“She was feeling 1972 / Grooving to a Carole King tune…” Back in 2003, Josh Rouse did a whole album aiming to evoke the spirit of 1972. And why not? It was an interesting year, musically speaking. I recently noticed that I’ve purchased a lot of music produced in 1972 in the last few months. Yet, that’s been purely by chance; I have no special attachment to that year, though the music obviously connects with me on some deeper level more than some other years.
It was a very rich time for music, both on the charts and off. 1972 saw the dawning of the singer-songwriter, jazz fusion, glam rock, the height of prog rock, and country rock as a mainstream phenomenon. A look at Billboard’s top songs of that year shows just how different the times were from now. Back then, the charts were heavily weighted in favor of easy–listening, often schmaltzy tunes, with the occasional what is now considered “classic rock” song thrown in (“Layla”, “Rocket Man”, or “Roundabout” by Yes). Compare that to top selling songs nowadays – things are more urban and more beat-heavy now, with hip-hop, and club/dance oriented tracks dominating. Can you imagine “Roundabout” being a hit now? I thought not.
1972 was notable for many rock and pop touchstones. Neil Young had his biggest hit with “Heart of Gold”, but soon ditched that flirtation with the mainstream by following it with the offbeat and erratic Journey Through the Past. The biggest Neil Young song not by Neil Young also came out in 1972 in the form of “Horse With No Name” (reportedly, Neil’s dad even congratulated him on the song, not realizing it was actually by America). The Eagles released their first LP in ’72, but it took till ’73 for it to catch on. The smooth pop-soul of Roberta Flack and Al Green were all over the radio, while power pop in the form of Badfinger’s “Go All the Way” lit up the airwaves – though it would be years before Big Star, who released their first album that year as well, got their due. On the other hand, Clapton’s “Layla” which had been released two years previous, finally caught the public’s ear in 1972, and oddly, the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin”, first a hit in 1967, entered the charts again. Don McLean’s perennial “American Pie” came out of the oven in 1972 while Alice Cooper managed one of the few “rock” songs on the charts with “School’s Out”, its message too appealing to kids of all ages not to make a dent.
But, there was also a lot of music issued in 1972 which has remained obscure, only to be sought out and rediscovered by diligent collectors and reissue labels, or still lost today. Some artists ended up being cult favorites and finding notoriety on some level later, often after they died (Robbie Basho, Jimmie Spheeris), others are still obscure (Ronney Abramson, Bob Martin). Much of the less-known material was easily the equal of the popular stuff, and in many cases superior. Let’s take a little journey down some of those musical back roads and side streets of that year of bell-bottoms and polyester, The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family flickering on the screen behind us. Don’t forget to gas up the VW campervan.
[Click on title to hear].
Cargoe- “Feel Alright”
Cargoe was a rootsy rock and power pop band out of Oklahoma who ended up recording on Memphis’ famed Argent Records, home of Big Star. “Feel Alright” did alright on local radio, but problems with distribution sabotaged the success of their debut and effectively, their career. What a great, high energy song though.
Ian Matthews- “Tigers Will Survive”
Matthews was one of the original members of Fairport Convention, but took off on his own and headed in a country rock direction, both solo and as leader of Matthews Southern Comfort and Plainsong. Gifted with a a smooth vocal style, he also had an eye for picking good songs to cover – yet this was one of his own. Dig that acoustic guitar line, too.
Chris Smither- “Don’t it Drag On”
From Smither’s second album, of the same title. “You know I got nothing to sell you / Takes me hours to say there’s nothing to tell you.” His facility with words and his guitar playing make all his work top-notch and he’s still active today, recording and touring.
Pamela Polland- “In My Imagination”
Polland got her start in the late 60’s southern California folk and blues scene, with Ry Cooder accompanying her. She then took off on Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, before recording this, her debut album.
Jimmie Spheeris- “Come Back”
Spheeris was the son of a couple who owned a traveling carnival and was the sister of film director Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World, The Decline of Western Civilization). This is from his first album, which set the template for a discography steeped in dreamy, often mystical, often jazzy folk pop.
Paul Winter / Winter Consort- “Juniper Bear”
An album more known for it’s New Age title track, this selection is a grooving duet between Colin Walcott’s tabla drums and Ralph Towner’s guitar. Produced by Beatles producer George Martin, he called the album the best he ever worked on.
Mikael Ramel- “Immoron E En Ny Da”
Things were brewing in other countries as well, with Sweden’s Mikael Ramel delving into progressive and psychedelic rock and folk. Once can draw a direct line in sound from Ramel to purveyors of similar sounds today, such as Dungen (also from Sweden). Searing electric guitar in the last part of this song, backwards tracked for optimal grooviness.
Mellow Candle- “Dan the Wing”
Irish psych folk rockers Mellow Candle were creating inspired music, led by the crystalline vocals of friends Alison O’Donnell and Clodagh Simonds, who had met in school. On the same label as Thin Lizzy, they never made as big a splash, but their sole album has gone on to be revered.
Keith Christmas- “Waiting for the Wind to Rise”
Introspective guitarist and singer-songwriter Christmas issued a series of spirited hippy albums in the 70’s and also played guitar on Bowie’s Space Oddity album. This track is a bit more rock than was his norm, but it shows his versatility quite well.
Bridgett St. John- “Fly High”
Another introspective guitarist/singer-songwriter, St. John’s third album came out in 1972 and “Fly High” is a highlight, featuring her friend John Martyn providing subtle cosmic guitar effects.
Bobby Whitlock- “Dearest I Wonder”
The soulful Whitlock was a hot commodity in the late 60’s/early 70’s, recording for Stax records, as part of Delaney & Bonnie’s group and as a major part of Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes album. This is from his second solo album and features the gorgeous slide guitar playing of 90’s Fleetwood Mac alumni Rick Vito.
Terry Callier- “Occasional Rain”
Moody, evocative rainy day music. Callier’s works were a heady mix of soul, folk and jazz. In the early 80’s he quite the music scene and worked as a computer programmer till DJ’s started sampling his work, drawing him out of obscurity to record again.
Lesley Duncan- “Times”
Most known for her sublime “Love Song“, covered by Elton John, Duncan had a long career as a singles artist in the 60’s, and as an in demand backup singer (she even sang on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon). Earth Mother was her second solo album, and “Times” was the lead-off track.
The Section- “Doing the Meatball”
The Section were the backing musicians for a variety of early 70’s singer-songwriters such as Jackson Browne, James Taylor and Carole King. On their own, they put out a handful of instrumental jazz fusion albums. “Doing the Meatball” isn’t quite characteristic of the rest, but it’s a cool little uptempo soulful number, akin to Hugh Masekela’s “Grazing in the Grass“.
Linda Lewis- “Old Smokey”
Like Lesley Duncan, Lewis was a prolific session backup singer who issued her own series of solo albums in the 70’s. Never quite finding the same level of fame as many of those she sang for, her music is a nice hybrid of folk, funk and soul.
Pearls Before Swine- “Love/Sex” (1972 live radio version)
Pearls Before Swine were basically the work of one man, Tom Rapp. This live radio version of a song on their 1972 Sunforest album is stripped down acoustic and sounds fresh and alive, as if it was written on the day it was recorded (and maybe it was!). Rapp went on to become a human rights lawyer.
Robbie Basho- “Blue Corn Serenade”
Basho struggled with finding popular recognition his whole life, though is now held in very high regard as one of the most unique guitarists (and singers) of the last 50 years or so. His style drew from music from many cultures and he was very attuned to spirituality and synesthesia. This album was inspired by the American Indian and most songs feature his vocals, which can be an acquired taste.
Bob Martin- “Captain Jesus”
Emerging from the Cambridge, Mass. folk scene (as did our earlier entry Chris Smither), Martin’s first album is an idiosyncratic folk album with touches of country, weirdness and sometimes comedy (“Frog Dick, South Dakota“).
Danny O’Keefe- “The Road”
“The Road” was covered by Jackson Browne on his Running on Empty, but here’s O’Keefe’s original version. A songwriter’s songwriter, he had a hit with “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” and his songs have been covered by countless other musicians, but he’s hardly a household name.
Ronney Abramson- “Banana Blues”
Canadian Abramson had a light pop hit in the late 70’s with “Your Love Gets Me Around”, but her first, more folky/bluesy album came out in 1972. “Banana Blues” shows her offbeat sense of humor. She’s a real estate agent in Montreal now, but apparently still performs occasionally.
Melodic hard rock from Canada, from a band longing for the the warmer climes of Africa, that “beautiful land, ah-ah-ah”. Funky beat and a kazoo solo to boot. Still heard on the radio occasionally in their northern homeland.
Led by Carlos Santana’s brother Jorge, Malo sailed similar Latin rock waters, with more of an emphasis on the Latin. “Suavecito” was a hit from the album, but “Nena” is the overlooked cooker on the album.
Hawkwind- “Space is Deep”
Their classic live album Space Ritual was recorded in 1972, but not released till the following year, so we’re going with this one. Hairy and heavy space rock as we set our controls for the deep dark recesses of the Milky Way and beyond. (This version actually hails from the Space Ritual album, ’cause it’s a better version than the studio one, and it was still recorded in ’72).
Popol Vuh- “Kyrie”
Often lumped in with the “Krautrock” genre, Popol Vuh was often more ambient and much more based in the spiritual realm. Very creative, intense music masterminded by keyboardist Florian Fricke. It manages to be eerie and beautiful at the same time.
Pharoah Sanders- “Love is Everywhere”
From Wisdom Through Music, this track actually doesn’t feature Sanders’ trademark saxophone, but it’s still a happenin’ cut anyway. As with much of his music, it expounds on harmony, brotherhood and universal love – all based in supple rhythmic percussion.