1973, the Year of My Birth, was some kind of year for albums. Al Green, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley and David Bowie, four of the decade’s signature artists, all doubled up.
Springsteen, the New York Dolls and Lynyrd Skynyrd debuted. Gram Parsons went solo. Bob Marley was introduced to the world. And Willie Nelson inhabited his new and lasting public persona.
This might be the most interesting year ever for R&B albums, which make up five of my top seven for the year, and six if you want to include reggae in the R&B diaspora. And even that doesn’t include arguable career-best from Marvin Gaye (my #1 single) or the Spinners (just missed the Top 25).
It’s a dicier year for singles, with the classic soul era receding and the punk/disco/hip-hop explosions still a few years away. And it features some pretty overrated classic-rock touchstones: The Dark Side of the Moon, Band on the Run, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the latter a good record that was a near-miss here because it really could have used some editing.
In case you missed it, I’m selectively re-listening to the past 50 years of popular music, and sharing my findings in list form. This is the second post, the first was 1967 and includes more explanatory preamble. Up next: 1988.
- Call Me – Al Green: The singles are as good as on any Green album: Title track a wary consideration of the gulf between breakup and reconciliation; “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” one of his greatest, grittiest rave-ups; “You Ought to Be With Me” winnowing Green’s sound to its essential parts. The covers are perhaps his most purposeful: Bending country music to his will with paired readings from Willie Nelson and Hank Williams. The twin anthems tower: “Stand Up” a human rights assertion worthy of Bob Marley, the closing “Jesus is Waiting” a promise and a foreshadowing. But befitting his later path, the meek inherit the album: Ostensible filler “Have You Been Making Out OK” and “Your Love is Like the Morning Sun” are the most tender recordings from pop music’s most tender genius. The last great classic soul album was the best one. A perfect album.
- New York Dolls– New York Dolls: Musically, the missing link between the Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols, except they reach back even further and feel deeper. Yelping and yowling, they assert the existence and value of a rich, kinda scary private world where lonely planet boys and bad girls are just trying to make their way. Another perfect album.
- Live at Carnegie Hall – Bill Withers: The rare live album that enlarges the artist, where his grip on the audience is palpable and it transforms him in turn. The grown-folks, middle-class James Brown Live at the Apollo.
- Fresh – Sly & the Family Stone: Riot’s extended outro.
- Innervisions – Stevie Wonder: “Visions” is Wonder’s ultimate testament of faith in this world, more affecting for how matter-of-fact it is, a blind man’s meditation on the certainty of leaves changing from green to brown. “Living for the City” is an epic, personalized allegory for the civil rights movement that makes pained acknowledgement of its lost momentum. “Higher Ground” is a funk workout not even the Red Hot Chili Peppers could ruin. His best album? Maybe.
- Burnin’ – Bob Marley & the Wailers: “If you know what life is worth/You will look for yours on Earth.”
- Livin For You – Al Green: The follow-up to Call Me is less commanding — how could it not be? — but more odd, more subtle and probably Green’s most under-recognized album. The mood, initially, is the theme — contentment, especially domestic: “Home Again,” “So Good to Be Here,” the clinching “Let’s Get Married.” Maybe Livin’ With You would be a better title, and there’s a devotional quality to this ostensibly secular music. Then it gets weird: jailbait hymn (“Sweet Sixteen”), deconstructed Righteous Brothers (“Unchained Melody”), religious plea (“My God is Real), and eight-minute vamp (“Beware”) where that earlier contentment is imperiled.
- Pronounced Leh’nerd Skin’nerd – Lynyrd Skynyrd: Southern boogie-rock gets tougher, harder, smarter, deeper, funnier, if not all at once. Except maybe so on “Gimme Three Steps.” A tidy eight songs, even if one of them is “Free Bird.”
- Sweet Revenge – John Prine: Another 12 Songs.
- GP – Gram Parsons: I was a big Parsons fan back when I didn’t know enough better, then the “tribute to country music” distance/aspiration started to turn me off. I’ve come back around to the craft and care of it. Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now. Emmylou stepping up on “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes In the Morning” helps.
- Houses of the Holy – Led Zeppelin: Their weirdest major record.
- Countdown to Ecstasy – Steely Dan
- The Wild, Innocent and the E Street Shuffle – Bruce Springsteen: The sound of a major talent who might be great someday. Someday came in a hurry. On “Rosalita,” it was already there.
- Takin’ My Time – Bonnie Raitt
- Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye: After the lead/title song, the rest is mere afterglow, both figurative and almost literal.
- Catch a Fire – Bob Marley & the Wailers: Less bumpy than Burnin’.
- Time Fades Away – Neil Young: The hardest good Young to find.
- The Rhymer and Other Five and Dimers – Tom T. Hall
- Shotgun Willie — Willie Nelson: An icon emerges
- Greatest Hits – Janis Joplin
- Attempted Moustache – Loudon Wainwright III
- Quadrophenia – The Who
- Moondog Matinee – The Band
Aladdin Sane – David Bowie
Mott – Mott the Hoople
- “Let’s Get It On” — Marvin Gaye
- “Personality Crisis”/”Looking for a Kiss” – New York Dolls
- “If We Make It Through December’ – Merle Haggard
- “Living for the City” – Stevie Wonder
- “Gimme Three Steps” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- “I Can’t Stand the Rain” – Ann Peebles
- “Jolene” – Dolly Parton
- “All the Way from Memphis” – Mott the Hoople
- “Call Me (Come Back Home)” — Al Green
- “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” – Stevie Wonder
- “Reelin’ in the Years’ – Steely Dan
- “If You Want Me to Stay” – Sly & the Family Stone
- “Midnight Train to Georgia” — Gladys Knight & the Pips
- “Behind Closed Doors” – Charlie Rich
- “One of a Kind (Love Affair)” — The Spinners
- “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” – Al Green
- “Angel” — Aretha Franklin
- “Drift Away” – Dobie Gray
- “Ramblin’ Man” — The Allman Brothers
- “Apache” – The Incredible Bongo Band
- “Darling Baby” – Jackie Moore
- “Livin’ For You” – Al Green
- “Kodachrome” – Paul Simon
- “Higher Ground” – Stevie Wonder
- “Rock the Boat” – Hues Corporation
- “My Tennessee Mountain Home” – Dolly Parton
- “Cum On Feel the Noize” – Slade
- “Ooh La La” – The Faces
- “Loves Me Like A Rock” – Paul Simon
- “Search and Destroy” – The Stooges
- “Sixty Minute Man’ — Clarence Carter
- “I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)” – Johnnie Taylor
- “Love Train” — The O’Jays
- “Georgia on a Fast Train” – Billy Joe Shaver
- “Keep On Truckin’” — Eddie Kendricks
- “Can’t You See” – Marshall Tucker Band
- “Doing it to Death” – The JBs
- “Angie” – The Rolling Stones
- “Killing Me Softly” – Roberta Flack
- “Soul Makossa” – Manu Dibango
- Badlands (Terrence Malick)
- Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese)
- American Graffiti (George Lucas)
- The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache)
- Paper Moon (Peter Bogdanovich)
- The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman)
- Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg)
- The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates)
- Amarcord (Federico Fellini)
- Charley Varrick (Don Siegel)