Top 10 Albums of 1972
1972 was an incredibly diverse year for rock music. Stylistically, the major releases were all over the map, encompassing genres from acoustic singer-songwriter material to early heavy metal, soul, R&B and classically-influenced rock as well. 1972 marked the debut of Jackson Browne, and acts as far apart as Linda Ronstadt, Blue Oyster Cult, America, Genesis and Mott the Hoople all released important albums as well. Our list of the 10 Top Albums of 1972 exemplifies that diversity with selections from blues-rock, pop singer-songwriters, Southern rock, hard rock and metal, and British progressive rock all making the cut.
Yes delivered perhaps the artistic pinnacle of their career with ‘Close to the Edge,’ which many progressive rock fans consider one of the most important albums in the history of the genre. Musically the album was extremely ambitious, bringing together all of the band’s wide influences into one cohesive whole. The entire record consists of just three tracks, one of which dominates all of the album’s first side. Singer Jon Anderson based his lyric on the Herman Hesse novel ‘Siddhartha,’ spawning a rash of cosmic imitators.
ZZ Top’s second album is proof positive that the top albums of 1972 weren’t necessarily the ones that were the most successful. Sticking with mostly the same stripped-down blues-rock format of their debut album, ZZ Top moved forward with better songs on ‘Rio Grande Mud,’ even scoring a (very) minor hit single with ‘Francine.’ ‘Just Got Paid’ is an early example of a track where the group really comes together, but it would be ZZ Top’s third album, ‘Tres Hombres,’ that would prove its commercial breakthrough.
Elton John began to move away from his earnest singer-songwriter persona and more into a flamboyant rock entertainer with his fifth album. ‘Honky Chateau’ is John’s first album to focus on his road band, resulting in more of a straight pop-rock sound than previous efforts, though the album’s opening cut ‘Honky Cat’ did feature horns. The radio success of that song and the career-defining ‘Rocket Man’ launched ‘Honky Chateau’ to the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s album charts.
‘Obscured by Clouds’ was Pink Floyd’s fourth shot at scoring a movie, in this case the French film ‘La Vallee.’ The group took a break from working on their next scheduled album to fly to France and write and record the music, which is an amalgam of instrumentals like the title track and ‘When You’re In,’ and more accessible material. ‘Obscured by Clouds’ fared well worldwide, charting at No. 46 in America, No. 6 in the U.K., and No. 1 in France. Floyd’s next album, ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ launched the group into the stratosphere of rock superstardom.
‘Eat a Peach’ proved a watershed moment for the Allman Brothers Band for two very different reasons. First, it was a musical breakthrough for the group toward more actual songcraft, as evidenced by ‘Melissa.’ Second (and tragically), it was the band’s final record with Duane Allman, who died in a motorcycle accident before it was finished. The album takes its title from a quote Duane gave in an interview; asked what he was doing for “the revolution,” he replied, “There ain’t no revolution, it’s evolution. But every time I’m in Georgia, I eat a peach for peace.”
Black Sabbath released their fourth consecutive platinum-selling album with ‘Vol. 4,’ which was (appropriately enough) their fourth album. Recorded during a troubled time for the band during which the musicians were going through problems with substance abuse, the album actually references cocaine directly in ‘Snowblind.’ Despite the problems, ‘Vol. 4′ turned out to be a step forward for the group, showing a new musical maturity with ‘Changes’ and delivering the awesome riffage of the fan favorite ‘Supernaut.’
Remember those halcyon days when Alice Cooper were still a group, before their singer absconded with the name for a solo career? The band released ‘School’s Out’ in 1972, featuring a title song so classic that it easily qualifies its parent album as one of the 10 top albums of 1972. The fist-pumping anti-authority anthem has no doubt helped many a kid daydream his way through science class. After all, what student doesn’t secretly yearn for a world in which “School’s out forever?”
David Bowie released one of the most important rock concept albums of all time with ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.’ The story deals with an alien who manifests himself as a rock star in order to bring a message of hope to the human race, but is ultimately destroyed. The album scored one hit single, ‘Starman,’ and inspired a film, but its long-term impact comes more from ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and ‘Suffragette City,’ both of which still receive massive airplay today.
‘Machine Head’ is not only one of the 10 top albums of 1972, it’s one of the most influential hard rock/heavy metal albums of all time. Recorded on the Rolling Stones’ mobile unit in Montreux, Switzerland, the album featured classics like ‘Highway Star’ and ‘Space Truckin,” but it was undoubtedly ‘Smoke on the Water’ – which chronicled a Frank Zappa gig that ended with the venue burning down – that earned its place in history, featuring a Ritchie Blackmore riff that is the first thing every aspiring guitarist learns to play.
As if there were any doubt about No. 1. ‘Exile on Main St.’ was, in the eyes of many critics, the Stones’ masterwork. The group were living as tax exiles in France, and ended up recording ‘Exile’ in the basement of Keith Richards’ villa. Drugs and chaos crept into the sessions, but the resulting music was among the strongest the group ever created. The double album drew on rock, R&B, gospel and country influences to create a cycle of songs that still resonate strongly to this day.