Albums turning 50 in 2021 that everyone should listen to
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Albums turning 50 in 2021 that everyone should listen to

Do you remember the music of 1971? If you were around then, you probably do. However, if you’ve spent any time listening to classic rock or oldies radio you also have likely heard some albums from that year. Or, these days, listening to classic rock on Spotify or something like that. It’s been 50 years since the music of 1971 was released. Some of it has stood the test of time as classics of the era. Others were popular then, but have fallen by the wayside and deserve to be remembered. What are the top albums of 1971 to celebrate 50 years later? Here are our picks.

 
1 of 20

“Pearl”

“Pearl”
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Janis Joplin burned brightly but burned out fast. One of the many famed musicians to die at the age of 27, “Pearl” was only her second solo album. It was also released posthumously, as Joplin, whose nickname was Pearl, had already passed away.

 
2 of 20

“Tapestry”

“Tapestry”
Jim McCrary/Redferns

Carole King was a successful songwriter before her own career took off. However, take off it did. “Tapestry” is a classic singer-songwriter album featuring many a hit, including “I Feel the Earth Move,” “Beautiful,” and “You Got a Friend.” It’s full of hits, making “Tapestry” a true standout.

 
3 of 20

“Sticky Fingers”

“Sticky Fingers”
Ron Howard/Redferns

The Rolling Stones released an album, so of course, we have to include it. “Sticky Fingers” has a famed cover, and also some equally-famous songs. There’s “Dead Flowers,” “Wild Horses,” and the biggest hit off of “Sticky Fingers,” “Brown Sugar.”

 
4 of 20

“Ram”

“Ram”
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The Stones were still going strong in 1971, but by then the Beatles had broken up and were off doing their own things. That includes Paul McCartney and his wife and collaborator Linda. The duo put together “Ram,” Paul’s second album after the end of the Beatles, which had some experimentation and as a result was a bit divisive. Some people love “Ram,” but others are cooler on it. Maybe listen for yourself.

 
5 of 20

“What’s Going On”

“What’s Going On”
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For the title song alone, Marvin Gaye’s album is worth a listen. “What’s Going On” is one of the most famous and beloved songs of the ‘70s, but there’s plenty more where that comes from on the album. The soul singer’s career and life were cut short, but he still had an incredible run.

 
6 of 20

“Carpenters”

“Carpenters”
Tony Russell/Redferns

Interestingly, the Carpenters didn’t go the self-titled album route until their third offering. It worked, apparently, as “Carpenters” was their biggest hit, reaching number two on the Billboard charts. It also helps that “Carpenters” features songs like “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “Superstar.”

 
7 of 20

“Every Picture Tells a Story”

“Every Picture Tells a Story”
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Rod Stewart’s band Faces released a couple of albums in 1971, but Stewart also released a solo album. An album that includes “Maggie May,” Stewart’s biggest hit, as well as one of the biggest songs of the ‘70s. There are other good songs on “Every Picture Tells a Story,” but it lands on the list largely for its iconic single.

 
8 of 20

“Maggot Brain”

“Maggot Brain”
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

This album title might turn you off, and we get that. However, we still recommend giving Funkadelic’s seminal album a shot. It’s a funk classic, including the title song which is mostly built around the guitar work of Eddie Hazel. If funk is your thing, and you somehow haven’t heard “Maggot Brain,” you should amend that.

 
9 of 20

“Who’s Next”

“Who’s Next”
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Pete Townsend wanted to follow up “Tommy” with another rock opera. It didn’t happen, so instead, we got “Who’s Next,” the band’s best album. We didn’t get anything wild and out there like we may have gotten from a rock opera, but we got “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Baba O’Riley,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” We’ll happily take that trade-off.

 
10 of 20

“Trafalgar”

“Trafalgar”
GAB Archive/Redferns

The Bee Gees were a hit factory, but do you know what the first number-one hit they had in the United States? That would be “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” It comes off of “Trafalgar,” which helped break the brothers Gibb in the United States, paving the way for “Saturday Night Fever.”

 
11 of 20

“Coat of Many Colors”

“Coat of Many Colors”
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

No, this isn’t a “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” album. It’s a Dolly Parton album. As such, we probably don’t need to explain why it’s on this list right? You don’t want to listen to Dolly Parton belt out some of her classic tunes? Of course, you do.

 
12 of 20

“Cold Spring Harbor”

“Cold Spring Harbor”
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Everybody starts somewhere, and in 1971 Billy Joel started with “Cold Spring Harbor.” His next album would be “Piano Man” and the rest is history, but you can see the early pieces of what would become Joel’s style on his debut. Also, he rocks quite the mustache on the cover art.

 
13 of 20

“Madman Across the Water”

“Madman Across the Water”
Michael Putland/Getty Images

You can listen to the entirety of Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water” if you want. Or, you can just listen to the first two songs. John hits you with “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon” right out of the gate. Talk about a fantastic one-two punch.

 
14 of 20

“High Time”

“High Time”
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

MC5 bears a lot of responsibility for the introduction of punk music to the masses. With their 1969 debut, a live album at that, they instructed us to kick out the jams. Just two years later they would release their final album “High Time.” They would never get in the studio again, making this your last chance to hear their proto-punk in action.

 
15 of 20

“Led Zeppelin IV”

“Led Zeppelin IV”
Walter Iooss Jr./Getty Images

Of all the Zeppelin albums, this is probably the pinnacle. Yes, that means it’s the album with “Stairway to Heaven” on it. It also has “Black Dog,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” and “When The Levee Breaks.” It’s packed with iconic ‘70s rock. To many “Led Zeppelin IV” is as good as classic rock gets.

 
16 of 20

“There’s a Riot Goin’ On”

“There’s a Riot Goin’ On”
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Sly and the Family Stone actually titled this album in reference to Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” Sly Stone was still functioning, which mean he and his band were tearing it up and bringing the psychedelic funk. It’s a nice pairing with “Maggot Brain.” What a big year for funk.

 
17 of 20

“Nilsson Schmilsson”

“Nilsson Schmilsson”
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Harry Nilsson gave his album a title that is almost dismissive, but “Nilsson Schmilsson” would go on to be his most popular album ever. Nilsson’s voice was always fantastic, but he really gives it his all on this album. Just try to listen to “Without You” without getting emotional.

 
18 of 20

“Hunky Dory”

“Hunky Dory”
Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

David Bowie hit it out of the park with “Hunky Dory.” The man had already reinvented himself a couple of times, and he was churning out the hits. This album opens with “Changes” and doesn’t let up. The next year Bowie would be Ziggy Stardust, but before that, he was already getting extraterrestrial with his excellent “Life on Mars?”

 
19 of 20

“John Prine”

“John Prine”
Ron Pownall/Getty Images

Sadly, we lost legendary folk singer John Prine to COVID-19 in 2020. Way back in 1971, he released his well-received debut album, a self-titled affair that has really stood the test of time. You may know “Paradise” best because it’s been covered many times over, but the wry political bent of Prine as a musician was clear right from the beginning, with songs like “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.”

 
20 of 20

“Imagine”

“Imagine”
Michael Putland/Getty Images

OK, so John Lennon’s song “Imagine” is maybe a bit hokey, and Gal Gadot and company did it no favors. It’s also one of the most famous songs of all-time. The album of the same name is Lennon’s best, or at least best-received, work after he left the Beatles. It’s an iconic musician’s iconic solo album led by his iconic song. “Imagine” will outlive us all, no matter how many celebrities butcher it.

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

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