Looking back, 1971 seems more like a transitional year for the state of rock music. While we were still reeling from the ’60s revolution that didn’t come true, the next group of rock bands to emerge from the shadow of the Beatles were far more exposed than anyone could have thought before. It was time to start testing the limits of what radio could handle.
Although many album-based rock bands have been released this year, we’ll focus on the individual songs that have shaped the future of rock and roll at this point. While they might work very well in the context of the record they’re a part of, it’s the songs that are meant to stand out as amazing works of art. Instead of just selling a record, these are the songs that made you do a double take the first time you heard them coming out of a stereo.
As rock has also aged a bit, this is where you start to see the genesis of new ideas come to the fore, from the early days of metal music to the hard rock and prog tracks that were looming on the horizon. After years of being the music of the Flower Children, this is where rock started to reach people.
It’s not because rock was growing that we had lost our taste for the pop side of the genre. Until the late 70s there were tons of power pop acts as well as people from the prog and hard rock worlds trying to dip their toes into easier listening territory than they were known for . Even though Elton John’s wardrobe isn’t “easy” at all, Tiny Dancer gets better with each repeated listen.
Before we even get to the right song, it’s amazing to think that Elton was able to get it on the radio. At a full 6 minutes in length, there has never been a single radio edit of this song, with most of the track sounding like a movie playing in your mind as you listen to it. From the opening notes, you get a clear image of this lonely woman working for a rock band and having to deal with life on the road.
Outside of Bernie Taupin’s excellent wordplay, the biggest strength is how well Elton sells it, with a vocal performance that was so much more than the mild-mannered little kid who practiced Beethoven and Bach at school. At a time when rock was supposed to get meaner, this madman from across the water put us all in touch with our vulnerable side.