Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1970

by Benjamin Ray

The experimental, anything-goes nature of the last four years of the ‘60s oozed over into 1970, yet while there was a lot of good music this year, there was also a creeping sense of ambivalence. It was as if the musicians had given up trying to change the world and were instead focusing on domestic concerns and having a good time.

As if to cement that the ‘60s were over, The Beatles broke up shortly before releasing Let It Be, showing a group that was a shell of its former self. Seizing the freedom, all four members released solo albums; the best was George Harrison's triple All Things Must Pass, though John Lennon's John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was a sparse, difficult and highly personal acoustic album (McCartney and Ringo were fairly slight efforts that nevertheless were accurate representations of their composers). Lennon also released the single "Instant Karma!"

Bands that had offered debuts in 1969 (and there were many) offered solid follow-ups this year too. Led Zeppelin went in a different direction with Led Zeppelin III, which was a headscratcher to critics who already didn't understand the band (true fans loved it and still do). The Stooges released the primitive pounding proto-punk Fun House, one of the best albums of the year, and fellow Michiganders Grand Funk Railroad put out both Grand Funk and the far better Closer To Home, featuring the epic title track. The Allman Brothers Band bested their debut (no easy task) with Idlewild South, Chicago offered Chicago II and Traffic put out the fine John Barleycorn Must Die.


Progressive rock was still getting off the ground; the best was Emerson, Lake And Palmer's successful debut and Jethro Tull's Benefit, a less bluesy album than previous efforts. Other albums in a similar vein were less worthy, such as Pink Floyd's turgid Atom Heart Mother, Yes' directionless Time And A Word, King Crimson's awful Lizard (In The Wake Of Posiedon was good, if a rehash of the debut), Genesis' Trespass (not bad, but the band would soon dump its guitarist and drummer to get Phil Collins) and the Moody Blues' A Question Of Balance, which boasted a simpler sound to go with relatively inane, embarassing lyrics, save for the title cut.

Other rock albums from 1970 included Derek & The Dominoes' Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (Eric Clapton's pleading love letter to George Harrison's wife), the Guess Who's American Woman, the soundtracks to Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, Van Morrison's Moondance and "Domino," the Doors' Morrison Hotel, David Bowie's proto-glam The Man Who Sold The World, Creedence Clearwater Revival's finest hour in Cosmo's Factory and the Rolling Stones' fantastic live album Get Your Ya-Ya's Out.

Motown also signed a new band, the Jackson 5, who put out "ABC" and "I'll Be There;” audiences couldn't help but notice the talent of the 11-year-old out front. The Temptations offered "Ball Of Confusion," Edwin Starr had "War" (originally a Temptations song that they turned down), Smokey Robinson put out "Tears Of A Clown," Aretha Franklin had "Call Me," the Supremes had "Stoned Love" and Stevie Wonder, growing into his own, released "Signed Sealed Delivered (I'm Yours)."


Crosby Stills Nash & Young, coming off a successful debut, grabbed Neil Young and put out Deja Vu as well as the single "Ohio," a protest song about the Kent State deaths. Young also released After The Gold Rush and Stills had "Love The One You're With." Also, Simon & Garfunkel offered its best album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and called it a day, while James Taylor released the single "Fire And Rain" and album Sweet Baby James.

Although it would not become a problem until 1972, the year had a number of wimpy pop singles that unfortunately sold well, such as the Carpenters' "Close To You," Bread's "Make It With You," Chairmen Of The Board's "Give Me Just A Little More Time," the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You," Bobby Bloom's "Montego Bay," Mungo Jerry's "In The Summertime"(okay, that one was fun) and Edison Lighthouse's "Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes."

Much better were rock songs like Argent's "Hold Your Head Up," Mountain's "Mississippi Queen," Gordon Lightfoot's moving "If You Could Read My Mind," the Ides of March's "Vehicle," the James Gang's "Funk #49," Blues Image's "Ride Captain Ride," Sugarloaf's "Green-Eyed Lady," Free's "All Right Now," the Kinks' "Lola," Eric Burdon and War's "Spill The Wine," Rare Earth's "Get Ready" and Santana's "Evil Ways" and cover of "Black Magic Woman."   

Critics argue as to who invented heavy metal, but if they didn't, Black Sabbath perfected it on their 1970 debut, a loud, seemingly dumb, overly slow affair that critics hated at the time. Curtis Mayfield also debuted with his fantastic Curtis, James Brown offered "Super Bad" and George Clinton put out both Funkadeilc and Free Your Mind...And Your Ass Will Follow, which answered the question of what happens when a funk band drops acid and records an album in one day. And finally, Miles Davis put out one of the best albums of the year, the double Bitches Brew, a jazz-funk-rock outing that pretty much invented the term "fusion" and remains an intoxicating, ambitious career high for the man.

And that, friends, is the Year That Was in music.

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