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A great year in rock – 40 years ago

February 1, 2012

Forty  years ago, in 1972, rock music had one of its most creative years. Not only were a series of truly classic albums released, but the bands releasing them represented a slew of genres — some old at the time, others on the brink of popularity — ranging from prog rock to county rock and glam/art rock  and even to a hint of punk. A library of 1972 releases would not just capture a year, but also a couple of eras either side.

I came to realise this when I bought tickets to see Ian Anderson, front man and creative driver of Jethro Tull, perform “Thick As A Brick” on a 40-year anniversary tour later this year. It soon became apparent that he was not alone.

“Thick As A Brick” is one of the flagship prog rock albums, comprising two roughly 21 minute tracks, one on each side of the album referred to simply as Part 1 and Part 2.  It is very indulgent, which is what a lot of prog rock was all about, but can nonetheless carry you away on a conveyor belt of themes running one into the other.

Other prog rock classics of 1972 were “Close To The Edge” by Yes, an extravaganza of guitar and keyboards (thank you, Rick Wakeman) with track titles such as Total Mass Retain, whatever that means. Emerson, Lake & Palmer also brought out “Trilogy” — featuring The Endless Enigma (Part 1 and 2) and two versions of Aaron Copeland’s Hoedown.

One the other side of the pond, meanwhile, Americans were honing the idea that rock and country really could be a cross-genre treat. Forty years ago saw the birth of, Neil Young’s  “Harvest”, which Wikipedia cites the best selling album of 1972. The album  featured the London Symphony Orchestra as well as David Crosby, Graham Nash, Linda Ronstadt, Stephen Stills and James Taylor — and you can’t get much country rockier than that. The magnificent songs Old Man and Heart of Gold both come from “Harvest”.

In a similar vein, The Eagles bought out their first album “The Eagles”. It included Witchy Woman and Take It Easy. The  latter was part written by Jackson Browne, who also brought out his first — eponymous —  album  that year.

This kind of country rock has morphed, but remains popular. Prog rock, however, only had few years to run in 1972, later disappearing until the likes of Radiohead, Air and Sigur Ros partly resurrected it over the past decade. It was replaced first by glam/art rock then later punk.

A taste of glam/art  was available 40 years ago when David Bowie released his classic “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”. Suddenly, from watching matty-haired dropouts in scruffy jeans staring at their shoes on stage, Bowie let us have the androgynous Ziggy in jumpsuit and coloured mullet. (I saw him once in a Notting Hill coffee bar with his equally skinny girlfriend. Both had identical pink haircuts, as I recall).

Another taste of what was to come came from Roxy Music’s eponymous first album, while in America an eye-shadowed Lou Reed gave us “Transformer” with its immortal Walk On The Wild Side (doop, dee doop, dee doop, dee doop doop). Some might argue that this is where you get your first soupcon of the punk to come, at least as far as some of the angsty lyrics go on the likes of Vicious.

The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, were doing their thing with the classic “Exile On Main St.” while John Denver was doing his with “Rocky Mountain High”.

I will throw one more 1972 album in — Paul Simon’s “Paul Simon”, his breakaway from Art Garfunkel release. It doesn’t fit any particular category, but it is one of my favourite of all time and has been rather overlooked as a masterpiece, in part because of S&G’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” that preceded it.

For music, my friends, 1972 was quite a year.

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2 Comments
  1. Like that you saw Bowie in a coffe bar – that must have been a great moment…

  2. Read my blog on my desert island discs of the 70’s. I think you will like it.bob

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