In Late 1972

I wrote the other week about the autumn of 1972 and the feeling of being rootless as I neared the end of the fall quarter of my second year of college. In that post, I used Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” as a touchstone, noting that whenever I heard it, I figuratively winced as it reminded me of a married student’s not-so-subtle interest in me.

But where did I hear it? I wasn’t listening much to Top 40 radio anymore, tuning the radio in my room to either KVSC-FM, the St. Cloud State station (for which I was still doing some odd jobs and sports reports) or WCCO in the Twin Cities for the games of the Minnesota North Stars. I was spending some of my down time between classes in the snack bar at Atwood, but not in the area where the jukebox was located, so that wasn’t the source.

But I heard it somewhere, often enough in my car or in the background of daily student life that it stuck with me as it made its way to No. 1. And it’s one of two records from the Billboard Top Ten from forty-two years ago today that has any kind of resonance for me:

“I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy
“Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by the Temptations
“If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
“I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash
“You Ought To Be With Me” by Al Green
“Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul
“It Never Rains In Southern California” by Albert Hammond
“Ventura Highway” by America
“Clair” by Gilbert O’Sullivan
“I’m Stone In Love With You” by the Stylistics

The other record in that Top Ten that has any kind of echoes for me is “I Am Woman,” which I do recall hearing from behind numerous closed dorm room doors on my very occasional visits to young women that autumn and winter. Still, if I were making a playlist, I’d drop it, and I’d also trim “Clair” and the Albert Hammond record. The other seven records are good ones, for the most part, but they’re just records; they don’t mean much to me.

So, if I wasn’t listening to much Top 40 that autumn, what was I listening to, and where? Well, as I said, KVSC was on the top of my radio list. But what I recall most often about music from that season is listening to albums in the basement rec room.

It’s actually kind of a lonely memory. I see myself sitting at the table in the rec room, playing a table-top football game developed by Sports Illustrated with three or four LPs stacked on the stereo across the room. I wasn’t spending as much time with Rick, who was a senior in high school that year, and Rob was off in Colorado. After having a pretty vibrant social life during my freshman year, I found myself on my own as autumn was ending and winter stood just off-stage.

So what were the records on the stereo? Well, having completed my collection of the Beatles’ albums that summer, I was  trying to catch up on everything else, and as part of a brief membership in a record club, I’d picked up some earlier releases – the Moody Blues’ In Search Of The Lost Chord, Buffalo Springfield’s Retrospective and the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers – and Mountain’s 1972 release, The Road Goes Ever On: Mountain Live. Those were in frequent rotation that autumn (along with the Beatles collection and albums by Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton that I’d added earlier that year).

I liked all four of the new albums, the Moody Blues’ LP a little less than the others. My favorite was likely Sticky Fingers. I loved “Brown Sugar” (which, of course, I knew from its climb to No. 1 in the spring of 1971) and “Wild Horses,” and I loved the groove in “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” with its sinuous saxophone solo by the recently departed Bobby Keys (R.I.P.). I enjoyed the Buffalo Springfield collection, especially the luminous “On The Way Home.”

But the track I recall most of all from those evenings in the rec room was the first long track in which I ever lost myself: the side-long “Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain. Later on, I would learn to love other long jams – “Mountain Jam” by the Allman Brothers Band comes to mind – but Mountain’s seventeen-minute stretching of the title tune from the group’s 1971 album was the first, and that gives it a special place for me.

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