Best Year Ever
90 days ago
What was the best ever year for music? Strangely, I own two books dedicated to arguing the case for particular years: Dave Hepworth’s Never A Dull Moment (which puts forward 1971 as the peak of musical creation) and James Acaster’s Perfect Sound Whatever (which argues for 2016).
The case for 1971 has the benefit of greater historical perspective. All of the albums mentioned by Hepworth have stood the critical test of time, while Acaster’s choices are more personal and include many that have flown under the radar of mass appeal. That doesn’t make them any less valid, but it’s worth noting that this isn’t a like-with-like comparison.
Dave from Dead Man Singing would undoubtedly lean towards 1971, not least because when we leave him at the end of the book, he would still have 25 years to wait for Acaster’s cohort. Fourteen of the hundred albums he chose to take with him to his new life – including his own debut album – were from 1971, although 1970 manages a slightly larger haul in Dave’s selection. Among the fourteen are some albums – Who’s Next, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, The Faces’ Long Player among others – that are mentioned in Never A Dull Moment, along with others – by Leon Russell, Iain Matthews and Gerry Rafferty, for example – which didn’t make it into Hepworth’s book.
In the end, the two books are making very different arguments. Hepworth can claim 1971 as a canon-defining year. 1971 was just 17 years after the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, and many of the major players were of an age to remember the impact of the origins of the movement. By 2016 that frontier spirit was impossible to replicate. By contrast, the sheer volume of music available from 2016, along with the freedom the internet offers artists to circumvent record company gatekeeping, offers wider, deeper pools of music than any year from the 1970s.
In the end, we’re all children of our own time. For me, 1971’s music is more to my taste, although I have discovered some gems from Acaster’s book which would otherwise have passed me by, and there are a few albums from that year in my collection which were there long before Perfect Sound Whatever came on my radar (for example, Billy Bragg and Joe Henry’s Shine a Light, or the Rolling Stones' album of blues covers Blue and Lonesome). Just last night at my local grassroots venue, Chaplins in Boscombe, I was blown away by Dixie Dix and Phil J King, two new-to-me local performers. There’s great music – and music that will leave you cold – in just about any year you care to look. Let’s not stop looking.
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