The first couple of years of a decade aren’t typically packed with era-defining music – perhaps because we’re all still making the transition from one period to another. But by the third year, the juices are flowing, the revolutions are gaining ground and classic albums are being released.
That was certainly the case in 1973, a year stuffed full of records that would stand the test of time 50 years later, whether that was The Who refining the rock opera on ‘Quadrophenia’, Stevie Wonder creating a socially conscious soul gem on ‘Innervisions’, or cult hero Judee Sill sharing her last album in ‘Heart Food’. Remind yourself of those and other legendary albums turning 50 this year below.
Bruce Springsteen – ‘Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.’
It’s hard to imagine a time when Bruce Springsteen wasn’t rocking around the world with his three-hour-plus live show of blue-collar anthems. But, back at the very beginning of 1973, the New Jersey icon was a relative unknown compared to his status now – until he released his debut album ‘Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.’, which would slowly attract attention across the rest of the year and earn him comparisons to Bob Dylan for his poetic, everyman tales.
What happened next: It kickstarted an iconic career for The Boss, setting the tone for his man-of-the-people anthems and would go on to be considered one of the best debut albums of all time.
Elton John – ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’
Elton John’s second album of 1973 would prove to be one of his most popular. ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ was first planned to be recorded in Jamaica, partially inspired by The Rolling Stones and Cat Stevens decamping to the country to make ‘Goats Head Soup’ and ‘Foreigner’, respectively. However, the sessions were quickly scrapped after John and his band arrived due to the political situation at the time, sending the musicians back to the French château where his previous two records were made. The change in plans added some urgency to the process (the songs were largely written on the day they were recorded) but didn’t detract from the quality – a large number of the tracks here are considered some of John’s finest.
What happened next: It spawned many hits – including ‘Candle In The Wind’, which would later be reworked to pay tribute to Princess Diana following her death two decades later. The album also stayed at Number One on the charts for two months, boosting John’s superstar status even more.
Iggy And The Stooges – ‘Raw Power’
The Stooges’ third album was made in haphazard conditions. The band had technically broken up but, as Iggy Pop embarked on a solo deal with Columbia, eventually came back together to make ‘Raw Power’ in London. Iggy, bassist Ron Asheton and drummer Scott Asheton were joined by new guitarist James Williamson, who brought a new, rawer sound to the band, which would bear great influence on the next generation of punks to come.
What happened next: ‘Raw Power’ may be considered a classic now, but it definitely didn’t have mainstream appeal at the time. Its poor commercial performance caused Columbia to drop the band and they split again in 1974, making way for Iggy to eventually rise from the ashes and start his solo career proper two years later.
Pink Floyd – ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’
Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ was groundbreaking, both in terms of audio quality and its content. Conceived as a concept album about “things that make people mad”, it was one of the first records – and certainly one of the most commercially successful – to discuss mental health, touching on the struggles of former member Syd Barrett. Its production quality, meanwhile, was so high that it quickly became known as a record for audiophiles and the seamless segueing of the tracklist created an ‘immersive experience’ long before that phrase felt like a cliché.
What happened next: The album would go on to be one of the most influential records in the alternative and experimental fields, giving inspiration to everyone from Tame Impala to Radiohead, and many more in between.
Led Zeppelin – ‘Houses Of The Holy’
‘Houses Of The Holy’ was Led Zeppelin’s first album with a proper title and that about-turn wasn’t the only shift in style the record represented for the band. Sound-wise, the rock legends also switched things up, bringing a more experimental edge to the songs and adding hints of everything from reggae to folk to the material. Although it wasn’t given an overwhelmingly positive critical response on its release, in the decades since, it has been reappraised and deemed a classic in Zeppelin’s oeuvre.
What happened next: Led Zep’s stratospheric rise continued – the ‘Houses Of The Holy’ North American tour broke attendance records at the time, including that set by The Beatles’ infamous Shea Stadium concert.
The Faces – ‘Ooh La La’
A storm was brewing in The Faces’ world when they made their final studio album ‘Ooh La La’. Frontman Rod Stewart had already launched his solo career, scoring considerable attention, which saw the public begin to view his bandmates as his backing band. According to reports, Stewart didn’t help the feeling amongst himself and his cohorts, missing the first two weeks of recording and generally not caring about the album. After its release, he regularly criticised it in the press, calling it a “bloody mess” – something not many others seemed to agree with, as it topped the charts in the UK and went on to be considered one of the year’s best records.
What happened next: Things didn’t improve in Camp Faces – much the opposite. Lane left the band in June 1975, with the whole band splintering a few months later. Stewart continued his successful solo career, while Ronnie Wood joined The Rolling Stones full time and the rest of the band reformed the Small Faces.
David Bowie – ‘Aladdin Sane’
‘Aladdin Sane’ was the first album David Bowie would release after the huge success of 1972’s ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’, but it wasn’t strictly a continuation of alter-ego Ziggy’s story. Instead, its creator viewed ‘Aladdin Sane’ as “a pale imitation of Ziggy”, capturing the persona on a trip to America. Regardless, the songs – from ‘Jean Genie’ to ‘Cracked Actor’ – didn’t feel like a pale imitation of Bowie’s brilliance, adding to his stock.
What happened next: Bowie would announce the retirement of the Ziggy Stardust character on stage at Hammersmith Odeon in July 1973 and he would go on to make one more album with the Spiders From Mars in the covers album ‘Pin Ups’.
New York Dolls – ‘New York Dolls’
For their self-titled debut album, New York Dolls teamed up with Todd Rundgren as producer – an interesting choice seeing as he saw the band as merely “competent”. But the combination created great results, leaving ‘New York Dolls’ sounding like the band’s theatrical live show, while the record’s content formed a pre-cursor to the androgynous, social observations of the punk explosion that was just around the corner. Although the album divided fans, it was given a rapturous response from critics and has since been ranked as a ‘70s classic.
What happened next: They released another cult classic album in 1974’s ‘Too Much Too Soon’, before inter-band tensions and issues with alcohol abuse began tearing the band apart.
Marvin Gaye – ‘Let’s Get It On’
Two years after the release of his seminal classic ‘What’s Going On’, Marvin Gaye shifted tact a little. Instead of writing about themes of social consciousness, he tackled sex and love, pioneering the slow jam in the process. There was depth to the songs beyond their sensual nature, though – Gaye used the lyrics to position sex as a form of healing, both on a personal level and, as on ‘Keep Gettin’ It On’, on a societal one.
What happened next: The success of ‘Let’s Get It On’ saw Gaye being given more creative control, its three Billboard-charting singles serving as evidence that he knew exactly how to make a hit.
The Who – ‘Quadrophenia’
By 1973, The Who were well-versed in how to make a rock opera having already completed the “mini-opera” track ‘A Quick One, While He’s Away’ and the iconic record ‘Tommy’. For ‘Quadrophenia’, Pete Townshend took the reins and concocted a story about a mod trying to find his path in life. It was perhaps the most ambitious of The Who’s many forward-thinking records, earning its spot in many greatest albums lists for its storyline, musicality and cohesiveness.
What happened next: The tour version of ‘Quadrophenia’ fared less well than the album, suffering from issues relating to backing tracks trying to replace some of the instruments on the album. It was taken off the road in 1974, but returned two decades later in a new format.
Paul McCartney and Wings – ‘Band On The Run’
After The Beatles split in 1970, public view of Paul McCartney was low thanks to the mixed bag he and Wings presented on ‘Wild Life’ and ‘Red Rose Speedway’. So he and his new band decamped to Nigeria to record their third album, believing it would be a relaxing and exotic location to record. They soon found that was far from the case, but those ideas fused into the songs, bringing up themes of breaking free, particularly in the two hits spawned from the album – ‘Jet’ and the title track.
What happened next: The record rejuvenated Macca’s reputation, which had fallen in stock with Wings’ two previous releases. In 1974, it became the top-selling album in the UK, while the band’s next album, 1975’s ‘Venus And Mars’ would hit Number One in the US, UK and other countries across the globe.
John Cale – ‘Paris 1919’
For his third solo album, former Velvet Underground member John Cale put his trademark experimentalism on hold and opted to make something a bit more palatable for a broad audience. He brought an orchestra into the sessions to add a touch of rich warmth to the songs, which also added to them feeling like a strong u-turn compared to the niche he had previously carved out for himself.
What happened next: After making something accessible, Cale reverted back to type with his next albums and created more abrasive and ominous works in 1974’s ‘Fear’ and 1975’s ‘Slow Dazzle’.
Roxy Music – ‘For Your Pleasure’
Although Roxy Music’s art-rock went over some people’s heads, ‘For Your Pleasure’ still scored commercial success, reaching Number Four on the UK albums chart. Consider that a reward for the band continuing to push their artistry, from frontman Bryan Ferry honing his lyricism to the group adopting increasingly boundary-pushing production techniques.
What happened next: Brian Eno left the band soon after the ‘For Your Pleasure’ tour ended, making this his last album with the group. From then on, Roxy Music became more collaborative, with Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera contributing more to the songwriting previously controlled by Ferry.
Judee Sill – ‘Heart Food’
Cult singer-songwriter Judee Sill was granted the honour of being the first signing to David Geffen’s Asylum label in 1971 and ‘Heart Food’ was her second – and last – release on the imprint. The record saw her taking more control than she had done on her self-titled debut, particularly with the album’s arrangements, with some songs leaning more pop than its folky predecessor. Beloved by artists as disparate as Clairo and XTC, Sill’s moment in the spotlight might have been brief but ‘Heart Food’ immortalised her talent forever.
What happened next: Sill began writing and recording demos for her third album but lost control of her heroin addiction and gave up working on music. She died of an overdose in 1979.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – ‘Catch A Fire’
‘Catch A Fire’ marked Bob Marley & The Wailers’ big international breakthrough at a time when interest in reggae was growing on a global scale thanks to films like The Harder They Come. It has since been regaled as one of the greatest reggae albums of all time, with contributions from the likes of Wailers member Peter Tosh showing the band wasn’t just about Marley.
What happened next: Marley became a global icon, although it wasn’t without drama. As the Wailers’ fame grew, Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the group, unhappy with Island Records boss Chris Blackwell’s treatment of other members compared to Marley.
Diana Ross – ‘Touch Me In The Morning’
After she lost out on an Oscar to Liza Minnelli, budding movie star and former Supremes singer Diana Ross returned to what she knew best – blowing the world away with her music. ‘Touch Me In The Morning’ was the first album she released after that loss and showed new strings on her bow, including the balladry of the title track. It was also the record that would set her on the path to diva-hood, and influencing some of pop’s most powerful female voices to come.
What happened next: Ross collaborated with Marvin Gaye on the hit joint album ‘Diana And Marvin’, while she continued to expand on both her acting career and becoming a solo pop icon.
Stevie Wonder – ‘Innervisions’
For his 16th studio album, Stevie Wonder largely left behind the lovelorn ballads of previous records and shifted into far more socially conscious territory. Written almost entirely by himself alone, the tracks on ‘Innervisions’ deftly dealt with everything from criticisms of US president Richard Nixon – who was in office at the time – to systemic racism. It showed that the already beloved musician was more than just a romantic soul and brought important issues to the forefront of his music.
What happened next: Three days after the album’s release, Wonder was involved in a car crash that left him in a coma for 10 days. When he came out of it, the musician was concerned he wouldn’t be able to play again – thankfully, as we know, he did, continuing a legendary career.
Lou Reed – ‘Berlin’
The story at the heart of ‘Berlin’ centres around a couple struggling with addiction and abuse, highlighting themes of domestic violence, mental health and drug use, among others. Although it has been re-evaluated and added to many a classic albums list in the decades since, at the time it was widely dismissed by critics and fans alike, although British listeners gave Lou Reed his highest charting album with the record.
What happened next: ‘Berlin’ might now be considered a classic but to save face after its commercial flop at the time, Reed resorted to next releasing a live album of Velvet Underground songs, ‘Rock’n’Roll Animal’. It went onto be his biggest-selling solo album.
Black Sabbath – ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’
Black Sabbath had already begun mixing up their sound before 1973’s ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ and they continued to keep things fresh on the record. Synths and strings were added to tracks, while Tony Iommi tried – and failed – to become proficient enough at the sitar and bagpipes to make things even newer. Despite those out-of-the-box ideas, ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ still brought the noise and is often regarded as one of the heaviest albums of all time.
What happened next: Black Sabbath returned to their roots for 1975’s ‘Sabotage’, but that couldn’t save the band’s classic line-up. In 1977, Ozzy Osbourne quit and was replaced by Dave Walker, only to rejoin the band in 1978 – and then be fired a year later.
Gladys Knight And The Pips – ‘Imagination’
After failing to negotiate a better contract with Motown, Gladys Knight And The Pips departed the iconic label and started anew with Buddah Records instead. Their first release on the label was ‘Imagination’, which allowed them to flex new creativity, moving on some tracks away from the sound they were known for and into more pop and R&B territory. They pulled this change off, too, quickly selling a million copies of the record.
What happened next: Although ‘Imagination’ was a successful start on Buddah Records, things didn’t last and by the end of the decade the group had left the label and resigned with Columbia Records.
Tom Waits – ‘Closing Time’
Although the world was slow to pick up on Tom Waits’ debut album ‘Closing Time’, once it did, the record quickly gained a cult following. The star recorded the album after being discovered at LA venue The Troubadour by David Geffen and its songs introduced him as a poetic songwriter rooted in jazz – something he would move away from as he entered the ‘80s.
What happened next: Although Waits received little commercial success, he still became a symbol of the musically revered and an inspiration for those interested in writing songs about down-on-their-luck characters.
Roberta Flack – ‘Killing Me Softly’
North Carolina singer Roberta Flack’s fifth studio album ‘Killing Me Softly’ was a far cry from her first forays in recording, which saw her rattle through tens of demos in mere hours. Instead, the star spent 18 months working on ‘Killing Me Softly’ – and her time paid off. One of her best albums, it went on to win Record Of The Year at the 1974 Grammys and could have picked up Album Of The Year too, were it not for Wonder’s ‘Innervisions’.
What happened next: Flack scored her third – and final – Billboard Number One with the 1974 single ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’, but she continued to record and perform until earlier this year, when she was forced to retire after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.