In my introduction to this list I mentioned that there was a cultural awakening during the ’60s and ’70s. It began with the Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963, and while you may object to me pointing my finger at such a precise location in time, take a moment and remember how quickly we entered our current crisis — the war on terror and the subsequent economic meltdown — on the morning of September 11, 2001. People who were alive during the Kennedy assassination can remember where they were standing when they heard the news, just like I can remember where I was sitting when I first heard a hijacked plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The Kennedy assassination was one of the 20th century’s most seismic events, as it not only robbed the United States of a president but it ended the post-WWII era of America as a global superpower.
We would continue to believe we were such a thing, of course, as our baffling and misguided war in Vietnam dragged on and on. But something was different. The kids we were sending over to Vietnam weren’t like the kids that had stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day, much to the chagrin of their parents and the Establishment as a whole. The causes this particular generation supported were many, but fighting on the other side of the world didn’t seem to be one of them. Our country struggled to comprehend what was happening: we were actually losing a war. Even though we had (basically) unlimited resources and superior technology at our disposal, we couldn’t win. It was unthinkable; it was the first time America hadn’t gotten what it wanted.
A few weeks after the Kennedy assassination, Walter Cronkite ran a story about Beatlemania in England on the CBS Evening News, which then snowballed into the British Invasion early the following year and Beatlemania in the United States. For the next several years, rock & roll matured rapidly, peaking in May of 1972 with the Rolling Stones‘ Exile on Main St. After Exile, music branched off into more clearly defined genres that were marketed to commercially designated demographics. Music of the ’70s (after early ’72, I mean) just has a different feel than ’60s music. It feels less organic and more calculated, which would become especially apparent later in the decade when corporate rock started to appear.
The 1970s was a decade of decline, really; the exhaustion produced by the craziness of the previous decade took a toll on the music scene. There was still a lot of great music being made, but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t an explosion of creativity like the first half (1963–1971) of the awakening was. Maggot Brain is the first of many — nine, to be exact — entries from 1971, rock & roll’s greatest year. It captures the essence of that awakening, with plenty of psychedelia, funk and soul. If ever there was a hippie record, this is it, since Hendrix especially comes to mind throughout Maggot Brain. Guitarist Eddie Hazel proves to be an absolute powerhouse, as the title track, a ten-minute epic of mostly guitar solo drenched in wah and reverb, easily demonstrates. (He’s no slouch on the other tracks either, it should be noted.)
Maggot Brain ends with another epic called “Wars of Armageddon” of nearly the same length, a full-on jam with nonsensical sound effects and revolutionary chants inserted to create an atmosphere of mutually assured destruction. As compelling as those bookend tracks are, the shorter songs in between them are flawless pieces of impeccably produced funk. I’ve never been able to find another record that sounds quite like it. Then again, I unfortunately haven’t heard Funkadelic’s most lauded album, One Nation Under a Groove. It’s one of my biggest regrets in compiling this list. For some reason, it’s not on iTunes, and I have never been able to find it at any library I have frequented over the years, so it’s just going to have to suffice as a glaring omission for now. Hopefully when I decide to revise this list in the future in five or ten years I will have listened to it by then.