Chart Digging: LPs, May 1971

Here are the top ten albums in the Billboard 200 from the third week in May 1971, fifty years ago:

4 Way Street by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Jesus Christ Superstar (Original concept album)
Up To Date by the Partridge Family
Pearl by Janis Joplin
Golden Bisquits by Three Dog Night
Mud Slide Slim & The New Horizon by James Taylor
Tapestry by Carole King
Tea For The Tillerman by Cat Stevens
Survival by Grand Funk Railroad
Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones

I know eight of those, and I know most of those eight very well. The only mysteries would be the albums by Grand Funk Railroad and the Partridge Family, though I imagine I might recognize some tracks on the latter from radio play at the time.

I had a copy of 4 Way Street for a time; Rick brought it over one evening in 1974 when he was clearing his shelves of stuff that no longer fit into his listening aesthetic. (He was moving quickly into a heavy Poco and Gram Parsons period.) I’d heard 4 Way Street at his place when he got it, and although I liked some of the performances on it – and I was pleased to have the album at a time when I was homebound – I never did find the album to be essential listening.

There were too many ragged performances, and it just wasn’t fun listening. (As I understand it, of course, the band wasn’t really having fun, either). My vinyl copy of the record left here during the big sell-off a few years ago, I’ve never had a CD copy of the album, and only one track from the album – the lovely performance of “The Lee Shore” – is on the digital shelves.

(I’ve heard some of the live collection from the 1974 tour of the quartet, and those performances sound fairly good. I was at one of those shows, and at least on that evening in St. Paul, it seemed like the four men almost liked each other. I might add that album to the collection someday.)

Of the others, the one I know least is likely the James Taylor album. I have it on the digital shelves but nowhere else, and it’s never seemed essential to me. As to Three Dog Night, the Texas Gal’s long-loved copy of Golden Bisquits is still in the vinyl stacks, and somewhere among the CDs we have a newer anthology from the group.

The other five albums – Jesus Christ Superstar and those by Joplin, Stevens, King, and the Rolling Stones – were essential listening to me during my college and early adulthood years with Tea For The Tillerman coming into the mix a little later than the others. During those years, I’d guess that at least one of those first four – Tapestry, Sticky Fingers, Pearl and Jesus Christ Superstar – was on the stereo every week.

Are they still that vital to me? Let’s check the iPod, where we find one track from Jesus Christ Superstar (the title track), four tracks each from the albums by Stevens and the Rolling Stones, six tracks from Pearl, six tracks from Three Dog Night’s Golden Bisquits, and eight tracks from Tapestry.

When this chart came out, I was seventeen, still three-and-a-half months from eighteen. As always, I ask myself: Is my affection for the music of that time because of the joy of memory or for the quality of the music? Well, it’s great music. Of that, I am certain. But the memories of that time – most of them, anyway – are good, too. So as always, I don’t know.

It’s hard to pick a single favorite track from any of those albums. So I’m going to go with a track from the Joplin album that ran through my dreams the other night when I was not sleeping well: “Half Moon,” written by John and Johanna Hall.

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