Five absolutely perfect albums from the 1970s

The 1970s was one of the more eclectic decades for music.
Michael Putland/GettyImages
2 of 6


John Prine had served in the Army and was delivering mail outside of Chicago when he was discovered by a music industry that was gobbling up anyone with a guitar who could write a decent song. Prine could go well beyond that. His debut album, released just as he turned 25, offers 13 outstanding songs. The weakest of them, songs like “Pretty Good,” “Quiet Man,” “Flashback Blues,” brim with the wit Prine would come to be known for. They have catchy tunes and intricate word play. And those are the weak numbers.

The stronger songs – well, it’s hard to conceive of a postman who had not yet turned a quarter century, writing songs as sensitive to aging as “Angel From Montgomery” or “Hello in There.” It’s hard to imagine anyone of any age writing with the empathy found in “Sam Stone” or “Donald and Lydia.” There’s the wit of “Illegal Smile” and “Spanish Pipedream.” The political intelligence of “Paradise” and “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” Then there is the quiet emotional devastation of “Far From Me” and “Six O’ClocK News.”

Prine would go on to a long career as a respected songwriter and performer, but he would never have that one big hit. Some critics complain about the simplified production on that first album, or about his twangy vocals, which manage to blend his Kentucky ancestry with his adoptive Chicago vowels. If that’s your complaint, I think you’re kind of missing the point. These are thirteen perfect songs. They didn’t need high-gloss production or pure voices. They demanded authenticity, and that’s just what they got.