Musically, the year 1973 instantly brings to mind The Dark Side Of The Moon, album-wise. It was also the year Slade conquered the singles charts, most notably with that song at Christmas.
What were the other big LPs from around that time?
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Goats Head Soup, Aladdin Sane, Quadrophenia… yes it was a big year for the album.
What were the ex-Fabs doing?
McCartney put out Band On The Run, Lennon’s opus was the underrated Mind Games, Harrison released Living In The Material World and Ringo’s Ringo was a fun collection… all significant pieces of work, all masterpieces in their way.
We even got the Red and Blue albums, in case the solo material wasn’t enough for Beatles fans.
Dylan conspicuously (and typically) bucks the trend, having gone off the boil at the turn of the decade, although this was the year that the world was introduced to the monster hit Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, so I suppose that while the maestro didn’t really make any headlines with albums, he did unleash one of the most well-known songs of all time during this period.
It would take about another 18 – 24 months before he finally got it together and reminded the competition how good his and by definition albums in general could be, setting the benchmark impossibly high with the near perfect Blood On The Tracks.
Anyway, the point is there was some seriously good material on offer for the rock fan during 1973.
This year also saw the release of arguably one of the most subversive and forward-thinking records ever.
And it wasn’t by a rock’n’roller.
When Pete Seeger put out Rainbow Race he already had half a lifetime of form for upsetting the government, challenging accepted norms and ruffling feathers at the highest level.
His musical output had led to blacklisting, including TV and radio bans, censuring of live performance and the threat of imprisonment for upsetting Congress.
Who was this hell-raising firebrand, tearing at the fabric of society? A proto-punk? More dangerous than Keith Richards and (the as yet unformed) Sex Pistols put together?
No, he was just an old (comparatively speaking) bloke with a banjo (or a 12-string).
Most people know him as a folk legend, the man who popularised We Shall Overcome and wrote If I Had A Hammer.
His talent for upsetting authority stems largely from his self-proclaimed allegiance to communism – a very, very dirty word in the US – coupled with an unflinching desire to speak up against injustice and inequality.
A hugely influential figure, both in the world of music and civil activism, Pete Seeger was a force of nature.
He didn’t care about what people thought of him or his activism.
He just did what he thought was right.
In a sense, Seeger had the most rock’n’roll heart of anyone, though he would deny this – hell, he wouldn’t even be interested in it.
But when you consider his track-record for outraging authority and as such landing square on McCarthy’s blacklist, he pretty much makes Ozzy Osborne’s antics seem quite small-fry by comparison.
He was also a songwriter of considerable talent.
Much like Dylan, his work is probably more widely known through other people and their cover versions.
When I listen to Rainbow Race, I’m immediately struck by the quality of the song-writing.
This is a collection of protest songs, some scintillatingly powerful and damning of their targets.
“Do I see both Houses of Congress? Do I see the voters, me and you?”
Society is in the firing line – me, you, him, her, them and all their politics come into question on the album’s opening shot, the blistering Last Train To Nuremberg.
The record is also a fine, shining example of environmental concern put to music.
This was not the first time Seeger had sung about the environment – the 1966 LP God Bless The Grass had the same theme.
On Rainbow Race it is unapologetically presented – “Here we are knee-deep in garbage / Firing rockets at the moon” leaves the listener in no doubt as to what’s on Pete’s agenda.
The deadly serious message set to gorgeous, pastoral melodies is all part of the Seeger MO.
He doesn’t scream his head off, deafen us with noise or offend under the influence of drugs or alcohol – he just skewers us all with razor-sharp observation.
Sort out the planet or we’re all doomed.
It’s as simple as that.
Now… I wonder where I’ve heard that said recently..?
They may have disagreed with his politics, but it would appear that the message is finally getting through.
Perhaps his alignment with communism did more harm than good back then and overshadowed some of the more apolitical issues (or at least, issues which ought to be apolitical).
Granted, releasing a set of ecologically centred tunes and lacing it with a sing-song about Ho Chi Minh probably wasn’t going to win him too many new fans in conservative America in 1973.
But my contention is that you don’t have to be a communist to understand the climate emergency, any more than you have to be a communist to rectify the glaring inequalities that exist in society.
The album is filled with hope however.
One of my favourite cuts is The Clearwater, the first of two Seeger didn’t write here, but it’s a good song with an environmental message.
Capping the album off with Hobo’s Lullaby is a masterstroke and a wonderful album closer with a message we can all understand.
Rainbow Race seems to have gone largely unnoticed at the time, a rare record looking outward, while popular themes of the era seemed to be introspection and searching for something inside.
While The Dark Side Of The Moon is undoubtedly every bit as good as people say it is… there is more to 1973 than prog rock and space hoppers.
If anything, it proves that concern for the environment has existed in popular culture for a lot longer than the last 20 or so years and I hope that the recent awakening to the issue by governments around the globe isn’t just “bandwaggoneering” (a favourite phrase of the current UK prime minister), but rather a final realisation that we are in a bad place.
One blue sky above us.
One ocean lapping all our shores.
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