Top 10 Songs of 1972
The '70s didn't start in 1970 — they started sometime around 1972. The tracks on our list of the Top 10 Songs of 1972 sound like they're products of the decade and not leftovers from the previous one. After the turbulent '60s — the wars, the assassinations, the drugs, the sexual revolution and music's expanded playing field — the '70s were kinda like a hangover, a bittersweet but not entirely clear reflection of what just happened. Artists began settling into grooves, and the songs that came out in 1972, for the first time, took on their own identities, not just borrowed ones from another era.
Rundgren originally recorded 'Hello It's Me' with his group Nazz in 1968. On his third solo album, the excellent double LP 'Something/Anything?,' he reworked the ballad as a more soulful and upbeat number that became the centerpiece of the record and Rundgren's only Top 10 hit. The solo version is way better than the original band take, which was also released as a single.
Steely Dan's debut single turned the page on all of the lazily played psychedelic rock that album-oriented bands were churning out just a couple of years earlier. Consisting of musicians who had some serious jazz skills, Steely Dan didn't sound much like any other new groups in 1972. They were smart, studied, literate and disciplined. 'Do It Again' was one of their smoothest-sounding cuts, all rounded edges with a milky center.
It includes one of the greatest guitar riffs of all time and a true story about a fire that delayed the recording of Deep Purple's sixth and bestselling album. But more than that, 'Smoke on the Water' is probably the most popular song attempted by first-time guitarists. Its opening chords have launched many young bands back in the day, and they still ring loud and clear today.
'Every Picture Tells a Story' was such a huge hit for Stewart in 1971 (both the album and the song 'Maggie May' hit No. 1) that the singer and his band, including members of the Faces, repeated the formula for the followup LP, 'Never a Dull Moment.' 'You Wear It Well' is a delayed love letter to an ex, filled with a little regret and a whole lotta awesome, starting with that violin solo.
Like David Bowie's 'Space Oddity,' 'Rocket Man' uses an outer-space analogy to voice the singer's growing isolation from family and friends. But unlike Bowie's 1969 song, the narrator of John's Top 10 hit (co-written by Bernie Taupin) doesn't sound entirely hopeless. It helps that John's warm performance injects some humanity into his lost spaceman.
Before David Bowie gave them 'All the Young Dudes,' Mott the Hoople were a lumbering hard-rock band on the verge of splitting up. But the glam anthem transformed the group and gave them a second life, extending their career for a couple more years. After 'Dudes,' Mott the Hoople were revered as glam gods, all thanks to producer Bowie, who was having a very good year (see No. 3 on our list of the Top 10 Songs of 1972).
Alice Cooper was 24 years old when his timeless anthem about the last day of school was released. It immediately connected with teens across the country, hitting the Top 10. And no wonder: Cooper's sinister excitement surges through the song. Plus, it includes one of the most inspired verses in rock history: “We got no class / And we got no principles / And we got no innocence / We can't even think of a word that rhymes.” Brilliant.
Bowie's reinvention from a tepid British folk-pop singer to a glam superstar began in 1971, with the 'Hunky Dory' album. But it's on 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,' a concept record about a rock 'n' roll savior from another planet, where the transformation takes hold (Bowie essentially became the character for the next couple of years). 'Ziggy Stardust' is the album's guitar-powered centerpiece, a summation of sorts of the LP's trippy narrative.
Neil Young's only No. 1 single (only Top 10, in fact) from his only No. 1 album ('Harvest') was inspired by both a back injury and a trip to Nashville, where he recorded a handful of new acoustic songs with some local musicians. Unable to play an electric guitar, Young unplugged and wrote some stripped-down country-leaning songs. The success of both the song and album eventually prompted Young to switch musical gears from time to time — a practice he continues to this day.
Little surprise that the best album of 1972 yields the No. 1 track on our list of the Top 10 Songs of 1972. It was a pivotal year for the Stones, whose last three albums made them the biggest and best band on the planet. 'Exile on Main St.,' a troubled double record mired in druggy production and even more druggy group members, was their masterpiece. 'Tumbling Dice' is the album's most accessible cut, a bluesy shuffle spiked with a side of twang. It remains one of the Stones' most enduring songs and the gateway to one of the best albums ever made.