'The Year That Music Changed Everything' review: engrossing docu-series examines seminal music from 1971

Asif Kapadia's eight-part series offers an ambitious look at how the industry was revolutionised in just 12 months

David Bowie in a still from docu-series '1971: The Year Music Changed Everything'. Apple TV
David Bowie in a still from docu-series '1971: The Year Music Changed Everything'. Apple TV

Over the past decade, the films Senna, Amy and Diego Maradona have firmly established Asif Kapadia as one of the most influential documentarians working in the genre.

Not only because of his captivating style, which combines archival footage with historical audio from those involved, as well as concise voice-overs from experts. He also ensures his output has a prescience that makes it feel relevant and thought-provoking, rather than simply nostalgic and sentimental.

Kapadia's trademarks are all over 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything, an eight-part docuseries that meticulously breaks down how this 12-month period of musical innovation was inspired by the political and cultural upheaval of the era.

Kapadia is the series director and executive producer with the individual episodes overseen by James Rogan and Danielle Peck and his influence can be felt from the very first scene.

Over an intense and haunting score we see police brutally attacking protesters as Chrissie Hynde, lead singer and songwriter of The Pretenders, declares: “At the end of the 1960s, around 1970, there was a huge divide in America.” She says she and all her friends were at “odds with the silent majority”.

Considering the issues that have separated large parts of the US over the past five years, it’s hard not to draw parallels with the current climate. Such links are present throughout the series. But what makes 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything really engrossing is its inclusion of scarcely seen footage and rarely heard audio of some of the biggest musical stars.

At the start, we’re given the tragic background to Neil Young’s seminal protest song Ohio, which he wrote after four unarmed Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam War were killed by the National Guard.

The episode then dovetails into the making of Marvin Gaye’s classic album What’s Going On, detailing the singer’s mindset at the time, and his aspirations as he wrote and recorded it, all with the help of interviews from Gaye, who died in 1984. It features illuminatingly intimate moments with John Lennon and George Harrison of The Beatles, too.

The docuseries is never indulgent as it focuses entirely on the pursuit of all of these musicians in this period. Through their songs, Lennon and Gaye are looking to highlight the atrocity of war and the impact it has on soldiers, respectively, while Harrison has organised two huge benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York to raise awareness and relief for refugees.

Each of these musicians have a deep sincerity and unbreakable hopefulness that they can really make a change and an impact, as do the millions of people who are supporting them.

It’s an uplifting and inspiring reminder of the power of song, told in a vivid and rousing fashion. So much so that, after watching 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything, you’ll genuinely believe that music can, and should, make a difference.

1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything is available to stream on Apple TV+ from Friday, May 21

Published: May 21, 2021 08:41 AM

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