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Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, MC5, Meat Loaf among Detroit music golden anniversaries

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

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Pop music nostalgia has pushed well past the "20 years ago today" the Beatles sang in 1967.

Fifty has become the new benchmark, as each year brings a fresh lineup of golden anniversaries for notable album releases and other events from music history.

Metro Detroit shares in those celebrations, too, and this year brings a number of major commemorations — including one album many consider the best ever, and releases from eight Rock and Roll Hall of Famers — for highlights from 1971. It was a particularly potent year for the scene, as evidenced by this dozen highlights.

• "What's Going On": Marvin Gaye's socially conscious 11th studio album for Motown, released May 21, was a masterwork — the best of all time, according to Rolling Stone magazine and Britain’s New Musical Express, and an inductee in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry. A bit less known is that the same year Gaye also made another album, "Funky Nation: The Detroit Instrumentals," unreleased in its entirety until this month.

• "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)": The Temptations added a signature song to its legacy with this Norman Whitfield-Barrett Strong songwriting collaboration, released Jan. 14. Recorded at Golden World Records, which had been purchased by Berry Gordy Jr., the track was the Temptations' third No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and also the last to feature founding members Eddie Kendricks, who left to for a solo career, and Paul Williams, who was pushed out for health reasons. The Rolling Stones covered the song during its 1981 North American tour and for its "Still Life" live album.

• "Maggot Brain": The third studio album by George Clinton's Funkadelic — produced by Clinton at United Sound Systems and released July 12 — was a ferocious funk-rock hybrid as well as the last effort by the original lineup (three members departed after its release). Eddie Hazel's work on the 10-minute showpiece title track is considered some of the greatest guitar soloing of all time.

• "Where I'm Coming From": Like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder shook off Motown's notoriously tight creative controls with his 13th studio album, producing the set himself in Hitsville U.S.A.'s Studio A and writing its nine tracks with Syreeta Wright, his first wife. "If You Really Love Me" was a Top 10 hit from the April 12 release, while Wonder finished the year with "What Christmas Means to Me," a perennial favorite for the holiday season.

• Detroit, the band: After the inglorious end of the Detroit Wheels nearly four years prior, Mitch Ryder and drummer Johnny "Bee" Badanjek regrouped in a new group known as both Detroit and The Band Detroit with guitarists Steve Hunter and Brett Tuggle. Its lone, self-titled album came out during 1971 and featured a hit new arrangement of the Velvet Underground's "Rock & Roll" (covered by Alice Cooper for his upcoming "Detroit Stories" album) as well as covers of Chuck Berry's "Let It Rock." Vocal problems forced Ryder out of the group the following year, though the other members tried to keep it alive, with varying success, for years afterwards.

• Twice more, with feeling: After joining forces the year before, the Supremes (sans Diana Ross) and Four Tops teamed up for two more albums during 1971 — "The Return of the Magnificent Seven," which came out during July, and "Dynamite" in September. Neither lit the world on fire commercially, but "You Gotta Have Love in Your Heart" was a modest hit, and there was genuine chemistry between lead singers Jean Terrell and Levi Stubbs. On their own, the Supremes also had million-selling hits with "Nathan Jones" and "Floy Joy," while the Tops dropped a cover of Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park (Part II)."

• "High Time": The MC5 recorded its third and final album, released July 6, at studios in Detroit and England, moving to a new label (Atlantic Records) co-producing itself for the first time. Though hard drugs were hampering the band by that point, there's still plenty of adventure across its eight tracks, and the Fred "Sonic" Smith bookends "Sister Anne" and "Skunk (Sonically Speaking)" remain MC5 touchstones.

• Cooper conquests: After middling (at best) fortunes for its first two albums, the Alice Cooper band fled Los Angeles for the namesake frontman's hometown, where the group and co-producer Bob Ezrin prepared material for the breakthrough "Love It To Death" in a Pontiac farmhouse. Recorded in Chicago and released March 9, it was a Top 30 success propelled by the hit "I'm Eighteen." The troupe also released another album, the even higher-charting "Killer," on Nov. 27 — whose "Be My Lover" gives a shout out to "Dee-troit city."

• "Brand New Morning": Bob Seger's fourth album was considered his first "solo" venture, after jettisoning from the Bob Seger System. Released during October, it has a spare, stripped-down singer-songwriter quality, and at one point Seger portrayed it as a set of demos he regretted putting out. It would also be his last release with Capitol Records for four years, moving to the Frank Sinatra-founded Reprise Records for his next three titles.

• Stoney and Meatloaf: That story about Meat Loaf recording for Motown? True dat. The label signed the singer and future Silver Bullet Band backing vocalist Shaun "Stoney" Murphy to its Rare Earth rock imprint while both were part of the Detroit cast of "Hair" at the Vestpocket Theatre. "Stoney & Meatloaf" came out during October but didn't do much of anything (No. 25 in Holland) and was largely forgotten by the time "Bat Out of Hell" heated up six years later.

• Just Celebrating: Motown's rock standard-bearer Rare Earth hit the Top 10 for the last time with "I Just Want to Celebrate," an anthemic workout from the sextet's fourth album, "One World." The song reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, pushing the album into the Top 30, and it was later sampled by N.W.A. and covered by Metallica for its 2007 appearance at the Bridge School Benefit Concerts.

• Orchestra Hall Makes History: The home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra was added to the National Register of Historic Places during 1971 — not long after renovation had begun, eventually reopening the venue in 1989. On Jan. 31, 1971, meanwhile, the Detroit Symphony Youth Orchestra played its first concert, an anniversary that will be celebrated with several programs during the coming year.

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