NPR turns 50 this year, and we’re marking it by looking back on some other things that happened in 1971. It was that year that songwriter John Prine released his debut album. Prine died in 2020.
For its 50th anniversary, join us in an online listening party for John Prine‘s self-titled debut. NPR Music’s Ann Powers will be joined by John’s wife Fiona Prine, their son Jody Whelan, legendary singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt and producer Jim Rooney in a live conversation about this monumental album.
The event has taken place on the anniversary of the album’s release, Sept. 23, at 2 p.m. ET.
The story of John Prine’s debut album is like something out of a movie: a postal service worker makes his way up the Chicago folk scene, gets noticed by Kris Kristofferson after John had finished his set. John got up on stage, played another set just for Kris and a few other people, and Kris Kristofferson was blown away. And that led to a record deal and Prine’s magnificent recording debut.
“Good songwriters are on the rise, but John Prine is differently good,” went the original Rolling Stone review. These were not just story-songs, but deceptively simple excavations of character. The likes of Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt and the Everly Brothers covered “Sam Stone,” “Paradise” and “Angel from Montgomery,” but moreover revered Prine’s quiet sense of timing, humor and empathy.
“John Prine captured people in those moments of supposing when life gets really small and almost impossible, but then another thought occurs,” Ann Powers wrote in her 2020 remembrance. “A laugh, or a dignified response, or even a sense of blessing.”
POWERS: I think the thing about John Prine – and you can totally hear it throughout this record – is that he has so much humor, and he hooks you in with that and also with his storytelling skills. And then he just gently reaches in and pulls out your heart.
John Prine’s debut album basically made him a legend among singer-songwriters. And one of the people listening was Bonnie Raitt. And she soon recorded “Angel From Montgomery,” and it became a hit.
BONNIE RAITT: It’s a timeless masterpiece. For John to have captured that other generation’s despair, the hopelessness of – how the hell can a person go to work in the morning and come home and have nothing to say? – you know, it’s the reason I didn’t want to get married.
POWERS: And that’s the crazy thing about John Prine’s 1971 debut. It is just one classic after another, not just “Angel From Montgomery,” but “Sam Stone,” “Hello In There,” “Paradise.” And today, 50 years later, it’s – remains a beloved classic that continues to inspire and influence so many of us.
So please join us in the chat to ask questions, or just to shout out your love and thoughts. Let’s listen together!
The last recorded song by John Prine. Written by Prine and his longtime collaborator Pat McLaughlin.