From David Bowie to Neil Young: A definitive list of the top 6 records from 1972
By the time the calendar showed 1972, the sexual revolution had exploded, the climax had come and gone, and the hangover followed the dwindling of the Vietnam War firmly set in as military drafts came to an end in the United States. Flower power had made its mark and the hippie zeitgeist was turning into something more formidable and perhaps slightly darker. The Beatles defined the summer of love and psychedelia with their milestone album, Sgt. Pepper in the late ’60s; that era was coming to an end. The Beatles had broken up, and rock n roll began to diverge into multiple different sub-genres.
The feeling of the revolution was, in fact, still in the air, but the need for flowers in one’s hair began to become less relevant and morphed into sexual ambiguity. Weird space alien glam icons began descending upon the earth from otherworldly, intergalactic planets with new orders on how to proceed.
There were other forces at work too. While the British had a tendency to be sardonic and look towards fiction for influence, American musicians were attempting to capture the heart of social and political issues; the sheer size of the United States created much more of a disparate concoction of sounds, thanks in no small part to the plethora of varying geographical locations it was made in. Don Mclean’s hit ‘American Pie’ reached number one in the billboard charts in January, an epic poem set to music that has forever been etched into the consciousness of the American people.
This was also the year that Richard Nixon shamefully tried to take advantage of a true cultural icon and outlaw, Johnny Cash, for PR reasons, which hilariously backfired. That same year Nixon’s Watergate scandal happened. The American government was also actively trying to get John Lennon deported because of social activism. Many successful authors, including Joseph Keller, John Updike, Joan Baez, and even Bob Dylan wrote a letter in defence of John and Yoko. Music, it seemed, was under attack.
This eventually led Lennon and Yoko Ono to create their own “country” called Newtopia. Lennon explained at a press conference, “We announce the birth of a conceptual country, Newtopia. Citizenship of the country can be obtained through your declaration of your awareness of Newtopia. Newtopia has no lands, no boundaries, no passports. Newtopia has no laws, only cosmic. All people of Newtopia are ambassadors of the country.”
Clearly, while the hippie movement had in many ways dissipated, Lennon was, in his way, still carrying the torch of the movement and the spirit still lived on in all the tremendous subsequent albums that were made in the years to come.
1972 was not a good year for music. It was an incredible one.
The best albums released in 1972:
6. T-Rex – The Slider
This was T-Rex’s third album since they had ‘gone electric’, shortened their name and ditched the folk stylings. The previous year, 1971, saw the band reach the height of their powers, burning brighter than The Beatles for a short while. The Slider is a unique creation that, through its consistent musical aesthetic, creates a theme of the darker side of glam rock.
It reached number four in the UK charts and 17th in the States. Everything that one loves about T-Rex can be found on this album, from a real rocker like ‘Buick McKane’ to the softer but equally as epic nod to earlier Tyrannosaurus Rex songs, ‘Ballrooms of Mars’, the album presents a detailed tour through the mind of the underworld dandy, Marc Bolan.
The brilliant Tony Visconti produced the album as he did with most of the early T-Rex music as well Bowie’s glam rock catalogue. This would be the last album that Marc Bolan really makes a formidable impression upon the British public with. Growing up, he always wanted to be ‘the next Elvis’, and many around him knew he was destined for it if only for a short while.
5. Neil Young – Harvest
The best selling American album in 1972 came from the Canadian champion of the downtrodden and the humble, Neil Young. The singer once remarked in an interview with the Rolling Stone in 1975, “I recorded most of Harvest in the brace. That’s a lot of the reason it’s such a mellow album. I couldn’t physically play an electric guitar.”
For the record, Young enlisted the London Symphony Orchestra and other musical giants such as David Crosby, Graham Nash, and James Taylor to add gravity to his sounds. ‘Needle and the Damage Done’ was taken from a live show and details Young’s heartbreaking loss of a close friend due to a heroin overdose.
The subject of Harvest, in Young’s typical fashion, while containing a specific theme throughout the project, still managed to contain otherworldly motifs of the trials and tribulations challenging not only everyday working people but also the challenges that ultimately create the stuff of dreams too.
Neil Young has an indelible way of connecting to everyone with a pop ethic with plenty of hooks but also staying extremely faithful to his roots. Because of his commercial successes with After the Gold Rush and his work with Crosby, Steels, Nash and Young who had just broken up at the time of recording, the songs on the album were predominately about Young’s desire to back away from the limelight.
Recently, Young turned down millions to tour the album stating to the Rolling Stone, in his usual poetic and sharp way “everyone who played on Harvest is dead. I don’t want to do that.”
4. Roxy Music – Roxy Music
Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, Paul Thompson, and Andy Mackay, were the key members who made up the art-house, space-age, fashionista quintet that is Roxy Music.
Their debut album is a futuristic-pastiche and stylistic collage of a punch in the face. 1972 is truly the year that glam rock was born; this album proves it. While T-Rex’s The Slider represents more of the rock and roll side of glam, this is definitely the more cerebral side. No one can outdo Bryan Ferry’s sophistication and vocal crooning, and Eno’s musical innovation, which strikes up a mental image of a gallery showing of pastoral paintings. With this album, Roxy Music changed music forever.
The songs on the album have been linked to certain classic films, such as 2HB as well as Humphrey Bogart’s classic, Casablanca. Even to this day, you cannot claim to be “cool” if you are not familiar with this masterpiece, such is its overarching influence on the wider music world. Filled with groove-laden glam jams, this is one of the few albums from the seventies that will please a Gen-Zer in 2020 without much change.
3. The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street
Exile on Main Street is one of those albums that captures a feeling tied to a sense of location, and in this case, as the album suggests, The Stones were on the run. Facing massive debt, as well as an extremely high tax rate, The Rolling Stones were forced to relocate. At the time, the British government had the band in their crosshairs and were trying with every inch of their might to shut down the pirate nation that was The Rolling Stones.
The government at the time thought they had them in checkmate; the officials thought that by pushing them out of the UK, they would be cutting off their home base, and consequently, they would begin to wither away.
The Stones thought the same as Keith Richards remarked in his book,Life: “The last thing I think the powers that be expected when they hit us with super-super tax is that we’d say, fine, we’ll leave. We’ll be another one not paying tax to you. They just didn’t factor that in. It made us bigger than ever, and it produced Exile on Main St., which was maybe the best thing we did.”
The album topped most of the charts around the world, and it reveals a whole other side to the Stones. It marked a milestone in their evolutionary growth, serving as a sort of manifesto of sorts for their youthful, but yet slightly strategic trouble making. Like the Roxy Music album, and ultimately like all great albums, this one fused different genres. It was another beautiful nod to the birthplace of their initial influences, The United States. The record is high in their canon as one of their finest and you need only look to songs like ‘Rip This Joint’ and ‘Tumbling Dice’ to realise why.
2. Curtis Mayfield – Superfly
What makes this album so superb and timeless is the attitude and the message.
Even to this day, the album is incredibly vital and relevant. Mayfield wrote the album as the soundtrack to the movie of the same name, directed by Gordon Parks Jr. While it’s the perfect soul and funk record, it is more rock n roll than most rock n roll albums; it puts up the most elegant middle finger to authority while talking about very real issues.
Institutionalised injustices towards marginalised groups and systemised incarceration, by scapegoating poor black ghetto inhabitants for heroin use, is just one part of the issue. The story of the film centres around a cocaine drug dealer who is trying to get out of the underworld drug business. But the record leaps out with a perhaps even more sincere ferocity.
Untethered, there’s perhaps no greater attitude than the one Mayfield displays here. The songs on the LP aren’t all necessarily chart-toppers, but as a holistic piece, there are few takers when discussing the validity of the album’s massive influence on music. The bassline to the album’s titular single has been sampled multiple times by newer artists such as, The Beastie Boys, and The Notorious BIG, as a showcase of the wide reach the record has.
1. David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spider from Mars
The record contains all his major hits that are still influencing new listeners to this day. Songs like ‘Spaceman’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, and ‘Moonage Daydream’, all perfectly paint the picture of the androgynous space star character that Bowie created. Based on the bubbling street culture in America, Ziggy Stardust was born so the Starman could safely inject all of his eclectic tastes and artistic influences into one amalgamation of sexual innuendo.
While his previous album Hunky Dory would see some great hits, it wasn’t until Ziggy Stardust, that would give birth to what he himself referred to as what he thought was ‘the paradigm of rock and roll’.
The Ziggy Stardust craze would last only a couple of years, and when the Spiders From Mars were performing their last concert of the tour at the Hammersmith Odeon, Bowie surprised the entire band before jumping into the perfect closer, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.’ “
Not only is this the last show of the tour, this is the last show we’ll ever do, thank you, goodnight,” the icon told his audience. And just like that, Ziggy Stardust sang his last song and then retreated back up in the stars. The legend of Ziggy still lives on and the music, and this album, remain timeless.