The Seventies were the decade of the singer-songwriter: not just Bob Dylan, but Jackson Browne, Carole King, Randy Newman and the hundreds of poets and troubadours who wanted to achieve their status. Rolling Stone reviewed thousands of albums between 1970 and 1979, including some gems that never found the audience they deserved. We went through the archives to find 10 singer-songwriter albums that ruled our turntables in the Seventies but have been unfairly forgotten since then.
Block left her Greenwich Village home at age 15 and headed south to study blues guitar with the living country blues masters (Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, etc.). By 1978, she was 26, a master of her instrument and writing modern blues songs about women's ambitions and identities. She achieved greater success in the Eighties when she signed to Rounder and started recording in the classic Delta blues style; she has now released well over 20 albums.
What We Said Then: "Intoxication is a small masterpiece: a habit-forming album that doesn't knock you flat or drive you crazy, yet gets a glow going every time. . . The songs she writes maintain a traditionalist's respect for the integrity of their sources. From the reverb in an R&B ballad to the snap and lilt of gospel piano (which she plays herself), Block gets the details right." — Ariel Swartly, RS 259 (February 23, 1978)
Forman, a former puppet-maker (and assistant to Philip Petit when he walked on a high wire between the Twin Towers in New York City), released a debut album that received a full-on rave for its Springsteen-style romanticism. The record flopped, and Forman ended up writing songs with Gerry Goffin before moving into a lucrative career in advertising jingles. In the Nineties, he started a doo-wop group called Little Isidore and the Inquisitors.
What We Said Then: "Forman's style is rooted in soul singers like Barbara Lewis, Curtis Mayfield and Smokey Robinson — adult pop singers and writers. . . Forman's not just a brilliant lyricist. His melodies are fine, and he's an arresting if derivative and occasionally uncertain vocalist. . . No matter what the verdict of the charts may be, David Forman is an artistic success." — Dave Marsh, RS 223 (October 7, 1976)
By 1973, Axton had already made two forgotten albums and written a bunch of songs for other artists, including "The Pusher" for Steppenwolf and "Joy to the World" for Three Dog Night. But partnered with producer Bob Johnston, Axton fleshed out his country-blues songwriting into "a quiet gem of an album." After this LP, he had a run of minor country hits through the Seventies, while struggling with drug addiction; he died of a stroke in 1999, age 61.
What We Said Then: "Axton's writing has a strikingly distinct character. Most of his songs are straight or modified folk ballads with angular melodic phrases, the gist of each (both musical and lyrical) contained in a powerful chorus. . . All told, Less Than the Song is one of the year's most rewarding achievements by a singer/songwriter." — Stephen Holden, RS 137 (June 21, 1973)
Randall Bramblett was headed for the seminary until he found music. Fluent on keyboards, guitar and saxophone, he did sessions in the early Seventies with Gregg Allman and other artists before releasing two solo albums (this was his second). After this sleek record about "the peculiar malaise of the Southern rocker," Bramblett recorded and toured with Sea Level, Traffic and other bands — but this album was his last solo studio release until 1998.
What We Said Then: "Light of the Night joins Randall Bramblett's brilliant debut album, That Other Mile, as one of the classic Southern albums of the Seventies. Recorded at Sea-Saint Studios in New Orleans, this mellow, soothing funk is the perfect medium for Bramblett's supple, expressive voice, smooth keyboard and sax playing, and incredibly subtle songwriting. Bramblett's sophisticated songwriting is a far cry from the standard macho rock posture." — John Swenson, RS 213 (May 20, 1976)
Gold, the multi-instrumentalist son of Oscar-winning composer Ernest Gold and Marni Nixon (the secret singing voice of Hollywood starlets such as Natalie Wood), made an appealing but retro debut, in the mode of the Beatles circa Rubber Soul. Two years later, Gold would score a Top 10 single, the maudlin "Lonely Boy," but his greatest fame probably came from "Thank You for Being a Friend," which became the theme song for the long-running geriatric sitcom The Golden Girls. Gold died in 2011, age 59.
What We Said Then: "Not a note or a beat is wasted, and Gold's guitar breaks — variations of early Beatles licks — are especially tasty, well suited to their sleek modern settings. Gold's ballads are as captivating as his rockers, if not more so. 'That's Why I Love You' deserves recognition as an all-time great teen love song — light and sweet, with just a whiff of sadness, it hooks you from its first measure. . . . here is one artist whose freshness, vitality, and musical talent should help give nostalgia a good name." — Stephen Holden, RS 201 (December 4, 1975)
By 1971, Tony Joe White had released three albums and written "Rainy Night in Georgia" (which was a smash hit for Brook Benton) and scored one hit single of his own, the swamp-rock "Polk Salad Annie." Those hits aside, Rolling Stone considered his previous work "bland and inconsequential," and acclaimed this record as the moment he transcended hackery. It proved not to be a breakthrough, although White has continued a career as a working musician.
What We Said Then: "In song after song, his performance transcends the whole notion of influences: they all speak from a personal depth and naturalness that is missing from all but the best of the new singer-songwriters. . . as for Tony Joe White himself, he's finally made the kind of album that separates the men from the boys. What more can you ask for?" — Jon Landau, RS 79 (April 1, 1971)
Waldman had been part of an L.A. group called Bryndle; this Laura Nyro–esque debut album had backing vocals from her famous friends, including Linda Ronstadt, Maria Muldaur and Jennifer Warren. Although Waldman was acclaimed for her musical dexterity and songwriting skills, her albums didn't sell; she ultimately did better by moving to Nashville to become a full-time songwriter (her most famous composition is "Save the Best for Last," a Number One hit for Vanessa Williams).
What We Said Then: "Love Has Got Me is an apt title for this collection, since its content is a torrent of celebration and includes practically every pop style extant. Wendy Waldman, a 22-year-old Southern Californian who has written more than 150 songs, makes music that doesn't so much exemplify these styles and synthesize them with grace and fluency." — Stephen Holden, RS 146 (October 25, 1973)
Winchester moved to Canada in 1967 to avoid being drafted for Vietnam; while there, he connected with Robbie Robertson of the Band, who produced his self-titled debut album. It received a rave from Rolling Stone as a masterpiece of Americana (Canadiana?) — as did the followup, 1972's Third Down, 110 to Go. Both were minor hits in Canada but barely scratched the American charts. Winchester returned to the States in 1977 and continued working as a singer and songwriter; he died at age 69, in April 2014.
What We Said Then: "I'll admit it — this album has me hooked. I discovered it during the whole Kent State/Cambodia mess, when it was the only record that could pull me out of my depression and I've listened to it a hundred times since. . . it is the first record I can remember making me wish I had a fireplace. . . . I really think every patriotic American should listen to Jesse Winchester, the man who loved it and left it, because his songs transcend all barriers with the exception of one: art." — Ed Ward, RS 64 (August 6, 1970)
This "poignant but not self-pitying" album, in the mode of a male Joni Mitchell, was groundbreaking because of its subject matter: Grossman was gay, and sang frankly about life as a homosexual man in New York City's West Village. Rolling Stone said it made him the first composer/performer on a major label to write about homosexuality "on the everyday level, rather than exploit it as chic decadence or futuristic fantasy." The review worried (presciently) that the subject matter would lead to the album being ignored by radio stations. Grossman died in 1991, age 39, of complications related to AIDS. Although there was a posthumous record (Something in the Moonlight), Caravan Tonight proved to be the only album Grossman released in his lifetime.
What We Said Then: "His vision is every bit as compelling as those of such brilliant mid-Atlantic provincials as Elliott Murphy and Bruce Springsteen. . . . Most important is the purity of Grossman's sensibility. His communication of intense compassion, honesty and tenderness so eclipses the imperfections inevitable in the work of such a young artist (he's only 22) that the ultimate emotional impact of his Caravan is staggering, its appeal to the finest human values universal." — Stephen Holden, RS 161 (May 23, 1974)
Rolling Stone raved about the first two albums by the hyperverbal young New Yorker Elliott Murphy, initially predicting superstardom on the basis of his debut Aquashow and then lauding this follow-up album as "brilliant but extraordinarily difficult." Murphy ended up writing articles for Rolling Stone through the Eighties, including interviews with Tom Waits and Buster Poindexter; he also settled into cult status, recording dozens of albums, and now lives in France.
What We Said Then: "On Aquashow, Elliott Murphy had the audacity to merge Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby with Dylan's 'Like a Rolling Stone' to create a song called 'Like a Great Gatsby'; On Lost Generation, he invokes Hemingway's Paris in the Twenties, the magic of Hollywood and many more gods, then winds up tying Pound, Braun, and even Hitler to a rock & roll stake and setting the whole works on fire. . . . When he's on the street, the sun also rises on one of the best." — Paul Nelson, RS 191 (July 17, 1975)