Even within an era of such radical change, 1971 stands out. A year when the peace, love and harmony of the 1960s met the harsh realities of war, violence and injustice, providing fertile ground for artists and activists determined to reshape society.
New Apple TV docu-series 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything explores the relationship between music and politics at a time when artists were challenging the status quo through personal expression, avant-garde movements and politically charged protest music. As David Bowie says: “We were creating the 21st century in 1971.”
From the conscious soul of Curtis Mayfield, to the beginnings of electronic experimentation with Kraftwerk and The Who, to the androgynous self-expression of Bowie, to the emotionally charged albums of Carole King and Joni Mitchell – not to mention the emergence of proto-punk, reggae, disco and prog-rock – the diversity on the music charts is something to behold.
It is difficult to comprehend the number of legendary albums produced in that year, but cutting through it all is Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece, What’s Going On, marking his shift to songs driven by rage – about war, poverty, police violence and environmental destruction – that still packs a punch.
With the Vietnam War dividing America, this series centres on the clash between conservative forces and this rising counter-culture – from women’s liberation, to gay pride and the Black Power movement.
While unashamedly UK and US-centric – with Australians Germaine Greer and Oz magazine getting a look in – the series features an impressive amount of original footage, exposing just how much and yet how little has changed over the past 50 years. But, while many of the political causes remain, the political activists who rose up during that era seem peerless in their bravery, authenticity and conviction.