Meanwhile, R & B, funk, and soul were alive and kicking. James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and Valerie Simpson had not only survived, but continued what might have been the best periods of their careers. Ray Charles also had a comeback, and former Motown masterminds Holland-Dozier-Holland released some fine singles of their own. The Staple Singers crossed over into secular music, and War had hit upon a sure-fire, feel-good funk formula. But the big story was Stevie Wonder, who broke free of his Motown shackles to deliver two startling self-produced albums, setting new artistic standards in the process.
Of course, a few acts had lost their bearing in the wake of the 60s. The biggest losers were Jeff Beck and the soon-to-disband Jefferson Airplane, who embarassed themselves with careless efforts. The Beach Boys seemed completely out of touch, Frank Zappa was in a slump, Santana and Buddy Miles' short-lived collaboration was a mistake, Black Sabbath proved unable to expand out of their heavy-metal formula, and Eric Clapton's continuing incapacitation prompted the release of a truly lousy live Cream record. Still, though, there was enough great music to satisfy almost everyone. (JA)