1971, part 1: Progressive Music

In this series we will look at progressive music albums released in 1971, a great year for artists looking to break from the conventions of popular music. Many bands here have been covered in the previous series about 1970, continuing with more mature efforts and releasing classic albums. We start with this article, covering the usual suspects of progressive music in the early 1970s. 1971 is bookended by two album releases related to King Crimson, the first by two ex-members of the band.

McDonald and Giles, by Ian McDonald and Michael Giles

Multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald and drummer Michael Giles left King Crimson after the band’s US tour in late 1969 to promote their milestone debut album In the Court of the Crimson King. They found road life and the newly found success too overwhelming and wanted to continue on their own. Robert Fripp’s journal, 3 January 1970, reads: “The American tour was such a total experience of plasticity that Ian and Mike now feel that getting their feelings across on records is more important than performing to audiences.”

While Giles remained as a studio entity for KC’s second album In the Wake of Poseidon, McDonald focused on preparing material for the duo’s album, recorded in 1970. The album, simply titled McDonald and Giles, was released in January 1971 and consisted of music pieces that existed since the early stages of King Crimson. These included Flight of the Ibis, the original melody of Cadence and Cascade, and the side-long epic Birdman, written in 1968.

McDonald and Giles gatefold

A favorite track from the album is Tomorrow’s People, written by Giles in 1967 and dedicated to his children Tina and Mandy. Giles talked about this track: “This song is one of my favorites, and like Ian I was influenced by the Beatles at the time, especially John Lennon – hence the exposed voice and solo drums on the first verse. I played a slightly South-American influenced rock beat. The solo section is full of sound percussion objects to add texture and complexity.”

Ian McDonald: “I think it’s a great sounding track and one of the better produced songs on the album. It’s nice when all the instruments come in after the drum solo. Another one of my favorite moments comes just before the trombone section, where the repeat echo on the flute cascades like a waterfall.”

Album credits:

Ian McDonald – guitar, piano, organ, saxes, flute, clarinet, zither, vocals and sundries

Michael Giles – drums, percussion (including milk bottle, handsaw, lip whistle and nutbox), vocals

Peter Giles – bass guitar

Steve Winwood – organ, and piano solo on “Turnham Green”

Michael Blakesley – trombone on “Tomorrow’s People”

Islands, by King Crimson

December of 1971 brings us to King Crimson’s fourth album Islands. Representing yet another turbulent period in the group’s history, it is one more example of how resilient Robert Fripp and company are. Their first four albums between 1969 and 1971 featured ever-revolving lineups, but they are all classic and essential to any fan of early progressive rock music. Islands was recorded in between tours and scattered live performances. Robert Fripp remembers:

“It is difficult to convey the level of exhaustion. I’d get home about 3-4 in the morning from the studio, pull out a pencil and write orchestral parts for ‘Song of the Gulls’, before getting to bed anywhere between six and eight. Up around ten to leave for the studio for noon.“

Years later Fripp recalled Lester Bangs’ review of that fantastic piece of music: “He wrote a review of a small King Crimson chamber piece on the Islands album which I conducted waving a pencil called ‘Song of the Gulls.’ Lester’s review was ‘It sounded like music for the advert of a vaginal deodorant.’” I once played an album on the ECM label to someone who couldn’t tell ECM artists from Muzak, and he said it reminded him of music for porn movies. So Fripp is in good company.

A spotlight on the contribution of pianist, composer and arranger Keith Tippett to this album, taken from an article I wrote about him. The full article is here:

Tippett’s last appearance on a King Crimson album took place on their fourth album Islands. The band was going through a turmoil of unstable lineups during that period, and Robert Fripp, who appreciated Tippett’s steady contributions and musicianship in the studio, asked him to join the band as a full time member. He even extended an offer to be an equal decision-maker in musical direction. Tippett remembers: “The terms would have been that I would have had musical input. He knew that I was a strong musical personality and I would have gone in and possibly taken it all in another way with his blessing because we would have been joint bandleaders.” But that dream lineup of King Crimson was not to be. Tippett continues: “I didn’t want to join King Crimson, not because I didn’t like King Crimson, I had great respect for the band, but I wanted to be doing other things, I didn’t want to just go out on the road for eighteen months. I had too much love for my sextet and it would have taken me away from the jazz scene.”

King Crimson, 1971

On Islands Keith Tippett’s work is much less extravagant. He stays with the piano on the pieces he plays on, providing beautiful, lyrical accompaniment. The title track is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I know. Perhaps no other tune in the King Crimson cannon has such an emotional impact on a listener. The opening alone, with the piano, vocals and bass flute, is timeless.

King Crimson Islands gatefold

Album Credits:

King Crimson:

Robert Fripp – guitar, mellotron, harmonium, sundry implements, production

Peter Sinfield – lyrics, sounds and visions, cover design and painting, production

Mel Collins – saxophones, flute, bass flute, backing vocals, production

Ian Wallace – drums, percussion, backing vocals, production

Boz – bass, lead vocals, choreography, production

Additional personnel:

Paulina Lucas – soprano vocals

Keith Tippett – piano

Robin Miller – oboe

Mark Charig – cornet

Harry Miller – double bass

The Yes Album, by Yes

Two of progressive rock’s guiding lights were very productive in 1971, with two albums each. The first is Yes, who in February that year released their breakthrough album ‘The Yes Album’. This was the first album with Steve Howe, the last with Tony Kaye and also the first not to feature any cover songs. They had enough excellent material of their own to easily fill up an album. At a risk of being dropped by Atlantic due to the commercial failure of their previous two albums, this more complex and challenging album did much better, reaching #4 in the UK albums chart.

Yes, The Yes Album

Engineer and producer Eddie Offord remembers Jon Anderson’s lyrics:

“The band gave him such a hard time. They’d all say to him, ‘John, your f*****g lyrics don’t make any sense at all! What is this river/mountain stuff?’ to which the singer would say ‘I use words as colors, for the sounds of the words, not the actual meaning.’”

Offord on the meticulous work that went into creating the album:

“They were extremely anxious to get every bar of music really perfect, plus some of the music wasn’t pre-written. It was developed in the studio. Songs could be quite long, but they would be recorded in thirty second sections so that each section was really right on the money. It wasn’t until the whole song was finished, recorded and mixed that they would then go and learn how to play it live.”

Yes, early 1971

A standout track on this album is Starship Trooper. Steve Howe talks about the time spent on every little detail:

“There was one note in ‘Starship Trooper’ that fades up just before Jon comes back in to sing and the guitar goes (singing note) while Chris is doing a lovely climb on his bass and I come in with this fade and that took about three hours. Some things took a long time. One note, three hours.”

John Anderson – lead vocals, percussion

Chris Squire – bass guitar, vocals

Steve Howe – electric and acoustic guitars, vachalia, vocals

Tony Kaye – piano, Hammond organ, Moog synthesizer

Bill Bruford – drums, percussion

Fragile, by Yes

In November of 1971 Yes completed a fantastic year with Fragile, a progressive rock classic album.

Band members talk about various topics related to the album:

Jon Anderson: “We didn’t write songs for the radio. We wrote music for the stage. Think about that first tour with ‘Fragile,’ with ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ and ‘Starship Trooper.’ These are big pieces of music that extended themselves as we were touring America.”

Rick Wakeman: “When we were doing Fragile and we did ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ and tracks like that, Yes always liked to record in what I call a jigsaw fashion. There would be lots of little bits and we’d stick it all together with glue. If it was in different keys, it was my job to find a way to get it from there to there. That was great fun. It was a lot of experimentation.”

Steve Howe: “Fragile wasn’t like a live record where we went in and played and people strummed. All of a sudden, we didn’t like strumming. It was like, ‘Why has anybody got to strum? Play notes! Play a part, a riff. Play a line, play a theme. Do anything but strum.’”

Yes Fragile front cover

Chris Squire: “We had approximately six weeks to make Fragile. We were getting very popular and being booked on tour, and we wanted to expand our studio time because we were realizing the possibilities of the work in the studio. Traditionally an album took a couple of weeks to make. We had just a six-week window to make Fragile between our touring schedule, and that’s why there are only four band tracks on it. The others were individual contributions because we didn’t have the time to rehearse any more songs.”

Bill Bruford: “When I started playing, the drums were unmiked, and the amplifiers very big. To be better heard, I used a combination of open tuning with a rimshot struck on the ‘ringy’ part of the drum, midway between the center and the rim. This got the high frequencies out and cutting through, and the ring, excessive if heard on its own, was absorbed when everyone else played. Necessity is often the mother of invention. This approach became monumentally unacceptable to rock record producers as the records came to be made within a rapidly shrinking dynamic range, the better to suit the demands of American F.M. radio.”

Yes Fragile booklet

The closing track from the album is Heart of the Sunrise. Full of twists and turns, this track became a favorite at the band’s live performance for decades.

Jon Anderson – lead & backing vocals, acoustic guitar on “We Have Heaven”

Steve Howe – electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals

Chris Squire – bass guitars, backing vocals

Rick Wakeman – Hammond organ, grand piano, RMI 368 Electra-Piano and Harpsichord, Mellotron, Minimoog synthesizer Bill Bruford – drums, percussion

Pictures at an Exhibition, by Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Another band with two albums to its credit in 1971 is Emerson, Lake & Palmer. In March of that year they performed at Newcastle City Hall a piece of music based on Ravel’s orchestral arrangement of Mussorgsky’s suite of piano pieces called Pictures at an Exhibition. Keith Emerson had previously adapted other pieces of music from the classical repertoire such as Bach’s The Brandenburg Concerto and Sibelius’s Karelia suite with his former group The Nice. He was now taken with a performance of Ravel’s arrangement at the Royal Festival Hall. He started rehearsing it with Greg Lake in the very early days of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, before Carl Palmer joined and completed the trio. A week after their first gig in front of a small audience, they played most of the composition at the Isle of Wight Festival on August 29, 1970 in front of 600,000 people.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer Pictures at an Exhibition gatefold

Keith Emerson – pipe organ, Hammond (C3 and L100) organs, Moog modular synthesizer (ribbon controller), Clavinet

Greg Lake – bass guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals

Carl Palmer – drums, percussion

2016 Deluxe Edition playlist:

Tarkus, by Emerson, Lake & Palmer

The live recording at Newcastle City Hall was recorded two months after the band completed the recording of their second studio album Tarkus, which was released in June 1971. Those were glorious days for progressive rock, with such an ambitious album making it to #1 in the UK albums chart. It unseated the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers from that position, while surpassing Paul McCartney, Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby Stills Nash and Young and…Andy Williams.

Record Mirror, June 26 1971

The album is essential for lovers of the Moog synthesizer, with Emerson making his famous behemoth Moog modular do unnatural things. The centerpiece of the album is the epic sidelong title track. Emerson started composing the piece after he heard Carl Palmer practicing an odd time 10/8 rhythm backstage. He wrote it on manuscript paper and the band rehearsed it in the studio. Emerson remembers: “Greg and Carl don’t read music, so we ran it down quite a bit. They formulated it and memorized it. Sometimes we rolled tape, just in case we got something worth keeping. We ran it down live as a trio, got a take, and then we listened back in the control room for parts that needed overdubs. ‘What about a gong here? What about a portamento sweep there?’ Greg and Carl had lots of cool suggestions.”

Emerson, Lake & Palmer Tarkus

The piece is over 20 minutes long and contains the following sections:

“Eruption” (Emerson) – 2:43

“Stones of Years” (Emerson, Lake) – 3:43

“Iconoclast” (Emerson) – 1:16

“Mass” (Emerson, Lake) – 3:09

“Manticore” (Emerson) – 1:49

“Battlefield” (Lake) – 3:57

“Aquatarkus” (Emerson) – 3:54″

Keith Emerson – Hammond organ, St. Mark’s Church organ, piano, celesta, Moog modular synthesizer

Greg Lake – vocals, bass guitar, electric and acoustic guitar

Carl Palmer – drums, percussion

Let us look at what artists on the Charisma label did in 1971. We covered the label extensively in an article dedicated to 1970 here:

Fool’s Mate, by Peter Hammill

The label’s main artists continued with excellent releases in 1971. The first is Van der Graaf Generator’s main man Peter Hammill. In July that year he released his debut solo album, a collection of songs written around 1967 but recorded in 1971.

From the liner notes: “This is an album of songs rather than musical extravaganza”. Charisma’s regulars are present: Cover artwork by artist Paul Whitehead, produced by John Anthony, and all members of Van Der Graaf Generator guest here. Also present is Robert Fripp on guitar.

Peter Hammill Fool’s Mate gatefold

Hammill in an interview for Record Collector: “I was not making a typical rock music ‘singer makes a bid for solo stardom’, but simply having fun playing little tunes. It’s a pop record.”

Fun review for Peter Hammill fans to read, published in one of the UK music magazines in the 1970s:

“Lightly pretentious album and somewhat fey. The backings are good for what they are (me, not the reviewer: what does that even mean?), but the material is weak and can’t really stand on sound value either. It’s mostly acoustic guitar with electric help, but Peter Hammill isn’t such a hot singer. Too pixilated and without substance.”

Credits on the album:

Guy Evans – drums, percussion

Martin Pottinger – drums

Hugh Banton – piano, organ

Rod Clements – bass, violin

Nic Potter – bass

Ray Jackson – harp, mandolin

David Jackson – alto and tenor saxophones, flute

Robert Fripp – electric guitar

Paul Whitehead – tam tam

Peter Hammill – all lead vocals, acoustic guitar, piano

Fluctuating Chorale: Guy, Hugh, Dave, Ray, John, Norman, Alastair, John, Peter

Here is my favorite tune from the album, The Birds:

Pawn Hearts, by Van der Graaf Generator

A few months after the recording of Fool’s Mate, Peter Hammill returned to the studio with his mates in Van der Graaf Generator, this time to record a band album. And what an album that was, another classic in the progressive rock repertoire. Every piece of music in Pawn Hearts is essential listening, but I had to pick one so I went with A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, the sidelong epic. You can probably tell by now that I have a soft spot for epics.

Van der Graaf Generator Pawn Hearts gatefold

Reed player David Jackson talks about the making of that magnificent piece of music: “I see Lighthouse Keepers as one of our crowning achievements. The track was recorded in separate parts in the studio and we hadn’t figured out how we would string the whole thing together and (producer) John Anthony came into his own at that point. We were constantly asking ‘is this possible?’ and seeking to achieve sounds. John loved creating that piece with us in the studio.”

Roy Hollingworth wrote in the November 1971 issue of Melody Maker:

“It is dreadfully hard to explain ‘Lighthouse Keepers’ to you. What do you call it? I asked Peter, who just sat cross-legged, very pleased with himself, and said nothing. So I think if I told you it was a film on album, a nightmarish film, we might get somewhere. Hammill, Jackson, Banton and Evans are the actors in a weird, startling plot. Its theme is ancient – the wrath of the sea. It reminds one of the old sepia prints of shipping disasters off Cornwall.”

Van der Graaf Generator Pawn Hearts inner gatefold

Album credits:

Peter Hammill – lead and backing vocals, piano, Hohner pianet, acoustic and slide guitar

David Jackson – tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, flute, vocals

Hugh Banton – Hammond E & C and Farfisa Professional organs, piano, Mellotron, ARP synthesizer, bass pedals, bass guitar, psychedelic razor, vocals

Guy Evans – drums, timpani, percussion, piano


Robert Fripp – electric guitar on “Lemmings (Including ‘Cog’)”, “Man-Erg”, and “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”

Nursery Cryme, by Genesis

One more album released by Charisma in 1971 was by a band that will prove to be one of the label’s most successful acts. Genesis, who went through critical personnel changes in the second half of 1970, now settled on their classic lineup, one that will take them through a fantastic run of records in the next four years.  In November of 1971 the band released the album Nursery Cryme.

Genesis Nursery Cryme gatefold

Paul Whitehead’s excellent visuals have been featured in this article series a number of times, including the artwork for Van der Graaf Generator’s Pawn Hearts. Nursery Cryme is one of his classic album covers, and he talked about it in an interview:

“We wanted an Alice in Wonderland look, but with menace. The idea was this girl who is haunted by a Musical Box but we took it a bit farther and we had her playing croquet with her brother’s head.” It was the first time the band’s name logo appeared on an album cover. The band wanted an older look for the painting. Whitehead: “I did the varnish and I put it out to dry. Insects decided to commit suicide on the wet varnish. If you look at the cover you can see real insects.” Spot the flies on the bottom and top left of the gatefold.

Genesis Nursery Cryme inner gatefold

One of my favorite tunes from the album is the 10-minute album opener The Musical Box. Peter Gabriel describes the lyrics of the song:

“We have a number called ‘Musical Box’ that is composed in this way. It’s quite a complicated story about a spirit that returns to bodily form and meets a Victorian girl. He has the appearance of an old man and the relations with the young lady are somewhat perverted, so he gets bumped off into the never-never.” Steve Hackett talked about his innovative tapping technique that got its first major exposure on this album: “I came upon the tapping technique when I was trying to play Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue. I realized that I couldn’t play it the way I wanted to hear it using standard technique, so I started tapping onto the fretboard with my right hand. I used that technique all over Nursery Cryme including parts of ‘The Musical Box’ and ‘The Return of the Giant Hogweed.’”

Genesis, 1971

Album credits:

Tony Banks – Hammond organ, Mellotron, piano, electric piano, 12-string guitar, backing vocals

Mike Rutherford – bass, bass pedals, 12-string guitar, backing vocals

Peter Gabriel – lead voice, flute, oboe, bass drum, tambourine

Steve Hackett – electric guitar, 12-string guitar

Phil Collins – drums, voices, percussion, lead vocals

Aqualung, by Jethro Tull

One last album for this article, and another classic it is. This one crossed over to classic rock territories and some of the songs on it have been played to death on classic rock radio stations. Regardless, it is a wonderful set of progressive music pieces collectively known as Aqualung, by Jethro Tull. If you wondered about the origin of the album name, it is hinted by these lines in the lyrics:

And you snatch your rattling last breaths

With deep-sea diver sounds

Aqua-Lung was the first self-contained diving device, developed in 1943 by Jacques Cousteau. The French marine explorer probably did not envision his invention’s breathing mechanism being compared to that of a down-and-out old man who ogles little girls while snot’s running down his nose.

Jethro Tull Aqualung front cover

No point rehashing material that music mags recycled many times over about this album, so let’s look at that interesting album cover.

The painting was created by Burton Silverman, later known for his realistic portraits. At that time he did not focus on illustration, but an offer from Terry Ellis, manager of Jethro Tull’s label Chrysalis, convinced him to try his hands with an album cover. He repeated this type of work only a few more times, with illustrations of Igor Stravinsky and Louis Armstrong.

Ellis invited the painter to London: “You’ll watch the group in rehearsal. You’ll take a look at Ian Anderson. You’ll sort of get acquainted and you’ll get some ideas from it.’’ Acting as a fly on the wall during the ban’s rehearsals did not prove productive, and spare a portrait of Ian Anderson playing the flute nothing came of it.

Ian Anderson by Burton Silverman

Plan B was to use the lyrics of the song as inspiration. The painter’s son, Robert Silverman, tells the story:

He decided to place the figurant of Aqualung in a lonely, dank doorway, gripping his shabby coat for warmth and menacingly warding off all comers like a cornered animal. He and my mother took to the streets, traipsing around London in search of the perfect, grubby setting. When they found a backdrop to dad’s liking, he grabbed his coat collar and hunched over, while mom snapped a few black and white Polaroids for future reference. For the wild-eyed, rheumatic street preacher-slash-pariah’s facial expression, dad partly used himself as a model, grimacing into a hotel mirror and drawing himself.

Jethro Tull Aqualung front cover

For his work, Silverman received the sum of $1,500 in a handshake deal, no contract, no discussion of royalties. The number of merchandise items sold in the last 50 years featuring this character is countless, but Silverman saw not a single dime of it. Still, a classic album cover.

Album credits:

Ian Anderson – lead vocals, acoustic guitar, flute, production

Martin Barre – electric guitar, descant recorder

Jeffrey Hammond – backing vocals, bass guitar, alto recorder, odd voices

John Evan – piano, organ, Mellotron

Clive Bunker – drums and percussion

Here is the brilliant title song, full of surprising mood changes, starts and stops:

Read the article series about 1970, starting with the some of the same usual suspects:

Categories: A Year in Music

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2 replies »

  1. my favourite year for music,bought the all on vinyl.now have them on cd.still love prog 50 years on

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