WELCOME TO PART 2 of the best of 1973. Part 1, in case you missed it, was about the singles. This is about the very best albums of the year that I really started collecting albums in earnest. My initial cut left a stack of some 20 outstanding records. From that group, I chose the top 10. Without further ado, here they are in rank order:
#1. Stevie Wonder: Innervisions. What can I say about this record that hasn’t already been said? That “I am not one who make believes” is grammatically incorrect? I won’t even go there because this album is just too stunning in every way. Stevie takes us through anguish (“Living for the City”) and hope (“Higher Ground,” “Visions”) and love (“Golden Lady,” “All in Love Is Fair”) and sheer joy (“Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing”). It’s all there. Chévere.
#2. Led Zeppelin: Houses of the Holy. This was the first Zeppelin album I got close to the time it came out, maybe because I felt some pressure to be cool as I started high school. It remains a favorite. From the opening notes of “The Song Remains the Same” through the gorgeous “Over the Hills and Far Away,” the joy of “Dancing Days,” and the pounding drums of “D’yer Mak’er” to the final, rollicking bars of “The Ocean,” there is never a dull moment. Good job, boys.
#3. The O’Jays: Ship Ahoy. Here’s an album you might not be so familiar with. Every now and then, you pick up an LP by a group known for their hit singles and realize with delighted surprise that every single track is brilliant. This is just such an album. So yes, “For the Love of Money” is outstanding, but so are “You Got Your Hooks in Me,” “Don’t Call Me Brother,” “Now That We Found Love,” and the amazing, haunting title cut. Bang!
#4. Paul McCartney: Band on the Run.
Yes, I’m perfectly aware it is pop, but this is pop at its very best. Though the group doesn’t get official billing on the album cover, 1973 found Wings at the top of their game. Aside from the well-known hits—“Helen Wheels,” “Jet,” and “Band on the Run”—“Let Me Roll It,” “No Words,” and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” are standouts. I loved this as a kid on 8-track (my sister’s), and I love it still.
#5. Marvin Gaye: Let’s Get It On. Marvin quotes T. S. Eliot in the liner notes (which I will return to in a future post): “Birth and copulation and death, that’s all the facts when you get to brass tacks.” And there you have it. This is one sexy album, sexy and smooth from start to finish. The title song is a classic, of course. “You Sure Love to Ball,” “Come Get to This,” and all the rest continue the party. Trust me, you want to put this record on and have sex to it.
#6. Paul Simon: There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. This is the album that reassured anyone who still needed reassuring that Simon would be fine without Garfunkel. The man is really a songwriting genius. There is not a single uninspired song on the album. Most of this was recorded at Muscle Shoals, and the album has a nice laid-back feel to it. The Dixie Hummingbirds, Onward Brass Band, and Airto Moreira are all added bonuses. “Something So Right” indeed.
#7. Johnnie Taylor: Taylored in Silk. As followers of this blog may already know, I just love Johnnie Taylor. The biggest hit on this album, “I Believe In You (You Believe In Me),” is about boundless love; he also covers “Starting All Over Again.” Johnnie’s all about love, but it’s not all so sweet. “We’re Getting Careless with Our Love” is about an affair’s deception, and “Cheaper to Keep Her” gives underhanded advice to would-be divorcing men. Silky smooth throughout.
#8. Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon. I know, right? How could I not list it? The album came out when I was in 8th grade and was famously still on the charts when I started grad school for the second time, so there’s that. This was quite unlike anything else out there in 1973. Such a legend, it can be hard to hear the album with fresh ears. But try. It’s really quite stunning. Clare Torry deserves special props for her vocals on “The Great Gig in the Sky.”
#9. Bruce Springsteen: Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. This is easily the best debut album of the year. Bruce would go on to become a household name a couple of years later, but not many people noticed this album when it first came out. I certainly didn’t. He packs a whole lot of lyrics into these 9 songs, and there is real poetry to them. “Blinded by the Light,” “For You,” “Growin’ Up,” and “Spirit in the Night” really shine. Hell, the whole album does.
#10. David Bowie: Aladdin Sane. How do you follow Ziggy Stardust? Well, this is how. David Bowie rocks it. Listen to his cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and tell me it did not portend punk rock…and tell me you can keep from dancing to it. Impossible! From the opening chords of “Watch that Man,” through the arty-jazzy title cut, the rocker “Panic in Detroit,” and the hard-driving “Jean Genie,” this record grabs you good and doesn’t let go.
Just in case you haven’t had enough, here is a list of the runners up:
- Roberta Flack: Killing Me Softly, featuring the gorgeous title song plus a really outstanding 10-minute version of “Suzanne”
- Grand Funk: We’re an American Band, for the title cut, “Creepin’,” and “Ain’t Got Nobody,” sure, but really for the naked photo of the band inside the front cover
- Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which has moments of true brilliance, the best being “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”
- Queen: Queen, a pretty damn good debut record, it’s as though the band arrived fully formed
- Sly and the Family Stone: Fresh, which really does sound fresh. “If You Want Me to Stay” was one of the year’s best songs