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"1971" documentary series on Apple TV+, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Thursday, May 20, 2021

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In 2017, British author David Hepworth declared that 1971 was "The Year That Rock Exploded." Now the new Apple TV+ documentary series "1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything," takes the claim a step further.

Inspired by Hepworth's book, "1971" -- which debuts Friday, May 21 -- places the landmark music releases and events of the year alongside historical upheavals including the Vietnam War, the continuing civil rights and Black Power movements and other cultural changes. There are plenty of big names -- the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Elton John, Marvin Gaye, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Sly & the Family Stone are only a few -- but the series gives them and their work a sense of context and provocative purpose that's as rich as any of the 150 songs spread through the episodes.

One can, of course, endlessly debate which year of music was most impactful. But "1971" makes a convincing case...

Co-executive producer James Gay-Rees says he and partner Asif Kapadia -- they made the award-winning 2015 "Amy" Winehouse documentary -- were intrigued when they first heard about Hepworth's book proposal some six years ago. "It's kind of mind-boggling that all that music would come out in the same year," Gay-Rees says from London. ""It's subjective, but I think by anybody's standards it's a crazy year in music -- and also it's an amazing time in fashion and film and culture in general. So we decided to do a deep dive as to why that music came out when it did. What was in the water? What was in the air that let it happen? And the series is a reflection of that, really."

For director James Rogan, who came to Detroit to conduct interviews about Marvin Gaye's classic "What's Going On" album, the music of 1971 was both a soundtrack for and influence on what was going on in the world at that time. "It was the year that music really spoke to how everything was changing," Rogan says. "It was the year that music really spoke to how everything was changing. It just had this huge cultural power that I'm not sure it's ever had at that level, before or since. It was a moment of reckoning for rock and pop music that we still spend a lot of time listening to."

And while it's titled "1971," the series actually reflects a potent three-year period as it tracks artists such as the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin and David Bowie working on seminal albums that would be released the following year. "I think it was just an extraordinary fault line," Rogan says. "One of the things we wanted to capture was what was driving in the artists in '71. So the music that was sort of inspired by '70 was coming out in '71and was inspiring music that is recorded and then landed in '72. That space of creation was what we wanted to kind of plunge the audience directly into."

Music supervisor Iain Cooke -- who assembled 150 songs by 58 artists and 108 songwriters -- says the series' subjects were overwhelmingly cooperative in giving the green light to use their material in the series. "We certainly faced some challenges along the way, but luckily we had time during the process to really engage people early on. I'd say 99.9 percent of all the rights holders and all the bands and artists were on board with what we were doing and wanted to be part of this story. And these are huge artists -- the Stones, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, Sly & the Family Stone. the vast majority of people were incredibly behind this project."

For Rogan, Kapadia and Cooke, none of whom were born in 1971, the series was a learning opportunity -- for Kapadia in particular. "For me the education honestly comes with a lot of the very famous white musicians. My kind of knowledge of it in the 70s was (through) my elder siblings, who had a lot of the records. As a family we listened to a lot of the back music, so we had Curtis Mayfield, we had Sly Stone, we had Marvin Gaye. We didn't grow up with the Stones, listening to the Beatles, listening to Bowie. We didn't have those records around the house. So for me, that's the stuff I'm learning about in my nearly 50 years of age."

Bonus: During episode 7, keep an eye out for Bill Withers sporting a vintage Pine Knob Music Theatre T-shirt during an archival television performance.

"1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything" begins streaming Friday, May 21, on Apple TV+.

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