Fleetwood Mac, Bare Trees — Oh sure, I love Rumours as much as the next person. But there’s something about this particular, pre-Buckingham/Nicks incarnation of the band that speaks to me. Bare Trees is a bit uneven in spots but I keep coming back to it just the same. That said, the original version of Bob Welch’s “Sentimental Lady” found on this record is far superior to the 1977 hit single version.
Steely Dan, Can’t Buy a Thrill — I don’t care if Donald Fagen and Walter Becker want to disown this record, I love it and I know a ton of Dan fans love it. Like all classic Steely Dan records, the hits are only part of the picture. “Fire in the Hole” has a killer hook and an arrangement that presaged their more refined work on Katy Lied. And holy shit, that chorus on “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again” is so damn smooooooth.
Chicago, Chicago V — This is the perfect marriage of Chicago’s progressive arty side and their burgeoning pop sensibilities. “A Hit by Varèse” opens the LP and is as angry as the band got back in the day, while this album also boasts the bulletproof “Saturday in the Park.” How’s that for extremes? Peter Cetera, long before he discovered the glory of love, absolutely kills on bass all through this record. What the hell happened to that guy?
Yes, Close to the Edge — One of the crown jewels of progressive rock, bar none. Three songs, 38 minutes of pure bliss. “And You and I” and “Siberian Khatru” are fantastic all on their own, but the centerpiece is the nearly 19-minute title track. It encapsulates all that the genre has to offer musically, driven mainly by Steve Howe’s stabbing guitars, Chris Squire’s meaty, nimble bass, and of course Bill Bruford’s spastic, wrist-snapping percussion.
The Crusaders, Crusaders 1 — No longer the Jazz Crusaders, the newly christened Crusaders were finally free to embrace their funky side. The in-your-face horn section is still present and accounted for, but guitarist Larry Carlton brings a whole new dimension to the group’s sound.
Can, Ege Bamyasi — Even if you think Can would be too out there for your tastes, this album is not to missed. The skittering, insistent beat and nerve-fraying guitar on “Vitamin C” is the highlight of the record, but the whole thing is a case study in how Krautrock need not be scary.
Focus, Focus 3 — Man, what a year for prog rock eh? If you think this Dutch outfit is all about “Hocus Pocus,” you are mistaken. And it turns out that tender Focus (“Love Remembered” and “ “) is just as entrancing and effective as rocking Focus (“Round Goes the Gossip” and “Sylvia”). Jan Akkerman is a guitar god but you almost never his name outside of fan circles anymore.
Genesis, Foxtrot — I can only imagine what a thrill it must have been to hear this band follow up on the promise of Nursery Cryme and just explode creatively. This seminal prog album is book-ended by two of the greatest songs the genre has to offer — “Watcher of the Skies” and “Supper’s Ready.” All of the other tracks (with the exception of “Time Table”) are just as strong.
Neil Young, Harvest — I’m not even that big a Neil Young fan, and this album is a must-own.
Deep Purple, Machine Head — Yeah yeah, “Smoke on the Water” and all that. Thing is, even without that song Machine Head is a stone cold classic. “Highway Star” is one of the few songs about car racing that is every bit as furious musically as it is lyrically. It’s all singer Ian Gillan can do throughout Machine Head to match the sheer intensity of Blackmore, Lord, Glover, and Paice. The album ends with “Space Truckin’,” which sounds like a stupid title but in fact has the riffage and groove to stomp your face into the mud and have you asking for more.
Stevie Wonder, Music of My Mind — God bless Stevie Wonder. The man is a national treasure and this isn’t even his best album of the decade. But listen to “I Love Every Little Thing About You” or “Happier Than the Morning Sun” and tell me you’ve heard better. It boggles the mind how effortless this man’s gift seemed to flow forth.
Todd Rundgren, Something/Anything? — Come big or don’t come at all was Runt’s motto I guess. This is a double LP, and Rundgren sang and played every instrument on the first three sides. You could stop after the pop perfection of the opening cut, “I Saw the Light,” but you won’t want to.
Seals & Crofts, Summer Breeze — Before I knew that soft rock was supposed to be a bad thing, I knew that I loved this record. This record sports the greatest two-part harmonies of the decade outside Simon & Garfunkel. But as an added bonus, the entire record shines from start to finish. Behold — “Hummingbird.”
Stevie Wonder, Talking Book — OK, this is just sick. Most artists would kill to produce a pair of albums as good as this and Music of My Mind during their lifetimes. Stevland Morris went ahead and did it in one year. Even on the grittier numbers Wonder exudes a joy that is more contagious than Ebola.
Frank Zappa, The Grand Wazoo & Waka/Jawaka — Yes it’s Zappa, so of course there’s going to be lots of weirdness here. But he tones it down a bit and focuses on the compositions themselves, and if you can make it through to the other side you will be a changed person.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Trilogy — Look, you either appreciate ELP for their pretensions or you hate them. This album will not change your mind either way. But understand that this was the Golden Age of Progressive Rock, so placing the synth-driven beauty and intensity of “Trilogy” next to an adaptation of Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo” was just par for the course. The fact that they pull it off with such aplomb is what makes this a great record.
Black Sabbath, Vol 4 — This is the album that got me into Sabbath. They stretched out a bit here and started using the studio as an instrument, and it mostly worked. “Wheels of Confusion” plods and pounds, while “Supernaut” chugs and grooves. It all ends with the pulverizing “Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes,” and the whole thing is a nearly perfect metal album. I’d say perfect, but I can’t hang with “Changes” most of the time.
Misc. 1972 songs that I love:
- Argent, “Hold Your Head Up”
- Lou Reed, “Walk on the Wild Side”
- Paul Simon, “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard”
- Pink Floyd, “Free Four”
- America, “A Horse With No Name”
- The Edgar Winter Group, “Frankenstein”
- Eagles, “Witchy Woman”
- David Bowie, “Suffragette City”
- The Doobie Brothers, “Listen to the Music”
- Big Star, “Don’t Lie to Me”
- James Brown, “Get on the Good Foot”
- The Temptations, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”