September 20, 2021

FTV: Never A Dull Moment

    What more can be said about the year 1971 that I have not already covered?  As a 1971 Marquette Senior High School graduate, I remain fond of that particular year.  It would take a full page of entries to catalogue the number of FTV’s that have mentioned happenings from one of my favorite years.  Enter David Hepworth, author of Never A Dull Moment:  1971 – The Year That Rock Exploded.  I am familiar with many of the events Hepworth wrote about, but was astounded at the level of detail he provided about the musical events of 1971.  David Hepworth has done a true ‘Paul Harvey’ with Never A Dull Moment:  now I know “the rest of the story.”  Let us examine a few of the remarkable, if lesser known, musical happenings from that pivotal year.

     The business side of rock music began a major transformation in 1970-71 led by an unlikely champion of rock economics:  Mick Jagger.  Hepworth describes the Rolling Stones in 1970:  “The old saying goes that most people in the music business are either poorer than you’d think or richer than you could possibly imagine.  At the time, the Stones were in the former category.”  Yes, they were famous, but in a perfect storm of ‘that is the music business circa the 1960s’ set of circumstances, the Stones were stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Their American manager, Alan Klein, channeled a good share of the band’s late 1960s revenues through his own ABKCO organization.  The band was preoccupied with the physical and mental decline of Brian Jones (and his eventual ouster from the band (see FTV:  Brian Jones 2-3-21)), so they weren’t exactly keeping an eye on the business end.  Add Britain’s stifling income tax and surtax (which could range between 83 and 98 percent) and the Stones found their profit margin was nonexistant.  When the back taxes were tallied up, even Bill Wyman (who did not participate in the lucrative song- writing/publishing end of the band) was in the hole to the tune of $200,000.  Even by today’s standards, this was not chump change, especially in 1970.

     Mick had taken enough economics courses at university to realize the antiquated sixties management template was the root cause of their pauperism.  Bands with no business sense relied on a manager to negotiate contracts and act as an expensive nanny service.  Jagger assessed the situation, paid attention to what transpired at the business meetings he attended, and hatched a new business action plan.  Alan Klein was out.  Jagger then turned to Prince Rupert Loewenstein for advice.  As the managing director of a merchant bank (Leopold Joseph), Loewenstein was an expert in the area of wealth management so the band hired him to be their business advisor.  The Stones also elected to put themselves in charge of future management decisions for the Mark II version of the band.  Loewenstein’s first advice was to have the band move out of England to a country with a lower tax burden, in this case France.  Other bands would follow a similar pattern in the future, but the term ‘tax exile’ we hear today was first used to describe Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones who more or less invented the concept in alliance with Loewenstein.

     Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun had sold his label to Warner Brothers in 1967, but he kept his position of influence in the new ownership.  Although he had done well putting out hit singles by Ray Charles, Big Joe Turner, the Coasters, and other top African American artists, he realized that the market was changing.  Albums were beginning to dominate the industry and by 1971 he lured the Stones to Atlantic aiming to sell more records to the white market.  It was a lucrative deal for the Stones when coupled with their determination to take control of their own product.  Their first release by Atlantic, Brown Sugar, came out on the Stone’s own label.  The song was owned by the band.  After finding out that Alan Klein owned the American rights to their earlier hits, they vowed to never let that happen again.  Their royalties were directed to an account in the Netherlands where royalties were not taxed.  The Stones took their first steps to pay off their massive tax debts and literally transformed how bands would do business in the future.  Not bad for a bunch of bad boy rockers who entered the 1970s looking like they were about to fold the tents.  There would be more drama involving the Stones in the future, but 1971 found them living in various parts of France and recording some of their best work at Keith Richards Nellcote digs using their mobile recording truck (yes, the same one immortalized in Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water). 

     Another seachange in the music world began in 1971 when American radio listeners began to migrate away from Top Forty AM.  FM radio had a cleaner sound and the earliest stations broke away from playing singles in order to program more eclectic tracks, even whole albums.  This ‘free form’ radio format would have languished sooner than later because, as Hepworth quoted a radio programmer from the day, “It was either too hip or too hype.”  The emergence of FM as a media force can be traced back to a radio nerd/band manager from Chicago named Lee Abrams.  Trying to find a way to make his cover band more appealing, he began polling the audience as to what they wanted to hear.  He studied radio, corresponded with DJs, read the trade papers, and attended industry conventions, all in a quest to improve what he heard on the air.  He offered to share his revelations with interested radio stations:  The ‘sweet spot’ in programming was not created by spinning a record that was already a hit.  Abrams told stations the way to make listeners love the station and its sponsors was to spin the songs just as the public was discovering them.  He helped stations fuel the listener’s infatuation with a record by using his data to anticipate the next hit, thus making radio more of a taste-maker than just a jukebox spinning hits.

     By the time Lee Abrams got his first actual radio job, he was all in with FM.  When he put his ideas into practice, first at WRIF in Detroit and later at WPTF in North Carolina, his motto became “familiar music works.”  Success came when one polled the audience all the time and programmed the most popular cuts by the artists the listeners said they wanted to hear.  The DJs were given a playlist and a script to follow and it worked just fine for the artists who made the playlists.  Certainly, those who did not make the list were angry.  The format produced mega record sales for the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstatdt, and a host of other popular acts regarded as Classic Rock fodder today.  The ‘Stereo 100’ effect was created because of a corporate trick used to dominate the market.  A corporation would buy a lot of stations in the low 100 FM frequencies and program them all with the same playlist.  It got to be so formulamatic, one could set their watch by which song came on during each half hour block.  I have previously written about hearing Lady by Styx every day within a four block stretch driving to my student teaching assignment in the spring of 1975.  We ended my survey class teaching seventh graders chess when we heard You Having My Baby come over the intercom system we tapped for background music.  By the time I had Lady burned into my brain, there were more than 300 stations across the United States using Abram’s principles.  As a result, FM flourished and AOR (album-oriented rock or adult-oriented rock) was pulled from the underground niche market and became part of the new mainstream for radio listeners.  The ‘Stereo 100’ effect waned, but the principles are still alive and well in the satellite radio market.

     Singer/Songwriter Carole King was another beneficiary of the FM radio boom.  Though her Tapestry album was recorded in 1971, it has hung around long enough to sell twenty-five MILLION copies.  Carole Klein (no relation to Alan) married her high school sweetheart and together, they penned hit records for Aldon Music.  The Goffin-King duo made a decent living and their credits appeared on hits like The Loco-motion, Up On The Roof, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman, and Pleasant Valley Sunday.  After Goffin’s mental health took a turn for the worse after taking LSD, King took her triple threat skills (she could write, arrange, and sing) and her two daughters from New York to Los Angeles.

     Lou Adler had worked for Aldon and he also ended up in California.  He knew talent having previously worked with Sam Cooke and helping guide the Mamas and Papas.  Adler is also remembered as one of the prime movers and shakers for his work organizing the Monterey Pop Festival.  While they were both at Aldon, Adler noticed the record company people he sent King’s demos to took them home for their own enjoyment.  In California, he decided Carole King needed to make a record with the same homespun feel of the original demos she made back in New York.  Adler wanted King’s record to have the same appeal as James Taylor’s 1970 release Sweet Baby James, a record that sold a lot of copies.  Adler picked the right man, recording engineer Hank Cicalo, to oversee the sessions.  Cicalo knew just how to set up the right studio atmosphere to record the lowkey, homespun sounding album Adler described.

     Ace musicians Russ Kunkel (drums), Danny Kotchmar (guitar), and Charles Larkey (bassist and King’s squeeze at the time), were set up in Capitol Records smaller Studio B.  The group was arranged so King could make eye contact with them and ‘direct them’ with nods and looks as they recorded.  They did sneak into the larger Studio A so they could use the best piano in the building for three of the tracks (I Feel The Earth Move, Natural Woman, and  You’ve Got A Friend) which they banged out in three hours.  The entire five day recording process was followed up with some overdubbing.  On January 27, A&M Records house photographer Jim McCrary was dispatched to 8815 Appian Way in Laurel Canyon above Sunset Boulevard to photograph King for the album cover.  AT 28 years old, King was already a thirteen year veteran of the music business, but she worked behind the scenes.  Being photographed wasn’t something King was accustomed to.  Hepworth described the shoot:  “She had prepared herself for McCrary’s lens by putting on a sensible pullover and jeans, much as she would have done had she been weeding the garden.  She had little interest in or flair for glamour,  She was fond of remarking, even then, that she was at heart a middle-aged Jewish lady from Brooklyn.  When McCarary arrived, she was working on a tapestry.  The presence of her cat (Telemachus) helped the picture strike a note of calm, warmth, and domesticity;  a note that chimed perfectly with the music inside that cover.”

     Tapestry was released two weeks after the photo shoot and by mid-summer it was at the top of the charts.  It remained on the Billboard Chart in the number one slot for fifteen consecutive weeks and on the album charts for nearly six years.  It wasn’t a matter of ‘no competition’ as there were a slew of Billboard All Time Albums released at the same time including The Yes Album, Pearl by Janis Joplin, Harry Nilsson’s The Point!, Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection, and the Faces’ Long Player.  While record buyers were toting 150,000 copies of Tapestry home every week in 1971, FM radio kept adding more and more tracks from the album onto the playlist.  Carole King was playing piano in James Taylor’s band at the time and had never headlined a show.  The artists who suddenly found their records below hers on the Top Ten included The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, the Carpenters, C,S,N&Y, Jethro Tull, Aretha Franklin, and The Partridge Family. They must have wondered what had happened in their industry.

     The idea of the massive outdoor music festival had already been on the downward spiral since the tragedy known as Altamont.  Altamont put the lid on the coffin of large American festivals, so to speak, but the nails were provided by the Newport Jazz Festival and The Celebration of Life held in Louisiana.  Newport thought inviting the Allman Brothers would attract more young people and they certainly got their wish.  Unfortunately, most were content to camp outside the festival grounds where they could hear the bands just fine.  That is until they tore down the fence (ironically while Dione Warwick was on stage singing ‘What the world needs now, is love, sweet love’), stormed the stage, destroyed equipment, and caused organizers to cancel the last two days of the event.  Newport’s Jazz festival would move to New York for a decade as a result.

     Booking an outdoor festival in a swampy area along the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana in June was an act of pure insanity.  Big name bands were promised (but many were never booked to begin with) and the organizers repeated every festival no-no right down to hiring a New Orleans motorcycle gang called the Galloping Gooses to act as security.  It turned out to be less of a festival than a stay at a tropical forced labor camp, only with worse sanitary conditions.  Large outdoor festivals would reappear in the future and apparently the organizers of big events like Lollapalooza and Milwaukee’s SummerFest have studied their history books and corrected many of the problems.

     Oddly enough, the spearpoint for today’s large festivals in Great Britain began with the first Glastonbury Fayre held to coincide with the Summer Solstice, June 21, 1971.  Stonehenge was ruled out as a site (it is located in the midst of valuable agricultural land) so it was eventually organized in Pilton.  Pilton is actually seven miles from Glastonbury, but the organizers thought it was close enough to cash in on that settlement’s  more romantic name.  Things were done on the cheap:  the stage only cost 1,100 pounds and they had to limit the number of bodies on stage to the ‘performing band only’ to keep it from collapsing.  The lavatories were literally holes in the ground spanned by scaffolding poles.  Bands were expected to perform for free because the organizers wanted everything to be free (unlike Woodstock that became a free festival but not willingly).

     While the initial Glastonbury Fayre does not sound like the ideal way to organize a festival, it has survived and thrived into the new millenium.  It has also spawned a number of large festivals that are beginning to gear up again after most were cancelled in 2020 by you-know-what.

     Space does not allow for more 1971 anecdotes at this time, so I will leave you with Hepworth’s own summation of the events of that pivotal year:  “It’s not surprising the music of 1971 is in everyone’s bloodstream,  It no longer belongs to the people who made it or just to those of us who were lucky enough to be there when they did so.  Now it belongs to everybody.”

Top Piece Video – Vintage 1971 Carole King from the BBC – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow