A light-hearted comedy song that’s not remotely funny. The argument totally sucks.
“Smiley”, by Craig Scott, who now sells real estate in Arrowtown, but in 1971 was a hirsute and harmless pop idol – yet he dared, on this incredible piece of music, to deliver an anti-Vietnam War protest song. “You’re off to the Asian war…Feel the tension in the air!”, he sings, and the music, expertly arranged by Garth Young, who now enjoys the good life in the Cook Islands, is complex and sophisticated, with sweet harmonies next to military drumming and fairground pianos. Bizarre and brilliant. The argument stands!
“Hey Boys” by The Hamilton County Bluegrass Band. Hamilton, so much to answer for. This country romp is standard by-the-numbers light ent. The argument is falling down again.
“Alright in the City”, by The Quincy Conserve. This is a fucking masterpiece, one of the funkiest tracks ever laid down anywhere, ever, with the late Malcolm Hayman’s rasping vocal over a brass riff, scorching guitars, badass bass solos, and the great Rufus Rehu contributing subtle keyboard flourishes. The argument has been won. Unless the next two songs are complete shit.
“Today I Killed A Man I Didn’t Know”, by Nash Chase, a Māori guy from Taihape. Just because a song has an anti-Vietnam War message doesn’t mean it’s cool. This over-produced ballad is, in fact, complete shit.
“Monday”, by Hogsnort Rupert. This isn’t complete shit. It’s worse than that, a novelty song by the worst musical comedy act in entertainment history. It’s a complete embarrasment.
The jury deliberates
On one hand, the awfulness of Hogsnort Rupert and Farmyard; on the other hand, the amazingness of Quincy Conserve, Craig Scott, The Kal-Q-Lated Risk, and Timberjack who filmed a video of A NAKED WOMAN IN THE WOODS IN MT VICTORIA! IN 1971!
Was 1971 the greatest year in the history of New Zealand popular music?
1971: Never A Dull Moment (Bantam Press, $70) by David Hepworth is available at Unity Books.
The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books.