Although the best individual year in music is debatable, when it comes to the best decade, it’s surely the 1970s without 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 cry, and lo-fi production died a death. 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 sport 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 pining for more.
The zeitgeist was not only one perfuse with great music, but it also seemed to be the year that the ’70s pulled away from the peace and love draw of the ’60s. Heroes had fallen, and movements had faltered, albeit 1971 may well be the greatest year in music; it was 1972 when the decade really came into its own.
This striving for identity had a fallout of its own. The front-end of the charts were chocked with the gaudy classics that cut themselves out as unapologetically brash. These hits may well have been brilliant, but they forced out some of the less muscly songs. In the latest edition of ‘Unlucky for Some’, we’re giving strength back to the scrawny, hope to the forgotten, and a nod to the gems that never quite caught the right light to gleam. And we’ve wrapped it all up in a playlist at the end. Enjoy…
The 13 unlucky gems from 1972:
13. ‘Clean Up Woman’ by Betty Wright
In many ways, ‘Clean Up Woman’ is the quintessential ’70s R&B song. It features all the tropes from soft undercutting horns to searing diva and all the rolling basslines in between. In many ways, if TLC’s ubiquitous ’90s hit ‘Scrub’ was born 20 years earlier, then this would be it. By no means does this mark the track out as unoriginal; it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but there’s scarcely a better ‘pre-night-out shower’ groove going.
Whilst the track may have technically been released in November of ’71 in the States before the comment section turns my balls into the smoothy, I calmly urge you to put down your figurative keyboard nice as I explain that in most regions of the world, it wasn’t until the album was released in ’72 that the song was heard. Thereafter, Betty Wright sadly seems to have been somewhat drowned out by a slew of bigger soul names, but this track shows why she should still be considered right up there.
12. ‘Vitamin C’ by CAN
Krautrock came right out of left field to cause one hell of a musical stir. Whilst ‘Vitamin C’ may not be as experimental as most of CAN’s back catalogue, it suffices as the best entry point possible to explore the musical madness that they have on offer.
Early krautrock may have proved to be a bit too far removed from the western norm for some, but its impact cannot be denied. CAN pioneered a new style of music that would branch out into all sorts of creative fields and this track is one of the most gilded pieces that their alchemy produced.
11. ‘Trouble, Heartache & Sadness’ by Ann Peebles
In the early ’70s, Willie Mitchell’s legendary Memphis soul record label, Hi Records, was pumping out soul by the feather-weighted tonne. Peebles packs a punch that defies her diminutive size. Her voice soars over the soft classical soul soundscape in a breezing tale of love-life.
Sadly, this tender classic never charted, even though it should have been a mainstay on any soul station worth its salt. The album Straight From The Heart peaked at 188 in the US and that is frankly a crime that needs investigating.
10. ‘Sam Stone’ by Swamp Dogg
When an early John Prine performance was witnessed by Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, one turned to the other and asked, “What do you think?” to which the other replied, “Well, we could always break his fingers.” In Swamp Dogg’s version of his classic track Sam Stone, all the revered songwriting talent is brought to the fore and transmuted into something entirely new that nonetheless retains the same sort of soul as the original. That is the beauty of most of the best cover versions of any song and this one is up there with the best.
Swamp Dogg has always had a cult following for his carefree ways and propagation of offbeat humour and eccentric promotional style. Recently he has rightfully enjoyed a well-deserved resurgence, having worked alongside the likes of Bon Iver.
9. ‘I Must Be In A Good Place Now’ by Bobby Charles
‘I Must Be In A Good Place Now’ is the musical equivalent of laughing gas, administered by a very laidback and silky-voiced dentist. The album artwork sees Bobby Charles reclining against a tree on a riverbank while a dog laps his face, and it couldn’t possibly be more fitting. This is how we all want our retirement years to sound.
Bobby Charles may well have featured on the iconic The Last Waltz bill for The Band’s farewell performance captured by Martin Scorsese, and rubbed shoulders with a string of other high-profile musicians, but he always seemed to be the bride and never the bridesmaid. After his self-titled debut in 1972, he didn’t release another record for over 15 years, and with peaceful ditties like this up his sleeve, that is quite frankly a sin.
8. ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’ by Fanny
“They were one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time,” revealed David Bowie in an interview with Rolling Stone back in 1999. He even once sent a letter to the band detailing his admiration and looking back it is easy to see why he loved him. Their fearless full-throttle approach to playing is searing hot and the songcraft on ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’.
Whether the world wasn’t ready for women to rock so riotously or they were simply failed by fate is another matter, but what remains clear is that the seismic influence they had on the world of music and the epic records they produced, has never been reflected in any which way. ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’ is a full-on fistfight of music, put forth by one of the very few true iconoclasts.
7. ‘You Goin’ Miss Your Candyman’ by Terry Callier
By the 1970s, the blues had just about been swallowed up by rock ‘n’ roll, but Terry Callier’s track is transportive to a simpler time, as it delves into the roots of jazz, blues and folk to imbue a rollicking bassline with earthy tones.
Taken from his 1972 record What Color is Love, the album was met with critical adulation, but commercially it totally flopped. Sadly it would seem that the Chicago-based singers stop-start career in music that dated back to 1962 meant it was difficult to amass a consistent following and drum up the necessary excitement to launch a record. Circumstance aside, the music that he produced was timeless, and this soaring piece of fire and brimstone blues embodies that.
6. ‘It’s Alright to Cry’ by Rosey Grier
It’s the Pixar equivalent of a pop song. It might be aimed at pre-teen boys but like Haribo, kids and grown-ups love it so. A tale in the fashion of a Sesame Street sing-along that has a message perhaps even more fitting for the adult male – ‘it’s alright to cry, it just might make you feel better’. Far from just a novelty record, it remains an even more poignant message today in an era where suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.
That’s a memo that was seized upon in the 2006 Ryan Gosling film Half Nelson that brought the song to wider attention. It is taken from the 1972 record and multi-media project Free to Be… You and Me conceived by actress Marlo Thomas. She convinced big stars of the day like Diana Ross and Roberta Flack to sing on the album promoting gender neutrality, individuality and tolerance.
Written by Carol Hall, ‘It’s Alright to Cry’ is the first song in the third act and Rosey Grier performs it with such sincere heart that it’ll perk up any disposition with its comforting reassurance. It’s a truly kind-hearted song with a frankly killer bassline. It will not only bolster any song collection with something a bit sweeter but hopefully, it might bring a smile when you need it most.
5. ‘Cannock Chase’ by Labi Siffre
Labi Siffre is the ultimate artist known for the wrong songs. ‘So Strong’ and ‘I Got The’ may well be the big hits that brought him to public attention but it is his gentle folky guitar work that comprises most of his back catalogue and it is quite frankly a thing of beauty.
‘Cannock Chase’ embodies his work. It is a transcendent song of sweet innocence, heart and sincerity that welcomes the sun in through the window. “There’s a bird in the tree singing his song, just for me / Just for me,” is the sanguine lyric that allegorically sums up the song, the personal exultation that Siffre seems to have peacefully strolled into is ours to share.
4. ‘Magnet’ by NRBQ
Magnet is the perfect song. That is not to say it is the greatest song, but it is perfect in the sense that there doesn’t seem to be a chord, drum beat or note out of place. It is a piece of music that absolutely delivers everything it set out to, and what it sets out to deliver is a little slice of sunshine and happiness.
This little parcel of pop perfection, taken from the album Scraps, may well have flopped to such an extent that it’s not all that easy to find out about the band, which is an oddity given how easy-going to the track is. Although they may have failed to capture chart success, they did bend ears in the industry and grasped the hearts of musical fans, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and Dave Edmunds.
3. ‘Magnolia’ by J.J. Cale
‘Magnolia’ is one of the most romantic songs that there has ever been. It is so softly beguiling that it almost seems unfit to have been pressed on something as bulky as vinyl. J.J. Cale may well have been declared by many musicians as one of the most influential guitarists of all time, but that says nothing of the gorgeous songwriting skills that he dispenses to dance on top of his gentle plucking.
Upon release, ‘Magnolia’ was usurped by its B-Side, ‘Crazy Mama’, in terms of chart success, but in retrospect, it is easy to see why championed ‘Magnolia’ ahead of it. It would seem that the song is simply too tender and dreamy to survive the raucous punch-up of radio. If the track was any more tranquil, you wouldn’t be allowed to operate heavy machinery while listening.
2. ‘Forget About’ by Sibylle Baier
Technically, there is no knowing whether this track was recorded in 1972, as the best guess Sibylle can place on it is between 1970-73, whether you think that means I’m taking liberty depends on how much of an arsehole you are really.
The German artist recorded the tracks on the album Colour Green using a reel-to-reel tape machine in her family home. The recordings themselves seem intimately wrapped in the duvet-trapped dreaminess from which they were conceived and chronicled. She handed out a few of these deeply personal tapes to friends and retired the masters to a box in the basement. Thereafter, she got on with the business of living. 30 years later, her son discovered the tapes and there’s simply no imagining the billowing of emotions and wonderment he experienced when he first hit that fateful play.
This song, in particular, is a singular masterpiece wrapped up in the miasma of sincerity and pleasure that surrounds it, almost impossible to replicate owing to the gentle embalming of the backstory.
1. ‘The Four Horsemen’ by Aphrodite’s Child
I urge you to listen to ‘The Four Horsemen’ all the way through, I urge you to picture yourself behind the wheel of a high-performance motor vehicle at 2am (perhaps in LA), and I urge you to play it loud. The full adrenalized sonic maelstrom of the song will do the rest.
Surely the only reason this epic hasn’t featured in an explosive getaway scene is owing to a chronic Aphrodite’s Child deficiency on the CV’s of soundtracker’s the world over. It is Procol Harum’s ‘Conquistador’ on speed with biblical overtones in both senses of the word. What was best about the early ’70s prog and psychedelic guitar is perfectly embodied in the final rollicking crescendo that absolutely guarantees at least a few high-powered headbangs.
Whilst the Greek band may well have failed to reach dizzy global heights, a couple of its members may not be amiss on you; Demis Roussos went to have solo hits with disco epics like ‘I Dig You’ and a slurry of middling pop tracks while keyboardist Vangelis Papathanassiou thankfully dropped that surname and became the very same Vangelis who scored Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner among others. Regardless of what they did later in their careers, there is simply no topping this scintillating nearly-forgotten rock masterpiece.