By Joseph D’Andrea
Good music can be the sound of the summer, but great music lasts decades.
Before my rock bias kicks in, here’s a disclaimer: In the early 1970s, rock music remained very popular, partially due to the previous decade’s introduction of the plethora of routes that could be taken in the genre—folk rock, progressive rock, pop rock, soft rock and the list goes on. With many 1960s musicians expanding the possibilities of the medium technically and lyrically, such a progressive approach led to those influenced by ambition to release some of their best work.
It’s for this reason that many albums on this list are by rock artists, but this is not to say that musicians and bands of other genres did not also create great music in 1973. Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions” offered a taste of what was to come with his peak only three years later with “Songs in the Key of Life” and Marvin Gaye’s soulful “Let’s Get It On” incorporating some game-changing funk.
As much as I love the two aforementioned motown-rooted artists, there are still a few albums by others that stand out even more. Here are seven albums turning 50 this year that are worth a listen.
#7 “On the Third Day” by Electric Light Orchestra When speaking about this album’s lead single “Showdown,” John Lennon referred to ELO as being the “son of Beatles.” The band’s initial goal was to pick up where the Fab Four left off, and with this album, they developed their sound to the fullest by this point in their career. Their first two albums have a good share of genre-mixing, but nothing to the extent that “On the Third Day” has to offer (and they only improved as time went on, as proven by their 1977 masterpiece “Out of the Blue”). As led by master musician Jeff Lynne, the album’s mixture of different sounds—from the usage of the synthesizer to violins to classic rock and roll guitar—still feels fresh to this day. My favorite track:“Showdown.”
#6 “Quadrophenia” by The Who In what I believe to be their second best album behind 1971’s “Who’s Next,” this is The Who’s second album-long rock opera, featuring dark themes communicated through the band’s signature collaborative sound. Especially prominent are frontman Roger Daltrey’s shrieks of independence and Keith Moon’s unrelenting drumming (both of which say a lot considering I didn’t even mention top-contender-for-best-bassist-ever John Entwhistle). My favorite track: “The Real Me.”
#5 “Countdown to Ecstasy” by Steely Dan From my second favorite band ever is the last album the group released before becoming studio hermits. The obvious standout track on this album is one of the group’s most popular songs, “My Old School,” which is undoubtedly one of their best. But the album is also comprised of what are otherwise some of the most underrated songs in their entire catalog. The album kicks off with a bang with “Bodhisattva,” a song that features some of the best drumming and guitar work in their discography. And it wraps up with two songs that are unlike anything else the band’s co-founders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker ever wrote, “Pearl of the Quarter,” which is a uncharacteristically straightforward love song, and “King of the World,” a song revolving around a man who’s “reading last year’s papers” in a world he no longer recognizes. The latter song is similar to some of their others storywise, but the instrumentation (especially in the last half of the song) is something you won’t find on any other album of theirs. My favorite track: “King of the World.”
#4 “Abandoned Luncheonette” by Daryl Hall and John Oates This is what I consider to be the pop duo’s best album, and unfortunately it is one that’s practically never talked about beyond its hit single “She’s Gone.” From the imagery in the title track to the soulfulness of “Had I Known You Better Then,” the album is filled with songs not quite synonymous with what they became known for in the 1980s, but nevertheless includes their most comforting instrumentals and lyrics. Full of its share of acoustic guitars and saxophones, there are more interesting sounds on the album that the duo takes a stab at as well, such as the orchestral elements in “Lady Rain.” My favorite track: “Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song).”
#3 “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John It seems that Elton John decided to fire on all cylinders in 1973, releasing two albums that combine to make up a total of 31 songs. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” includes some of his best-written songs, from “Candle in the Wind” to this album’s closing track “Harmony,” while throwing in a handful of energetic songs, most well-known being “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting).” His other album from the same year, “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player,” is a solid release as well, but there’s so little that misses on this double album—even the “filler-sounding” songs—which easily makes it the crowning achievement of his long career, in my opinion. My favorite track: “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.”
#2 “The Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd There’s no shame in enjoying one of the greatest albums of all time from a songwriting, lyrical and production standpoint simply because it’s popular. In their most collaborative-sounding work alongside 1975’s “Wish You Were Here,” its status is thanks to the song writing of Roger Waters (primarily), David Gilmour’s powerful guitar solos and Richard Wright and Nick Mason’s contributions on the keyboard and drums, respectively, which fill out the songs and add even more layers to the already introspective and emotional songs. My favorite track: “Time.”
#1 “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings Despite the fact that today many including myself would call 1972’s “RAM” Paul McCartney’s best solo album, at the time of its release, the former Beatle wasn’t hitting the mark commercially or critically. The natural leader that he was, he and his wife Linda (who he collaborated with heavily on RAM) created a group called Wings. Their first album is mostly forgettable, but with their third effort in the form of “Band on the Run,” McCartney proved to the critics and doubters that he still had some of his best songs in the tank. As is the norm, the most popular songs including the title track “Jet” and “Let Me Roll It,” are considered to be great for a reason, but the beautiful harmonies and sax of “Bluebird” and the all-timer bassline heard in “Mrs. Vanderbilt” are also worth just as much recognition. To me, this is not only the best Wings album, but the second best album McCartney (with or without Wings) has put out since the breakup of the Beatles in 1969. My favorite track: “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five.”
This year, I encourage everyone to look back on some of the best music from 1973 by opening their streaming app and their ears to these great albums. But don’t let this small list limit your idea of what’s out there to be heard—push yourself to discover something that’s old, but new to you.