After recently digging deep in the shelves to dust off and decide on the best album of each year in the 1970s, I found myself stumped with 1972. From having done a few such lists in the past, I’m well acquainted with the difficulty of ruthlessly cutting out one’s favourite artists to find just one from a given time or genre. But 1972 presented a challenge of a whole new calibre. So much so, that I’m dedicating this article to the spellbinding year for album releases.
In the 1960s, music effectively detonated a chain reaction of creative energy that sent a ripple of artistic desire like a Mexican wave right up to the modern-day. Sure, the 1960s was home to some classic albums, and there were some years that boasted some truly groundbreaking releases, but in honesty, the only big decisions would be whether to pick Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde or The Beatles’ Revolver for 1966. Though, having likely picked The Velvet Underground & Nico over Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for 1967, I would probably pick Revolver as the greatest Beatles album and honour Dylan by picking Highway 61 Revisited for 1965.
Similarly, I’ve had some issues in the ‘90s before; 1991 in particular, presents a true challenge. The year saw the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, and Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock – some truly incredible music there as I’m sure you’ll agree.
Something you might not agree with, however, is my assertion that of all the years, stretching back to the first Christmas if you like, 1972 was the best year for albums ever. Of course, I understand a taste in music is about as subjective as it gets, but I still have this intense feeling that I’m totally right pretty much all the time.
I’m always up for a debate, just so long as it’s within the joyous realms of music and far from the greedy hands of politics. This is a space for light-hearted conjecture; fortunately, I’m the only person here, so I’m going to give you my opinion. You can disagree all you like, just remember, when all’s said and done, it’s just a bit of fun.
So, where do I start with 1972? Likely the biggest rock band to survive the 1960s was The Rolling Stones – in fact, they even survived the 2010s, surprisingly enough. After fine-tuning their songwriting skills with some impressive albums over the late ‘60s, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards hit their full stride in 1971 with the release of Sticky Fingers. Somehow managing to better this achievement from the constraints of tax exile in France, they released Exile On Main Street the following year.
These two albums mark on the Stones’ graph where the trajectories of creative energy and musical talent met in a neat little cross. For me, Exile On Main Street just about takes gold over Sticky Fingers thanks to its vast range of themes and styles and the rough edges that seem to perfectly encapsulate the Stones.
Also emerging from the 60s, was the less well-known David Bowie. Despite releasing two albums in the ‘60s, Bowie was only really known for his 1969 breakthrough single, ‘Space Oddity’ at the turn of the decade. In 1971, he struck a fat nugget of gold with Hunky Dory, but sealed his legacy in 1972 with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars.
The powerhouse concept album grabbed the world by the goolies and demanded attention. It was the album that saw Bowie become a big wig in the US and introduced the first of his creative guises, Ziggy Stardust. The album is one of those few that I believe has not a single weak track on it. It’s littered with major hits like ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Starman’, ‘Moonage Daydream’ and ‘Suffragette City’, but is also given such rigorous structure and balance sandwiched between the powerful and plaintive ‘Five Years’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’.
The musically effervescent year was also home to Lou Reed’s best post-Velvet Underground release, Transformer; a glam rock beauty made in collaboration with Bowie and Mick Ronson. It would seem 1972 was the finest year for glam rock with Roxy Music’s creatively blooming eponymous debut and T. Rex’s The Slider also cutting the mustard.
In the realm of soul music, we had another windfall of wonderful releases, highlighted by Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together, Aretha Franklin’s Young, Gifted and Black, Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly and Bill Withers’ Still Bill.
In 1972, the hard rock group Deep Purple released their seminal sixth studio album, Machine Head while Steely Dan made their jazz fusion debut with Can’t Buy A Thrill and CAN brought their krautrock A-game to Ege Bamyasi.
Another genre that had a blinding year was folk. My personal highlight would be Nick Drake’s third and final album, Pink Moon. It’s a delightfully mournful and depressing release that takes acoustic guitar playing to a new level, all the while accompanied by Drake’s perfect poetry. Meanwhile, 1972 saw Neil Young hit the peak of his solo career with Harvest, Paul Simon’s eponymous solo album and Joni Mitchell’s For the Roses.
I could go on, but I have listed my favourite albums of the year, and they are all corkers. Hopefully, these were enough to illustrate my point and maybe even beckon you to the realisation that I’m correct in my assessment. If I haven’t talked you around, or you’re not the biggest fan of the glam and singer-songwriter era of the early ‘70s, what year would you deem the best for album releases of all time?