In 1970, BBC aired a suite of six teleplay episodes, each written by author, each focusing on a different wife of King Henry VIII. The series hit the U.S. airwaves in 1971 on PBS’s Masterpiece theater. Less than two years later, Rick Wakeman first widely distributed solo album, released on January 23, 1973, based on the content of a biography of King Henry VIII that Wakeman read while on his first U.S. tour with Yes, showed up in our record stores. My next door neighbor who had introduced me to Yes’s 1972 album, Fragile, brought the album over to share with me and I recorded it on reel to reel for future use as we listened to it intently on my dad’s stereo system. Still having a fairly good recollection of the wives from the BBC/PBS episodes, it was easy to enter this musical representation, each piece as distinct and distinguishable as each of the six wives.
This is a masterpiece of keyboard virtuosity, with Wakeman on acoustic piano, pipe organ, Hammond organ, mellotron, and moog synthesizer, all of which Wakeman masterfully incorporates into six stunningly impressive compositions. Though the keyboard work is the main focus, the album is remarkably enriched by the wealth of supporting talent that includes some amazing drumming by Alan White, and other memorable supporting contributions including participation by Yes and Strawbs personnel, including Steve Howe, Bill Bruford, Chris Squire on the opening track, “Catherine Howard”, and Dave Cousins on electric banjo on the “Catherine Howard” composition. The album works well as a complete concept album, but was not received well by most critics when it first came out. Fortunately it sold relatively well, and because of its excellence has stood the test of time. Though the audio production quality could have been better, it still sounds wonderful on good audio equipment today, with all eight tracks, and in particular “Catherine Howard” providing great auditory and musical pleasure.
Released in November of 1972, this is the first of Donald Fagen’s and Walter Becker’s string of excellent albums. The music ranges from pop to rock to folk-rock to jazz-based rock with engaging and intelligent chord progressions and a healthy use of minor seventh and ninth chords.
THE EDGAR WINTER GROUP: THEY ONLY COME OUT AT NIGHT
Skillfully produced by Rick Derringer, this is Edgar Winter’s most solid album with a number of songs that for the rest of 1972 and early into 1973 found a prominent place on AM radio, FM radio, at high school parties, or in the repertoire of high school dance bands. “Hangin’ Around”, “Free Ride”, “We All Had a Real Good Time” and the instrumental “Frankenstein” are hard rock classics that have effectively captured and preserved the spirit of early seventies hard rock, providing, today, an effortless means for us to travel back in time fifty years ago.
LOU REED: TRANSFORMER
Released on November 8, 1972, Lou Reed’s Transformer excels at creating a level of nonchalance and casualness that was more reminiscent of the beat movement of the 1950s than typical of an early 70’s rock album. Aided by David Bowie, Mick Ronson and Trever Bolder and elegantly produced by Bowie and Ronson, this album, along with the success of its glam, transexual and sometimes banned single, “Walk on the Wild Side”, brought Lou Reed out of the shadows of the Underground and into the commercial spotlight. The album is considered a classic by many and has had substantial influence on many Indie Rock artists that came later.
WAR: THE WORLD IS A GHETTO
War’s fifth studio album, released around November of 1972, opens with the once relentlessly-played AM single, “Cisco Kid”, which though annoying for those of us that heard it in spring of 1973 played through third-rate speakers of a school bus for multiple weeks almost every morning on our ride to school, was a welcome relief from the equally often-played, but far less bearable “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ol’ Oak Tree.” That said, now hearing “Cisco Kid” on a first-class audio set up almost fifty years later, the quality of performance and the arrangement almost make up for the melodic and harmonic mediocrity of the track. More importantly though, the rest of the album is quite good, starting with the infectious, funky “Where was You At” and the effervescent jazz-infused 13 1/2 minute “City Country City” instrumental on side one and the three tracks on side two including the soulfully reflective “Four Cornered Room”, and the beautifully funk-infused, “The World is a Ghetto.” This was not only War’s most commercially successful album, but the best selling album for the year 1973 holding the number one position for two weeks in February 1973 and staying on the Billboard 200 for a total of 68 weeks.
JONI MITCHELL: FOR THE ROSES
Released in November of 1972 between two of her most artistically and commercially successful albums, 1971’s Blue and 1974’s Spark and Court, the excellent For the Roses brims over with wonderful melodic phrases, remarkable piano lines, and beautiful acoustic guitar and an appropriate amount of harmonica, bass, percussion, winds and strings — always at the right places!
CAN: EGE BAMYASI
Can’s highly influential album, Ege Bamyasi, with the name apparently inspired from the label of a container of canned okra of Turkish origin also meant for German consumption of these “okra pods”, takes a detour from the previous no-holds-barred and even more influential Tago Mago, with an often more structured (via editing in some cases) and relatively more contained set of compositions. Not readily available in the US, I purchased this album in a German record store in 1978, and listened to it once before shelving it for several decades. It’s great to come back and revisit it and find there is much more here than I thought — and to discover the influence it has had on music since my original purchase, with Stephen Malkmus of Pavement, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, and the band Spoon all having been much more serious fans of the album and reaping music influences from it. Truly fortunate to revisit the album and able to enjoy it on a much better audio set up than I had in 1978.
Uriah Heep, Moody Blues, Carly Simon, Hawkwind, and Barclay James Harvest
Other notable albums from November 1972 include Uriah Heep’s semi-progressive Magician’s Birthday with a memorable Moog synthesizer solo from Ken Hensley on “Sweet Loraine” (reaching the 91st spot on the Billboard Hot 100) and a more expansive title track concluding the album, Hawkwind’s third studio album, Doremi Fasol Latido, stylistic different than their previous albums but still quality, engaging space-rock, Carly Simon’s No Secrets with two well-known tracks, the number one hit “You’re So Vain”, and less commercially successful but equally appealing “The Right Thing to Do”, the richly arranged, orchestrated Barclay James Harvest, Baby James Harvest, a mix of straight rock (“Thank You”) and more progressive tracks (“Summer Soldier”, “Moonwater”), and Moody Blues’ eighth album (last of the highly regarded string of seven classic album) which had two commercially successful singles, “Isn’t Life Strange” and “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)”, which spurred increased interest in their previous work resulting in the re-release of the beautifully haunting single version of the “The Night”, titled “Nights in White Satin”, which did much better the second time around, getting more attention and airplay than any of the music on the Seventh Sojourn album.
From the opening set of the choral-like, other-worldly, mellotron-intro of carefully constructed chords — initially over a “pedal-point” (a sustained bass note), followed by a short set of chromatic modulations, the tone of this epic classic album is established and sustained through out the next magnificent fifty minutes of one of the most appealing rock albums of the last sixty years.
The music is epic, dramatically supporting some pretty impressive lyrics, with the first track, “Watcher of The Skies”, a sci-fi narrative from an alien visitor’s somber, almost jaded, perspective regarding the remnants of a vanished earth civilization, followed by the more lyrically but equally potent and allegorical “Time Table”. “Get “Him Em Out By Friday” also time travels, from 1972 to 2012, and effectively mixes upbeat rhythms and shifting meters into moments of Dickensian commentary, starting with shifts between 6/4 and 4/4, with a heavily triplet-based 4/4 section into a more reflective, slower 6/4 section with some the return of a modified original A section with some 7/4 bars and an appropriately reflective coda. This is followed by another epic track, the amazing “Can-Utility and the Coastliners” with an acoustic guitar and flute opening section and its sense of substantial narrative, proportion, and consequence far exceeding its limited five minute and forty-five seconds of actually clock time. Of particularly musical note is Tony Bank’s mixed-meter keyboard solo, perhaps either celebrating the use of the name he had initially suggested for the band (Can-Utility and the Coastliners, a name Peter Gabriel reportedly summarily rejected, understandably), or letting off a little steam for the band, instead, being ultimately named “Genesis.” Seriously, though, this composition a true work of art, anticipating both Banks’ “Firth of Fifth” on Selling Englandby the Pound and his “One for the Vine” on Wind and Wuthering.
Side two opens with Steve Hackett’s elegantly simple guitar solo, followed by the masterpiece of the Genesis catalogue, the twenty-three minute “Supper’s Ready.” Though its seven-section make-up indicates a piecing together of individual songs into a common thematical framework, the overall effect is that of a single cohesive work, much in the way that the second side of the Beatles Abbey Road works together, except that “Supper’s Ready” is more integrated and reuses material to create an effective sonata-like form. Though too difficult, and hopefully totally unnecessary, to pick one single composition to make the case that classical music was an unbroken continuum to the present that included the best works of the best rock bands, this work has to be considered as deserving top consideration for making that case.
Miles Davis: On the Corner
Eschewing and yet incorporating contemporaneous offerings in jazz, jazz fusion, rock, progressive rock, minimalism, and funk, Miles creates yet another landmark album with On The Corners as representative of the spiritual-industrial meld of the early 1970s as anything yet released or yet to come. Few critics even began to know what to make of the work, and the record-buying public, which had sent Miles’ previous album up to the 7th spot, were mostly absent at the cash registers, with On the Corner peaking at 156.
The album, though foundationally based on the familiar musical components of its time, was yet so alien to many when it came out on October 11, 1972, primarily due to the resulting originality of the approach. Overall, Miles and team took on the same type of challenges that were tackled by such German progressive rock groups such as Can, but due to significantly better musicianship and a more focused vision, created a superior and eventually more influential product.
Henry Franklin: The Skipper
One of the lesser known albums of 1972 by one of the lesser known artists on one of the lesser known record labels, bassist Henry Franklin’s debut album, The Skipper, is well worth any effort to hunt down, with such ultimate acquisition being readily achievable due to the reissuing of the Black Jazz record catalog by Real Gone Music. Thank-you, Real Gone Music!
Franklin’s plays both acoustic and electric bass, writing most of the music on the album, with Bill Henderson on electric piano contributing one of his own compositions joined by Charles Owens on soprano and tenor sax and Oscar Brashear both of which provide the vital contributions that make this album a neglected classic.
Doug Carn: Spirit of the New Land
This is the second of four albums that Doug Carn released on the Black Jazz record label. Accessible and topical, this jazz concept album brims with amazing work from both keyboardist Doug Carn, Charles Tolliver on flugelhorn, reed player George Harper and Carn’s wife, Jean Carn, on vocals with notable contributions from Earl McIntrye on tuba and Garnett Brown on trombone.
The Awakening: Hear, Sense and Feel
The Awakening released their first album on the Black Jazz label, providing an excellent set of jazz-rock/jazz-fusion instrumentals bookended by a brief introductory recitation and final poetic coda. The music is slightly reminiscent of some of the Chicago’s instrumental passages from their first two albums with a hint of early 1970’s McCoy Tyner. Of particular note is the keyboardist, Ken Chaney, who composes the opening instrumental following his wife’s opening introduction. In general quite good, with “Jupiter” being a particularly strong track. For those that like no-nonsense early 70s jazz and jazz-rock, this is worth the effort of tracking down. Available from Real Gone Music as are all the Black Jazz late sixties and early seventies catalog.
Keith Jarrett: Expectations
Taking his core quartet that included Dewey Redman (now known as the “American Quartet”) (Jarrett, saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Paul Motian), Jarret adds Sam Brown on guitar and Airto Moreira on percussion and drums, along with some strings and brass arrangements to create a ambitious, relatively eclectic two record set that unfortunately for Columbia records, was the last one under that label, simply due to Columbia suddenly dropping Jarrett during the its sweeping commercially-driven jazz purge, something that appears to be one of those historic money-driven record label decisions that ended up being a fiscal mistake.
The album is a bit uneven with Jarrett basically redefining “free jazz” to mean “freedom in playing a range of styles” but the overall final result is a strong album with side four being the best.
Released on October 11, 1972, Caravanserai was quickly embraced by the same audience inescapably attracted to progressive rock as well as enthusiastically embraced by a substantial number of fusion fans. Though nowhere as commercially successful as the previous two albums (the president of Columbia Records after hearing the tapes for Caravanserai, told Santana he was committing “career suicide”), the album is an artistic gem, a work that can be listened to repeatedly with various spectra of pleasure.
Stevie Wonder: Talking Book
Released on October 27, 1972, Mr. Wonder exceeds the level of professionalism, artistry, creativity on the previous album, displaying flawless judgement and execution as composer, musician and producer. Artistically, the albums opens strong with the timeless love song, “You are the Sunshine of My Life” followed by a strong first side and then an even stronger second side made up of five classic tracks that starts with “Superstition”, followed by “Big Brother”, the subtly impressionistic “Blame It on the Sun”, the Latin-jazz-influenced “Lookin’ for Another Pure Love”, and then perfectly concluded with my favorite work on the album, “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)”.
The distinction between dance music and listening music goes back before recorded history, and by recorded history, I don’t mean music recorded on tape, records or cylinders, but history captured through a preservable or lasting medium such as clay tablets, papyrus, paper or blog posts on the internet. The boundaries often merge between dance music and listening music and a great deal of dance music provides listening pleasure while much listening music encourages one to further experience the music through motion, even if only a slight swaying of the head or tapping of the foot.
In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, dance music and ceremonial music were incredibly important, and there we few cases where composers wrote music that was intended of audiences that would critically listen to music as a stand alone listening experience. By the end of the Renaissance, opera was introduced in Europe (some 14 centuries after Chinese opera had entertained the general public during the Three Kingdoms era), providing a visual spectacle, narrative and supporting music. Music was also played for gatherings and other ceremonies, often competing with dining and conversation, but over time attention was focused on crafting music that was the primary focus for the audience — music to listen to without dancing or in conjunction with some accompanying activity, ceremony or theatrical work. Over time more and more people got in the habit of attending concerts where one was seated with no other visual then the performers playing their instruments. Yes, attending such functions was an experience and social function, but by the nineteenth century, no one was supposed to talk or even cough and anything but the music itself was considered a distraction.
Player piano rolls, the radio, and the phonograph played important roles in providing both dancing and listening music, and made music so readily available that using music as background or as part of an environmental ambience became more and more common, with the art of listening rapidly declining in the general public. Yes, dancing music and listening music continued to thrive side by side, with big bands in the thirties and forties providing both functions; Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton bands provided particularly interesting and compelling listening music at the same time they provided very effective dance music.
At the beginning of the Beatles’ popularity, their primary focus was on dance music, but they also introduced more serious songs starting in 1965 — ballads not particular suitable for dancing such as “Yesterday” and “Norwegian Wood.” (“Norwegian Wood” was theoretically suitable for dancing to in its steady 12/8 tempo, but few rock and roll fans were particularly keen on waltz-like dancing.) “Nowhere Man” and “Michelle” followed these two, both in a 4/4 time signature that theoretically supported slow dancing, but one’s first reaction was to listen to these works not to dance to them.
The elements of listening music consisted of two parts, lyrics to which one listened to in order to understand the author’s message, and the music itself, which either supported lyrics, provided relief or interludes in relationship to the lyrics, or stood on its own as in the case of extended passages between lyrics or in purely instrumental music. The Beatles had a go at a single blues-based, relatively unimaginative instrumental, “Flying”, but on that same album, Magical Mystery Tour, there were several songs where the lyrics were considerably secondary to the impact and character of the music itself. When one first heard the Sgt. Peppers album and then, later, tracks on the Magical Mystery Tour album like “I Am the Walrus” or “Strawberry Fields Forever”, one didn’t exclaim “Wow!” as a reaction to the lyrics, but was primarily impressed by the bold, progressive qualities of the music. (Yes, their was a slight fixation with some around the initials of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, but it was at best a footnote to the reaction of the “new sounds” provided by the music.)
It was this emphasis on listening to music, by a band that had abandoned playing playing live due to screaming, fawning, and fainting fans effectively eliminating the listening aspect of live performances, that contributed significantly to other groups focusing on providing an LP-based listening experience, something not foreign to those musicians that had grown up in households where classical and jazz LPs were listened to attentively and often in reverence.
For my part, during my pre-teen years, I was exposed to Ravel’s Bolero, which I listened to intently from start to finish to sort out what changed with each repetition of the material, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue — and so it was natural to listen intently to Sgt. Peppers, then Abbey Road and then ultimately Yes’s Fragile and Close to the Edge.
By the time Close to the Edge was to be released, I was the proud owner of a budget LP set of six of Mozart’s later symphonies, and had listened to several works of Beethoven, Ravel and Debussy. Yes’s earlier album, Fragile, had impressed me for its balanced, classical-like attributes and musical preciseness supporting highly appealing and handsomely crafted material. Close to the Edge seemed to have embraced a more impressionistic, romantic ethos; it was a music that embraced elements of enchantment and imagery over precision and order.
About the middle of September 1972, right after Close to the Edge was released, my next door neighbor brought over the album, and upon listening, I was impressed more by the differences between it and the earlier Fragile, than any stylistic similarities, of which there were many. That first side to the title song was very much in the realm of classical music, recalling those wonderful orchestral tone poems of the late nineteenth century — yet brought up to date with lyrics and electronic instruments. “Close to the Edge” had a sense of thematic development, coherence and overall direction that, in my mind at that time, made this equal, and in the same category, of those fifteen to twenty-five minutes great classical works I so loved. Side two was a slight step down with neither of the two tracks on side two equaling the impact of the first side (or matching the best of the four main works on Fragile) but each was still musically impressive and compelling. To the credit of U.S. listeners, the album did quite well commercially, climbing up to the number three spot on the Billboard albums chart. In addition, all three works from the album had been captured in live performance for posterity from Yes’s 1972 tour and released in 1973, on the “Yessongs” album, providing another version for the serious rock-music listeners of that time.
Additional September 1972 Releases
Of the remaining rock-album releases in September, the most notable is Black Sabbath’s fourth album, simple titled Vol. 4, released September 1972. Guitarist and keyboardist, as well as primary composer, Tony Iommi pushes the band into new musical territory, sometimes exploring a harder, heavier sound and sometimes extending their previously established ostinato-based style. The first and lengthiest track, “Wheels of Confusion” is the most musically ambitious and varied, packed with a number of ingeniously layered and interlocking components. Also of note is the instrumental, “Laguna Sunrise”, a simple but effective composition with Iommi on both acoustic and mellotron.
With the band prepared to break up, the course of history changed completely for Mott the Hoople when after they had turned down David Bowie’s offer to allow them to record the newly composed, “Suffragette City”, Bowie quickly dashed off another song as an alternative potential single, furtively recording it with the Mott the Hoople band members in a couple of secretive sessions on May 14 and May 15, 1972. This would be the stand out track on the album named from that song, All the Young Dudes, and, importantly for the continuation of Mott The Hoople, a successful single peaking at number 3 in the UK and getting solid airplay on both AM and FM radio in the states. A version with Bowie as the vocalist for a guide track he had recorded during that May 15 session is now also available as a bonus track on later versions of the album.
Additional September 1972 releases included Seals and Croft’ Summer Breeze, an album filled with a variety of acoustic instruments and some electric guitar, released on September 9, 1972 with the initial track, “Hummingbird”, and its title track being played heavily on middle-of-the-road, easy listening and adult contemporary AM stations, Family’s sixth studio album, Bandstand, with its die-cut gatefold cover representing an old-style British television, the LP containing straightforward, relatively conventional rock songs (and the last Family album with John Wetton), Steeleye Span’s strong acoustic folk album, “Below the Salt”, and Sandy Denny’s second solo album, Sandy, with a varied assortment of arrangements highlighted by strong musicianship.
Missed mentioning this earlier this year, but better late than never! Released around January 1972, this incredible album combines jazz, pop and rock elements in an invigorating blend with effective use of synthesizers. Annette’s vocals may have influenced David Bowie’s vocal approach starting with Ziggy Stardust. This is one of the great albums of 1972!
McCoy Tyner: Sahara
Also missed this fine album last month! Recorded in January 1972, and released around July 1972, the album covers fusion-like territory but with all acoustic instruments. Tyner is a tsunami on piano and the first track is one of the finest of 1972. This first track then is followed by a mesmerizing, technically incredible piano solo and an adventurous, sometimes sizzling, sometimes reflective Japanese-flavored work where Tyner exchanges keyboards for koto, Sonny Fortune exchanges saxophone for flute, and bassist Calvin Hill appears to play an eastern flute-like instrument. The next track, “Rebirth”, explodes with a drum solo and then Tyner’s steamrolling piano taking no prisoners, with Fortune unleashing a blistering, often high-register alto sax solo — incredible execution nearly beyond belief. Side Two is taken up with the title track, Sahara, not my favorite of the album, perhaps because of some shrillness from the eastern reed instruments, yet it attempts to encompass epic scope and has some incredible passages.
Julius Hemphill: Dogon A.D.
Named after the Dogon in West Africa, recorded in St. Louis in February 1972 and released in limited quantities on Julian Hemphill’s own Mbari label and later made more widely available, this was Hemphill’s first commercial recording. Though labelled as “three lengthy avant-garde explorations” the music is structured and accessible with musical influences from the African continent.
The Kinks: Everybody’s in Show-biz
This two LP set includes studio material from spring of 1972 on the first two sides and live material from Carnegie Hall recorded on March 2nd and 3rd. Ray Davies continues his deviation from standard rock with strong influence from the Neo-music-hall material of twentieth-century London. The first LP loosely addresses the concept of show-biz fame and touring with the upbeat “Here Comes Yet Another Day” energetically opening up side one. The album closes with “Celluloid Heroes” (which got significant airplay on FM radio) with Ray Davies’ thoughtful and well-crafted lyrics providing a wistful close to that first LP.
Gil Scott-Heron: Free Will
Though not as strong as Gil Scott Heron’s previous (second) album, this album has more historical importance. His first album (recorded in a studio with a live audience) is sometimes referred to as proto-rap, but more accurately it is emotive, fairly well-written poetry read to sparse musical accompaniment, not so different than beat-era poetry readings, with some differences in rhythmic elements as well as subject matter and vocabulary. It is the second side of this third album, Free Will, that more clearly anticipates rap music with Heron providing better rehearsed and more effective, more rhythmically-enhanced delivery of his poetry. For stronger music, refer to his second album, Pieces of a Man, but if the object of exploring is to hunt for what may be the first traces of rap on LP, start here.
I think it was the weekend after july 4th, 1972, that this long-anticipated (by me) ELP album hit the records stores. I unhesitatingly purchased it, and though I was hoping for something as musically revolutionary as Tarkus, I soon accepted this more commercially friendly effort from ELP as a fine album, getting lots of turntable time from me during that summer.
For classical and progressive music fans, there are several tracks of great interest, including the particularly well-arranged and well-executed, “Abaddon’s Bolero”, Emerson’s version of Ravel’s Bolero, at a little over half the length and in a non-bolero 4/4 time-signature, but very much tracking the intent and impact of Ravel’s 3/4 bolero, starting out quiet and gradually building to a thunderous climax. Also notable is the imitative counterpart in the middle section of the three-part Endless Enigma, and the well-executed moog-rich arrangement of Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown”, with Emerson cleverly inserting references to American folk tunes not referenced in the original. Also notable is the guitar arrangement in “From The Beginning” and the seamless coalescing of pop, jass and prog in three-part “Trilogy.”
Chicago: Chicago V
While I was absorbed in my new ELP album, my next door neighbor acquired the newest Chicago album that very next Friday evening or Saturday morning — at any rate it was at his house on Saturday, and I soon brought it over to my house to let me record it while we listened to it on my parent’s better stereo system at my place. I intently followed the lyrics, trying to immediately size up the value — determining it was an improvement over the third album, not as good as the second, and, with “Dialogue” and “Saturday in the Park” seemed more commercially-oriented than the previous studio albums. If I could see into the future, I would have realized that this was the start of Chicago’s previously unimaginable move towards a more adult-contemporary.
T. Rex: The Slider, Frank Zappa: Waka/Jawaka
T. Rex released the commercially successful slider was included their previously released single, “Telegram Sam” and Frank Zappa releases Waka/Jawaka, sometimes referred to as Hot Rats 2, due to the reference on the cover and the similarities in general seriousness and musical style. And though nothing on the album approaches the classic “Peaches en Regalia” from the original Hot Rats, the title track is really a better example of jazz rock than anything on the Chicago V album; and the multi-meter “Big Swifty”, though perhaps a bit long, provides a different aspect of jazz-fusion than found on the several more successful (musically and commercially) jazz-fusion albums released those first seven months of 1972, with Zappa’s originality, creativity and inventiveness continuing to be an essential element to his music’s appeal.
David Bowie: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
At some point in the summer of 1972, one of the album-oriented FM radio stations I regularly listened to began to play “Suffragette City” from the newly released David Bowie album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. That was more than enough inducement for me to seek out the album, take it home, take the appallingly thin and flimsy RCA Dynaflex-branded vinyl out of its paper sleeve, place it on the turntable and, though, not truly complying with the instructions on the back of the LP, “TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME”, still play it louder than I would have if anyone else had been home. Though puzzled by the general fuzziness in the overall coherence of the narrative, the music itself was crystalline clear — hard rock, but clear concise execution — and well-recorded, orderly, and musically transparent. The arrangements and production promoted a distinction between individual parts, with each standing out clearly and effectively.
The melodies and music were instantly accessible and captivating and repeated listenings of the album only marginally enhanced one’s fondness for the music which was figuratively (though not literally) off the charts from the first encounter. I was only disappointed by one song, the cover of “It Ain’t Easy”, which I was familiar with from the Three Dog’s Night version, and the disappointment was due to the mediocrity of the song itself, as opposed the to superior performance of the number, recorded during the Honky Dory sessions in June of 1971. Putting that one non-Bowie composition aside, the rest of the album is not only uniformly excellent, but magnificent! Each deserved both FM and AM airplay, but though some would get FM airplay, nothing to my knowledge ever was played on AM.
Yet, my expectation was that this album would catch fire with a mass audience: due to the remarkable accessibility of the songs and their immediate emotional pull, I considered it certain that Ziggy would become popular by the end of the summer and be one of the best selling albums of 1972. Of course, that didn’t happen, and Bowie’s claims to the higher levels of fame would be delayed until 1973.
Aphrodite’s Child: 666
This was an album I didn’t discover until the mid 1970s, after Vangelis had released several solo albums. 666 is the last of three albums from Aphrodite’s Child, with Vangelis primarily responsible for the compositions, with lyrics provided by Costas Ferris based on the Book of Revelations. This is a wonderful mixture of styles, Vangelis showing off his musical versatility with a range of styles and inclusion of elements of Greek folk music.
Leon Russell: Carney
Though nothing on Carney equals the simple beauty of “A Song for You” on Leon Russell’s 1970 album, this album contains two classic Russell songs, “Tight Rope” and “The Masquerade”, the latter of which was successfully covered by George Benson in 1976. Side two has been criticized by some critics for its psychedelic leanings, but it deserves praise and not criticism — in fact the entire album is a keeper!
Jethro Tull: Living In the Past
Usually I don’t reminisce on compilation albums, but much of this was new material to those of us in the states in 1972 including gems like “Christmas Song”, “Life’s a Long Song”, and “Living in the Past” which received significant airplay later on in 1972. Quite a treat!
Roxy Music: Roxy Music; Alice Cooper: School’s Out; Pink Floyd Obscured By Clouds
A couple of notable, although somewhat uneven works released in May of 1972, included Roxy Music’s first album, which effectively mixed glam, rock and pop elements to create a compelling semi-progressive set of tunes as well as a notable album by Alice Cooper, which brilliantly identified an untapped commercially-potent topic, “School’s Out” — and brilliantly created an iconic hard-rock anthem for that topic, along with two other strong hard rock songs and some semi-progressive moments rising above mere album filler.
Also uneven, but essential for Floyd fans and well worth listening to for everyone else, is Pink Floyd’s Obscured by Clouds, which was put together rather hurriedly, around the same time work was being done on the classic and much better, Dark Side of the Moon. That said, this album belongs to that next phase in Floyd’s always exploratory musical journey. Some of the melodies for the songs are less than impressive, but the guitar work, instrumental passages, and overall impact make this an enjoyable album on first and repeated listenings.
Released on April 14, 1972, Three Friends is Gentle Giant’s third album and their first self produced album, and takes a musical direction quite different from the previous two, with the music coalesced around the thematic concept of three schoolmates and the different directions they take. Whereas the music of the previous album generally flows and evades concrete musical borders, owing much to medieval and renaissance musical sensibilities, the music of Three Friends is distinctly of the twentieth century with repeated musical cells and patterns, occurrences of syncopation, and both subtle and more strongly emphasized meter changes — all taken together, form the initial characteristics of an identifiable Gentle Giant style that would become more prevalent in their fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth albums.
The first track, the prologue, starts off in 3/4, appropriate for the concept of “three friends”, then shifts into 4/4 in preparation for the lyrics and then ends in mostly 3/4 with a few apparent meter changes for the ending. The high register synthesizer, like the wispiness of memory, adds to the overall effect of detailed stereo separation. The interlaced vocals continues with the next track, “School Days”, which brings to mind that back and forth playfulness of school children, with some more shuffling of the time signature and then a brief dark middle interlude that shifts into 4/4 for the “remember” section which includes Ray Shulman’s son providing age-appropriate vocals against uncle Phil Shulmans grown-up vocals. After a jazzy vibraphone solo from Kerry Minnear, there are some more meter changes and the the reflection on past school days quietly ends.
Each of the next three tracks focuses on one of the three friends. “Working All Day” is the stoic pronouncement of the manual laborer, voiced appropriately by Derek Shulman, who matter of factly accepts his fate with “no regrets” in mostly straight 4/4 common time. Notable is the introduction, a free multi-voiced, contrapuntal, synthesizer part, that, through the magic of magnetic type, slowly (and seamlessly) grinds down to the plodding working class tempo of the opening theme. Near the end of the piece, in the recap of that initial “working all day” theme, we get a few bars of what I call the Gentle Giant “stride” style (see Fifty Year Friday: July 1971), a “keep on trucking” era type of passage, that appears about twenty-seconds before the end of the song.
“Peel the Paint” showcases, lyrically, Phil Shulman, light and airy with “free from the start”, then Derek with an anguished “peel the paint”, “nothing’s been learned”, and musically, the two sides of the artist — the aesthetic highs and the tortured lows — with the “peel the paint”, “same old savage beast”, and “nothing’s been learned, no, nothing at all” section relying heavily on the use of the “devil of music” (“diabolus in musica”), the tritone, and a guitar solo that starts out tormented and appears to flop into a drunken-like stupor with the piece ending with a recap of “nothing’s been learned.”
The third track covers the final friend, the lad that made the “big time”, reflecting on the material advantages of success, in a mostly 12/8 meter with some shorter bars for typical Gentle Giant variety. The album ends with “Three Friends” redeploying material from the prologue, including use of both 3/4 and 4/4 meters. The album, though maybe not delivering the most profound concept or realization of that concept, succeeds musically, and with its ample occurrence of 4/4, 2/4 and 12/8 rhythms, makes wonderful driving music. I would also suggest listening to it with visual cues — perhaps something like “light speakers” — devices that bundle different colors of strings of Christmas lights with each color associated to a band of audio frequencies and placed behind a semi-transparent plastic to create dazzling color effects coordinated with the music.’
Overcast: The Approaching Storm
Recorded in a series of contentious sessions in January 1972, made even more difficult by equipment issues and studio logistic headaches (with the band unpleasantly mired in the resulting red tape spawned by recent ownership changes at the La Brea recording studios), Overcast’s fifth album, The Approaching Storm, saw the light of day on the first of April, 1972.
Shifting tentatively from the basic blues and blues-rock formula that had provided their only hit, “Better Yet”, the band, led by the urging of classically trained keyboardist Trevor Stuart (see Fifty Year Friday: Overcast, With a Chance of Showers) explored more complex musical avenues, incorporating a range of influences from the The Who’s recent 1971 album, Who’s Next to the Yes’s Fragile album — though clearly, David Amato was no Keith Moon or Bill Bruford, and Douglas Brandt was no John Entwistle or Chris Squire.
The first side starts with the title track, with heavy bass and darkly-tinged doom-laced lyrics contrasted with pleas for optimism (“No room for grooming this looming, mushrooming doom and gloom”), followed by “Cognitive Unconsciousness” with its bagpipe-like synthesizer passage, and then “Decidedly Dangerous”, which merges into “Disaster Part One: Recognized, Resisted, Realized”, which effectively ends the first side.
Side Two opens with “Disaster Part Two: Reality” with stabbing marimba-like effects from the synthesizer and concludes with the dramatic and stormy, fifteen-minute, “Crystal Palace Workshop”, which leans heavily on Stuarts multi-track use of moog synthesizer and Bill Fortney’s heavily arpeggiated and intermittently apocalyptic electric guitar.
David Crosby & Graham Nash: David Crosby & Graham Nash; Stephen Stills: Manassas; Jim Croce: You Don’t Mess Around with Jim; Procol Harum: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
Additional albums released in April of 1972 include the first Crosby/Graham album, with an exquisite balance between the well-crafted Nash compositions and the mellower Crosby tunes crowned by Nash’s timeless gem “Immigration Man”. the Stephen Stills two LP Manassas with its individually themed LP sides, Jim Croce’s breakout commercial album, You Don’t Mess Around with Jim, with its quality arrangements, well-recorded acoustic guitar and the elegantly-wrought classic, “Time in a Bottle”, and Procol Harum’s best selling album recorded live with full orchestra.
Released on March 3, 1972, those of us that were Aqualung fans were keen to get our hands on this newest Jethro Tull album. It’s pretty rare when the next release after a five star album such as Aqualung not only doesn’t disappoint, but delivers beyond expectation. Such was my own personal experience with Thick as A Brick one day after my next-door neighbor purchased the album as soon as it was available, on a Friday, and brought it over that very next day on Saturday for me to listen to and record on my reel-to-reel.
I was impressed by the sound quality (it was a well-recorded rock album by the standards of those days) but even more impressed by the musical content. Though I immediately fell in love with the album, it was took an additional listen to start to understand the depth and extent of the overall musical coherence — an understanding, that even fifty years later, is furthered by each repeated listening of this fine musical work.
Though author/composer Ian Anderson would later assert that the album was a playful prank — a spoof on the recent rock-genre trend of long and longer tracks and on concept albums in general, and, partly as a reaction to Aqualung being classified as a concept album — with the intent to ironically answer that misperception with a reductio ad absurdum exhibit of the rock concept album.
And though the concept is pure wit, whimsy and clever absurdity, the text of the lyrics is not without serious import, and, the main product, the music, blends infectiousness and focused craftsmanship, placing it in the same league as nineteenth and early twentieth-century concept-based orchestral and ballet works like Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, Gershwin’s American in Paris, and Copland’s Rodeo and Appalachian Spring.
Thick as Brick‘s level of craftmanship is impressive, starting with rhythms and meters, which drive the piece forward — from the initial triplet-based march meter (basically 12/8 with shortened 6/8 bars ending phrases to push the music forcefully forward) to the unrelenting 5/4 section (really 3/4 +2/4) to the contrasting calmer and more reflective lengthy, mostly 4/4 section, which still retains some of the march-like character of the previous music, to the overt march material that follows, back in 12/8 again, then continuing in 12/8 with a second section going into the 4/4 “Childhood Heroes” section, also very march-like, into the stabbing 6/4 instrumental passage that bridges the two sides, setting up, very nicely, the 6/4 material for “See There is a Man Born” and so on with this rhythmic cohesiveness and craftsmanship providing the foundation for the connected, related, and partly repeated (“Childhood Heroes”) musical material.
The effect of this coordinated blend of rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic material is that the listener gets a fulfilling, well-crafted work that provides a satisfying unity and a musical narrative independent of any theme or lack of a theme provided in the scattershot, intentionally multi-dimensional lyrics, which, for any qualities of crypticness or shifts in focus, function exceptionally well with the music to make this not only the best Tull album ever, but one of the best rock albums of all time.
Deep Purple: Machine Head
While many rock groups where embracing the newly-named progressive-rock style of music, Deep Purple shifted away from this genre to race full-throttle into an exemplary hard-rock gear that propelled their music onto dance floors and both AM and FM radio waves advancing their brand and pushing their album into the number one spots in the UK, Germany, Canada, Holland, France, Australia, Denmark, and the sixth spot in Japan and the seventh spot on the US Billboards album charts.
Though exemplary and definitive hard rock in form and function, the instrumental passages still are rich in progressive figurations and character with the best track of the album, and the one receiving the most airplay on AM and FM and most performed by dance bands, “Smoke on the Water”, with a classical-music-level repeated riff that is as unescapable and as memorable to the autonomic nervous system as any riff in the history of rock. Though this one track stands above all others on the album, the album is a delight from start to finish, bookended by the notable rocking and also unescapable “Highway Star” and “Space Truckin” with some impressive Ritchie Blackmore guitar and Jon Lord organ throughout..
Stevie Wonder: Music of My Mind
Released on March 3, 1972, “Music of My Mind” begins a string of musically and increasingly successful Stevie Wonder albums progressively incorporating soul, rock, jazz into a modern, post-Motown sound. (Though this is Wonder’s second Tamla album, it is the first one over which he had total artistic control.)
Particularly impressive is the longest track, “Superwoman,” which effectively makes the case for Wonder having full responsibility for not only singing, playing keyboards and composing, but the engineering and production aspects of the final product. Also notable is the effective use of both Moog and Tonto synthesizers throughout the album.
As one might expect, there were a few albums that missed out on a more commercially favorable pre-holiday release and ended up being released in January 1972 with both January and February being relatively lean months in rock album releases compared to any given month in the last half of 1971. Fortunately, there were some notable jazz releases including a jazz classic by Charles Mingus!
Charles Mingus: Let My Children Hear Music
Mingus gives it everything he has in this album: complex, profound, majestic, modern, accessible and often elegant compositions, a large jazz orchestra, excellent arrangements (in partnership with Sy Johnson and others), and top-notch execution of his ideas. The music is a feast from the first to last track, with the current CD of this containing a bonus track. Note that this music was partly edited by Teo Macero, but I am not aware of any release of the original unedited material. If you know of such, please comment. ALBUM LINER NOTES
Hugh Masekela: Home is Where the Music Is
In 1972, I was not yet purchasing or listening to albums by either Hugh Masekela or Archie Shepp, so even if my memory was much better than it is today, I wouldn’t have a clue when these albums actually hit the record store bins, but as both albums were recorded in January of 1972, please allow me to include them in this month’s celebration of the music of January 1972.
Recorded in London in January 1972, Hugh Masakela’s Home is Where the Music Is is a 2LP set with some of the finest, broadly commercially-oriented jazz of the early seventies that there is. The album boasts all original material with not a single interpretation of a pop song (contrast this to Masakela’s 1970 Reconstruction album which includes tunes by Paul McCartney [Beatles-era], Joni Mitchell, and Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland) and yet is as contemporary as anything put out by Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chase or several other of the jazz-rock outfits of the late sixties and early seventies — and more importantly — far surpassing most of those type of efforts in quality and distinctiveness. Each track is fully realized with the shortest at around 5 1/2 minutes and the longest around 10 1/2 minutes. The playing is exceptional, engaging, and aesthetically fulfilling.
Archie Shepp: Attica Blues
Though well known for his modern jazz masterpieces like the avant-garde Fire, his abilities to reach a broader music-consuming audience are successfully deployed, with both style and impressive vigor, in what should have been an album as popular as contemporaneous releases by groups like Sly and the Family Stone. This is a large-scale effort with over twenty-five musicians (including brass, reeds, strings, backing vocalists, and electric instruments) and two narrators that successfully balances soul, funk, jazz and rock elements. Despite its strong points, there is some weakness in the poetry and the vocal rendition provided by Cal Massey’s young daughter — but more than making up for any weak areas of the release is the penultimate track on the album, Cal Massey’s fine tribute, “Good-Bye Sweet Pops,” to the great Louis Armstrong who had recently died from a heart attack in July of 1971.
Annette Peacock: I’m the One
Released in January of 1972, Annette Peacock’s debut album is yet another early 1972 album that successfully brings together disparate musical elements performed by a larger ensemble. Peacock and team effectively incorporated blues, jazz, rock, free-jazz, classical avant-garde, trace elements of funk and soul, and a extensive use of Robert Moog’s moog synthesizer to create a complete and impressive musically satisfying work. Notable, historically, was Peacock’s use of the synthesizer to modulate and alter vocal input via microphone plugged into the synthesizer. She also deserves credit for her overall and varied use of the synthesizer instrumentally as well as the wide range of vocal expression she uses, some of which anticipates music of later decades.
Univeria Zekt: The Unnamables
Released in January of 1972, Magma provisionally assumes the name Univeria Zekt to temporarily step away from their newly created narrative of the Kobaïan universe in order to, perhaps, provide a diversion to existing fans or, possibly, to attract new fans. The album is solidly progressive rock with heavy jazz and some jazz-rock influences, with a musical style significantly different (particularly on the first side) from the darker, neo-primal style of the two preceding Magma albums, which constructed a formidable genre of music, termed Zeuhl — a style of music created to be reflective and representative of the music of the fictitious Kobaïa. Those not able to get enough of early Magma, but also open to embracing this detour into a more jazz-influenced sound (closer perhaps to Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, or Return Forever) should also acquire this one-of-a-kind album under the Univeria Zekt name.
Paul Simon: Paul Simon
Paul Simon’s first solo album, post-Simon & Garfunkel, did well commercially, with three singles making it on to the Billboard charts, “Mother and Child Reunion”, a reggae-influenced number with the title inspired by the Chinese chicken and egg soup dish he noticed listed on a Chinese restaurant menu in New York, the upbeat “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”, and “Duncan”, my favorite track on the album, reminiscent of music he was writing in the late sixties.
Blue Öyster Cult, Jerry Garcia, Captain Beefheart, Jimi Hendrix
Additional albums include the dark, debut Blue Öyster Cult album with its gratuitous and influential use of an umlaut (a feature to gain common adoption by later Heavy Metal band names such as Queensrÿche, Mötley Crüe, and even the fictional Spın̈al Tap), Jerry Garcia’s Garcia, Captain Beefheart’s relatively traditional and bluesy Spotlight Kid, as well as a posthumous album of Jimi Hendrix live material from 1969 and 1970, Hendrix in The West.