When debates are had about what year in history represented popular music’s peak, the argument is often made for 1971. Apple TV Plus clearly gives some credence to that belief. The platform has announced imminent plans to premiere “1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything,” an eight-episode documentary series dedicated to using archival footage and vintage and fresh interviews to explore why rock ‘n’ roll and R&B reached maximum vitality during that politically fraught time.
The series, which bows May 17, comes from a filmmaking team that includes principals who worked together on such previous film documentaries as “Amy” (about the late Amy Winehouse), “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and “Senna.”
“1971” has the luxuriant running time to hit upon many if not most of the inordinate number of masterpieces that came out that year, from the Who’s “Who’s Next” to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On.” It also has a heavy emphasis on the socio-political climate that made much of this music possible or necessary. The first episode starts straight in with a segment about what many consider the greatest rock protest song of all time, Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s “Ohio,” with commentary from another rocker who lived through the Kent State tragedy as a young woman, Chrissie Hynde.
Asif Kapadia is the show’s series director, and takes an executive producer role along with James Gay-Rees, David Joseph and Universal Music Group’s Adam Barker. Chris King, the series’ editor, is also an executive producer. Danielle Peck served as series producer, and she and James Rogan split directing duties for the eight episodes.
The series has its basis in a book, “1971: Never a Dull Moment,” by David Hepworth.
Says Gay-Rees, “When we first engaged with David Hepworth, who wrote the book, I remember sitting in a room with him as he gave me the context of what was happening socially and politically that year, alongside which albums were coming out that year. And, like a lot of people, I’m a massive fan of some of the artists we feature in the series. But it was a slightly jaw-dropping moment, because the list just seemed to never end, and I couldn’t believe that all those records came out of that one year. I mean, some of these months alone are kind of iconic moments for music.
“Also, having made a lot of archive films,” Gay-Rees adds, “I got very excited very quickly about how good the archive (footage) would look, because for me, for my personal tastes, it’s the peak moment in fashion as well,/It’s the end of the ‘60s, and it’s before the ‘70s gets too kind of garish. It’s a brilliant sort of tipping point in fashion as well. If you’ve made as many archive films as Chris (King) and I have, you start thinking, God, this could be a real sort of gold rush here.”
“And then it became very apparent to us that there just were a lot of ideas that are still very resonant today that we thought would be really worthy of investigation. And this wonderful interplay between the music and the society of the time, and thinking. Why then? Why did music respond so vividly to what was going on in the world then, (to the point that) the music did in fact impact society, as well as society impacting music? I don’t think that’s happened in quite that same way since then. So we thought it was very worthwhile to shine a light on what that chemistry was.”
Music stories covered in the series range from “The Concert for Bangladesh” (featuring George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, pictured above) to key moments for stars like Aretha Franklin, who had her music of the period featured in a recent mini-series.
“1971” will expand its focus to include artists who found greater stardom or impact later but were having some deeply seminal moments during that year, from Elton John (who was interviewed for the series) to David Bowie, who can be heard over the opening credits saying: “We were creating the 21st century in 1971.”