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Book Reviews - Review 407

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David Hepworth

1971: Never a Dull Moment

Category: Music | Published: 2016 | Review Added: 31-12-2020

Rating: 4 - A top read

David Hepworth presents a month-by-month account of the musical releases and events of 1971, the year that rock, according to him, "came of age". Certainly, the year was rich in classic records, including Carole King's Tapestry, Nick Drake's Bryter Layter, David Bowie's Hunky Dory, Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, Joni Mitchell's Blue, the Stones' Sticky Fingers, and Led Zeppelin IV. It was also the year of the first Glastonbury Festival. Though I was still in nappies at the time, I can see that it was a contender for the best year in rock. Was it indisputably the best, though? In the Prologue Hepworth writes,

At this point you may raise a sceptical eyebrow and say that for you too the music of the year that you turned twenty-one, or eighteen or sixteen or whenever you felt most alive, still speaks to you in a way that no other year does [...] There's an important difference in the case of me and 1971.
The difference is this: I'm right.

There's no arguing with that, and it sets the tone of wry condescension that pervades the book. The reader who can tolerate being lectured at from time to time will find it as well-written and informative as Hepworth's other volumes. He employs his usual technique of zooming outward from events to their context - so it's a book not just about what happened in 1971, but also about how events of that year related to those in the years that preceded and followed it.

The reader who wasn't alive or old enough to experience the music at first hand will encounter names both familiar and obscure: evergreen stars like Cat Stevens, the Who, John Lennon and Rod Stewart rub shoulders with acts largely lost to posterity such as Big Star, Badfinger, Humble Pie and the Modern Lovers. Hepworth makes all of them sound interesting, which, let's be honest, is sometimes more than they deserve. Like all his books, this one is packed with telling anecdotes, about both the music and the people who made it. It has its flaws. There is a tendency to glib generalisation (the US black music TV show Soul Train, with its groovy dancers, "made display a central part of popular music", apparently); and there are patronising swipes at political correctness, particularly the women's movement. On balance, however, 1971 is a well-researched, well-judged book that will appeal to those who weren't there as much as those who were.

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