As you know, Joni Mitchell’s 1971 watershed album “Blue is number 1 today. When it was released 50 years ago, it never hit number 1.
The number 1 album at the time was Carole King’s Tapestry. It was in the middle of a long run at the top of the charts. Carole’s double A side single, “It’s Too Late” backed with ( or b/w) “I Feel the Earth Move” was on a similar run at number 1 on the Hot 100.
The era of the singer/songwriter, the female singer/songwriter, was now in motion. Also on the charts was Carly Simon’s “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be.” In the fall, Carly would release “Anticipation.” Carole would back with her “Music” album. The three ladies would be everywhere.
“Blue” grew over the years as a favorite, followed by Joni’s “For the Roses” album. But Joni wouldn’t have her biggest commercial success until 1974 and “Court and Spark.” The singles off that album — “Help Me” and “Free Man in Paris” — are her biggest hits ever, far bigger than “Blue.” But by then “Blue” was a must-have in every record collection, a classic.
And threaded through these albums were those by James Taylor, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, the guys from the singer/songwriter world, just as successful.
But that was all just one side of music. There was plenty of R&B. Besides Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, and James Brown, 1971 was full of great soul singles. There was a dogfight on the charts between Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff” and the Honeycone’s “Want Ads” right now. Aretha had “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Spanish Harlem.” Marvin had the songs from “What’s Going On.” The Jackson 5 was on top with “Never Can Say Goodbye” and the Temptations lived all summer on “Just My Imagination.”
This was an era when Black and white music shared the top 40. Al Green, the Staples Singers, the Stylistics, there was no end to it. The Dramatics’ “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” was just this gorgeous, rhythmic opera that I could not get enough of in the summer of 71. And it all lived together happily in my 14 year old head. That was the world “Blue” was born into 50 years ago today.
The next big anniversaries come up on July 3rd and 6th, the deaths of Jim Morrison and Louie Armstrong. Jim was 27, Louis was only 69.