Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1972

by Benjamin Ray

During the latter half of the 1960s, what was good and what was popular was pretty much the same thing. Once 1972 hit, those two roads began to diverge, setting a trend that would carry throughout the next two decades (and beyond, according to many). Looking back now, it is astonishing how pop music fell so far so fast; fortunately, there was a lot of great rock (including the progressive type) and soul to overcome the dreck.

The track list for pop radio in this year reads like a Who's Who of Bland Wimpy Pap: Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)," Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman," six hits from various Osmonds, the Raspberries' "Go All The Way," America's "A Horse With No Name," Neil Diamond's "Play Me," Looking Glass' "Brandy," Main Ingredient's "Everybody Plays The Fool," Chicago's "Saturday In The Park" (beginning their downward slide), Sammy Davis Jr.'s "The Candy Man," Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breeze," Cat Stevens' "Morning Has Broken," Bread's "Everything I Own," the Carpenters' "Goodbye To Love" and two versions of "I'd Like To Teach the World to Sing," from the stupid Coke commercial that equated world peace with soda.

If you can get through that list without throwing up, there were some better pop singles of the year, like Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly," Nilsson's "Without You" and "Coconut," Carly Simon's kiss-off "You're So Vain," Bill Withers' "Lean On Me," the Hollies' excellent "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress," Commander Cody's fun "Hot Rod Lincoln," Gary Glitter' "Rock And Roll Part 2" (the very first Jock Jam), Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," Dave Edmunds' "I Hear You Knocking," Elvis' "Burning Love," Jimmie Spheeris' "The Nest" (not a hit, but should have been), Jim Croce's "Time In A Bottle," Pure Prarie League's "Amie" and, especially, the Temptations' dramatic "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone." 


Some rock artists, both new and established, were leaning toward the sunny, bucolic Southern California approach, embracing acoustic guitars and laid-back (but not lazy) songwriting. This was the year the Eagles and Jackson Browne debuted, the Doobie Brothers hit with Toulouse Street, Stephen Stills offered Manassas, Neil Young the warm Harvest and Paul Simon's self-titled debut.

Others rockers were intent on turning up the volume. The Rolling Stones delivered the last of their great albums with the sprawling Exile On Main Street, Deep Purple released the influential Machine Head, Black Sabbath offered the hard Vol. 4 and Alice Cooper broke through with School's Out. Grand Funk had a couple of unremarkable albums, Savoy Brown released the excellent "Hellbound Train," Uriah Heep had the hard "Easy Livin'" and the second rate prog-rock of The Magician's Birthday and the Edgar Winter Group put out the instrumental standard "Frankenstein."

1972 could be considered a banner year for progressive rock, which was still a popular outlet for those who thought rock could reach for more instead of settle for "Take It Easy." Highlights included Yes' superb Close to the Edge and Fragile, the twin peaks of their career, Genesis' ambitious Foxtrot, Gentle Giant's Three Friends, Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Trilogy (and the live Pictures At An Exhibition), Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick and the double album Living In The Past (featuring rarities, B-sides and live track, but playing like an organic release) and the Moody Blues' final outing before their hiatus, the melancholy and very good Seventh Sojourn. Although it wasn't progressive, Todd Rundgren also released the challenging, unruly double album Something/Anything? with the hits "Hello It's Me" and "I Saw The Light."  


Another strain of rock music would be dubbed "glam rock," and it got its real start this year with David Bowie's epochal, influential Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, which attracted a generation of teens who finally felt free to let their freak flag fly. Elton John would help the campy side of things the following year, but in 1972 he offered Honky Chateau, a quirky, mellow affair with songs like "Rocket Man" and "Honky Cat."

Other notable releases from this year were Stevie Wonder's Talking Book ("Superstition" and the real start to his career, featuring him breaking away from the Motown mold), the Faces "Stay With Me," Nick Drake's Pink Moon, Steely Dan's debut Can't Buy A Thrill ("Do It Again") and the solo debut singles from Michael Jackson ("Rockin' Robin" and "Ben"). And, sadly, 1972 was the year Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash shortly before finishing Eat A Peach, a double album with some fantastic songwriting, including a couple of solid tracks left over from the Fillmore concerts.

And that, friends, is the Year That Was in music.

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