Almanac Music: ‘1971 – The year that music changed everything’



In 1971 I was soon to turn 21.


The Vietnam War was raging.


Like all 20 year old males at the time, I was legally bound by the government policy of conscription to register for National Service, and like many young males, I waited in fear of my birthdate being drawn out in the ballot.


Crazy! No choice, but this was the way it was done, just like Tattslotto, the numbers were drawn from a barrel, and you were a ‘winner’ in the conscription ballot. No ifs or buts. You reported for duty shortly afterwards, the army was your life for the next two years, and the prospect of a tour of duty to Vietnam very likely, to fight and kill in a war Australia had no right to be in, and a war you did not want to participate in.


All these memories came rushing back to me  as I watched an excellent doco on AppleTV: 1971: The year that music changed everything. The sights and sounds presented in the programme reignited many feelings of the futility of war, the undermining of the youth of the day, and the corruption of many in power to do whatever they could to stay in power.


I was also reminded of some poetry I wrote as part of an assignment for a course I was studying a few years back. The unit examined poetry from the First World War as a means for understanding the experiences of war, its effects on those directly, and non-directly involved. Although I wrote these words fifty odd years later, they reflect clearly my feelings and thoughts at the time as I faced the prospect of being conscripted.


Marble in the Barrel


Shitless, I wait results of the ballot,

a marble in the barrel, my licence to kill.

Is the number mine? Any, but eighteen.

I wait, and I pray, God, please, don’t let it be me.



Shooting to Kill


I cannot imagine what it is like

to shoulder my rifle, aim, and take sight,

as the man opposite me does the same

pulling our triggers and  shooting to kill.


Many conservative governments of the time used the excuse of ‘communism’ and the associated propaganda as a means of generating fear in voters in order to remain in government, and that fear meant the continuation of the war effort in Vietnam.


All a load of bollocks of course, we were conned! In Australia we followed the lead of the ‘land of the free’ to protect the so called rights of countries against the ‘red menace’, whereas in actual fact, all that was being protected were the rights of vested interests within with huge influences over governments creating a dividing line, as we still see today.


Please do yourself a favour and have a look at this programme, it is well worth the effort reliving the madness of the day and  the fantastic music produced opposing that madness at the time. Check out the playlist from the programme below.





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About Colin Ritchie

Retired teacher who enjoys following the Bombers, listening to music especially Bob Dylan, reading, and swimming.


  1. Thanks Col. When I joined the army virtually by accident in 1980, most of my bosses were Vietnam and Korea veterans, many of whom were Nashos who had been conscripted as you described. The trauma these men experienced should never be under estimated having fought in these utterly pointless conflicts. Most of them were ‘lifers’ due to being institutionalised in the army system where at least they felt some level of safety. They rarely spoke of their experiences and were fantastic, inspiring leaders to work with. Funny you never see a politician holding a gun? Cheers

  2. I certainly want to watch this documentary.

    By the way, my favourite songs from 1971 are “Joy to the World” (Three Dogs Night), It’s Too Late (Carole King), “Take Me Home Country Roads” (John Denver), “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves (Cher), “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again” (The Fortunes) and “If You Could Read My Mind” (Gordon Lightfoot).

    1971 would have been a better year if St Kilda could have won the flag after leading Hawthorn by 20 points at three quarter time in the Grand Final. St Kilda fans are still waiting for that elusive flag. It was 1 all with Hawthorn and now it’s Hawthorn 13 flags to 1. If only, the zoning areas hadn’t changed and if only Ian Stewart hadn’t crossed from St Kilda to Richmond at the start of the 1971 football season.

  3. This documentary sounds damn good Col. Like Anon, I certainly want to watch it.

    Ian, re politicians and guns remember what Bertolt Brecht said: ‘War is a worker at either end of a bayonet’. I did my MA Thesis on this time, certainly a very tumultuous year.

    1971 brings back a lot of memories for me. Not a good year for Geelong, though the Doug Wade, Bill Ryan forward set up were damaging. I reckon there is 3, or 4, postings of mine on the Football Almanac website re matches from that season, as well as other 1971 events.

    Songs: where do you start? Eagle Rock, Eleanor Rigby (the Zoot), The Pushbike Song, I Hear You Knockin’, Band Of Gold, LA International Airport, Gypsys, Tramps, and Thieves, Black and Blue, and It wasn’t just the singles.

    Albums like Daddy Cool’s, “Daddy Who, Daddy Cool”. The Aztecs recorded “Aztecs Live” at the Melbourne Town Hall, there was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Cosmo’ s Factory”, with of course the Doors final album, “LA Woman”.

    Great stuff Col, there’s something about the year of 1971 I always find myself returning to.


  4. Thanks CR, very interested in this series, despite the dubious premise. And I do trust it is a faithful consideration of the times.

    1971 was a pretty good year for country music, with John Prine’s first record (still as incredible to listen to today and as good as his catalogue is, in my opinion he never hit truer than with Angel from Montgomery).

    One of Dolly Parton’s finest early records, Coat of Many Colours was released in ’71.

    Merle Haggard released two records and while there might be some dross, Merle’s finest is stories above most in the Tower of Song. So, on Hag, the lesser of the two albums, there is still The Farmer’s Daughter, I Can’t Be Myself and No Reason to Quit. On his second 1971 album, Someday We’ll Look Back, there are a bunch of great songs including the title track, Carolyn, Tulare Dust and one of my fave Hag sons, Huntsville.

    But even better than Dolly, Prine and Merle’s releases, there is Tom T Hall’s best album. It is staggeringly good – basic country tunes back a truck load of insights about the human condition, none more insightful than Kentucky, February 27, 1971.

    Do yerself the proverbial, you won’t be disappointed.


  5. Karl Dubravs says

    Great year for music 1971 – thanks for reminding us of it Col!
    As for the politics/futility of war – 2024 is not off to a great start….where/when will it end???

    Some time ago, I did an analysis of ‘great years in modern music’ and (based on my tastes) I had 1971 just pipping out 1972 for the gold medal.

    The only thing missing from 1971 is a Dylan album but it did have:
    Leon Russell belting out a great rendition of ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’;
    Olivia Newton John launching her international career with ‘If Not For You’ album & single;
    Concert For Bangladesh – with the entire side five comprised of Dylan ‘live’

    Songs not mentioned earlier that I rate highly are:
    Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Mr Bojangles
    Five Man Electrical Band – Signs
    Spectrum – I’ll Be Gone
    Neil Diamond – I Am I Said
    John Kongos – He’s Gonna Step On You Again
    Blackfeather – Seasons Of Change
    Ashton, Gardner & Dyke – The Resurrection Shuffle
    Russell Morris – Sweet Sweet Love
    Jeff St John – Teach Me How To Fly
    Rick Springfield – Speak To The Sky

    As for albums – well…’s my top 20
    Tapestry, American Pie, LZ IV, Imagine, Pearl, Blue, Hunky Dory, Who’s Next, Sticky Fingers, Yes, Naturally, If Only I Could Remember My Name, Every Picture Tells A Story, Aqualung, Songs For Beginners, Tupelo Honey, America, Teaser & The Firecat, LA Woman, &
    Master’s Apprentices – Choice Cuts

    Cheers, Karl

  6. Good on ya Karl , I chose to be a bit sparse on my 1971 selections. Happy to add classics such as Speak To The Sky, I’ll Be Gone, Sweet Sweet Love, among others. Your list has some great music on it, what a year.

    But sadly, some of the music died in 1971. In this article of mine from a few years prior I mention one of the big musical deaths of that year.


  7. Thanks for this, Col.
    I am certainly going to try to catch it.

  8. Barry Nicholls says

    Looks good.
    Was music better then?
    Maybe although I like some modern artists.
    North Adelaide defeated Port Adelaide in the SANFL grand final in 1971.
    Robran moved like another being.

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