’71 and Done: Alan Chestnut’s Top 10 Hard Rock Countdown for 1971
A friend of MetalSucks who goes by the name Alan Chestnut has been studying rock music released in 1971 closer than Tom Brady studies the disappearing hair follicles on his shiny dome. He’s an expert, and firmly believes 1971 to be the absolute BEST year for hard rock in the history of ever. MS co-head-honcho Vince Neilstein had his mind blown by Chestnut’s impeccable picks one summer night over a a couple of packed bowls, several beers and some masterfully cooked meatballs. And now Chestnut will share those picks with you.
When 1971 started on a Friday, I knew it was going to be a good one, and boy was it ever! Any rock critic would agree that for the past forty-five years, 1971 has been the high-water mark for hard rock music. Today I’ll be turning back the rock-clock to the year-of-fear, back when being a rocker meant something and bands knew exactly what brutal riffage entailed.
Before we open up the dossier of carnage, let me be clear: I am only concerned with songs that came out in 1971. Of course, when thinking of ’70s rock, one name immediately comes to mind: Wicked Lady. Sorry, bucko. Martin Weaver is a legend, no debate, and a track like “Run the Night” boils over with mephistophelean wickedness (think Blue Cheer with balls), but it was recorded in 1969. Truthfully, all of Axeman Cometh was recorded pre-’71, and Psychotic Overkill was done in 1972. Close, but no cigar. Or something like the Scorpions’ debut Lonesome Crow? Impermissible. That diamond in the rough was recorded in ’71 but released in ’72. Sure, “I’m Goin’ Mad” is sonically indomitable, but it has no place whatsoever on this list.
10. “Silver Bird” by UFO
Speaking of Michael Schenker, I’m kicking off the countdown with a track from UFO’s UFO 2: Flying. UFO, you know I love you guys, but while “Silver Bird” finds a noteworthy groove around 4:20 (nice touch), overall this track boils down like a cup of Ramen: too much noodling. Reconsidering my choice for number ten, I may have done better with a selection from Hawkwind’s In Search of Space or Nektar’s visionary concept-album Journey to the Center of the Eye (something like “Void of Vision”). I will make an effort to avoid oversights like this in the future. Anyway, on a lyrical level, “Silver Bird” tells the tale of Phil Mogg waking up to discover an alien spaceship parked on his lawn. On the whole, the song could use more brimstone. I don’t want Sci-Fi; I want to die high.
9. “Restrictions” by Cactus
My next pick is the titular track from Cactus’ 1971 unrelenting album Restrictions. I know a lot of you right now are probably saying, “Alan, surely ‘Evil’ would be the superior choice here.” Of course, Cactus’ Howlin’ Wolf cover deserves credit, but it remains a cover song. Likewise, you won’t see me mentioning “Feel So Bad” from Cactus’ other ’71 album, One Way…Or Another (I always found that to be a curious ellipsis). In all honesty, Cactus ought to be higher up on this list. Sadly, by the end of ’71 Jim McCarty, who Ted Nugent famously and rightly described as “a god on guitar,” would leave the band. Adding injury to insult, vocalist Rusty Day, aka Pachuco, was victim to a still-unsolved murder in 1983, very metal. As for the Cactus reunion and 2006’s Cactus V, I could not care less, though Cactology: the Cactus Collection remains a must-have for any serious collector.
8. “Loving You” by Iron Claw
Double first-namers Alex Wilson and Jimmy Ronnie were inspired to form Iron Claw after a 1969 Zeppelin concert (Zep’s 1971 effort Led Zeppelin IV is not included on this list for obvious reasons). Ironically though, Iron Claw is more often compared to Black Sabbath (aka Iron Claw Lite; most agree Sabbath’s Master of Reality is underwhelming for ’71 and bogged down with unnecessary instrumentals). Iron Claw, predictably, pulled their band name from the opening lines of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” (speaking of, Crimson’s Islands is widely considered another ’71 dud). When I’m in the mood for ruinous flute, I consistently turn to “Loving You.” With diabolical fuzz, this track builds a synagogue to Satan and then burns it to the ground.
7. “Breakthrough” by Atomic Rooster
I’m sorry, has Sir Elton John entered the Roost? No, but an understandable miscue. Pianos usually do not rock, but Atomic Rooster eviscerate the ivories all over their 1971 smash In Hearing Of (what else can you expect when Vince Crane is at the helm?). Not convinced? I don’t blame you. “Head In The Sky” or bonus track “The Devil’s Answer” deliver the sought after shredding; however, Atomic Rooster never offer the teeth-gnashing riffs needed to breach my top 5. Still, it’s a solid album. Cut to 3:44 to hear Pete French accurately bellow, “There isn’t a god” (French tragically left Leaf Hound to join the Roost and was later recruited by Cactus; it’s a small, incestuous world).
6. “Zero Time” by Dark
Finding a good copy of Dark’s 1971 masterpiece Round the Edges can be tricky, because they only pressed about fifty, which is why I am so proud to own two (one for listening, one unopened). After weeks of deliberation, I chose the closing track “Zero Time” as my pick. Was I tempted to chose “Darkside” or “Live For Today”? Of course I was; the selection process wrecked my brain night after dark night. Even now, I fear I’ve made a misstep; moreover, it boggles my mind that Dark should be relegated to position 6 (the digit of the beast). Dark embodies that hallucinatory marriage of ’60s freakbeat and ’70s heavy-psych. If volcanoes were people, then Olympus Mons would be fucking Steve Giles; dude’s a legend (and a good friend). As for Giles’ gear, I hear a Futurama guitar through a Cry-Baby wah and Fuzz-Face, Marshall stacks most likely.
5. “Freelance Fiend” by Leaf Hound
Welcome to the top 5. I’m starting off with a barbaric cut from Leaf Hound’s ’71 debut. I first heard the band when they were still going by the name Black Cat Bones in ’69, back before Rod Price left for Foghat and pre-Pete French. BCB’s Barbed Wire Sandwich would make my Hot Picks of 1969 list for sure, but that is neither here nor there. It’s 1971, and we are talking about Growers of Mushroom, the first, and in my opinion only, Leaf Hound record. The leaf in question here is cannabis sativa, and it’s no surprise that this seedy album spored the stoner-rock movement single-handedly. Other essential tracks include “Stagnant Pool” and “Sawdust Caesar” (my ring-tone). There are no unessential tracks.
4. “Snakes And Ladders” by May Blitz
Up there with the power-trio greats of the previous century is May Blitz. “Snakes and Ladders” is the second track on their second album The 2nd of May and takes its name from the Indian board game that Milton Bradley neutered and renamed Chutes and Ladders. This song serves as the perfect soundtrack when traveling to or from an armed robbery, or you might imagine yourself as a stoned serpent surfing through tall grass on a sunny afternoon (I know I do). The board game depicts the duality of fortune, virtue and vice, and “Snakes and Ladders” is equally two-faced. After two minutes, Blitz plunge like a guillotine down to the deepest depths of doom. The laments of a demon chorus and a rising tide of reverb engulf the second half of this chef-d’œuvre. Hold on, I know what you’re going to say, but High Tide by High Tide came out in 1970 — regardless, I don’t think they have the chops to contend with a band like the Blitz.
3. “The Queen” by Bang
Frank, Frank, and Tony formed Bang and released Bang by Bang in 1971, a great album, perhaps the best of the year (we’ll get to that debate in due time). “The Queen” tells the story of a brothel where prostitutes can be found “milking bashful buyers” “beneath their creamy ecstasy.” Bang, you had my attention, now you have my devotion (although I’m listless when it comes to their reunion back in 2014). During the consideration tournament that spawned these rankings, Bang by Bang went head to head with Deep Purple’s Fireball. The annihilation was so absolute that any semblance of DP was exorcised from this list entirely.
2. “Don’t Eat The Children” by Bloodrock
This choice may strike you as a controversial, but Bloodrock had a colossal year and thoroughly deserve this spot. Like Cactus, this was a double-record year for Bloodrock, seeing the release of Bloodrock 3 and Bloodrock U.S.A. “Don’t Eat The Children” comes from the latter, and prepare to get your head fucked because these boys are from Texas. The song opens with an onslaught of guitar that impales the listener like a pig roast spit. The high-hat cuts like a knife. Pickens and Taylor continue to rub you down with adobo-licks before you hit the flames. Around 1:25, Bloodrock curdles, “Lucifer will never die / Satan is my god.” The band leaps into a progression of notes that could not be mimicked, much less repeated, and before you know it Stevie Hill ejaculates a tumult of fury from the keyboard. This song is a one-two punch: 1) It’s perfection confirms the existence of a higher-being, 2) It’s sheer force demolishes this false-god in favor of Beelzebubian hijinks and indecencies.
1. “Guts” by Budgie
All bow down. This include you, Bang by Bang. Budgie by Budgie is the album of the year. Exhibit A: Track One, “Guts.” Clocking in at 4 minutes 20 gorgeous seconds, this song invites you aboard the gondola-of-gore for a spine-ripping descent down the carnal canal. With Burke Shelley and Tony Bourge around, you know the doom is in the room, and it goes without saying that Ray Phillips’ drumming could be used to calibrate an atomic clock; the man’s precision rivals that of a Ferruginous hawk or Mantis shrimp. In truth, I can only play Budgie by Budgie 40 seconds at a time. I need a refractory period to catch my breath, refocus my vision, and quell the voices in my head compelling me to grind this record’s vinyl ridges into my arms. Budgie by Budgie: 9/10.