Calling any one year the most important in music history is a daring endeavor. But the creative team behind Apple TV+’s 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything, an eight-episode documentary series debuting today, is confident it has the goods to support that claim.
“It’s subjective, but I think by anybody’s standards it’s a crazy year in music – and also it’s an amazing time in fashion and film and culture in general,” says the series’ co-executive producer James Gay-Rees, who, along with partner Asif Kapadia, was inspired by David Hepworth’s 2016 book Never a Dull Moment: 1971 the Year That Rock Exploded.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling that all this music came out in the same year,” Gay-Rees tells UCR. “So we decided to do a deep dive as to why that music came out when it did. What was in the water? What was in the air that let it happen? And the series is a reflection of that, really.”
Six years in the making, 1971 certainly deals with a dynamic time, examining key music releases and events – among them solo projects by John Lennon and George Harrison, the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Sly & the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Carole King’s Tapestry, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, the Who’s Who’s Next, T. Rex’s Electric Warrior, David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, Jim Morrison’s death and much more. With an abundance of jaw-dropping footage and archival and fresh interviews, it places all that in the context of political and social upheaval that included the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement’s transition to Black Power and changing sexual mores. It makes the case that music was not just a soundtrack for the time but an influence as well.
“It was the year that music really spoke to how everything was changing,” series director James Rogan explains. “It just had this huge cultural power that I’m not sure it’s ever had at that level, before or since. It was a moment of reckoning for rock and pop music that we still spend a lot of time listening to.”
Music supervisor Iain Cooke, meanwhile, dug into an embarrassment of riches as he licensed material for the series – 150 songs by 58 artists, representing the work of 108 songwriters. “It’s pretty uncanny that one after the other, these absolutely seminal albums were dropping or being written,” Cooke says. “It’s insane that 50 years later most of these albums really stand the test of time. There’s a quote from Elton John in the series where he said you could almost go out and buy 10 albums a week, and they’d all be absolute classics.”
Watch the Trailer for ‘1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything’
1971 also examines the work that was being created during the year, including particularly in-depth looks at the Rolling Stones recording Exile on Main St., Bowie preparing his transition into Ziggy Stardust and Aretha Franklin’s move to the empowering Young, Gifted and Black. “I think it was just an extraordinary fault line,” Rogan says, “and one of the things we wanted to capture was what was driving in the artists in ’71. So the music that was sort of inspired by ’70 was coming out in ’71 and was inspiring music that is recorded and then landed in ’72.
“That space of creation was what we wanted to kind of plunge the audience directly into – the sense that this was the past but making it feel like it was the present because everything they were writing then felt resonant to us as we were putting it together.”
For Rogan, Cooke and Kapadia – none of whom was yet born in 1971 – making the series was eye-opening, even though they were fans of music of the era. Rogan, meanwhile, would love the opportunity to make a director’s cut. “There was material that ended up on the cutting-room floor,” he says. “There was such an abundance of riches.”