Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Syd Barrett in 1970
How 1970 Became The Year Of Syd Barrett
50 years after 'The Madcap Laughs' and 'Barrett,' GRAMMY.com looks back at the former Pink Floyd frontman's debut solo efforts
After 1969 symbolically brought the decade to a frightful close, with the escalation of war in Vietnam, the Manson murders and Brian Jones's death kicking off a series of untimely losses for Pop, 1970 arrived as a slap in the face, designed to wake counterculture up from its fantasist dream for good. As the Beatles made their separation official and irrevocable through the uncomfortable psychodrama that was Let It Be, a whole generation either grew discouraged by the inexplicable resilience of the establishment, or simply escaped altogether.
Syd Barrett had been escaping for a long time, though. After having been sacked by his own band colleagues two years prior amidst the predictable personal and societal confusion the Spring of 1968 had precipitated, a block seemed to emerge between his stubborn, ever-flowing geniality and a saddening inability to pour it out in a comprehensible way—a dichotomy embodied by the backwards solo in Barrett's "Dominoes," which remains a striking testimony of the way he was perceiving and performing his psyche. But Syd was probably "bored, as well as ill," according to biographer Tim Willis, and definitely not as insane as most media would later portray him. Although he was painfully aware of his deteriorating mental condition, some of his public antics were likely more a product of his eternal provocateur persona than of an irreversibly mentally disturbed individual—a behavior whose inadequacy psychiatrist R.D. Laing would often defend as deriving from society's normalized notion of "sanity" and not from a sick mind itself. Rumor has it Laing even paid a visit to Barrett in 1970, although the circumstances and eventual results remain fuzzy.
Nevertheless, and however harsh Syd's own personal reality might have been at the time, 1970 was ironically his year. Aided by former Pink Floyd colleagues (albeit some critics find their work on Syd's solo material to be little more than patronization fueled by a sentiment of profound guilt for having fired their band's founder), Syd put out two albums that would prove fundamental not only for his enduring legacy but also as unquestionable references for many artists that followed: The Madcap Laughs was released in January, three days before his 24th birthday; Barrett came out in November.
While a somewhat more cohesive, Madcap may conceal a process filled with false starts that included several changes in approach and personnel (following Peter Jenner's departure, producer Malcolm Jones would too be replaced by Gilmour and Waters), Barrett is unapologetically more scattered, portraying Syd's frustration with a certain dead end he was encountering in both his career and personal life: "I made sure they were closed sessions," EMI engineer Pete Bown later recalled of the recording process. "Because if anyone had seen Syd, that would have been it." His erratic behavior is perhaps best illustrated by the often evoked anecdote of housemate Duggie Fields once arriving home to find Syd lying on the floor, static, stating that this stillness granted him every option in the world, while a decision would make all but one disappear. The problem is, of course, that no option is real unless action is taken towards it, and both Madcap and Barrett often seem like abstract attempts of an action whose results didn't quite satisfy Syd the way he expected them to.
Yet it is perhaps fairer to say that, by then, Syd bore little to no expectations at all. Barrett is a profound reflection on loneliness and sadness, and Syd's mental engagement with it seems much more fickle when compared to a relative vivacity present in its predecessor. This is, of course, something he was very much aware of: "[The songs of the album] are very pure, you know; [but sometimes] I feel I'm jabbering," he confessed during a conversation with music journalist Michael Watts at the time of the album's release. Containing few tracks that actually feel finished and an aura of despair coronating the ensemble, Barrett augured a premature ending to Syd's offerings.
But the album also represented an announced return to his Cambridge hometown, be it in its themes, its compositions ("Wined and Dined," for example, had been written there), and even the cover art, which was based on one of the many drawings Syd had made some years earlier. Darker and arguably heavier than Madcap, Barrett showcased how Syd had become increasingly desperate for a reencounter with the simple life and with himself: "I've always thought of going back to a place where you can drink tea and sit on the carpet," he would later say. Having grown disenchanted with the life the swingingest capital of the swinging world had provided him with, Syd mutely acknowledged the end of a volatile excitement that had only revealed to be shallow and deprived of the creative richness it had once remotely promised.
Barrett is Syd's very own Pastoral. His return to the country as a respite, a celebration, or even a ritual, might have come about not in the fairest of circumstances, and even a tad too late if we consider his mental state at the time; but the universes he had been bringing about since the early Floyd days kept inhabiting (haunting?) him until he was left with no other choice but letting himself be absorbed by them, both inside and out. After going back and forth for another decade, in 1982 he walked all the way from London to Cambridge never to return. The peregrination suited him as his own Via Dolorosa, towards freedom and distance from earthly sins; but as Syd turned his back on a mess he didn't ask for or even related to, he remained oblivious to the fact that he would carry a part of it with him forever.
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
What Was 'The Dark Side Of The Moon' Almost Called? 5 Facts About Pink Floyd's Masterpiece Ahead Of The 50th Anniversary Boxed Set
Pink Floyd's 'The Dark Side Of The Moon' has maintained its philosophical, psychological and exploratory power for 50 years. Here are five off-the-beaten-path things to know about it.
Rarely do a mere prism and spectrum of light signify so much.
The cover of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon is recognizable by all denizens of the Western world, rock fan or not. For so many, it also opens a treasure box of associations: The themes of irth and death, greed and madness, and the relentless tick-tock of time. An ecstatic vocal aria. The specter of a departed Syd Barrett. The lunatic on the grass. Money: it's a gas.
After half a century of headphone-clad zone-outs and The Wizard of Oz re-rewatches, The Dark Side of the Moon transcends mere codification and ubiquity; it remains a work of uncommon perceptiveness, concision and ingenuity. And the arrival of a new boxed set invites listeners back through the gates of its mind-expanding, incisive, philosophical universe.
The Dark Side of the Moon — 50th Anniversary Boxed Set, out Mar. 24, encompasses a lavish array of ways to re-experience this classic rock staple. The set includes CD and gatefold vinyl of the newly remastered studio album, as well as Blu-Ray/DVD audio featuring the original 5.1 mix and remastered stereo versions, as well as a diamond-sharp Atmos mix.
Just as enticing is a CD and LP of The Dark Side Of The Moon - Live At Wembley Empire Pool, London, 1974, which illuminates how an album that stretched the boundaries of the studio took on new dimensions on stage. When you see Roger Waters continue to stage ambitious, polemic productions across the globe, trace a line backward to Floyd's culture-shaking live show 50 years ago.
Roger Waters Sought Unprecedented Lyrical Clarity
The Dark Side of the Moon wasn't just a leap forward aurally, or conceptually: the band had never been so vivid and specific with their words.
"I think we all thought — and Roger definitely thought — that a lot of the lyrics that we had been using were a little too indirect," Gilmour told Rolling Stone in 2003, referring to past albums like Obscured by Clouds and Meddle. "There was definitely a feeling that the words were going to be very clear and specific. That was a big leap forward."
Thus, the band produced a work of thematic depth and concision, full of unforgettable one-liners like "All you touch and all you see/ Is all your life will ever be" and "There's someone in my head/ But it's not me."
Clare Torry Was Paid Just £30 For Her Vocal Performance
Despite the singer's lack of name recognition, millions and millions have heard Clare Torry's voice. Her cyclonic, wordless aria on "The Great Gig in the Sky" — they nixed a first attempt, partly on account of the word "baby" — is one of the most memorable parts of The Dark Side of the Moon.
So it might be surprising to hear that Torry was paid a standard rate of £30 for her work — and ended up suing the band in 2004 for a songwriting credit and lost wages. (The case was settled out of court.)
It Could Have Been Called Eclipse, With The Silver Surfer On The Cover
When a now-obscure band called Medicine Head released an album called Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd's desired title seemed under threat.
"We weren't annoyed at Medicine Head," Gilmour later said. "We were annoyed because we had already thought of the title before the Medicine Head album came out." But when Medicine Head's album failed commercially, the door was open to proceed as planned.
And, accordingly, while Pink Floyd desired the prismatic cover as soon as they saw it, the band had previously kicked around the idea of a Marvel superhero on the album sleeve.
"We were all into Marvel Comics, and the Silver Surfer seemed to be another fantastic singular image," Aubrey Power of art design group Hipgnosis remembered. "We never would have got permission to use it. But we liked the image of a silver man, on a silver surfboard, scooting across the universe. It had mystical, mythical properties. Very cosmic, man!"
The Band Performed The Album In Its Entirety A Year Prior To Release
Throughout 1972, the band performed a proto version of The Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics (its addendum at the time) in sequence. They also refined the song cycle as one continuous piece, with transitions at all, eventually landing on the continuum of music we know and love today.
That being said, there were significant differences in these nascent live versions — for example, "On the Run" was a guitar and keyboard jam, and "The Great Gig in the Sky" was hung on an organ solo, not a vocal solo.
There's A Beatles-Related Easter Egg Near The End
Paul McCartney, then finishing Wings' Red Rose Speedway, was among the various interview subjects interspliced into the finished project — but as his appearance was a comedic put-on against the band's wishes, they scrapped his appearance. But that doesn't mean there's no Fabs on The Dark Side of the Moon.
Near the end of "Eclipse," during the famous "Matter of fact, it's all dark" quip an orchestral version of "Ticket to Ride" can be faintly heard. This detail among so many others is more audible than ever in the new remaster — where the light shines through clearer than ever.
How 1973 Shaped Classic Rock: 10 Essential Albums From British Artists
Fifty years ago, there was a creative apex in what we now call classic rock. However, the sounds of '73 were wildly progressive and diverse, with influences that ranged from blues and baroque, to free jazz and acid-folk.
Fifty years ago, a young generation of British rock 'n' rollers were ready to show the world that the lessons learned from the Beatles were not lost on them. If the kaleidoscopic Sgt. Pepper’s had proven that pop music could be anything you wanted it to be, the artists that followed took those radical ideas to a new level.
United by the vague, umbrella-like term of progressive rock, bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd, Queen and King Crimson expanded the lexicon of rock with influences that ranged from classical and baroque to free jazz and acid-folk; blues to reggae and music hall. Today, these records define the sound of classic rock.
1973 signified an absolute apex — the sweetest moment in time when everything seemed possible and each new album gleamed with the joy of innovation. Here are 10 records from British artists that marked a before and after for classic rock.
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
Years of psychedelic wanderings and space-rock exploration — not to mention the trauma of losing a beloved bandmate to drugs — crystallized into Pink Floyd’s unequivocal masterpiece. An album so sublime, it makes the seven LPs that preceded it sound like rough sketches in comparison.
The lyrics are wicked in their cynicism and existential malaise, and the band finally sounds tight and economical. But Dark Side's greatest virtue here is the sheer beauty of the melodies, one gauzy song leading into the other with effortless grace. "Money" was the hit single and "Time" redrew the boundaries of rock through immersive sound effects. But "The Great Gig in the Sky," with its wordless female vocals and achingly nostalgic chords, showed that the Floydian mystique was as soulful as the blues.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery
Trilogy, the dreamy 1972 album by mad keyboardist Keith Emerson, bassist/vocalist Greg Lake and drummer Carl Palmer, had been constructed in the studio with layers and layers of overdubs. As a natural reaction, the trio decided their next effort should be the kind of record they could play in a live setting.
Sporting an ominous cover by Alien visual artist H. R. Giger, Brain Salad Surgery is, strangely enough, the antithesis of prog-rock pomp. Behind the epic length of multi-part symphony "Karn Evil 9" lurk visceral touches of dissonance and noise, nocturnal piano harmonics and a goofy sense of humor. At the time, ELP was vilified for its pretension to merge rock with classical. Half a century later, they deserve praise for letting their collective imagination run wild.
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic
Led with unspoken dictatorial fire by acerbic guitar mastermind Robert Fripp, the mid-‘70s incarnation of the ever-evolving King Crimson played abstract heavy metal for the soul. All hell breaks loose when the freeform improvisation of "The Talking Drum" gives way to the demonic groove of "Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Part II)," enhanced by the pristine clang-clang finesse of Bill Bruford, the most intellectual drummer of his generation.
All Crimson albums drown their sorrows in an unexpected moment of pastoral bliss, and "Book of Saturday" doesn’t disappoint, the lament of vocalist John Wetton framed by Fripp’s avant-pop guitar — a song so quiet and beautiful, it almost hurts.
Camel – Camel
There was a pervasive sweetness of spirit, a caramel tint to Camel’s nimble instrumental workouts and monotone vocals. Their soundscapes were a tad too delicate and whimsical to match the imposing scale of ‘70s heavyweights like Genesis and Floyd.
In retrospect, Camel stands as the most criminally underrated band of the classic prog movement. This full-bodied debut is jazzy and psychedelic, showcasing the wide-eyed melodic sense of guitarist Andy Latimer and keyboardist Pete Bardens. Camel proved that you don’t need a powerful vocalist to make the music soar.
Genesis – Selling England by the Pound
A doorway into an enchanted world of sumptuous keyboard solos, 12-string guitars and rambunctious drum fills (hello, Phil Collins), Genesis’ fifth studio album has mystified and enthralled generations of art-rock lovers. The sonic manifesto of five young musicians at the top of their game (all of whom would eventually enjoy success as solo artists), Selling combines a wacky, quintessential British eccentricity with sweeping melodies, social satire and the surreal imagery of singer/lyricist Peter Gabriel.
Keyboardist Tony Banks found inspiration in Rachmaninoff for the majestic intro to "Firth of Fifth," while "The Cinema Show" namedrops T.S. Eliot. "The Battle of Epping Forest" turns a gang massacre over urban boundaries into a delirious mini-opera. An album of limitless imagination, it has aged remarkably well.
Queen – Queen I
Many fans prefer Queen’s early, heavier glam-rock albums over the polished commercial blockbusters that followed — and they have a point. An exhilarating debut, Queen I is deliciously rough around the edges, but at the same time brims with the grandeur and melodic genius that characterized the London quartet from its inception. "Liar" boasts the singalong melodrama that would explode in A Night at the Opera, while guitarist Brian May’s "The Night Comes Down" hums with folk-rock longing. Funky and defiant, opening cut "Keep Yourself Alive" unlocks the hit-making blueprint of a band poised to conquer the world.
Yes – Tales from Topographic Oceans
At the time of its release, Yes’ sprawling double album based on four separate volumes of ancient Hindu scriptures appeared to encapsulate the excesses of ‘70s rock — and why the punk movement would aim to counteract and destroy rock. Tales even motivated keyboardist Rick Wakeman to leave the band, claiming that he couldn’t play music that he didn’t comprehend (no worries, he would return to the fold several times.)
Five decades later, it can be appreciated for what it really is: An ambitious sonic adventure that is in no rush whatsoever to take you to the bridge. Its four, 20 minute-long "songs" are cohesive, ethereal and filled with lovely moments, from the gentle meditation of "The Remembering" to the percussion freakout that brings "Ritual" to a feverish climax. Not for everyone’s taste, sure enough, but as dense and rewarding as a Gustav Mahler symphony.
Roxy Music – Street Life
"Here as I sit at this empty café, thinking of you," croons a mournful Bryan Ferry on "A Song for Europe." As the six-minute track meanders on – torrid sax lines, grandiloquent piano, lyrics in Latin and French — the Roxy Music aesthetic blooms, fully formed.
The third of eight exquisite albums that make up the Roxy canon, Street Life betrays Ferry’s fine arts studies at Newcastle with its combination of garish pop spectacle, avant-garde esoterics and a perverse obsession with the beauty of everything — from the group’s legendary LP covers to the ornate hooks and the aural architecture of it all. And the bridge, it sighs.
Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells
Wunderkind Mike Oldfield was only 19 when he recorded the majority of this remarkable debut, performing every instrument himself. Inspired by the mystical sweep of English folk and drawn to minimalism and multi-tracking, the guitarist was in tune with the progressive trends of the time, but his long form pieces are stubbornly idiosyncratic.
Tubular’s opening theme was used in the horror movie hit The Exorcist and Oldfield became an instant rock star. Still, this album is only an intriguing opening statement for the many masterpieces that followed – most notably, Ommadawn (1975) and Incantations (1978.)
Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy
Having cemented the bulldozer-like propulsion of its hard-rock creed, Led Zeppelin spent most of 1972 making an album that reflected the current times: expansive, stylistically omnivorous, preoccupied with grander themes. Seeped in haunting Mellotron textures, "The Rain Song" is the quartet’s proggiest moment, and "D’yer Mak’er" goes reggae-rock with impeccable taste. Conservative Zep fans found solace in the rollicking opener "The Song Remains the Same," proving that hardrock still enjoyed a creative peak in 1973. They had a dream, oh yeah, a crazy dream, and we’re still grooving along.
20 Albums Turning 50 In 2023: 'Innervisions,' 'Dark Side Of The Moon' 'Catch A Fire' & More
1973 saw a slew of influential records released across genres — many of which broke barriers and set standards for music to come. GRAMMY.com reflects on 20 albums that, despite being released 50 years ago, continue to resonate with listeners today.
Fifty years ago, a record-breaking 600,000 people gathered to see the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band and the Band play Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. This is just one of many significant historical events that happened in 1973 — a year that changed the way music was seen, heard and experienced.
Ongoing advancements in music-making tech expanded the sound of popular and underground music. New multi-track technology was now standard in recording studios from Los Angeles to London. Artists from a variety of genres experimented with new synthesizers, gadgets like the Mu-Tron III pedal and the Heil Talk Box, and techniques like the use of found sounds.
1973 was also a year of new notables, where now-household names made their debuts. Among these auspicious entries: a blue-collar songwriter from the Jersey Shore, hard-working southern rockers from Jacksonville, Fla. and a sister group from California oozing soul.
Along a well-established format, '73 saw the release of several revolutionary concept records. The Eagles’ Desperado, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Lou Reed’s Berlin and the Who’s Quadrophenia are just a few examples that illustrate how artists used narrative techniques to explore broader themes and make bigger statements on social, political and economic issues — of which there were many.
On the domestic front, 1973 began with the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade. Internationally, the Paris Peace Accords were signed — starting the long process to end the Vietnam War. An Oil crisis caused fuel prices to skyrocket in North America. Richard Nixon started his short-lived second term as president, which was marked by the Watergate scandal.
Politics aside, the third year of the '70s had it all: from classic- and southern-rock to reggae; punk to jazz; soul and R&B to country. Read on for 20 masterful albums with something to say that celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2023.
Band On The Run - Paul McCartney & Wings
Laid down at EMI’s studio in Lagos, Nigeria and released in December 1973, the third studio record by Paul Mcartney & Wings is McCartney’s most successful post-Beatles album. Its hit singles "Jet" and the title cut "Band on the Run" helped make the record the biggest-selling in 1974 in both Australia and Canada.
Band on the Run won a pair of GRAMMYS the following year: Best Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus and Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical. McCartney added a third golden gramophone for this record at the 54th awards celebration when it won Best Historical Album for the 2010 reissue. In 2013, Band on the Run was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame.
Head Hunters - Herbie Hancock
Released Oct. 13, Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters was recorded in just one week; its
four songs clock in at just over 40 minutes. That the album was not nominated in the jazz category, but instead Best Pop Instrumental Performance, demonstrates how Hancock was shifting gears.
Head Hunters showed Hancock moving away from traditional instrumentation and playing around with new synthesizer technology — especially the clavinet — and putting together a new band: the Headhunters. Improvisation marks this as a jazz record, but the phrasing, rhythms and dynamics of Hancock’s new quintet makes it equal parts soul and R&B with sprinkles of rock 'n' roll.
The album represented a commercial and artistic breakthrough for Hancock, going gold within months of its release. "Watermelon Man" and "Chameleon," which was nominated for a Best Instrumental GRAMMY Award in 1974, were later both frequently sampled by hip-hop artists in the 1990s.
Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. - Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen, 22, was the new kid in town in 1973. This debut was met with tepid reviews. Still, Greetings introduced Springsteen’s talent to craft stories in song and includes many characters The Boss would return to repeatedly in his career. The album kicks off with the singalong "Blinded by the Light," which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 100 four years later via a cover done by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. This was the first of two records Springsteen released in 1973; The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle arrived before the end of the year — officially introducing the E Street Band.
Innervisions - Stevie Wonder
This Stevie Wonder masterpiece shows an artist, in his early 20s, experimenting with new instrumentation such as TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra) — the world’s largest synth — and playing all instruments on the now-anthemic "Higher Ground."
The song reached No.1 on the U.S. Hot R&B Singles Chart, and Innervisions peaked at No. 4. The album won three GRAMMYS the following year, including Album Of The Year. Wonder was the first Black artist to win this coveted golden gramophone. In 1989, Red Hot Chili Peppers kept the original funk, but injected the song with a lot of rock on their cover — the lead single from Mother’s Milk.
The Dark Side Of The Moon - Pink Floyd
Critics perennially place this Pink Floyd album, the band's eighth studio record, as one of the greatest of all-time. The Dark Side of the Moon hit No.1 and stayed on the Billboard charts for 63 weeks.
A sonic masterpiece marked by loops, synths, found sounds, and David Gilmour’s guitar bends, Dark Side of the Moon is also a concept record that explores themes of excessive greed on tracks like "Money." Ironically, an album lambasting consumerism was the top-selling record of the year and has eclipsed 45 million sales worldwide since its release. The album’s cover has also become one of the most recognized in the history of popular music.
Pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd - Lynyrd Skynyrd
This debut release features several of the northern Florida rockers' most beloved songs: "Gimme Three Steps," "Tuesday’s Gone" and "Simple Man." The record, which has since reached two-times platinum status with sales of more than two million, also includes the anthemic "Free Bird," which catapulted them to stardom. The song with its slow-build and definitive guitar solo and jam in the middle became Lynyrd Skynyrd's signature song that ended all their shows; it also became a piece of pop culture with people screaming for this song during concerts by other artists.
Houses Of The Holy - Led Zeppelin
The first Led Zeppelin record of all originals — and the first without a Roman numeral for a title — Houses of the Holy shows a new side of these British hardrockers. Straying from the blues and hard rock of previous records, Houses of the Holy features funk (“The Ocean” and “The Crunge”) and even hints of reggae (“D’Yer Mak’er”). This fifth studio offering from Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham also includes one of this writer’s personal Zeppelin favorites — "Over the Hills and Far Away.” The song was released as the album’s first U.S. single and reached No. 51 on the Billboard charts. Despite mixed reviews from critics, Houses of the Holy eventually achieved Diamond status for sales of more than 10 million. Interesting fact: the song “Houses of the Holy” actually appears on the band’s next record (Physical Graffiti).
Quadrophenia - The Who
The double-album rock opera followed the critical success of Tommy and Who’s Next. Pete Townshend composed all songs on this opus, which was later adapted into a movie. And, in 2015, classically-scored by Townshend’s partner Rachel Fuller for a new generation via a symphonic version (“Classic Quadrophenia”). The story chronicles the life of a young mod named Jimmy who lives in the seaside town of Brighton, England. Jimmy searches for meaning in a life devoid of significance — taking uppers, downers and guzzling gin only to discover nothing fixes his malaise. With sharp-witted songs, Townshend also tackles classicism. His band of musical brothers: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon provide some of their finest recorded performances. The album reached second spot on the U.S. Billboard chart.
Berlin - Lou Reed
Produced by Bob Ezrin, Berlin is a metaphor. The divided walled city represents the divisive relationships and the two sides of Reed — on stage and off. The 10 track concept record chronicles a couple’s struggles with drug addiction, meditating on themes of domestic abuse and neglect. As a parent, try to listen to "The Kids" without shedding a tear. While the couple on the record are named Caroline and Jim, those who knew Reed’s volatile nature and drug dependency saw the parallels between this fictionalized narrative and the songwriter’s life.
Catch A Fire - Bob Marley & the Wailers
The original cover was enclosed in a sleeve resembling a Zippo lighter. Only 20,000 of this version were pressed. Even though it was creative and cool, cost-effective it was not — each individual cover had to be hand-riveted. The replacement, which most people know today, introduces reggae poet and prophet Robert Nesta Marley to the world. With a pensive stare and a large spliff in hand, Marley tells you to mellow out and listen to the tough sounds of his island home.
While Bob and his Wailers had been making music for nearly a decade and released several records in Jamaica, Catch a Fire was their coming out party outside the Caribbean. Released in April on Island Records, the feel-good reggae rhythms and Marley’s messages of emancipation resonated with a global audience. A mix of songs of protest ("Slave Driver," "400 years") and love ("Kinky Reggae"), Catch A Fire is also notable for "Stir it Up," a song American singer-songwriter Johnny Nash had made a Top 15 hit the previous year.
The New York Dolls - The New York Dolls
The New York Dolls burst on the club scene in the Big Apple, building a cult following with their frenetic and unpredictable live shows. The Dolls' hard rock sound and f-you attitude waved the punk banner before the genre was coined, and influenced the sound of punk rock for generations. (Bands like the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and KISS, cite the New York Dolls as mentors.) Singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren — who found time to release A Wizard, A True Star this same year — produced this tour de force. From the opening "Personality Crisis," this five-piece beckons you to join this out-of-control train.
Aladdin Sane - David Bowie
This David Bowie record followed the commercial success of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars. Many critics unfairly compare the two. A career chameleon, with Aladdin Sane, Bowie shed the Ziggy persona and adopted another alter-ego. The title is a pun that means: "A Lad Insane." For the songwriter, this record represented an attempt to break free from the crazed fandom Ziggy Stardust had created.
A majority of the songs were written the previous year while Bowie toured the United States in support of Ziggy. Journal in hand, the artist traveled from city to city in America and the songs materialized. Most paid homage to what this “insane lad” observed and heard: from debauchery and societal decay ("Cracked Actor") to politics ("Panic in Detroit") to punk music ("Watch That Man"). Top singles on Aladdin Sane were: "The Jean Genie" and "Drive-In Saturday." Both topped the U.K. charts.
Faust IV -Faust
This fourth studio album — and the final release in this incarnation by this experimental avant-garde German ambient band — remains a cult classic. Recorded at the Manor House in Oxfordshire, England (Richard Branson’s new Virgin Records studio and the locale where Mike Oldfield crafted his famous debut Tubular Bells, also released in 1973), Faust IV opens with the epic 11-minute instrumental "Krautrock" — a song that features drones, clusters of tones and sustained notes to create a trance-like vibe. Drums do not appear in the song until after the seven minute mark.
The song is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the genre British journalists coined to describe bands like Faust, which musicians largely did not embrace. The rest of Faust IV is a sonic exploration worthy of repeated listens and a great place to start if you’ve ever wondered what the heck Krautrock is.
Brothers & Sisters - the Allman Brothers Band
Great art is often born from grief, and Brothers & Sisters is exemplary in this way. Founding member Duanne Allman died in 1971 and bassist Berry Oakley followed his bandmate to the grave a year later; he was killed in a motorcycle accident in November 1972. Following this pair of tragedies, the band carried on the only way they knew how: by making music.
With new members hired, Brothers & Sisters was recorded with guitarist Dicky Betts as the new de facto band leader. The Allman Brothers Band’s most commercially successful record leans into country territory from the southern rock of previous releases and features two of the band’s most popular songs: "Ramblin’ Man" and "Jessica." The album went gold within 48 hours of shipping and since has sold more than seven million copies worldwide.
Call Me - Al Green
Call Me is considered one of the greatest soul records of the 20th century and Green’s pièce de résistance. The fact this Al Green album features three Top 10 Billboard singles — "You Ought to Be With Me," "Here I Am" and the title track — helps explain why it remains a masterpiece. Beyond the trio of hits, the soul king shows his versatility by reworking a pair of country songs: Hank Williams’ "I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry," and Willie Nelson’s "Funny How Time Slips Away."
Killing Me Softly - Roberta Flack
This Roberta Flack album was nominated for three GRAMMY Awards and won two: Record Of The Year and Best Female Vocal Pop Performance at the 1974 GRAMMYs (it lost in the Album of the Year category to Innervisions). With equal parts soul and passion, Flack interprets beloved ballads that showcase her talent of taking others’ songs and reinventing them. Producer Joel Dorn assembled the right mix of players to back up Flack — adding to the album’s polished sound. Killing Me Softly has sold more than two million copies and, in 2020, Roberta Flack received the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award.
The album's title cut became a No.1 hit in three countries and, in 1996, the Fugees prominently featured Lauryn Hill on a version that surpassed the original: landing the No.1 spot in 21 countries. The album also includes a pair of well-loved covers: Leonard Cohen’s "Suzanne" and Janis Ian’s wistful "Jesse," which reached No. 30.
Bette Midler - Bette Middler
Co-produced by Arif Mardin and Barry Manilow, the self-titled second studio album by Bette Midler was an easy- listening experience featuring interpretations of both standards and popular songs. Whispers of gospel are mixed with R&B and some boogie-woogie piano, though Midler’s voice is always the star. The record opens with a nod to the Great American Songbook with a reworking of Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael’s "Skylark." The 10-song collection also features a take on Glenn Miller’s "In the Mood," and a divine cover of Bob Dylan’s "I Shall be Released." The record peaked at No. 6 on the U.S. charts.
Imagination - Gladys Knight & the Pips
Released in October, Imagination was Gladys Knight & the Pips' first album with Buddha Records after leaving Motown, and features the group’s only No. 1 Billboard hit: "Midnight Train to Georgia." The oft-covered tune, which won a GRAMMY the following year, and became the band’s signature, helped the record eclipse a million in sales, but it was not the only single to resonate. Other timeless, chart-topping songs from Imagination include "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," and "I’ve Got to Use My Imagination."
The Pointer Sisters - The Pointer Sisters
The three-time GRAMMY-winning Pointer Sisters arrived on the scene in 1973 with this critically-acclaimed self-titled debut. Then a quartet, the group of sisters from Oakland, California made listeners want to shake a tail feather with 10 songs that ranged from boogie-woogie to bebop. Their sisterly harmonies are backed up by the San Francisco blues-funk band the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils. The record opens with "Yes We Can," a hypnotic groove of a song written by Allen Toussaint which was a Top 15 hit alongside another cover, Willie Dixon’s "Wang Dang Doodle."
Behind Closed Doors - Charlie Rich
This pop-leaning country record of orchestral ballads, produced by Billy Sherrill, made Rich rich. The album has surpassed four million in sales and remains one of the genre’s best-loved classics. The album won Charlie Rich a GRAMMY the following year for Best Country Vocal Performance Male and added four Country Music Awards. Behind Closed Doors had several hits, but the title track made the most impact. The song written by Kenny O’Dell, and whose title was inspired by the Watergate scandal, was the first No.1 hit for Rich. It topped the country charts where it spent 20 weeks in 1973. It was also a Billboard crossover hit — reaching No. 15 on the Top 100 and No. 8 on the Adult Contemporary charts.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.