Once upon a time before this newfangled internet put us all in touch with one another on an alarming basis, young people used music to communicate their dreams and desires, to plot the revolution and to tell each other what they had for breakfast, lunch and dinner. By 1972, accepted wisdom says the party of the 1960s was in clean-up mode and while there is certainly a less optimistic tone to the music of 1972, it isn't as if musicians suddenly turned to regurgitating their classic albums on stage or reissuing their entire catalog with remastered sound and extra photos. No, there was still work to do.
Here are 25 choices from 1972, picked in a random, absolute order that says more about my cut-and-paste skills/ laziness than you'd like to believe.
25) Flied Egg -- Dr. Siegel's Fried Egg Shooting Machine: According to Julian Cope, who researches this sort of stuff at his wonderful and essential japrocksampler.com site, Flied Egg is "nothing but more of the same diluted and generic Western rock swill as they had generated in their previous guise (as Strawberry Path)." He has many other cogent insights to share with you and I'd suggest stopping by his site after reading all that Y! Music has to offer.
24) The Kinks -- The Kink Kronikles: Considering that "Lola" song helped them sell some records, it was time for music fans who'd had their attention diverted by that Sgt. Pepper's nonsense to find out what the Kinks had been up to on those albums that nobody bought. This two-record set features none of the obvious early hits like "You Really Got Me" or "All Day and All of the Night," but rather settles into a world where "Dead End Street" makes it first LP appearance and "Mindless Child of Motherhood," "Days" and "Autumn Almanac" have friends to play with!
23) Rio Grande Mud -- ZZ Top: Their early greatness is due to their stubborn insistence on finding their circle of competence and then only flirting a little past it. No fancy art-rock. Just loud and proud. Great bands can play three chords all day while they grow their beards.
22) The Velvet Underground -- Live At Max's Kansas City: Billy Yule isn't Maureen Tucker, but the ambience here puts you next to Jim Carroll who requests the drinks and drugs. The 2004 reissue gives you both sets of Lou Reed's final gig with the VU in their entirety, but the lo-fi quality makes me happy to listen the original edited version. Someone's got to save us from ourselves.
21) Van Dyke Parks -- Discover America: The cover looks like the prototype for Albert Brooks' film Lost In America, but the music inside is like a Folkways album of vintage Calypso tunes. It may seem quaint today, but it's more in the spirit of, say, Mumford and Sons emulating the music of many decades past. Or Bob Dylan playing those rusty old folk songs. Why not?
20) Alice Cooper -- School's Out: It's truly sad that Alice Cooper eventually abandoned the idea of "Alice Cooper Is A Band" since none of the records he made without his band ever amounted to one-fifth of what he accomplished with guitar players who had a mutual stake in the craft, as heard here.
19) Man -- Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day: Wales never contributed as much to rock 'n' roll as their neighbors next door, but Man have been going at it for an alarming amount of time without ever breaking on through to this side of the pond. Their sound? Man-ly!!!
18) The O'Jays -- Back Stabbers: Before the mechanization of disco, there was a too-brief period when plush orchestration added great effect to singers who could sing like angels. Or did they sing like devils? Supernatural skills are confusing to the lay person. We visit the crossroads and get a ticket!
17) Eric Andersen -- Blue River: Couple this with Stages: The Lost Album that was recorded at the tail end of 1972 and early 1973 and you have a decently strong streak of wimpy, romantic folk music that works as a signpost for the singer-songwriter movement of the early 1970s. As long as no one takes your rock 'n' roll away from you, you can enjoy this for what it is.
16) Tim Buckley -- Greetings From L.A.: It's pretty perverse that a guy as universally creative as Tim Buckley would submit this album of rockers at a time when mellowness was flowering from Carole King, James Taylor, the Eagles and Eric Andersen (see directly above). Buckley did mellow better than anyone. Yet, he bucked the trend. Why do artists have to be so difficult? Don't they understand the basic laws of supply and demand? I guess Buckley did. He died.
15) Leo Kottke -- Greenhouse: As someone who finally got around to buying this album mere weeks ago, I'm proof that no matter how many albums you own, there's always more. The past might not be infinite, but it might as well be when it comes to collecting it.
14) Randy Newman -- Sail Away: Considering where music was going in the 1970s -- hello, Aerosmith! -- Randy Newman became even more out of sync than when he started. Yet, for all that out-of-sync-ness, he was actually extremely attuned to universal truths. Whether it's "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)" or "Political Science," or anything off this fine record, Newman pushed forth ideas that the heaviest, baddest bands in the world wouldn't touch with their moneyed and heavily-diseased poles.
13) Eagles -- Eagles: Sure, they weren't as heartfelt as Gene Clark or as steeped in country music as Gram Parsons, but since when does that matter? It's that they're kinda boring that makes it hard to see how they became 103 million times more famous than their contemporaries. That said, Jack Tempchin's "Peaceful Easy Feeling" always slid down the ear canals pretty effortlessly. Things go better with butter. And drool. Alternate title: Snooze Away.
12) Jethro Tull -- Thick As A Brick, Living In The Past: Confession: in 1983, I made a tape edit of Thick As A Brick, where I edited out all the "boring" instrumental parts and got the song down from 45 minutes to 23 and change. In truth, the edits I made with a lowly pause button were random and quite jarring to anyone who wasn't me. But it became the way I learned the album. So you can imagine my surprise and annoyance when CD reissues of the album did not feature my personal edit of the album. That said, I've grown to like the instrumental breaks ok.
11) David Bowie -- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars: Bowie attracts a certain pant-less audience. While it's easy (and fun!) to dump on him for being the guy who got most places second (on purpose) and was too much of an intellectual to ever allow himself to waste away like "classic rockers," it's also a little silly. Sure, he was conceptual and a step removed, but jeez it is show-biz. And he was smart enough to hire Mick Ronson to play the guitar!
10) Pink Floyd -- Obscured By Clouds: Before Pink Floyd became Pink Floyd, the hugely successful Billboard chart-dominating rock 'n' roll outfit of the 1970s and an extension of Roger Waters' journal entries, they were finding ways to survive without their original kingpin, Syd Barrett. This led to the remaining members stepping up in unpredicted ways, with David Gilmour, not even a member of the original quartet, stepping up big time and making sounds that existed without the blues.
9) Jackson Browne -- Saturate Before Using: Also known as Jackson Browne, this debut album from the youngest reported dude to have an affair with Nico proved he had the goods to be a star on his own. He'd already contributed tunes to Tom Rush and Nico. He was lucky the 1970s were interested in singer-songwriters because had he come out now, it's highly unlikely Gibson would craft an amazing guitar with him and then name it Jackson Browne.
8) Big Star -- #1 Record: Thanks to horrible distribution and promotion, #1 Record got buried. Thanks to CD reissues that fitted both albums (#1 Record, Radio City) on one disc, my memories are all now jumbled as to what appears on which album. I will say it sure was nice when Chris Bell was around to counterbalance Alex Chilton and they even let Andy Hummel mess about. A true band! Imagine that!
7) Stevie Wonder -- Talking Book: A part of me wants to dock the album points for opening with "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life." It's become the national anthem of Hallmark, USA. But the craft is something else and if I dock points, I should also be able to add them. No matter how well-known "Superstition" has become, it still rocks pretty hard for a guy who was sitting down!
6) NEU! -- NEU!: These good Germans created their own beat -- Motorik -- and really stuck it to their old mates in Kraftwerk! While modestly successful for a weird album, NEU! has gone on to become an important building block for people tired of 'That Same Old Rock 'N' Roll' that Bob Seger loved so dearly.
5) Miles Davis -- On The Corner: Given largely crappy -- or at least unenthusiastic -- reviews upon first release, On The Corner has turned from pumpkin to wine (sorry, rusty on my Bible) over the years, and is now considered a major influence on hip-hop, drum and bass and any music that cherishes rhythm, dissonance and corner-sitting. Hardcore Beatles fans will not be impressed. No hooks.
4) The Rolling Stones -- Exile On Main St.: It's quite funny watching people who don't get it. "It's a lot of tired blues!" They have a point if you go in expecting a collection of singles or songwriting that breaks new ground. It's all in the vibe and in the performances. It lacks self-importance, which if you're someone raised on the idea of the album as a sacred text, it must be soul-destroying to discover that "Ventilator Blues" doesn't mean a thing. It's about the guitars.
3) Nick Drake -- Pink Moon: It's interesting to see how neglected this album was upon initial release. Check old magazines and the accolades are measured and there's no follow-up. Methinks critics weren't yet accustomed to the idea that the best music of an era could be a commercial failure. By the 1980s, it was established form.
2) Van Morrison -- Saint Dominic's Preview: The first sign here of an album worth thinking about: two tracks at least ten minutes long. Van might nail a decent single in three minutes with "Jackie Wilson Said," but he's best when he lets the water boil. And when he was hungry enough to try harder.
1) Curtis Mayfield -- Super Fly: Mayfield took a far more critical look at the drug problem than the film for which he provided the soundtrack. He also made an album far better than the film. Considering his professional career began at 14 years old, Curtis turned the ripe old age of 30 as this album hit the racks, already a grizzled vet. Never trust anyone over what age again?
Check out the "History of the Internet" from The Onion: