Radical sounds: A new Apple+ docuseries looks at the music and mayhem of 1971

FROM LEFT: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Marvin Gaye and Tina Turner are featured in 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything.
FROM LEFT: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Marvin Gaye and Tina Turner are featured in 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything.

It'd be an understatement to say that a lot was happening in 1971, and it was all reflected in the popular music of the time.

Visionaries like Sly Stone, John Lennon and the Rolling Stones retreated to their home studios and experimented with sonics. David Bowie and Marc Bolan were challenging gender norms and pushing fashion in a glam direction. Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Elton John brought newfound honesty and intimacy to the singer-songwriter genre. Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" channeled the tumult of the era in confrontational, reactionary ways. Meanwhile, the chaos of the Vietnam War and the chicanery of the Nixon administration thrummed in the background.

1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything, now streaming on Apple+, is an eight-episode documentary series directed by Asif Kapadia and inspired by David Hepworth's nonfiction book Never a Dull Moment, and it explores the sounds that defined the era with a head-spinning soundtrack of iconic music. But it's not just about the records people were buying five decades ago: It's also about the political radicalization, violence and mayhem of the post-Woodstock era, and about how it rubbed off on the music.

That soundtrack was curated by music supervisor Iain Cooke, who has worked on series like Luther and Call the Midwife, as well as Kapadia's Oscar-winning documentary, Amy. Cooke spoke to the Inlander about The Year That Music Changed Everything and the timelessness of its featured artists.

INLANDER: How familiar were you with this era of music, and of history, before taking on the project?

COOKE: The albums in '71 are so pivotal and hailed as classics, so my knowledge was pretty decent. Certainly albums like There's a Riot Goin' On by Sly and the Family Stone was an absolute favorite of mine, and Marvin Gaye's What's Going On. The Gil Scott-Heron album is one of my favorites. And the wider audience is going to have knowledge of the Stones and John Lennon, Carole King's Tapestry and Joni Mitchell's Blue. But one of the beauties of this series is that we get a chance to showcase some of the deeper cuts and lesser known albums and songs of the era, and hopefully introduce them to a whole new audience.

Were there any musical discoveries you made while working on the show, artists or songs you didn't really know and are now a fan of?

Actually, a lot of the music that we include in the series I was already a fan of. Some of the Alice Cooper records I was less familiar with, and that's a really intriguing part of the story. When it comes to Aretha Franklin and Bill Withers and Stevie Wonder, they're such classic albums and artists that they were already in my record collection, pre-starting this project.

The show hops around quite a bit between episodes. Was the structure set in stone from the outset, or did it change throughout production?

The structure definitely evolved over time. The book [Never a Dull Moment] itself is chronological — it moves from January through December. One of the big challenges of the edit was to work out what this story was. At one point it was going to be four films, and then there was the suggestion that it could go to six hours as it became more episodic. Finally we settled on these eight [45-minute episodes]. It was such a challenge for the editorial team to find these story arcs and strands, and then to work out which artists and songs feed into those. As a viewer, it's mind blowing, and the political backdrop alongside the absolute classic music released at the time makes for an amazing documentary series.

Is there any other era or genre you'd now want to do a series-length deep dive on?

There's several artists in this series that would make for an amazing standalone documentary. I think Sly and the Family Stone stands out as one. He was such a genius and maverick, and there are such heartbreaking elements to that story. Likewise, Aretha Franklin. I could watch both of those very easily. ♦

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About The Author

Nathan Weinbender

Nathan Weinbender is the Inlander's Music & Film editor. He is also a film critic for Spokane Public Radio, where he has co-hosted the weekly film review show Movies 101 since 2011.