Pop Culture in Review for the Year 1971

From books and movies to fashion and arts, pop culture encapsulates everything. 1971 was notable for the flourishing of rock and roll music, disco dance, and various TV shows and films. In this year, the voting age was lowered to 18, the first e-book was written, and Muhammed Ali lost a 14-round boxing match to Joe Frazier. Let’s look at the highlights of the pop culture of 1971 in film, music, TV & radio, literature, arts, and fashion.


In 1971, an anti-war film called Johnny Got His Gun was made. Metallica released a music video for their song One, which used some clips from the film. Paying royalties for the video clips was so expensive that Metallica ended up buying the rights for the film.

Quaker Oats sponsored the 1971 fantasy filmWilly Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Peter Ostrum starred as Charlie Bucket in the movie. Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory is the only film he ever acted in, and he now holds a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. Ronald Dahl, the author of the novel the film was based on, despised the movie so much that he refused to authorize its sequel.

The film Fiddler on the Roof was shot with a nylon stocking covering the camera. This gave the film its washed-out, earthly feel.

In 1969, the model and actress Sharon Tate, along with four others,was murdered by Charles Manson and his followers. In 1971, Manson and his accomplices were convicted for first-degree murders of the Tate and LaBianca killings.

George C. Scott won the Academy Award for Best Actor. However, he refused to accept it and called the Oscar ceremony a meat parade. He had earlier reused the Oscar nomination for his role in The Hustler, as he did not believe in pitting actors against each other.

The actor and songwriter Audie Murphy died in an airplane crash. He had acted in 40 films and was also a celebrated war hero, with numerous medals and honors to his name. His death was a national tragedy, and he was buried with military honors.

TV and Radio

From January 1st of 1971, all TV and radio cigarette ads were banned in the US.

Philo Farnsworth was born in 1906. A television pioneer, he invented the fully functional electronic television system in 1927. In 1971, he died in Salt Lake City, Utah. Philo T. Farnsworth: The Father of Television and The Last Lone Inventor were books written on him.

In 1971, CBS aired the last episode of the Ed Sullivan Show. The show had aired from 1948 to 1971 and was quite popular. Its final episode was aired on June 6th, 1971.

At the beginning of the year, the situational comedy All in the Family started airing on CBS TV. Carroll O’Connor starred as Archie Bunker in the show. Later, the show was named Archie Bunker’s Place. The first-ever video-taped sitcom, the show ran till 1983.

No, No, Nanette was a popular musical comedy in 1924 and 1925. The Broadway revival of the show in 1971 was immensely popular, opening at 46th St Theater NYC and running 861 times.

The Broadway musical Follieswas opened on April 4th. Directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett, it ran for over 500 performances. Its production was the second-most expensive Broadway production till that time. Follies was nominated for eleven awards and won seven. Many of its songs have become classics, and it has had multiple significant revivals in subsequent years.

The House of Blue Leaves, a play written by John Guare, premiered in 1971. It was set in 1965 on the occasion of Pope Paul VI’s visit to New York. It won the Drama Critics’ Circle Award and the Obie Award for Best American Play. The play was revived in 1986, and then again in 2011.


1971 was an exciting year for music. Many legendary rock bands were formed in this year. Some of them included the Eagles, Foghat, New York Dolls, Queens, and Roxy Music. The prominent artists and bands of the year included Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Can, Yes, The Who, Joni Mitchell, and David Bowie.

In this year, Jim Morrison, the lead vocalist of the rock band The Doors, was found dead in his bathtub. He died on July 3rd, 1971, and the cause of death was officially determined to be heart failure. However, since he was relatively young when he died, it was speculated that the death might be due to overdosage of drugs.

While at a concert in London, the American singer Frank Zappa was shoved off the stage by a concertgoer, who was infuriated by his girlfriend’s infatuation with the singer. As a result, Zappa’s larynx was crushed, and he ended up in a wheelchair for a year. His voice became huskier and deeper.

In July of 1971, the musician Louis Armstrong died. He was a jazz and blues musician, famous by the name “Satchmo.” Born in 1900, he had invented skat, which is a technique of making improvisations while singing jazz. He also made innovations in Dixieland music and early day blues that influenced the music of the 1920s and 1930s. He was an outspoken individual, and several biographies have been written on his life.

The Beatles had dissembled in the year 1970. In 1971, John Lennon released his second solo album Imagine, which was a mega-hit in the US. The album was his most Beatles-like solo album. A film was also made of the recording of the album, which was released on DVD in 2000. Also, in 1971, another ex-Beatle member, McCartney, released an album titled Ram with his wife, Linda. An experimental record, the album contains some of his most complex and layered work, containing timeless pop songs.


In a World Ping-Pong Championship, after a cordial exchange between a Chinese and American player, Mao Zedong invited American table-tennis to China. This was the first time that Sino-American relations opened after the cold war.

In the entire history of the NFL, only one player died on the field. That was Chuck Hughes in 1971. After his death, the crowds became silent, and the game was continued. Postmortem revealed that Hughes was suffering from undiagnosed arteriosclerosis, and 75% of his arteries were blocked, which led to his death.

In September of 1971, Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings, a hockey legend, retired from the National Hockey league. However, as he wanted to play with his sons, he rejoined the NHL in 1973 and played for seven more seasons.

Sonny Liston, who was a boxer and the World Heavyweight Champion, was found dead in his home in Las Vegas. His body was discovered by his wife on January 5th, while the actual date of his death was estimated to be December 30th, 1970. The cause of death was ruled as a heroin overdose.

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought for the heavyweight championship at Madison square garden in March 1971. Frazier won the fight. The two players had rematches in 1974 and 1975. Mark Kram’s 2001 book Ghosts of Manila detailed the boxing-matches of the two.


The US Senate approved the 26th amendment to the constitution, which gave any American citizen aged 18 or above the right to vote. Through ratification by 38 states, the amendment became law in June 1971.


The designs of Coco Chanel heavily influenced women’s dresses. A New York Times article said that the Chanel Suit has probably been copied, in all price ranges and sizes, more than any other single item designed by a couture house. Yves Saint Laurent’s dresses, vastly different from Chanel’s, continued to be a favorite in 1971.

Bianca and Mick Jagger’s relationship epitomizes the seventies glamour. The two were married in 1971 and separated in 1978. Their marriage cemented their status as fashion icons throughout the decade.


Disco was an influential musical movement of the 1970s. It changed how the people socialized, bringing people together through social dancing. Do you know that in 1971 it was illegal for two men to be dancing with each other in New York City? However, through the disco, crowds could dance together on the dance floor, which had quite an impact on the gay scene in New York. Women, African Americans, and Latino Americans found a way to express themselves through dance. Disco dancing enabled people to dance as part of a crowd as well as individually, transcending the prior limitations of dancing as a couple only.


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a novel written by Hunter S. Thompson, which is semi-autobiographical. Thompson’s most famous work, this novel exposes the culture of illegal drug usage in Las Vegas and laments the failure of the 1960s countercultural movement. The book is notable for its blend of fact and fiction, in a style that later became known as gonzo journalism.

The Lorax was a children’s book by Dr. Seuss, which tackled environmental and economic issues. The story is a fable, which uses the element of personification to represent industry and activism and encourages involvement on a personal scale to make things better.  The book was received positively.

In August, Joel David Kaplan and Carlos Antonio Contreras Castro successfully escaped Mexico’s federal prison using a helicopter, a move that was planned by Vasilios Basil Choulos. The escape led to the book Ten-Second Jailbreak in 1973, and the filmBreakout in 1975.

The world’s first e-book was written in 1971. Michael S. Hart digitized the US Declaration of Independence, launching Project Gutenberg, which is a volunteer effort to digitize the world’s books.


During 1971, the medium of art was being used to make significant political statements that concerned women, black people, and the American War in Vietnam. The Deluxe Showappeared at DeLuxetheater in Houston, Texas. Featuring many artists who later rose to fame, Deluxe is the first art show which integrated black and white artists.

The American art historian, Linda Nochlin, wrote anessay titled Why Have There Been No Greater Women Artists? The paper offered a concept of female content and explored the institutional obstacles that hinder Western women from succeeding in the arts.

Asco, a Chicano artist collective, held a theatrical performance on Christian Eve. The performance poked fun at Christian traditions while at the same time drew attention to the disproportionate number of Latino and black men who were sent to fight in Vietnam – with people who often had the same socio-economic status as them.

Some other highlights of the year 1971:

  • Stanford Prison Experiment

Conducted at Stanford University by professor Philip Zimbardo, this was a social psychology experiment to find the psychological effects of power. Twenty-four students, who volunteered to be the part of the study, were randomly divided into guards and prisoners, with Zimbardo as the superintendent. The experiment had to be closed down within six days, as the “guards” started displaying sadistic and authoritarian tendencies, and the “prisoners” had started to stop protesting or fighting back.

The experiment has received its fair share of criticism, with its findings questioned and methodology declared unscientific. In any case, it resulted in some reforms in US prisons. In 2005, a film was made on the experiment.

  • Disney World Opened

On October 1st, 1971, the Walt Disney World theme park was officially opened. Walt Disney had started purchasing land in Florida in 1965 and had publicly announced his plans for the park in 1965. After his death in 1966, Roy Disney, his brother, took over the construction work, which began in 1967. Unfortunately, Roy died just a few months after the park opened.

When the theme park was auguratedin 1971, it consisted of only the Magic Kingdom park and some resorts. Back then, the price of a ticket for adults was $3.50, which only got one entry into the park. The cost of ride tickets was separate then.

  • Starbucks Opened Its First Store

Did you know that your favorite coffee place started its business in 1971? In March 1971, Starbucks opened its first store in Seattle, Washington. Today, it has 29,865 stores in 70 countries around the world. Needless to say, Starbucks has come a long way in just a few decades.

  • The Nike Symbol Was Designed

You must be familiar with the Swoosh symbol of Nike. It was designed by Carolyn Davidson, who only got $35 for the creative job.

  • The UNO Card Game Was Invented

It was in 1971 when the UNO card game was invented by an American barber named Merle Robbins. The UNO card game was played by Robbins along with his friends and family members, who also encouraged him to sell the game as a product. The rights to the card game would be sold to funeral parlor owner Robert Tezak for $50,000 and a 10% royalty. To know more about UNO and other classic toys from the 70s, you can check out the Popular Toys of the 70s that Bring Nostalgia.


The year 1971 was quite a happening year with regards to pop culture. From the birth of stars and tragic deaths to new music and technology, perhaps David Hepworth was right when he called 1971 the greatest year of all time for pop culture.

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