As 1972 Began . . .

Before the New Year’s holiday intervened, I’d been looking at some Billboard charts from the close of 1971, and I meant to get around to looking at the album chart but never did. So, we’ll turn the corner and look at the top fifteen albums on the first Billboard 200 of 1972:

Music by Carole King
Led Zeppelin (I)
American Pie by Don McLean
Chicago at Carnegie Hall
E Pluribus Funk
by Grand Funk Railroad
There’s A Riot Goin’ On by Sly & The Family Stone
Teaser & The Firecat by Cat Stevens
Tapestry by Carole King
All In The Family (Cast Recording)
Black Moses by Isaac Hayes
Wild Life by Wings
Santana
Madman Across The Water
by Elton John
Concert for Bangla Desh by George Harrison & Friends
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 2

A lot of fine stuff there, most of which I know now, with a few exceptions: I doubt I’ve heard more than “Those Were The Days” from the All In The Family album, I’ve heard only bits and pieces of Wild Life for some reason, I’ve heard Black Moses several times (at least) but I don’t think I’ve ever really listened to it, and I doubt that I’ve heard anything at all from E Pluribus Funk.

And a couple more: I heard most of the Chicago Carnegie Hall album when it came out and was unimpressed, and I listened to the Sly & The Family Stone album once after I found it used in Wichita in 1990 and never put it on the turntable again, so all I really know is “Family Affair” and – to a lesser degree – “(You Caught Me) Smilin’.”

But those are my limitations, and – with the exception of the All In The Family album – that top fifteen at the start of 1972 is, I think, a varied and accurate portrait of where rock, pop and soul were at the time. Even the Dylan retrospective is kind of a signpost forward by way of its inclusion of a few things that had never been widely heard (or heard at all) from Dylan himself before: “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “I Shall Be Released,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Down In The Flood,” along with the recent single “Watching The River Flow.”

The ones that spoke to me at the time are likely predictable: I heard a lot of the albums by King, McLean, Dylan, Harrison et al., Stevens and John although I didn’t own all of them until years later. I caught up to Santana and Zepp in the years to come.

And if I had to choose one of them right now to represent the beginning days of 1972 – time spent hanging around the student radio station, a few tentative dates, a few keggers, numerous spontaneous discussions of the issues of the day (Viet Nam, the draft, girls, music and more) sometimes lasting past midnight – I’d have a very hard time.

Three of them – Tapestry, Bangla Desh and the Dylan anthology – are too monumental to be pinned to any season of one year. (In any case, Tapestry would belong to two seasons – the summer and early autumn of 1971.) Two of those fifteen albums – Music and Teaser & The Firecat – were good but still lesser sequels to classic albums, Tapestry and Tea For The Tillerman. And speaking of monuments, the title track of American Pie overshadows everything else – including some astoundingly good tracks – on McLean’s album.

So I guess I’d land on Elton John’s Madman Across The Water and the track “Levon,” a surreal tale told so matter-of-factly that it seems entirely plausible. And as I write that, I think to myself that the words “a surreal tale told so matter-of-factly that it seems entirely plausible” could easily sum up the entire first half of the 1970s from Kent State through Watergate and the fall of Saigon and on to the capture of Patty Hearst.

Here’s Elton John’s “Levon.”

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