1971 - The fireworks

31. July 2021

1971 Classic Rock Rockhistory

1971 - Das Feuerwerk

By 1971, the myths of the Sixties had faded, and a young, innovative rock scene was conquering the mainstream. It was an unprecedented creative spectacle: The musical balance sheet of 1971 contains more grandiose albums, unforgettable songs and promising newcomers than ever before or since. And: Rock music never had more of a future than at this unique moment in its history. How did it come about? And what were the consequences? A tour through a musical year that was as wonderful as it was wondrous

Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin - all dead, died one after the other within only 15 months since July 1969. The so optimistic awakening of the Swinging Sixties was over. Instead: Depression galore. Rock music had lost figureheads, and with the general disillusionment and the end of the Beatles in April 1970, it could even have come to an end itself. Just like ten years before: Around 1960 Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Chuck Berry had disappeared from the charts and from the scene, their rock'n'roll seemed to be filed away in the archives of pop history, file note "done". And Elvis was making schmaltz. At the time, there was nothing to suggest that this exciting intermezzo of the 1950s would have any consequences. Until the Beatles, Stones and their cohorts came along.

So a decade later it could have been similar. But the situation was different - culturally, socially, technically and musically. For what had blazed forth in the decade just past had been anything but a flash in the pan. On the contrary, never before had popular music reinvented itself in such a fundamental way. Never before had it been so deeply rooted in a general cultural upheaval, never before had it entered into such a close alliance with its youthful audience, and never before had it been so interlocked with a technological innovation thrust that opened up entirely new worlds for it. In the annus mirabilis of 1971, the seeds of this revolution were sown in a firework of masterful music. The motto: Long live Rock!

The Puppeteers

Of course, this was made possible by the musicians involved - but without a few clever men behind the scenes, they would hardly have found an appropriate hearing. For example Clive Davis, Peter Grant, Tony Defries and David Geffen. Hardly anyone knew their names, but as managers they made the puppets dance. They recognized the signs of the times, created new power structures and new rules of the game.
For example, Clive Davis, who studied political science. Anything but a newcomer, he was already 39 years old in 1971. At Columbia Records, he had risen to become the sole ruler, who now consistently focused on young rock music. His bandwagons in 1971 included stars like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Santana, Johnny Winter and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Davis also played a key role in the rise of Pink Floyd: he was the first to smell a British rat and secured the non-European publishing rights to the music of Syd Barrett's band

Meanwhile, on the other side of the North American continent, in Los Angeles, the young manager David Geffen began to build up the pioneering Asylum label together with his partner Elliot Roberts. Alongside Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, the elite of the singer-songwriter scene - Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Tom Waits, Judee Sill and John David Souther - were soon signed there. In 1971, Geffen encouraged Ronstadt's backing band to try it on their own, and that same year the Eagles began work on their debut album.

Peter Grant was already a veteran in 1971, his stomping ground was the London scene. Clever and assertive, he was in the tradition of managers like Don Arden, who liked to use dubious methods when the situation demanded it. Steve Marriott's answer to Jimmy Page, who once asked the singer and guitarist of the Small Faces, managed by Arden, about a collaboration, is famous. Marriott replied rhetorically, "Would you be interested in playing with broken fingers?" Marriott passed, and Page preferred to ask someone else. Grant, at any rate, had worked as a tour manager for Bo Diddley and the Everly Brothers before learning the management trade at RAK, his pal Mickie Most's company.

Things were different with Tony Defries. Even if his father had dealt in antiques: the Englishman, who had learned his job from the notorious Allen Klein (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones), among others, was a man with vision. He had recognized that the post-Beatles generation demanded new themes and new sounds. With glam rock initiators T.Rex and their debut hit "Ride A White Swan", followed shortly by "Hot Love", the writing was clearly on the wall as early as the winter of 1970/71. So new faces were in demand. Defries secured David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Mott The Hoople for his management company GEM in good time - the Seventies could come. With remarkable consistency, these four managers had drawn their very own conclusions from the 60s. They set an exemplary course and thus contributed to making 1971 the key year of rock music ...

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