Various Artists

Singers & Songwriters: Early 70's

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After assembling five two-year compilations covering the ten years of the 1970s, Time-Life Music's Singers & Songwriters series returns with a second pass at the decade, devoting volumes to the early, middle, and late years that once again choose from the era's Top 40 hits with an eye toward soft rock material with a singer/songwriter slant. Having cherry-picked the most notable such material on the volumes dedicated to 1970-1971 and 1972-1973, the compilers have less to choose from on this volume, which contains songs that were hits between 1970 and 1973, and fewer of the songs fall strictly within the singer/songwriter category. But 14 of 24 were penned by the recording artists themselves and, of the others, several were written by singer/songwriters, notably Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," covered by Aretha Franklin, Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)," covered by Three Dog Night, and Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night," covered by Sammi Smith. Nevertheless, this is less a collection of singer/songwriter music than a sampler of ballad hits of the early '70s. The singer/songwriter influence is present in the sense that few of these compositions are traditional love songs, the subject matter ranging from Rick Nelson's caustic reflection on his own career in "Garden Party" to Vicki Lawrence's cover of Bobby Russell's story song about adultery, murder, and justice miscarried, "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia." Perhaps reflective of the '60s hangover that was the early '70s, this is a fairly depressing bunch of songs, considering they were all hits. Gilbert O'Sullivan contemplates suicide in "Alone Again (Naturally)," while Don McLean pays tribute to an actual suicide in "Vincent," and Jim Croce ("Operator [That's Not the Way It Feels]") and Danny O'Keefe ("Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues") aren't very happy, either. Meanwhile, one-hit wonder Edward Bear claims this is the band's "Last Song," and Harry Chapin, a sad sack if there ever was one, manages to turn a simple cab ride into a double dose of career disappointment in "Taxi." All of which is to say that popular music, as usual, was mirroring the tenor of the times in the early '70s, and this album of lesser hits from the period will stir memories in those who lived through those days with their AM radios on.

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