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Playlist: The 50 best songs of 1972

“People look to me to see what the spirit of the ‘70s is.” – David Bowie

Although the best individual year in music is debatable, when it comes to the best decade, it’s surely the 1970s without a shadow of a doubt. It saw the best years of David Bowie, the birth of punk, disco went inferno, Jimi Hendrix hit the guitar equivalent of splitting the atom, Joni Mitchell made everybody weep, and stereo sound killed off lo-fi production. Within that maelstrom of musical pioneering, it would seem that 1972 was amongst the most pivotal. 

Whilst the Watergate Scandal may have been stealing all the headlines and terrorism tragically crept into sports at the Munich Olympics, the musical world was entering its most diverse chapter. In fact, music spun out in such a kaleidoscopic blur of colour and quality, like a light show scattered in a spectrum from a disco ball, that monolithic albums such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars peaked at a mere 75 in the US charts.

Now, that might seem so incredulous that it could cause the nervous-minded to fart, but when you consider that the Rolling Stones released Exile on Main St., Neil Young dropped Harvest, Curtis Mayfield laid down the groove on Super Fly, Bill Withers put out arguably his best with Still Bill and Aretha Franklin unleashed one of the greatest live albums ever with Amazing Grace, people were hardly looking under the carpet for more. 

The 1960s flower power dream was over, and hard times called for a bit of joyous escapism. In some ways, emerging disco sounds were punk before punk. A paradigm for this was the state of the creative cultural engine that is New York City.

Between 1969 to 1974 New York City lost 500,000 manufacturing jobs. Subsequently, a million homes depended on welfare, rapes and burglaries tripled, drugs ran rampant and murders hit a high of 1690 a year. However, a lot of art comes from chaos and defiance—New York was a creative cocktail of both. 

Many of the gems that the city spawned are crammed into the playlist below. Featuring some of the best songs ever from masterpieces like Lou Reed’s Transformer and a few lesser-known gems by Terry Callier and Bobby Charles, this 1972 playlist is a force to behold. You can enjoy it yourself below…

The 50 best songs of 1972:

  • ‘A Horse With No Name’ – America
  • ‘Across 110th Street’ – Bobby Womack
  • ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’ – Fanny
  • ‘All The Young Dudes’ – Mott the Hoople
  • ‘Black Satin’ – Miles Davis
  • ‘Cannock Chase’ – Labi Siffre
  • ‘Clean Up Woman’ – Betty Wright
  • ‘Couldn’t I Just Tell You’ – Todd Rundgren
  • ‘Day Dreaming’ – Aretha Franklin
  • ‘Dirty Work’ – Steely Dan
  • ‘Goodbye to Love’ – Carpenters
  • ‘Hallogallo’ – Neu!
  • ‘I GOTCHA’ – Joe Tex
  • ‘I Must be in a Good Place Now’ – Bobby Charles
  • ‘I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)’ – The Moody Blues
  • ‘Jack Straw’ – Grateful Dead
  • ‘Lady’ – Fela Kuti
  • ‘Lean on Me’ – Bill Withers
  • ‘Let’s Stay Together’ – Al Green
  • ‘Listen to the Music’ – The Doobie Brothers
  • ‘Love Train’ – The O’Jays
  • ‘Magnet’ – NRBQ
  • ‘Magnolia’ – JJ Cale
  • ‘Marcella’ – The Beach Boys
  • ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ – Paul Simon
  • ‘Metal Guru’ – T. Rex
  • ‘Never Been to Spain’ – Three Dog Night
  • ‘Ode to Big Blue’ – Gordon Lightfoot
  • ‘Old Man’ – Neil Young
  • ‘Pancho and Lefty’ – Townes Van Zandt
  • ‘Perfect Day’ – Lou Reed
  • ‘Pink Moon’ – Nick Drake
  • ‘Pusherman’ – Curtis Mayfield
  • ‘Rocket Man’ – Elton John
  • ‘Rocks Off’ – The Rolling Stones 
  • ‘Sail Away’ – Randy Newman
  • ‘Smoke on the Water’ – Deep Purple
  • ‘Starman’ – David Bowie
  • ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ – Stealers Wheel
  • ‘Superstition’ – Stevie Wonder
  • ‘The Four Horsemen’ – Aphrodite’s Child
  • ‘The Guitar Man’ – Bread
  • ‘The Harder They Come’ – Jimmy Cliff
  • ‘Thirteen’ – Big Star
  • ‘Virginia Plain’ – Roxy Music
  • ‘Vitamin C’ – Can
  • ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ – Thin Lizzy
  • ‘You Don’t Know Me’ – Caetano Veloso
  • ‘You Goin’ Miss Your Candyman’ – Terry Callier
  • ‘You’re so Vain’ – Carly Simon