This Week’s Theme: 50th Anniversary – 1972 (Part Two)
Last week’s Faux Show presented twenty-nine albums from 1972, and the list was a who’s who of artists and albums that present some of the highlights of the rock and roll era. Here’s the thing, though. This week’s show may be an even better list of artists and albums. There is no denying that last week’s show included iconic rock and pop albums, but that is how amazing 1972 was. Not only was the rock and pop music of the future being created that year, but so was the future of soul, funk, reggae, jazz, samba, afropop, and more. The wellspring of creativity flowing out of the ’60s and into the early ’70s was a world-wide phenomenon that crossed all genres in 1972. Previous Faux Shows have covered 1971, 1996, 1997, 2011, and 2012. This week’s show is part two of a two-part series covering a wide variety of music from 1972, my choice for The Most Important Year In Music.
Welcome to Radio Faux Show Volume Two, Number Twenty-Eight.
First things first – click a link to start listening and then come back to read about this week’s songs.
The albums I’ve included in this week’s show are a who’s who of soul, funk, and international artists. The best albums of most years include a lot of incredible artists, but these stand out for the simple fact they are some of the best albums ever recorded by these artists. Some of them are fan favorites. Some of them are my personal favorites. Some of them are classics of the genre and as influential as any of their type. 1972 was certainly a magical year.
Not only are several of the best albums of 1972 by soul artists, but some of the greatest soul albums ever recorded are from this year.
Aretha Franklin Young, Gifted, and Black “Rock Steady”: By the time most artists record their eighteenth album, they are well past their creative peak. Aretha Franklin helped define the modern sound of soul music through her ’60s releases, including the singles “Think” and “Chain of Fools” and the full-length masterpiece I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You. As she moved into the ’70s, she was already a legend and her albums were working well as solid collections of ballads and covers of songs made famous by other artists. Much like Ray Charles during this period, she could turn to Beatles songs, recent pop hits, and a handful of new songs to create an album each year, and that is all that was expected by artists of their caliber. This is what makes the album Young, Gifted, and Black so amazing, and shows how incredible Franklin’s talent was. What should have been the next in a line of solid recordings is instead one of the best albums ever recorded. Some argue it is her best, which is an incredible statement for someone so accomplished. The opener “Oh Me Oh My” is a virtuoso soul vocal performance. “Day Dreaming” is a perfect early ’70s pop song a la Carole King, but written by Franklin, showing her ability to keep with the times. “Rock Steady” is another Franklin original and the best funk song she ever recorded. The title track is the definitive version of the protest song written in 1969 by Nina Simone. And that is how the album starts – with four timeless Franklin tunes. The rest of the album is a mix of solid covers and originals, including an incredible performance of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” By the time you get to the final trio of songs, usually a point in a record of this type where the weakest songs are dropped to fill out the time, Franklin instead lays down three covers that take classic songs and make them her own. Her cover of “The Long and Winding Road” is the best version of the song, including the original. “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time” is Franklin at her soul diva best. To close it all out, she takes Elton John’s “Border Song” and brings it back to church as only she could do. This is an amazing album by The Queen of Soul. If you don’t understand how important and talented Franklin was as a soul vocalist, this is the album to listen to. She invented female soul vocal technique, and it is all on display here. Without her, there is no Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Rihanna, or Ariana Grande.
I didn’t include it on this show, but as if Young, Gifted, and Black wasn’t enough for one artist to accomplish in one year, Franklin also released her definitive gospel album Amazing Grace in 1972. If you don’t understand how incredible a gospel performance can be, I would recommend that the next time you are feeling lost, depressed, sad, or simply have had a bad day, you go and find the recently released film version of this album and watch it. It doesn’t matter if you are a believer or not (I am certainly not someone to turn to for Christian dogma); this performance will lift you up above your suffering, at least for the moment, because that is what music born out of someone’s soul does. There is a reason it is called soul music after all.
Stevie Wonder Music of My Mind “I Love Every Little Thing About You” and Talking Book “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”: I chose to start this week’s blog with the Aretha Franklin album because it is such a great example of how 1972 was a magical year for all artists, even those who were already legends. Deciding which album to start with was not an easy choice to make because 1972 is also the year that Stevie Wonder broke away from his older Motown sound and contract and re-invented himself as an artist. In doing so, he re-invented soul music for all artists to come after him. His masterpiece is 1976’s Songs In The Key Of Life, but that album could not exist without him first creating two groundbreaking albums in 1972. Once Motown allowed him complete control over his music, he immediately took over all instrumental control, including drums, percussion, bass, and new groundbreaking electronics (such as the T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer – see Faux Show Vol.1,#6), and evolved his songwriting into a sound that leaves all of his previous albums behind in tone, quality, and importance. Without 1972, Stevie Wonder would be a popular artist who had a nice string of Motown hits in the ’60s and ’70s. Maybe he would have lasted long enough to record inferior material such as “I Just Called To Say I Love You” and “Part-Time Lover,” but maybe not. After 1972, his future was set on the Mount Rushmore of soul artists, right next to Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and whichever soul artist you like the best.
Music Of My Mind is unlike any album that came before. It doesn’t have any classic Stevie hits, but that doesn’t matter. This is the album where Wonder found his true voice. Other Motown artists, such as Marvin Gaye and The Temptations, as well as Sly Stone, had already evolved into socially conscious stars who used their popularity to present songs that dug much deeper than superficial lyrics about love, relationships, and other basic pop music topics. Those artists, especially Sly Stone, had also laid the foundation of modern funk/soul/R&B that allowed an artist to write long, dense, complicated songs filled with a variety of sounds, vocal effects, and instrumentation. The reason that this album stands out among the groundbreaking work of those other artists is entirely due to the genius of Wonder. He had a vision far beyond anything Sly Stone or Marvin Gaye had ever attempted. The incredible range of modern soul music presented in this album had never been attempted before, much less with such incredible success. This is not the most popular Wonder album, and certainly not a fan-favorite. However, I would argue it is the most important album in the evolution of Wonder’s music, thus making it one of the most important albums ever recorded.
Where Music of My Mind allowed Stevie Wonder to evolve into the new artist he was always meant to become, Talking Book showed, for the first time, that Wonder is a songwriting genius. Every song on the album is a stone-cold soul classic. The range of material is incredible, moving from state-of-the-art funk (“Maybe Your Baby”) to jaw-dropping ballads (“You and I”) to pop mastery (“Superstition”) as only a true songwriting genius can accomplish in a ten-song album. The album is bookended by opener “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” and “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever),” two of the best Wonder songs, which makes the fact that the songs in between aren’t the best on the album even more impressive. I stated on last week’s show that David Bowie’s 1972 may have been the greatest year for any performer in history, but an even stronger argument can be made for Stevie Wonder’s 1972 – the year that modern-day soul music was born.
Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway “You’ve Got A Friend”: This is the best album ever recorded by a soul duet. Following in the footsteps of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, the decision to team up these two young soul singers at the beginning of their careers was genius. Much like Gaye/Terrell, the combination of Flack and Hathaway’s vocal tones and styles was perfect. Flack was a jazz vocalist who worked in the soul genre. Her voice was unique and her range was amazing. Hathaway was the most soulful vocalist of his era. He sang as if every day was Sunday and his listener’s were all at church. Together, they helped keep each other in control while playing off of the emotion of the other’s performance. The opening track, “I (Who Have Nothing)” is an overlooked soul masterpiece. Their cover of the Carole King/James Taylor classic “You’ve Got A Friend” rivals the two originals for best version of the song. The hit “Where Is The Love” is one of the best soul singles of the early ’70s. The rest of the album includes a soul vocal masterclass in the song “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” the best version of The Carpenters’ “For All We Know,” and “Mood,” an instrumental written by Flack that showcases the keyboard playing of both artists. Much like the story of Gaye & Terrell, the story of Flack & Hathaway is tragic. Terrell died at the age of 24, at the peak of success and before the pair could record any more songs together. Hathaway, after years of battling mental illness, died at the age of 33 in the middle of recording the follow-up to this album. Hathaway recorded just one other album in the seven years between this one and his death. That is one of the saddest sentences I have ever written because Donny Hathaway rivaled Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder in terms of pure soul artistry in the ’70s.
War The World Is A Ghetto “Where Was You At”: Readers of the Faux Show know how much I love War. They are the most under-appreciated funk and soul act of any decade, and deserve to be in the Rock Hall. From their 1970 debut as Eric Burdon’s backing band on Eric Burdon Declares War to their 1975 album Why Can’t We Be Friends, they were as good as any band of any genre making music at the time. Set firmly in the middle of their discography is their masterpiece, The World Is A Ghetto. It was a #1 Pop and R&B album, and includes their classic song “Cisco Kid.” It only contains six songs, but every one of those songs is a masterclass of different forms of funk and soul. “Cisco Kid” starts the album off with pure pop/soul genius. The Latin groove of the song is groundbreaking for such a huge pop hit. “Where Was You At” is one of their best funk songs. “City, Country, City” is a multi-part jazz and soul composition and one of the band’s masterworks. “Four Cornered Room” is an incredibly soulful slow jam that showcases all of the bands vocal talents. The album ends with a short oddity called “Beetles in the Bog,” a funky jam that is worth the wait for anyone listening to the entire album. The most important song on the album, though, is the title track. It is the best song ever written by the band, and the best song of the era about poverty, if not the best of all time. “The World Is A Ghetto” does something that most socio-political songs are unable to accomplish – it combines a poignant message through great lyrics with incredible musicianship and a wonderful melody. Far too few people have heard this song, but once you know it you can’t help but have it stuck in your head. It is as good as, if not better, than “Living For The City” and puts an exclamation mark on the band’s place in the history of soul music.
Al Green Let’s Stay Together “Let’s Stay Together” and I’m Still In Love With You “I’m Glad Your Mine”: After spending three years slowly building a following on the R&B charts, 1972 was the year that Al Green exploded onto the national pop music scene. Both of these albums were #1 R&B albums, but they also hit #8 and #4 on the pop album charts. This was the start of his run of six straight #1 R&B and Top 40 pop albums. During the next four years, Green redefined the sound of the soul love song. Working with the Hi Records rhythm section of Howard Grimes, Al Jackson Jr., Leroy Hodges, Charles Hodges, and Teeny Hodges, plus the amazing Memphis Horns horn section, Green laid down an incredible string of compositions that didn’t sound like any other soul artists working at the time. He took the original Hi Records success of O.V. Wright and pushed it to the forefront of popular music. This led to the success of Ann Peebles in the mid-70s and created a catalog of music which is immediately identifiable as the Hi Records sound.
In 1971, Al Green recorded an album called Al Green Get’s Next To You and found moderate success for the first time in his career. The album was a mix of a handful of Green originals and some covers of well-known hits. There was one song on the album, “Tired of Being Alone,” that foreshadowed what was to come, but no one could have predicted the explosive success of Let’s Stay Together in 1972. Built around the title track, the album is the first composed almost entirely by Green. For the first time, his true voice shines through the incredible songwriting. The iconic cover photo of Green in a brown and black jacket is now part of pop music history. In addition to the originals, the two covers on side two are perfect choices. The cover of the Eddie Floyd/Stax classic “I’ve Never Found Me A Girl” rivals the original as the best version of the song. The cover of the Bee Gees “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” is the definitive version of the song. It is a 6-minute masterclass in soul singing. The slow burn up to around the 3:40 mark is beautiful, followed by an incredible organ/vocal arrangement to close out the last couple of minutes. Tracks 2 through 5 on side one are definitive Al Green songs, and still sound great today. But, it is the title track that deserves all of the attention. “Let’s Stay Together” is one of the greatest songs ever written. It is part of the pop music lexicon and is a timeless piece of soul music. It is one of the most identifiable songs of the 20th century, and anyone who knows it feels something in their soul every time they hear it. Considering how incredible the song and album are, it is amazing that this isn’t the best that Green had to offer in this magical year.
The parallels between Stevie Wonder’s 1972 and Al Green’s 1972 are impossible to ignore. Although Wonder was clearly the more popular artist at the time, both artists recreated themselves at the same time. Wonder’s Music of My Mind and Green’s Let’s Stay Together were a catalyst for the work they would both produce throughout the ’70s. The fact that both of them had even better albums ready to release that same year is astounding. I’ve already talked about Wonder’s Talking Book as the next step toward his 1976 masterpiece Songs In The Key Of Life. In the same way, Green’s I’m Still In Love With You was the next step toward his 1973 masterpiece Call Me. The album starts with the classic title track and then proceeds with one of the greatest side ones in soul history. “I’m Glad Your Mine” is another Green classic, and “Love and Happiness” rivals “Let’s Stay Together” as his signature song. The rest of the album provides one great love song after another, including a couple of well-done covers, and closes with “One Of The Good Old Days,” an upbeat Green classic. Al Green was the most important breakout artist of 1972 and his two albums are prime evidence for it being The Most Important Year In Music.
1972 is not the greatest year in funk, but it is an important transitional year between the work of first generation funk acts like James Brown, The Meters, and Sly & The Family Stone and the next wave of funk that was about to explode across the ’70s with artists like Earth Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, and P-Funk.
James Brown Get On The Good Foot “Get On The Good Foot (Parts 1 and 2)”: Most people, including me, think of James Brown in terms of his greatest hits. That list includes at least a dozen of the greatest soul and funk songs ever recorded, and on its own is enough to make Brown a legend. What is amazing to realize is how prolific Brown was in the production of albums. If you ask most people to name a James Brown record, they can probably come up with Live At The Apollo. This is because while most artists attempt to produce one good album a year with the highest quality songs they can write in that period, Brown recorded as many as five albums a year for over a decade. After recording one a year in the early ’60s, Brown recorded thirty-eight albums between 1964 and 1976. That would be an incredible feat if those were all quality albums, but sadly they are not. Some are totally forgettable, some contain one or two quality songs, and only a few could be considered above average. 1972 was no exception, as Brown released two albums that year which are more or less forgettable. Filled with throw-away funk tracks, ballads that fail due to Brown’s inability to sing them like he did ten years earlier, and re-recordings of old Brown songs, both albums are worth listening to in their entirety for only those obsessed with Brown’s music. The first, There It Is, contains a popular but outdated and overly-dramatic song about addiction called “King Heroin” and is otherwise just one more in a long line of weak Brown albums. The second, Get On The Good Foot, contains one of his best funk songs (the title track) and is otherwise not worth the time. Even so, 1972 was a magical year for everyone and one of Brown’s most successful of the period as both albums hit the Top 20 on the R&B albums chart.
Lyn Collins Think (About It) “Think (About It)”: At the same time James Brown was recording two mediocre albums of his own, he was producing this album for a new, young vocalist named Lyn Collins. The entire album is great, but the title track is the real treasure. This is one of the most sampled songs in hip hop, with over three thousand uses and counting. Most notably, it is the foundation of the old school rap classic “It Takes Two” by Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock. It has also been used across multiple dance genres, including Eurodance, house, EDM, and drum/bass. As a recording artist, Collins only recorded two albums in the early to mid-70s while part of the James Brown entourage, an experience she did not enjoy very much. She probably could have had more success as an R&B vocalist then a JB funk vocalist, but this one song has made her an immortal artist who will never be forgotten.
The Meters Cabbage Alley “Cabbage Alley”: The Meters had already laid the groundwork for ’70s funk by 1972, but this is a solid album by the group who was about to be forgotten by all but the truest funk fans.
Funkadelic America Eats Its Young “You Hit The Nail On The Head”: When people talk about Funkadelic’s best albums they usually name their first trio of albums in ’70-71 (Funkadelic, Free Your Mind, Maggot Brain) or 1973’s Cosmic Slop. This is understandable, as those are all fantastic albums (Maggot Brain is one of the best albums of all time), and their 1972 album is a sprawling mess of a double album. However, I’ve always loved this album because it is the first Funkadelic album to really showcase the virtuosic talents of keyboardist Bernie Worrell. When he was allowed to cut loose on some of the extended funk jams of this album, he finally found his place in the band. Less than three years later, the sound of the band (now known to most as P-Funk) had coalesced into a new funk sound that ruled the genre for five years. That evolution could not have happened without the expanded use of Worrell’s keyboard/synth experimentation.
There are three artists on this week’s show who aren’t entirely funk acts, but recorded some of the best funk songs of the era.
War The World Is A Ghetto “Where Was You At”: This is their best funk song. See Soul Classics.
Bill Withers Still Bill “Use Me”: Bill Withers’ 1972 sophomore album is one of the best of the year. The songs on the album are a natural progression from his amazing debut, and solidified the importance of a new songwriting talent. “Lean On Me” is his signature song, and tracks like “Lonely Town,” “Let Me In Your Life,” and “Who Is He” are Withers standards. Most importantly, though, is the song “Use Me.” Not only was it his second biggest hit, but the drum/bass rhythm of the song are now recognized as iconic in the history of funk. Drummer James Gadson’s rhythm is incredibly complex for a #2 pop hit, and is still taught today to students of funk drumming.
Earth, Wind, & Fire Last Days And Time “Time Is On Your Side”: This third album by the band was their last before breaking it big on the R&B and pop charts. Like all early EWF albums, this one contains a mix of soul, jazz, and funk. Unless you are a true EWF fan, this is probably further back then you would want to go when listening to their older material. It lays out the blueprint that they would improve on over the next few years before recording their masterpiece, That’s The Way Of The World, in 1975. As such, it doesn’t stand out from the other early EWF albums, but “Time Is On Your Side” is one of their first truly great songs and makes the entire album worth a listen if you already know their classics.
Temptations All Directions “Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On”: By the time The Temptations recorded All Directions in 1972, they had already recorded another album earlier in the year called Solid Rock. That album was their first without original members Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, and by the time All Directions was recorded the future of the band was surely in doubt. Solid Rock contained the song “Superstar” and was a #1 album on the R&B charts, but was the first album by the group in several years to miss the Top 20 on the pop albums charts. The band members, including new members Damon Harris and Richard Street, thought that their second album of the year would flop and they would return to singing ballads again. This was what the members wanted, and was the reason Kendricks left the band one year earlier. None of them had any faith in the lead single and prepared for the worst. That single was called “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” and the rest is history. The song hit #1 on the pop charts, pushing the album to #2 as well, and won three Grammy Awards. The album was the highest charting pop album of all Temptations albums, an amazing feat for a band who had already becomes legends in the history of pop music. “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” is now considered one of the greatest pop songs ever recorded, and is arguably as identifiable with the band as “My Girl.” The success was not to last long, as their 1973 album (the under-rated Masterpiece) was not nearly as successful and by 1975 their streak of hit albums came to an end. They were dropped from Motown in 1976 and never found major success again. With regard to 1972, it was an important year for the band simply because it was an incredible success due to “Papa,” providing one more example of how 1972 was a magical year for artists old and new.
Curtis Mayfield Superfly “Superfly”: This soundtrack to the now classic blaxpoitation film was Mayfield’s third as a solo artist. It is not his best, and “Shaft” is arguably the greatest blaxpoitation title track, but the entire album is the best soul soundtrack of the era. I would argue it was the best soul soundtrack until Prince’s Purple Rain, and still stands as a classic ’70s album. The title track is great, the incidental music is wonderful, and the first three songs (“Little Child,” “Pusherman,” and “Freddie’s Dead”) are three of the best that Mayfield ever composed. With regard to 1972, the popularity of blaxpoitation as a musical genre was perfected by this album and spawned dozens of imitators over the next few years, thus creating a massive market for both Hollywood and the recording industry, and all because someone had the foresight to talk Mayfield into recording this classic album.
Reggae wasn’t invented in 1972, but this was the year that the popularity of reggae became an international sensation. We now all know the sound of reggae, we can probably sing at least a few Bob Marley songs all the way through, and we’ve heard dozens of covers of reggae songs without even knowing they were originally recorded by Jamaican artists. Bad Jamaican accents can be found across movies and television shows over the last forty years, and modern reggaeton music has taken over the international dance charts. In 1972, however, reggae music was only known because of a few ’60s hits that most people didn’t even know had originated in Jamaica, such as “My Boy Lollipop” by Millie Small and “Double Barrel” by Dave & Ansel Collins. This all changed in 1972 after the releases of the first truly popular reggae albums.
Johnny Nash I Can See Clearly Now “Stir It Up”: Before Bob Marley recorded his own version of his song, Texan Johnny Nash recorded “Stir It Up” and used it as the opener for his 1972 album I Can See Clearly Now. Nash had never found much success in the U.S., and then in 1965 he and his manager moved to Jamaica in order to reduce their studio costs. It was the most important relocation in the history of reggae music because two years later he discovered Bob Marley and the rest of the Wailers at a party and signed them to his newly formed publishing company. Nash then formed a new record label and began recording rock-steady singles. He had a hit with his rock-steady single “Hold Me Tight” in 1968 and then his cover of “Stir It Up” was a hit in the UK in 1971. All of this led to the recording of the song “I Can See Clearly Now” and the rest of his 1972 album. Although he and others had introduced the world to the sound of reggae over the previous few years, it was this song that brought the sound of reggae to an international audience. It was a world-wide hit, a #1 Billboard hit for four weeks, and sold over one million copies. The album contained four Marley compositions and used the legendary group Fabulous Five Inc. (or Fab 5) as the backing band. Even though Nash was from Texas, the album was truly a reggae album, and it peaked at #23 on the pop albums chart and introduced a new audience to the sound of reggae. Within two years, Eric Clapton recorded “I Shot The Sheriff,” Bob Marley had a UK hit with “No Woman, No Cry,” and reggae music was a marketable commodity.
Jimmy Cliff The Harder They Come “Sitting In Limbo”: The Harder They Come is one of the most important soundtrack albums of all time. The film is an amazing low budget Jamaican film starring Jimmy Cliff. The soundtrack is a collection of Jimmy Cliff songs and a handful of reggae classics by other artists. Only the title track was recorded for the film. The rest of the music was selected for use in the film and was recorded from around 1967-72. This may sound like the Jamaican version of The Big Chill soundtrack, but it was in fact one of the most important cultural exports ever produced by Jamaica. This is the album that introduced reggae to the world. Even though the film was not a world-wide success, the soundtrack was a relatively huge success. It peaked at #140 on the Billboard album charts and was popular throughout the world. While Johnny Nash’s album I Can See Clearly Now had brought reggae music into the mainstream, that record was reggae music sung by an American vocalist who had recorded several R&B hits prior to its release. The Harder They Come was reggae by some of the legends of the genre. At the time of its release, Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, Toots & The Maytals, and The Melodians were some of the top reggae artists. Once people heard those artists, the door was opened for Bob Marley & The Wailers, Burning Spear, The Upsetters, Augustus Pablo, and others to spread out across North America and Europe and change the sound of popular music forever.
The collision of musical cultures in the late ’60s and early ’70s was at it’s peak in 1972, and I could have made an entire Faux Show featuring international music from this year. There are albums by Fela Kuti, Caetano Veloso, Horace Andy, Willie Colon, Ismael Rivera, Eddie Palmieri, and many others that I did not include. Those I did include feature some of the most important artists of their time creating albums that are highlights of their respective genres.
Milton Nascimento Clube Da Esquina “Tudo O Que Voce Podia Ser”: This double album by the music collective Clube Da Esquina is a Brazilian classic. The Rolling Stone Brazil List of 100 Greatest Brazilian Albums ranks it at #7, and it has even made some modern-day Best of 1972 album lists. This is quite an accomplishment for an album released in this incredible year, and I agree (as you can see in my Top 30 list at the end of this week’s blog entry). The main artists on the album are Milton Nascimento and Lo Borges, and this album is a career highlight for both of them.
Gilberto Gil Expresso 2222 “Chiclete Com Banana”: Gilberto Gil’s fifth album is one of the most critically acclaimed Brazilian albums. The Rolling Stone Brazil List of 100 Greatest Brazilian Albums ranks it at #26. It was recorded about three years after the official end of the Tropicalia movement in Brazilian music, so it is probably best classified as post-Tropicalia. Either way, it is a defining album in the sound of Tropicalia. No matter how you define the sound, this album is amazing from beginning to end. If you aren’t familiar with the music of Gilberto Gil, this is a great place to start.
Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe El Juicio “Ah-Ah/O-No”: Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe were two of the original artists on the Fania label, which makes them two of the most important artists in the history of salsa music. They recorded many albums together in the late ’60s and ’70s, and all of them are fantastic. El Juicio is the duo’s studio album from 1972, but they had an incredible year for Fania Records. The label also released a fantastic collection of their music called Crime Pays and they worked with Yomo Toro to record the label’s second Christmas album, Asalto Navideno Vol. II. The Asalto Navideno records are the coolest holiday albums that you’ve never listened to. There were other great Fania albums in 1972 by other artists but Willie Colon is always a great choice.
Fela Kuti Shakara “Shakara (Oloje)”: This album is one of several for Fela Kuti in 1972, and one of over a dozen that he released in the early ’70s. Falling as early as it does in Fela’s discography, it has to be called one of the original Afrobeat albums. Anything by Fela is essential Afrobeat music, and this album is no exception.
Most relevant jazz music in the early ’70s was strongly influenced by the ’60s work of artists such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Pharaoh Sanders, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and other musicians working outside the sound of the jazz mainstream. Fusion was taking hold as an important jazz sub-genre, and the experimental and avant-garde jazz of the ’60 was still going strong. 1972 is not an important year in the evolution of jazz, but it certainly contained some important moments and albums that sit firmly in the foundation of the jazz to come.
Chick Corea Return To Forever “Crystal Silence”: Chick Corea had been recording for about five years by 1972, most importantly with Miles Davis on the groundbreaking fusion albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. He had also recorded a handful of albums as a band leader, but none of those records prepared listeners for his first album with his new group Return to Forever. Although credited to Corea, this album is the first Return To Forever album, and is a landmark in the evolution of electric jazz. It is Corea’s first album as a solo artist to use electric instrumentation, and is now considered one of the first great electric jazz recordings. The entire band is incredible, especially the piano of Corea and bass of Stanley Clarke. Corea is now considered one of the greatest jazz pianists of his generation. Along with Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Keith Jarrett, he completes the Mount Rushmore of post-Coltrane jazz keyboardists and it all starts with this album.
Herbie Hancock Crossings “Quasar”: This is the second in the trio of albums now known as the Mwandishi period for Hancock. The three Mwandishi records were released just before his development of the Head Hunters band, and his revolutionary fusion recordings “Chameleon” and “Watermelon Man” in 1973. As such, 1972 is obviously not the year that Herbie Hancock created his most important music. However, his use of electric instrumentation on the Mwandishi recordings, including his use of mellotron and moog synthesizer on Crossings, is the transitional period that he needed to realize his new sound the following year.
Miles Davis On The Corner “Black Satin”: Only a fool would claim that this is the greatest Miles Davis album. I am not a fool. If you are looking for classic Davis recordings, there are many periods you can turn to, from his cool jazz recordings to his hard bop masterworks to his late ’60s fusion work. None of the albums from his early ’70s fusion period are on that list. However, if you are interested in hearing virtuoso musicians perform amazing fusion compositions then this album is a perfect place to go. Influenced by the funk of Sly Stone, the experimental minimalism of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and the free jazz of Ornette Coleman, this is music only for those who enjoy the intellectual side of listening. With regard to 1972, this is one of the best jazz albums of the year and includes keyboard playing by both Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, once again showing that something magical was happening in all forms of music in 1972 for many of the most important artists of the time.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk Blacknuss “Ain’t No Sunshine”: Roland Kirk was working at the peak of his powers in 1972. Anyone familiar with Kirk’s recordings would expect that this album would be much more experimental than it is. Instead, this is one of the most accessible of all his albums and perfect for those who aren’t prepared to dive head first into his world of circular breathing, multi-instrument playing, non-traditional instrumentation, and experimental compositional technique. The album is a collection of soul/pop songs along with a couple of originals. There is still a moderate amount of Kirk experimentation, but songs such as “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “What’s Goin’ On” are presented as fairly standard interpretations. “I Love You, Yes I Do” is about as beautiful as a Kirk ballad gets, especially in this period. His flute playing on “My Girl” is joyous. Even the title track original closes out the album with a fairly straight-ahead groove. Only one year later, Kirk would record his late-period experimental masterpiece, Prepare Thyself To Deal With A Miracle, but in 1972 he gave us some great recordings that showed his unique ability to interpret modern day soul music as only he was able.
Gil Scott-Heron I’m not sure if jazz is the best way to classify the entirely unique early recordings of Gil Scott-Heron, but I’ll go with it. I would love to say that this is the breakthrough album for Scott-Heron, reaching the Top 10 on both the R&B and pop charts and solidifying his place as one of the most popular artists of the ’70s. Maybe if I stop writing here, someone will read this and think it is true and start a new revolution of Scott-Heron fans. Unfortunately, the truth is that Scott-Heron recorded in relative obscurity during the bulk of his career. Looking at his discography now, I am shocked to see that he actually charted so many albums in the top 200 during the late ’70s, but by that point he had moved away from his original jazz poet recordings and was recording much more straightforward R&B and jazz vocal compositions. In 1972, however, he was just beginning to move away from his groundbreaking social commentary, spoken word period. Side one of this album features full-band recordings of songs that combine soul, jazz, and R&B. Side two is a collection of Scott-Heron’s socially conscious poetry over minimal instrumentation. These early Scott-Heron recordings are the first hip-hop albums, and anyone who cares about the history of rap music knows that songs such as “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” are the origins of the genre. Side two of this album is a collection of compositions in this groundbreaking format, and all of them are worth a listen.
There weren’t any groundbreaking blues albums in 1972. By the time the early ’70s rolled around, the most popular blues artists were mostly white groups, such as Canned Heat or Paul Butterfield Blues Band, or traditional blues artists, such as B.B. King and Buddy Guy. However, there were two new blues artists who were just getting started on their way to induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They took very different paths to get there, sounded nothing like each other, and in the end sounded nothing like the majority of their blues contemporaries.
Bonnie Raitt Give It Up “Love Me Like A Man”: This is Raitt’s second album and her first to hit the Billboard Top 200 album charts. It sold moderately well and was well-received at the time. If you’ve read past Faux Shows, you know my thoughts on how female artists have to face obstacles that male artists do not just in order to have careers, much less be successful. This boy’s club aspect of the recording industry is especially true in the world of blues musicians. One could argue that Bonnie Raitt was not a straight-ahead blues artist and her albums always contained songs that could be classified as folk, pop, or soft rock, but Raitt’s wheelhouse has always been her ability to sing and play the blues. As a female blues artist, she is still an exception to the rule as blues music is still controlled by male artists, old and new. Over the last several decades, Bonnie Raitt has enjoyed a successful career and received numerous major awards, but it took her almost twenty years to receive popular recognition, finally hitting the Top 10 in 1989 with her #1 album Nick of Time. In 1972, she was struggling just to keep her recording contract and attract audiences to her shows. Fifty years later, the album Give It Up is still one her best, and was recently included in the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums list (coming in at #498).
ZZ Top Rio Grande Mud “Just Got Paid”: No blues group sounded like ZZ Top before their humble start in 1971 with the aptly titled ZZ Top’s First Album. Fifty years later and no blues group sounds like ZZ Top except for ZZ Top. Their unique mix of blues, rock, and Texas boogie with fuzzbox guitar and bass is owned by them and no one else has ever perfected it. Much like AC/DC, when you hear a ZZ Top riff you know it is ZZ Top. In 1972, they were virtually unknown when they released their second album, Rio Grande Mud. It was a moderate success and their first Billboard Top 200 album. The next year’s album, Tres Hombres, would make them stars due to the success of the song “La Grange,” but this 1972 album laid the framework for all of their albums to come. None of their best-known songs are on the album, but “Francine” and “Just Got Paid” are about as good as the band gets and the entire album is a solid set of ten ZZ Top tracks.
My Top 30 Albums of 1972
The combined total from both last week’s and this week’s Faux Shows is fifty-seven albums. There is so much high-quality variety in the list that coming up with the best albums is near impossible. If you ask me again tomorrow, my list may be different, but for now here is my top thirty.
|29||Funkadelic||America Eats Its Young|
|27||Big Star||#1 Record|
|25||Steely Dan||Can’t Buy A Thrill|
|24||Chick Corea||Return To Forever|
|23||The Moody Blues||Seventh Sojourn|
|22||Al Green||Let’s Stay Together|
|21||Stevie Wonder||Music Of My Mind|
|20||Yes||Close To The Edge|
|19||Roxy Music||Roxy Music|
|18||Gilberto Gil||Expresso 2222|
|17||Townes Van Zandt||The Late Great Townes Van Zandt|
|16||Randy Newman||Sail Away|
|15||Bill Withers||Still Bill|
|14||Al Green||I’m Still In Love With You|
|13||Jackson Browne||Jackson Browne|
|12||Milton Nascimento||Clube Da Esquina|
|11||Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway||Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway|
|10||Aretha Franklin||Young, Gifted, and Black|
|9||Van Morrison||St. Dominic’s Preview|
|8||The Rolling Stones||Exile On Main St.|
|7||The Modern Lovers||The Modern Lovers|
|6||Nick Drake||Pink Moon|
|5||Various Artists/Jimmy Cliff||The Harder They Come|
|4||War||The World Is A Ghetto|
|3||T. Rex||The Slider|
|2||Stevie Wonder||Talking Book|
Thanks for listening (and reading)!
|1||Lyn Collins||Think (About It)|
|2||Aretha Franklin||Rock Steady|
|3||Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway||You’ve Got A Friend|
|4||Al Green||I’m Glad You’re Mine|
|5||Al Green||Let’s Stay Together|
|6||Jimmy Cliff||Sitting In Limbo|
|7||Johnny Nash||Stir It Up|
|8||Milton Nascimento||Tudo O Que Voce Podia Ser|
|9||Gilberto Gil||Chiclete Com Banana|
|11||Fela Kuti||Shakara (Oloje)|
|12||Earth, Wind, and Fire||Time Is On Your Side|
|13||War||Where Was You At|
|14||Bill Withers||Use Me|
|15||Rahsaan Roland Kirk||Ain’t No Sunshine|
|16||Chick Corea||Crystal Silence|
|17||Bonnie Raitt||Love Me Like A Man|
|18||ZZ Top||Just Got Paid|
|19||Meters, The||Cabbage Alley|
|20||Funkadelic||You Hit The Nail On The Head|
|21||Temptations||Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On|
|22||Gil Scott-Heron||No Knock|
|24||Miles Davis||Black Satin|
|25||Stevie Wonder||You Are The Sunshine Of My Life|
|26||Stevie Wonder||I Love Every Little Thing About You|
|27||James Brown||Get On The Good Foot (Pt. 1 and 2)|