Popular music was at its peak in both diversity and quality in 1973 . Why was 1973 such a note-worthy year in music? Was it technological, like newly crafted digital Moog synthesizer, used on Stevie Wonder’s 1973 classic Innervisions?
Perhaps it that FM radio had emerged from the 60s and become a dominant platform for the rock and roll culture. Or was it the globalization of rock and rock from Britain to its Commonwealth and beyond that brought rock to hundreds of millions of listeners and influenced new styles of music, in turn influencing rock and roll? Reggae is the prime example of cross cultural influence between rock and in this case, jamaican musical styles.
Not only was the early seventies a time of cultural and political upheaval (the Vietnam War, Watergate, Black, Native American, Gay, Chicano rights movements and so on), it was a time of emerging and converging musical styles such as heavy metal, funk, reggae, jazz fusion, and early disco.
While all the political and cultural events of the late 60s and 70s had an impact on the music of 1973, the early seventies was a time when rock, pop, and soul, major musical styles of the day, had matured. Rock and roll began in the 50s with Chuck Berry (among others) and came to white kids through Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, et al. New technology built upon current and older technologies, and new forms of music builds upon older forms. Also, those who had been influence by early rock, pop and soul artists were reaching their creative peak in the 70s, and they themselves were influencing a new crop of artists.
By the late sixties and early seventies, people picking up guitars had a litany of artist to call upon and imitate as well as add to. The same is true in pop and soul. James Brown lead to Parliament Funkadelic and the Brothers Johnson, Phil Ochs, Woody Guthrie, among others lead to the 60s folk music which lead to folk rock artists of the 70s, and so on. And new communication and recording technology helped spread these new forms of music.
Not only had early rock, pop and soul artists become mainstream enough to sell and make a profit from, they were influencing new forms of music. Rock led to progressive rock and heavy metal, pop lead to singer song-writers like Cat Stevens, Carly Simon, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell and soul music lead to funk, which branched out into rap and disco.
Every year has its classic music, whether it be rap, rock, funk, soul, or other popular form. But the year 1973 stands out for the number of classics by artists that have made an eternal mark on popular music and culture.
First, any year that features Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is a great year for music. So much has been written about this album that spent an amazing 786 weeks on the Billboard album chart that I will leave it for others.
Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin’s fifth studio album was also released that year. The album features classics such as D’yer Maker, The Song Remains the Same and The Ocean. The album is strong front to back with some of the best song writing ever by Zeppelin.
The Who, while outdone again by Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, put out one of their best albums in 1973, Quadrophenia. It’s a rock concept album, and one of the best. “The Real Me” features some of the finest drumming by Keith Moon on any Who track, and it features hits like “Love Reign O’er Me” and “I’m One”.
Alice Cooper’s best album, Billion Dollar Babies, was also released in 1973. With hit songs like “Elected” and “No More Mister Nice Guy”, Cooper wedged his place into rock stardom. There is not one weak song on the album; I recommend this album to all rock fans. In fact, I argue that this album is one of the best rock albums of all time.
Iggy Pop’s Raw Power also came out in 1973, and while not the best of the year, the album was a break from the heavy mental and introduction of power pop that foreshadowed groups such as the The Ramones. Iggy Pop was part of the Detroit grunge scene along with MC5.
For those not into the hard rock scene, 1973 didn’t disappoint. The year featured Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Paul McCartney and Wings with Band on the Run, and reggae classics from Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff.
Innervisions was a breakthrough album for soul singer and song writer Stevie Wonder. The album warns us about drugs, talks about racism and the struggles black men face, egomaniacs, love and his faith. Every song is it’s own gem that features unique musical influences. “Don’t you worry about a thing” is a Latin jazz, soul song featuring Cuban style piano of the day. In “Higher Ground”, influence by the philosophy of Dr. King, Wonder brings out the Moog and discusses the need to live a righteous life. In the manner of Dr. King, Wonder doesn’t come off as preachy at all; it is more confessional. It also has a little Buddhism in it, “The last time on earth I lived my whole life in sin.”
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is Elton John’s last masterpiece as a songwriter. While he has written many good songs since, none of his albums can hold a Candle in the Wind to the Harmony on this album. It’s hard to argue with the quality songwriting and craftsmanship on this album. And a special Tip of the Hat to Bernie Taupin, John’s long time collaborator, who wrote some of the tracks and many of the lyrics and guitar parts on this album.
Bob Marley and Wailer put out Catch a Fire in 1973, which features one of my favorites, “Concrete Jungle”, and Burin’ with two of Marley’s best and more well know songs, “Get up Stand Up” and “I Shot the Sheriff.” Jimmy Cliff put out his peon to the Struggling Man that year and his classic The Harder they Come. All in all, it was a great year for two of Reggae’s leading artists.
The year also features Queen’s first album “Queen”. While few would argue that this album was their best work, it was a good start to a seminal rock act. Aerosmith release their self title debut that year as well, featuring the blockbuster “Dream On.” The New York Dolls also released their first self titled studio album. While they didn’t top the charts, The Dolls are credited with influencing the punk rock movement and bands such as The Sex Pistols and The Clash in Britain in the late 70s.
Bruce Springsteen also started his stellar career in 1973 with two albums, Greetings from Ashbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocence and the E-Street Shuffle. These albums would be a career for many, but for Mr. Springsteen, a warm up for his classic 1975 Born to Run.
David Bowie release Aladin Sane, his first number one album. It’s one of Bowie’s best albums with great songs and not as uneven as many of his albums featuring songs such as “Alladin Sane” and “Panic in Detroit.”
And prog rockers also had a good year. Nothing says “progressive rock” louder and more pretentiously than Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery. For those old enough, who can forget their enjoyment or revulsion the first time they hear “Karn Evil #9?” Pretensions aside, there is some fantastic composing on this album, and I mean “composing”. And what would the early seventies be without prog rock super group Yes. Not only did they release Tales From Topographic Oceans, they released their Yessongs compilation of live recordings that went platinum, as has their third, fourth and fifth albums. That’s not bad for a band not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Genesis also released Selling England by the Pound in 1973.
Parliament Funkadelic put out their seminal Cosmic Slop in 1973. Other groups releasing albums include ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, and The Eagles.
So whether you liked soul music, pop, rock, raggae among other styles, 1973 is a year to remember and on that lives on in our mp3 players and FM radio stations.
Read more about the great albums of 1973 here.