#MWE December 2020: 1970 special

I turned 50 this month, so to celebrate I did a month’s worth of albums which were on a Billboard chart the week I was born (issue date December 5, 1970). This was a remarkable amount of fun. (As with September, as this is a themed month, there’s no “theme week.”) (And there’s no Prince-related albums, for obvious reasons.) A number of albums really surprised me, from Jesus Christ Superstar (an album prior to being a stage show) to Deep Purple in Rock (very, very heavy) and Liza’s Muscle Shoals (I kid you not) record. But the biggest and best shock might’ve been the album that topped the chart on the actual day of my birth, Abraxas – good lord, when they were at their peak, Carlos’s band was kinda transcendent. No real Musts to Avoid, but Gene Chandler’s and the Dead’s albums were my least favorite of the month.

  1. Jimi Hendrix, Band of Gypsys (1970): It’s said by some that this live recording is essentially the birth of funk-rock, but to my ears it might be the most 4-on-the-floor thing released during his lifetime. It’s good, but apart from “Who Knows” doesn’t swing the way I wish.
  2. Dionne Warwick, I’ll Never Fall in Love Again (1970): 7 impeccable Bacharach/David songs, 3 covers, and of course the arr/prod/orch are just as impeccable as the songs – to say nothing of Warwick’s vocals, which quietly devastate. Some srsly swoon-worthy music.  
  3. The Delfonics (1970): Stunning vocals – Wm. Hart’s falsetto! – paired with killer tunes (Hart co-/wrote 9/10, 7 w/Philly god Thom Bell) and note-perfect production (from Bell) and arrangements. There’s not a single negative I can say about this LP, as good as ‘70 soul gets.
  4. Santana, Abraxas (1970): My birth day’s #1 LP is a smokin’ blend of Latin rhythms, jazz, & rock. At their best, Santana aren’t about spotlighting their leader, but are a band working in perfect concert. Instrumentals are highlights (“Incident,” “Se a Cabo,” “Samba Pa Ti”).
  5. Tammy Wynette, The First Lady (1970): Wynette’s voice, in her prime, was as sad as a crying steel guitar, and even more expressive. This LP, her 8th, was definitely in her prime. Most of these songs address familial concerns (as a mother, or wife), & she kills ‘em all.
  6. Clarence Carter, Patches (1970): This sounds more Stax-y than bluesy to my ears. What hamstrings much of it is overproduction, especially backing vocals (cf. “Let It Be,” a song no one needs to cover anyway) and sometimes-hokey horns. Title track and “Willie” stand out.
  7. Led Zeppelin III (1970): Goddamn, what a foursome. One of the greatest rock bands in history was starting to really expand their sound here, playing around with acoustic & folk music, yet still rocking. Jimmy Page in the prod chair is key, but all 4 were so in sync.
  8. New Christy Minstrels, You Need Someone to Love (1970): By the start of the ‘70s, the folk choristers had become chiefly an EZ pop cover crew (Beatles, Bacharach), albeit one that made some occasionally surprising song choices (Dylan’s “Wigwam”!). Lightweight but fun.
  9. Esther Phillips, Burnin’ (1970): Her voice incredibly strong & w/a distinctive quaver similar to Dinah Washington’s and Billie Holiday’s, Phillips should’ve been a much bigger star. This live record is a marvelous mix of soul and jazz, w/Phillips in total control.
  10. Funkadelic, Free Your Mind… (1970): I knew that Funkadelic were Geo. Clinton’s more “rock” band, but I didn’t realize this was full-on acid rock! “Some More” is Booker T-via-Mountain, but the rest is mostly real drugged-out hard rock, & mostly entertaining. 
  11. Bread, On the Waters (1970): “Make It with You” made them stars, but it’s not indicative of this album, which is an incredibly sturdy ‘70 LA rock-pop album – and yes, the “rock” is in front. David Gates’s voice is lovely, and these songs are strong. Minimize them at your peril. 
  12. Deep Purple in Rock (1970): Impressively, incredibly hard ‘n heavy, this is clearly one of the building blocks of heavy metal. I never expected to respond to a Purple LP, but this is something else. When a band sounds as in sync as they do here, it’s undeniable. Ferocious.
  13. Jesus Christ Superstar (1970): Webber/Rice’s retelling of Christ’s final week (an LP prior to hitting the stage) is quite an achievement, as significant as Rent or Hamilton. With the likes of Ian Gillian and Murray Head taking leads, this succeeds as rock *and* musical.
  14. Charles Earland, Black Talk! (1970): Decent jazz quintet record led by Earland’s organ, but the pair of pop covers (“Aquarius” and an 11-minute-plus “More Today Than Yesterday”) unfortunately take things into “And at the Wurlitzer organ!”-slash-skating rink territory. 
  15. Liza Minnelli, New Feelin’ (1970): You really need to hear this one. Liza sings classics from the ‘10s-’40s with a rock band, rec’d at – kid you not – Muscle Shoals. “Stormy Weather” goes Van Morrison, while “Easy Rider” sounds like Delaney & Bonnie. Kinda great.
  16. Four Tops, Still Waters Run Deep (1970): Levi Stubbs may be at his best on this surprisingly contemplative LP, feat. the stunning Smokey-penned “Still Water.” This points them into the ‘70s, as they cover Nilsson (!) along with HDH and a touching “Elusive Butterfly.”
  17. Porter Wagoner, Skid Row Joe – Down in the Alley (1970): Quite the hard country concept album, 10 songs/25 min on the horrors of alcoholism (which, to hear Wagoner, results in homelessness). 3 of these were written by his duo partner Dolly; all 10 are superb. 
  18. Leontyne Price, Prima Donna/Vol. 3 (1970): Arias done by one of the greatest sopranos of all time (w/the LSO), and it’s classical singing par excellence. I can’t understand a word (French, German, Italian), but I know beauty when I hear it, and this. is. utterly. breathtaking.
  19. Carpenters, Close to You (1970): Plenty of reasons why this is a successful LP, starting esp w/Richard Carpenter’s incredible arrangements. Karen’s sad, honeyed voice is of course a knockout, and Jack Daugherty’s prod lends itself to v strong straightfwd pop.
  20. The Mystic Moods Orchestra, English Muffins (1970): A weird one: MMO did EZ string-heavy covers of pop hits & then made them enviro records, adding in sound f/x, samples, etc. This one’s all UK artists (Beatles, Bee Gees); some sounds (rain, trains) are v off-putting.
  21. The Last Poets (1970): The homophobia & misogyny here is really hard to get past, but the bulk of this spoken-word poetry (w/percussive accompaniment) is nonetheless powerful. Glad I heard this, but won’t ever listen again, thanks to “Gashman” and their use of “faggot.”
  22. Nancy Wilson, Now I’m A Woman (1970): The first LP this jazz icon cut w/Gamble & Huff takes her in a more R&B direction, to great results. 4 covers (Beatles, Bread, Carpenters, S&G) mix w/6 originals (all sensational), and magic is made. “Joe” may break your heart.
  23. Danny Davis & the Nashville Brass, Down Homers (1970): The Herb Alpert of Nashville made corny-pone records, turning country standards into the cheesiest easy listening. Horns atop banjos and steel guitars, occasionally with cooing backing voices added? Not so good.
    23b. Jr. Walker & the All Stars, A Gasssss (1970): The saxman was singing a lot by their 7th studio LP, but that doesn’t really hurt matters. On both originals & covers, this is a well-oiled, funky soul band; I could do w/o the strings, but that’s a minor quibble.
  24. Anne Murray, Snowbird (1970): Her 1st US LP was a comp from 2 Canuck LPs, covers of songs from the likes of Dylan (ok), James Taylor (pretty good), the Youngbloods (no, but that’s the song’s fault), and, uh, “Put Your Hand in the Hand.” Country-pop, smooth to a fault.
  25. The Jackson 5 Christmas Album (1970): I’m not a huge J5 fan – kid singers tend to get on my nerves – but this is a really lovely Christmas record. Mostly standards + 2 new songs and Stevie’s “Someday.” The new arr of “Up on the Housetop” is a joy, + of course “Santa.”
  26. Grateful Dead, Workingman’s Dead (1970): Went into this w/open ears, but 1) Garcia’s singing voice grates, high & reedy, and 2) “Uncle John’s Band” makes me want to punch people. So much of this is bad-hippie-stereotype bullshit. That said, “Cumberland Blues” kinda cooks.
  27. Shirley Bassey Is Really “Something” (1970): The huge-lunged Welsh singer puts her pipes to a selection of mostly current pop covers, done Adult Contempo-style (think orchestra), from “Something” (yawn) to “Easy to Be Hard” (solid) and “Light My Fire” (brassy & fun). 
  28. Diana Ross, Everything Is Everything (1970): On her 2nd solo LP, just-okay originals mix w/ ill-advised covers – 2 Beatles (incl. a 6:40 “Come Together,” really?), Carpenters, and a middling take on Aretha’s “Call Me.” She flounders; her producers offer her no focus.
  29. Waylon Jennings, Singer of Sad Songs (1970): This impeccable LP feels like the roots of Americana: country songs, yes, but also “Honky Tonk Woman [sic]” and “If I Were A Carpenter” – & the sound isn’t Nashville ‘70, but Waylon-becoming-an-Outlaw. Prod by Lee Hazelwood!
  30. Delaney & Bonnie, To Bonnie From Delaney (1970): I don’t know why it is that the early ‘70s were such a (perhaps the) golden moment for white soul, but no one exemplifies it better than D&B, a pair of Mississippians who sang and played the lights out. This boogies hard. 
  31. The Gene Chandler Situation (1970): A Vegas-y, old-school (i.e. early ‘60s) R&B record; from the cheesy exhortations of “Simply Call It Love” to the overproduced ballad “Am I Blue” and the horn charts all over, this was seemingly made to be performed at the Tropicana. 

About thomasinskeep

I write about music.
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