For the compilers of Time-Life Music's Singers & Songwriters series, which -- more or less -- chronicles the 1970s singer/songwriter movement, the 24-month period 1970-1971 marked the real birth of that trend, with the popular emergence of such defining figures as James Taylor, Carole King, Carly Simon, John Denver, and Cat Stevens, all of whom had their first big hits in the style included here. The bad news, at least for a series wedded to the idea of using only big hit singles, is that the movement was just getting started, not yet dominating the AM airwaves the way it would in subsequent years. So, the compilers have had to look farther down the singles charts to pluck worthy selections that peaked outside the Top 40 (the Grateful Dead's "Uncle John's Band," Dave Mason's "Only You Know and I Know") or, in one case, weren't even singles at all at the time. (John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" was an album track in 1971, though single versions reached the U.K. charts in 1985 and the U.S. charts in 1988.) They have also been forced to expand the already fuzzy stylistic limits of the series to include the likes of hard rockers going soft, such as Janis Joplin, and soul stars turned thoughtful, such as Marvin Gaye. And their selection has been complicated by the apparent unavailability of the work of some major figures, notably Joni Mitchell (whose composition "Woodstock" is included in a cover by Matthews' Southern Comfort), Neil Young, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (though Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With," which features background vocals by David Crosby and Graham Nash, is included). Coupling restrictions probably also exclude the newly popular Carpenters, since their partners in lightweight commercial pop Bread (which also scored its first hit in 1970) are included. The overall result is an incomplete look at the beginnings of the singer/songwriter movement that nevertheless contains some of the key tracks that made it an important style in the 1970s.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2