My 1972 Mix Tape for #AudioYearbook project
Welcome back to New Directions In Music newsletter by Marshall Bowden. There are a few changes coming to the newsletter, and the first is that, going forward I will publish the free newsletter every on Fridays. I'll also be posting for paid subscribers on a schedule that is still to be determined.
This week I am writing about my participation in Jim Bricker's (@jbbricker) #AudioYearbook on Twitter and Spotify. Essentially, a bunch of musicians, music writers, and music enthusiasts signed up to each handle one year between 1955 and 2020. The playlist should be limited to 90 minutes (cassette length ) or 80 minutes representing a typical CD-R. I want to thank Jim for putting this whole thing together, and to all the folks who made these playlists, you gave me a lot to listen to and be inspired by as I look into more music to write about.
Posting began in May, and now we are up to the 1970s and today I publish 1972 alongside lists being published for 1971, 1973, and 1974. I'm very excited to post my list today and thought I would let newsletter readers know about this incredible treasure trove of music being curated this month on Spotify. I also thought I'd publish some notes here to help explain my choices and provide some interesting program notes for you all.
Definitely check out these playlists at #AudioYearbook for links to the individual playlists.
This is a link to Jim's master playlist of all the submitted mixes from each year covering 1955-2020:
Notes for my #AudioYearbook mixtape format playlist.
I published two lists representing Side A and Side B of a 90 minute cassette tape.
Beginning with Side A, for which the working title was The Bowieverse, with a clear eye towards the glam and glitter aspect of rock music at the time. A combination of The Beatles' Abbey Road, T-Rex's Bolan boogie, and good old fashioned Southern English rock and roll, it was more about a feeling and though there was glitter and platform boots, there was a grunginess to the sound that made it dirty ass rock and roll.
So we start with Ziggy, a seismic event in 1972, and I chose "Hang on To Yourself" because of its energy and the way it emphasizes the band as a group both in music and lyrics ('You're the blessed/We're the Spiders From Mars'). And the trick of playing with identity that was part and parcel of the rock scene as well as many normal peoples' lives--"If you think we're gonna make it/Better hang on to yourself."
Chris Hodge was signed to Apple Records on the encouragement of Ringo Starr, who was interested in the glam rock movement and helped produce a documentary about it which focused on T-Rex and Marc Bolan as well as featuring Hodge, who was unsigned at the time. It's a pretty decent track that kind of encapsulates a feeling of a specific moment in rock that felt very special if you were there at the time.
Lou Reed, of course, had a very different glam in mind--the glam of the city and the glam of gay life in NYC circa '72. Lou never made another album quite like Transformer, and the album's opening track, 'Vicious' is a punky, butch assault that features Spider From Mars Mick Ronson shredding it. Bowie and Ronson co-produced Transformer, of course, and Bowie gave the anthem of the glam movement to Mott the Hoople after they rejected 'Suffragette City.' What they got was a lot more interesting with that glittery façade peeled back to reveal the grime beneath: 'Freddy’s got spots from ripping off the) stars from his face/Funky little boat race (which I always misheard as “Bo Grace’ I've always rememberd Robert Christgau's comments on this record in Any Old Way You Choose It. Read it. It's available online. This is one of the books that powered my determination to listen to music and write about it as a way of life.
"Metal Guru" is an obvious choice. I still remember television ads for The Slider that featured the album cover and though I was intrigued, I determined for some reason that T Rex was not for me. But that changed later.
The first Roxy Music album--wow. 'Virginia Plain' was a breakthrough, combining decadent, glamourous elements with kitschy tawdriness and a healthy dose of whacked out synthesizer courtesy of Brian Eno. Then you have the wailing Andy Mackay and the buzzing guitar of Phil Manzanera. Putting Bryan Ferry's lugubrious master of ceremonies on top of all this is really gilding the lily, and I can still get giddy listening to this track LOUD, filling the room with its beautiful madness.
Why is Harry Nilsson's "Spaceman" here? It's a little difficult to say. It was there in an earlier iteration of the mix and it just stayed there, and it really seemed to fit. It's spaceman theme was very topical in '72, and the arrangement...it's not glam but it has a certain vibe. .
On a nerd level, Edgar Winter was the first rock musician to strap on a keyboard for mobility and to give him the same profile as a guitarist. With Winter on the electronics and Ronnie Montrose on guitar plus a hot rhythm section, the instrumental blew a hole in the charts as well as pioneering the fusion of hard rock and funk. Produced by Rick Derringer, it's not a glam record on the face of it, but the album cover featured a naked, androgynous photo of Winter that said otherwise.
'Frankenstein' could only be followed by Blue Oyster Cult's "Before the Kiss, A Redcap", a cut from their debut album that was a popular feature of their live shows. Cult's producer, Sandy Perlman, gave them a fantastic sound, and he later produced the second Clash album, Give 'Em Enough Rope, which alternates with London Calling as my favorite Clash record. This track, a song about taking barbituates in a club via a sexy kiss, was a heady mix of hard rock with goth tendencies, one the world would be grooving to only a couple of short years later. Writing about Alice Cooper, whose "School's Out" is also included on this side, Christgau suggested that Cooper's stage show and records suggested that kids were death tripping. BOC mined that same arena even more seductively.
Slade's "Goodbye T'Jane" is supposedly about a hippie chick in San Francisco who interviewed the group and delivered them a kick with her platform boots. I mean, maybe so, but I've always read this song as being a gender bending track along with Bowie's "Queen Bitch" or some of Bolan's work. I mean, she's 'painted up like a fancy young man'--what does that mean? Either way, there's a twist. And the line "She's a queen/You know what I mean/Such a queen"...it seems unlikely to be so innocent given the tenor of the early '70s. The band's gritty weird outfits presage the New York Dolls, but their songs are all southern British rock boogie and football cheers.
Silverhead were a glam group fronted by actor/musician Michael Des Barres, whose first credited film was a supporting role in To Sir, With Love. Nigel Harrison, the bassist, went on to play with Blondie during their successful run. Des Barres was the decadent master of ceremonies, giving off the vibe of young Rod Stewart crossed with--who else--Marc Bolan. They were all set to be the new thing, the new Spiders from Mars, the Nazz, but for whatever reason it never happened. "Long Legged Lisa" from their debut is a solid blues cabaret romp, the sort of cheeky number Rod and Ronnie Wood perfected in their time with Faces. But you have to hand it to Des Barres, he played the part to the hilt.
Side A comes to a close with Apollo 100’s "Joy" a by the numbers electronic rendition of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire", a melody that became popular in the the late sixties and into the seventies. The record also plays on the popularity of Wendy Carlos' Switched on Bach even though it's not a synthesizer number at all, having more in common with the coming prog movement and musicians like Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman. But it's a great record somehow, and the awesome psychedelic guitar break is by Vic Flick, who was a session player who came up under the tutelage of George Martin. Flick played an instrumental on the film soundtrack to A Hard Day's Night and played the guitar riff on The James Bond Theme. His twelve string guitar graces the Peter and Gordon recording of "A World Without Love." Great stuff that brings this vibe from 1972 to an end.
Side B, which features a singer/songwriter vibe, has the working title The Taylorverse, which refers not to Taylor Swift but to James Taylor, who also cut his first record for Apple Records. "Back on the Street" comes from Taylor's fourth album, One Man Dog, and was actually written by Danny Kortchmar, who also worked with Carole King and played on Taylor's Sweet Baby James album. It's a good song for Taylor, but the emphasis in the lyric of the narrator getting back on his feet again/gotta get back out on the street again that reminds us of Taylor's issues with addiction early in his career. Joni Mitchell's "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" is about an addict, and it is widely believed to be about Taylor. Mitchell released the song on her 'But 72 album For the Roses, a heady meditation on her well earned but constraining fame and the role of the artist in the marketplace. And romance, of course, which is always a subtext with Mitchell.
Danny Kortchmar pops up again on Carole King's "Been to Canaan" from her album Rhymes and Reason, only two albums down the line from Tapestry. Besides being a typically gorgeous King song, the album's closer is about getting back to somewhere we were before, 'Back to the Garden', and that's a theme throughout this side of music. Another thing is that there were plenty of singer/songwriters, some of them bigger than those I've included, who just wouldn't fit into this mix, try as I might. Elton John, for example.
"Rock Me On The Water" kills two birds with one stone--it invokes Linda Ronstadt, whose version was recorded in '72 and highlights her country/folk voice, and of course it was written and recorded by Jackson Browne. One of those songs with a gospel bent that I find soothing and sweet.
Maybe including Peter Frampton's "Winds of Change" seems a bit out of character for this side of the mix, but it fits both in its sound, it's overall lyrical content, and Frampton was a songwriter, after all. But while "Winds of Change" is a little short on depth it is long on vibe, and four years later it was still on his set list for Frampton Comes Alive.
By the time of "Sitting" and the album Catch Bull At Four, Cat Stevens was moving from being a folky singer/songwriter to writing material that was more arranged and featured larger backing groups. "Sitting" is about meditation, and it is a typically searching and uncompromising Stevens lyric, and I love the way he fairly spits out the line"You're gonna wind up where you started from."
Next year Jim Croce's debut album You Don't Mess Around With Jim will mark its 50th anniversary and I have always had a weak spot for this record. I bought it when it came out and it really resonated with me, as did Croce's subsequent work. I listened to a lot of the singer/songwriters and I enjoyed their work, but Jim was special, and "New York's Not My Home" is one of my favorite songs of his. It just captures that desolate feeling of being somewhere and realizing that it's just not where you belong. Plus there's some gorgeous acoustic guitar work by Maury Muehleisen, Croce's Danny Kortchmar.
So many of these songwriters had a guitar guy that helped make their songs shine with certain arrangements or guitar riffs. Bread's David Gates was one of the new breed of songwriter and he pays tribute to the heroes of the guitar with his hit song "Guitar Man." The wah-wah guitar solo on the record was played by Wrecking Crew member Larry Knetchel.
You can't talk about songwriters in the early seventies without talking about Van Morrison. His '72 release was St. Dominic's Preview and its title track harkened back to his landmark stream of consciousness on Astral Weeks as well foreshadowing his work on Veedon Fleece.
Lowell George and Little Feat recorded his song "Sailin' Shoes" in '72, but so did Van Dyke Parks, on Discover America, his first recording since the ill fated Beach Boys project Smile and the cult favorite Song Cycle, which nonetheless sold poorly. The record didn't feature songs written by Parks, but rather covers of tunes by early calypso artists and composers. It's a cover that shows how self-aware popular culture was by this time, a factor that continued well into the decade.
I ended with another new breed of singer/songwriter that arrived on the scene: Donald Fagen and Walter Becker and a band called Steely Dan. On their debut Can't Buy A Thrill, they were very much a band but the songwriting duo at their core was already disillusioned and jaded, as much of the country was by this time. “Midnight Cruiser” has the perfect combination of melancholy nostalgia and a whiff of despair.
So that's it. I operated from a larger list of songs and it is readily apparent that I have used my space in the mix project to investigate two prominent veins of music in 1972, but they are far from the only ones. There is no soul or funk on this mix, because I couldn't winnow down the contributions of artists like Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Al Green. Nor could I do justice to what was happening in jazz and improvisational music with the release of Miles Davis' On The Corner and major releases by Weather Report, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Don Cherry, Freddie Hubbard, and others. This will generate one or two additional playlists that I will make available shortly.
In the meantime I include a larger working playlist I was keeping entitled "1972 Project."
Hope you enjoy all the great music. See you next week!