1972 was a banner year for rock albums. It also happened to be the year that I started my sophomore year in high school and, not coincidentally, really began to seriously focus on music. Armed with the generous, slightly above minimum wage proceeds of my bag boy job at Big Bear, I began buying albums rather than 45s and played them on the crappy turntable in my room. The fact that great musicians produced great albums on the year of my musical album awakening was a very happy coincidence.
To be sure, 1972 was an exceptional musical year. Consider, for example, Deep Purple’s Machine Head. I bought it and played it endlessly, enjoying songs like Lazy, Space Truckin’, Highway Star, and of course Smoke On The Water, which is one of the greatest driving songs ever recorded. Then there was Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, with fantastic songs like You Are The Sunshine Of My Life, I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever), and Superstition, which became a kind of funky anthem for my sophomore year. And David Bowie’s The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, one of the greatest concept albums ever recorded and chock full of great music from beginning to end. And Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy A Thrill, which marked the band’s emergence into the dominant creative force that it would be for the rest of the ’70s, and included classic tunes like Do It Again, Dirty Work, Midnite Cruiser, and the epic Reelin’ In The Years. And we mustn’t forget the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street, or Close To The Edge by Yes, or Elton John’s Honky Chateau (which features my favorite Elton John song, Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters), or Rod Stewart’s Never A Dull Moment, or Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together. And finally, arguably the finest album of all of 1972’s offerings: Neil Young’s awesome Harvest, which seamlessly blended folk rock and electric rock and put Young at the forefront of the American music scene, where he would stay for years to come.
There were other great albums released that year, of course, because it was just an extraordinary year for music. I owned all of these records, played all of them, and loved all of them, and I listen to them still. But what really strikes me about these superb albums is two things. First, the variety of musical styles they captured, and how correspondingly broad the listening habits and musical tastes of kids of the ’70s were; in those days, radio stations played all of the songs from these albums, and we listeners weren’t confined to a single genre.
Second, can these albums really be 50? They sure don’t feel like it when you listen to them today.