Homecoming by America

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Homecoming by AmericaAmerica‘s second studio album, Homecoming, showcases the trio hitting their folk-rock stride with a slight nod to some diversified musical sub-genres. Released in late 1972, this album features group added richer instrumentation, particularly with more pronounced guitar and keyboard layers to top off the acoustic guitar-based compositions. Lyrically and thematically, the songs build on America’s penchant for yearning and wanderlust.

The group was formed in London by vocalists and composers Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Buckley and Dan Peek, who chose the name because they all had American fathers. They got some plum gigs opening for the likes of Pink Floyd, The Who and Elton John, which led to a brief contract with UK-based Kinney Records before they signed to Warner Bros. Their self-titled debut was released in 1971 and the lead single “Desert Song”, eventually re-titled “A Horse with No Name”, became a minor hit locally but a much larger hit worldwide.

With this success, the trio relocated to Los Angeles and opted to self-produce the second album, Homecoming. The recording was delayed a bit due to an arm injury by Peek, but once it got rolling the trio enlisted Joe Osborn on bass and Hal Blaine on drums to round out the group arrangement for this album.


Homecoming by America
Released: November 15, 1972 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: America
Recorded: The Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1972
Side One Side Two
Ventura Highway
To Each His Own
Don’t Cross the River
Moon Song
Only in Your Heart
Till the Sun Comes Up Again
Cornwall Blank
Head and Heart
California Revisited
Saturn Nights
Primary Musicians
Dewey Bunnell – Guitars, Vocals
Dan Peek – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Gerry Buckley – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Joe Osborn – Bass
Hal Blaine – Drums, Percussion

The album commences with its most popular and indelible track, “Ventura Highway”. This is a unique classic with a fine, distinct and optimistic vibe and rhythm. It was written by Bunnell and features poetic lyrics inspired by a family trip through Southern California a decade earlier. Musically, Beckley and Peek provide the distinct harmonized guitars throughout, which helped elevate the song to a Top Ten hit in the US.

Beckley’s “To Each His Own” is a sweet, rotational piano ballad with some harmonized vocals in the chorus, while Peek’s Top 40 hit “Don’t Cross the River” has a very county/rock feel which seems to parallel the sound on the Eagles’ debut album, also released in 1972. The compositional roundabout returns to Bunnell with “Moon Song”, an asymmetrical tune which migrates from pure folk to an electric coda featuring a fine guitar lead by Peek. “Only In Your Heart” complete the original first side of the album as a choppy piano with smooth vocals by Beckley.

America

“Till the Sun Comes Up Again” returns to the soft folk/rock for which America is best known as an acoustic tune with a slight arrangement in verses and harmonized vocals and good rhythms during choruses. “Cornwall Blank” branches out towards a Southern / Allman Brothers Band feel with a darker feel with much reverb and layers of electric guitars while the album’s only cover song, “Head and Heart” written by John Martyn, includes a slightly funky electric piano. The aptly titled “California Revisited” acts as a late album counter-point to “Ventura Highway” featuring early seventies, moving soft folk sound with heavy harmonies. The album concludes with Peek’s “Saturn Nights”, features soft piano and deep harmonies, eventually warming up with fine rhythms and more direct melodies.

Homecoming reached the Top 10 on the Pop Albums charts and helped propel America towards ever greater success throughout the decade of the 1970s.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

 

Close to the Edge by Yes

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Close to the Edge by YesThe group Yes reached their progressive pinnacle with the 1972 album Close to the Edge. Containing just three extended tracks, the album became Yes’s greatest commercial success to date, reaching the Top 5 on both the US and UK album charts. However, this success did not come without cost as the complex arrangements and stressful studio situation ultimately led to the departure of drummer Bill Bruford.

Following the success of the group’s fourth LP, Fragile, Yes went on an extensive tour. In early 1972, they recorded a cover of Paul Simon’s “America” for an Atlantic Records compilation album and by the Spring of that year, they were back at Advision Studios in London with audio engineer and co-producer Eddy Offord.

None of the tracks on this album were fully written prior to entering the studio and there were several instances where the arrangements had gotten so complex that the band members forgot where they left off the previous day. Offord had worked with Yes on tour and tried to replicate their live energy by building a large stage in the studio. However the arduous process took its toll, especially on Bruford and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who felt like “innocent bystanders” to the thematic vision of the record.


Close to the Edge by Yes
Released: September 13, 1972 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Eddy Offord & Yes
Recorded: Advision Studio, London, February–July 1972
Side One Side Two
Close to the Edge And You and I
Siberian Khatru
Group Musicians
Jon Anderson – Lead Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Rick Wakeman – Keyboardss
Chris Squire – Bass, Vocals
Bill Bruford – Drums, Percussion

Close to the Edge opens with the ambient noise of nature and a world at ease before this vibe is quickly demolished by a piercing, psychedelic guitar lead by Steve Howe, which is impressive technically and interesting in its style. In contrast are Bruford’s rhythms and a punchy baseline by Chris Squire, which make for a tension-filled listen at first, until the song breaks around the three minute mark with a more melodic and atmospheric guitar lead that shepherds the listener into the catchy heart of this 18-minute title track. Composed by Howe and lead vocalist Jon Anderson, the vastly differing textures and moods are taped together in an atmospheric dream-like presentation, with funk based guitar riffs giving way to a hymn-like section and church organ solo before the main theme is reprised (albeit with differing instrumental arrangement) to close out the track.

The album’s original second side, features extended tracks clocking in at ten and nine minutes respectively. “And You and I” is a brilliant suite which offers listeners a completely different feel than that of the side-long title track. It opens with a beautiful, chime-filled acoustic guitar piece by Howe, somber in tone, but quickly picked up by a strong backing rhythm. Through its four distinct sections, the song transitions from folk to rock to a spacey, atmospheric piece with Wakeman’s synths, Squire’s pointed bass, and Howe’s guitars playing hand-in-hand. Eventually the song wraps brilliantly by returning to its folksy roots but with a differing rhythm to give the whole experience a forward motion.

Yes, 1972

The closing “Siberian Khatru” is the most straight-forward and, perhaps, the the easiest listen on the album. It features Yes’s unique combination of funk bass with more beautifully prominent guitar work, which really drives the song through from beginning to end. To achieve the unique sound of Howe’s guitar, Offord used two microphones, one stationary and a second swinging around to replicate a “Doppler effect”.

Bruford left to join King Crimson following the album’s completion and was replaced by Alan White, formerly of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, for the the subsequent tour and albums in the immediate future. Impressed with the commercial and critical success of Close to the Edge, Atlantic Records owner Ahmet Ertegun signed the band to a new five-year contract, which carried Yes through the rest of the decade of the 1970s.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

 

Chicago V

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Chicago VContinuing an incredible run of musical output and commercial success, Chicago released their fifth overall album in a 39 month span with 1972’s Chicago V. The fourth studio album by the seven-piece ensemble, this release is notable for actually being the first that was of standard, single-LP length. Keyboardist Robert Lamm stepped to the forefront more than any single band member on this album, composing eight out of the ten songs on Chicago V.

By the time this record was recorded in the Fall of 1971, Chicago had recorded three successful double-length studio albums – Chicago Transit Authority in 1969, Chicago II in 1970, and Chicago III in January 1971. The group had also toured almost continuously during these years, which spawned their fourth release, Chicago at Carnegie Hall late in 1971.

Chicago V was recorded in New York City in just over a week with producer James William Guercio, who had produced each of Chicago’s albums to date. This one would be the most successful yet, reaching the top of the charts where it spent a total of nine weeks as well as achieving longstanding regard as one of Chicago’s finest albums ever.


Chicago V by Chicago
Released: July 10, 1972 (Columbia)
Produced by: James William Guercio
Recorded: 52nd Street Studios, New York, September 1971
Side One Side Two
A Hit by Varèse
All Is Well
Now That You’ve Gone
Dialogue (Part I)
Dialogue (Part II)
While the City Sleeps
Saturday In the Park
State of the Union
Goodbye
Alma Mater
Group Musicians
Terry Kath – Guitars, Vocals
Robert Lamm – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Peter Cetera – Bass, Vocals
Lee Loughnane – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Vocals
James Pankow – Trombone, Brass Arrangements, Vocals
Walter Parazaider – Saxophones, Flute, Vocals
Danny Seraphine – Drums, Percussion

“A Hit by Varèse” starts things off as a tribute to French-American composer Edgard Varèse, who was a huge influence on Lamm and known to experiment with new musical technology early in the 20th century. This track works in that spirit with some “free form” distorted guitar by Terry Kath in the intro along with a jazzy beat accented by horns in the verses and a cool sax trade-off lead by Walter Parazaider later on. “All Is Well” follows as a more standard pop “break up” song by Lamm, while trombonist James Pankow offers his sole composition with “Now That You’ve Gone”, a track ushered in by the rolling drums of Danny Seraphine and reaching a nice blend of funk and soul along with Chicago’s already diverse sound.

Finishing off the original first side is Lamm’s two part suite “Dialogue”. In Part I, the song’s lyrics are a musical dialogue between lead singers Kath and bassist Peter Cetera, while Part II features a repeated groove along with a chorus hook sung by multiple band members. Side two begins with the tension-filled, horn-led, politically-charged “While the City Sleeps”, which later features an antagonistic guitar lead by Kath.

Chicago in 1972
Following the stark side opener comes the refreshing contrast of “Saturday in the Park”, a bright celebration of a summer day. Lamm was inspired to write the song after walking through New York City’s Central on the Fourth of July, 1971 (actually a Sunday) and he immediately documented the action of various musicians, merchants and passers-by. The indelible piano along with melodic vocal duet of Lamm and Cetera, helped propel this song to #1 for the band. The next two tracks, the funky “State of the Union” and the cool, Latin-influenced “Goodbye”, each feature Cetera taking solo lead vocals, something he would do much more regularly in later years. The album concludes with Kath’s somber “Alma Mater”, a piano and acoustic guitar driven track with rich harmonies that  give it a Gospel feel.

Through the mid 1970s, Chicago continued to release successful albums enumerated by Roman numerals (Chicago VI in 1973, Chicago VII in 1974, etc…), ultimately becoming the the top US singles charting group of the decade according to Billboard magazine.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Argus by Wishbone Ash

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Argus by Wishbone AshArgus is the most commercially successful album for Wishbone Ash and is considered by many to be their high-water mark musically. This third album by the British rock quartet features a medieval-themed lyrical concept which is complemented by a musical blend of heavy blues, folk, and progressive hard rock. Further, with dual lead guitarists Andy Powell and Ted Turner, this album was one of the first to employ the harmonized lead guitars method which would later become popular among hard rock groups.

Wishbone Ash was formed as a trio in 1969 in Torquay, England by bassist Martin Turner (no relation to Ted) and drummer Steve Upton. When the original guitarist departed the group, they had a hard time deciding between the final two competing candidates, and ultimately they hired both Powell and Ted Turner to become a four-piece rock band. In 1970, the band landed on a tour opening for Deep Purple, whose guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore was impressed with their sound and helped the band sign a record deal with Decca/MCA Records. Both the albums Wishbone Ash in late 1970 and Pilgrimage 1971 received favorable reviews but less than favorable sales.

For the recording of this third album, producer Derek Lawrence teamed with Deep Purple’s engineer (and future big-time producer) Martin Birch at De Lane Lea studios in Wembley, which had just installed a state-of-the-art 16-track desk console. The album was recorded in less than a month in early 1972.


Argus by Wishbone Ash
Released: April 28, 1972 (Decca)
Produced by: Derek Lawrence
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, London, January 1972
Side One Side Two
Time Wa
Sometime World
Blowin’ Free
The King Will Come
Leaf and Stream
Warrior
Throw Down the Sword
Group Musicians
Martin Turner – Bass, Vocals
Andy Powell – Guitars, Vocals
Ted Turner – Guitars, Vocals
Steve Upton – Drums, Percussion

 

While the songs on Argus are solid throughout, the best material is positioned on the original first side of the record. “Time Was” is a nearly ten-minute epic which starts with a long picked, acoustic folk section, building the tension nicely before the full band arrangement finally kicks in at around the 3:00 mark. From here, the song rocks quite aptly with no fewer than three guitar lead section, weaving between solo and harmonized guitars in between the verses and bridge section.

“Sometime World” features bluesy lead guitars over a solid, rounded bass line through this quasi rock/ballad. Like the opener, this song also takes a turn towards harder rock part way through with an energetic jam and good leads built on Turner’s prog-based bass riff. “Blowin’ Free” begins with a couple of coordinated, choppy riffs which work to create a really cool sonic pattern in the intro. Next, the drum rolls in to a thumping rhythm for the song proper and, working in the opposite direction of the previous two tracks on side one, the song breaks down to a fine, mellow mid-section before returning for a blistering guitar lead and the final verse.

Wishbone Ash

Side two is escorted in with the marching drum and regal-like tones of “The King Will Come”. Unfortunately, the song proper here is much less interesting than the unique intro. “Leaf and Stream” follows as a pure folk song with the lead vocals accompanied by picked electric and a fine bass line. The album winds down with a mini-suite by Martin Turner and Andy Powell. “Warrior” has sparse vocals in between long stretches of atmospheric music before a full rock jam commences. “Throw Down the Sword” offers the perspective after the fight from “Warrior” is over. After a few brief verses, song and album complete with a duo guitar lead, leaving the listener on a high note.

The success of Argus propelled Wishbone Ash into the arena headliners and set the stage for further success through the mid seventies, before frequent lineup shifts chilled their momentum.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock review’s Celebration of 1972 albums.

 

Machine Head by Deep Purple

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Album Of the Year, 1972

Machine Head by Deep PurpleDeep Purple is often overlooked as one of the truly great classic rock acts. This may be because they reigned during the prime of so many other great British rock groups who crowded out this band’s accomplishments. Or, perhaps it is because of the dizzying amount of lineup changes and their various “Mark XX” phases. In any case, this was a top-notch act and they were never better than they were on their 1972 classic Machine Head. This was the sixth overall studio album by the band and the third by their classic “Mark II” lineup, which consisted of Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover, and Ian Paice.

The album is famous on several fronts, but mostly due to circumstances surrounding its planned recording at Montreux Casino in Switzerland, a large arena built in a complex of casinos, restaurants and entertainment facilities. The Casino was slated to be closed for the winter after a final concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers on December 4, 1971, after which Deep Purple would begin recording. However, an audience fired a flare into the roof, sparking a fire which left the Casino in ashes. After an aborted attempt to record in another theatre, the band ended up recording the album in a couple of adjacent hallways and a bathroom at The Grand Hotel, outside Montreux, with the mobile recording unit owned by the Rolling Stones. The whole experience was memorialized in the hit song “Smoke On the Water”.

Musically, the album seems to strike the perfect balance between accessible hard rock and instrumental jams. Just about every track contains multiple leads showcasing the musical talents of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and keyboard virtuoso Jon Lord, while remaining relatively short. upbeat, and melodic. This proved to be a potent formula for 1972 hard rock.


Machine Head by Deep Purple
Released: March 1972 (EMI)
Produced by: Deep Purple
Recorded: Grand Hotel, Montreux, Switzerland, December 1971
Side One Side Two
Highway Star
Maybe I’m a Leo
Pictures of Home
Never Before
Smoke On the Water
Lazy
Space Truckin’
Band Musicians
Ian Gillan – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Jon Lord – Keyboards
Roger Glover – Bass
Ian Paice – Drums

The ultimate car song. “Highway Star” kicks off the album, taking the traditional Beach Boys’ subject matter of cars and girls to a whole new sonic level. The song was born when a curious reporter asked Blackmore to demonstrate how he composed a song. Both Blackmore and Lord have extended lead sections, with Lord’s borrowing heavily from Bach, all above a pulsating rhythm which would influence hard rock and heavy metal for decades to come. Vocalist Ian Gillan shoes off his dynamic singing, which rivaled anyone from the day save Zeppelin’sRobert Plant.

Speaking of Zeppelin, that band’s influence is definitely present in “Maybe I’m a Leo”, a riff-driven tune with deliberately slow but powerful drumming by Ian Paice. The curious thing here is why Gillan was so reserved on this palette which was custom made for high-pitched vocals to soar. Although all songs on Machine Head are officially credited to all five band members, this one was written mostly by bassist Roger Glover. “Pictures of Home” is Deep Purple at their most poignant, a driving rhythm topped by sweeping vocals pushing out deep lyrical motifs, all accented by the distinct, distorted Hammond organ of John Lord. Glover even gets a short bass solo in the middle section before Blackmore warms for lift-off before a surprising false stop and comeback makes the song all the more interesting. Side one concludes with “Never Before”, which has a funky intro that breaks into a pure riff-driven rock verse and a pretty standard hard rock song.

Deep Purple, early 1970s

One of the most popular songs by the band, “Smoke On the Water” also contains one of the most famous riffs in rock history. In fact, the band would play this up in concert by going through a short showcase of the “most famous riffs” before landing on this one as an intro to “Smoke On the Water”. The song intro builds with each member coming in at separate times before breaking into the verse with its literal story telling of the recording of this album. The title of the song was coined by Glover after he dreamed of smoke from casino fire spreading over Lake Geneva. The lyrics pay homage to “Funky Claude”, who is director of the Montreux Jazz Festival, Claude Nobs, who helped some of the audience escape the fire. A sculpture along the lake shore has been erected in Montreaux with the band’s name, song title, and the famous riff in musical notes.

“Lazy” is the most jam-oriented song on the album, with a long four and a half minute instrumental before finally reaching an upbeat blues arrangement during verses and choruses. The very start of the intro organ sounds a lot like the psychedelic Deep Purple of the late 1960s, but breaks into a very bluesy riff complete with boogie-bass by Glover. Naturally, Lord and Blackmore have their own lead sections during the jam and Gillan even adds a harmonica solo between the verses.

The album concludes with the fantastic “Space Truckin'”. The theme and lyrics sound like they describes a Saturday morning cartoon for cool kids and the music has contains choreographed parts during the verses and some frantic riffing during the chorus. But it is Paice who outshines everyone else with his top-notch drumming throughout this song. There is a very slight guitar lead during the bridge which quickly gives way to the percussive potpourri, as if Blackmore knew to step out the way of an oncoming train. The song leaves the listener begging for more as it fades out to finish the album.

Machine Head reached number 1 in the UK and number 7 in the US, remaining on the charts for over two years. More importantly was its influence on several rock bands spanning many genres and years. Deep Purple was at the top of their game but followed up with a weak 1973 effort, Who Do We Think We Are before Gillan left the band (for the first time) later that year.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Thick As a Brick by Jethro Tull

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Thick As a Brick by Jethro TullThick as a Brick may be the album that brought progressive rock to its ultimate end, being one long song that covered both sides of this fifth studio album by Jethro Tull. It was deliberately crafted as an “over the top” concept album, to the point where all the lyrics were credited to a fictional child prodigy named “Gerald Bostick”. These lyrics and music were actually written by the band’s front man, Ian Anderson, and it may have actually been intended as a parody on the direction that prog-rock was headed in 1972 as well as a response to the rock critics who incorrectly labeled the group’s preceding album Aqualung as a “concept” album.

Whether or not this was a parody, Thick As a Brick was Jethro Tull’s first legitimate offering of deep progressive rock, notable for its many musical themes, time signature changes and use of vast instrumentation such as harpsichord, xylophone, saxophone, violin, and a string section. Anderson performed most of these exotic instruments himself including his  signature flute. He was backed by a solid rock outfit led by guitarist Martin Barre, which gave the band a potent contrast and unique and interesting sound. The band performed most of the album on tour for nearly a year.

The original album contained a fictional multiple-paged small-town English newspaper called The St. Cleve Chronicle. Dated 7 January 1972, this “newspaper” includes the entire lyrics to “Thick as a Brick”, which is presented as a poem written by an 8-year-old literary prodigy, Gerald “Little Milton” Bostock, whose disqualification from a poetry contest is the focus of the front page story.


Thick As a Brick by Jethro Tull
Released: March 10, 1972 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Ian Anderson
Recorded: Morgan Studios, London, December, 1971
Side One Side Two
Thick As a Brick (Part I) Thick As a Brick (Part II)
Band Musicians
Ian Anderson – Lead Vocals, Flute, Guitars, Violin, Saxophone
Martin Barre – Guitars
John Evan – Piano, Organ
Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond – Bass, Vocals
Barriemore Barlow – Drums, Percussion

 

This past year with the release of the 40th anniversary edition, the supporting website broke the album (and song) into sections or digital parts. The opening “Really Don’t Mind” (listed as “Thick As a Brick (Edit 1)” on some compilations) is the most popular portion of the album. A mainly acoustic folk song with a complimenting flute part, this opening portion contains the most brilliant lyrics on the album and the three minute edited version is considered one of the all-time classic by the band, having been played on many classic rock radio stations in several nations.

“See There a Son Is Born” has one vocal chant part before breaking into the first real jam of the song, led by the organ lead of John Evan. “The Poet and the Painter” begins with a dramatic march held together drummer Barriemore Barlow before breaking into a more traditional prog-rock song. This also features the first real flourishes of flute by Anderson and an extended funk jam section over the animated bass of Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond. Evan returns in full force with the section labeled “From the Upper Class” (listed as “Thick As a Brick (Edit 4)” on some compilations), which seems to start off unsure but later falls in line to form an upbeat and catchy riff that sticks out as one of the more accessible sections of this extended piece. All players get in tightly on this jam with the main riff seeming to ascend infinitely.

The next sequence may be the finest sequence of the album. “You Curl Your Toes in Fun” returns to the same opening acoustic riff under a different melody before nicely passing into the piano progression and driving bass of “Childhood Heroes”, which also contains the finest vocals on the album by Anderson, closing out the first side and first half of the album.

Side two breaks into “See There a Man Is Born”, a sequel to the second progression of the first side, complete with a couple short yet wild drum solos by Barlow and a couple of false endings with weird reprises. “Clear White Circles” is the third section to use the main acoustic riff offset by some prog-oriented rudimentary sections. The dark folk of “Legends and Believe in the Day” leads into the theatrical slow rock riffs by Barre and elongated vocal patterns by Anderson. Towards the end of this section, the musicians again seem a bit unsure where they will go next before finally catching fire with the certainty of “Tales of Your Life” which contains a flight-of-the-bumblebee type solo with flute, harpsichord and guitar all joining in on the fun. The album gets a little repetitive during this final sequence before finally reaching the concluding verse which returns to the chorus of the very first “Thick As a Brick” theme, bring the album full circle.

In April of this year, Ian Anderson released a sequel album called Thick As a Brick 2: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock?, which focuses on the fictional boy genius author of the original album forty years later. This follow-up album presents five divergent, hypothetical life stories for Bostock and follows the style of the mock-newspaper (The St Cleve Chronicle) of the original Thick As a Brick album, which now is online at www.stcleve.com.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

 

Honky Château by Elton John

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Honky Chateau by Elton JohnAlthough barely three years into his international career, Elton John was already on his fifth major label album by mid 1972 with Honky Château. It featured John’s regular touring band, including new guitarist and background vocalist Davey Johnstone . The album was a transitional one for John as it bridged the singer/songwriter formula of his early career with the more pop/rock oriented music he would produce later. There is also much diversity and depth on this album; spanning from songs with deep, introspective or even cynical tones to those which are light, upbeat, and follow the pattern of “good time” rock and roll.

In 1967, John had established a songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin, when they both answered the same ad. During the late 1960s, the two worked primarily as staff songwriters at various English studios before Elton John’s debut album, Empty Sky in 1969, followed by three more studio albums and a movie soundtrack through 1970 and 1971.

Honky Château is a bit lighter than its immediate predecessor Madman Across the Water and features an eclectic mix of ballads, rockers, blues, and country-rock. It comes at the dawning of Elton John’s creative apex with song-craft skill and dynamic performance.


Honky Chateau by Elton John
Released: May 19, 1972 (Uni)
Produced by: Gus Dudgeon
Recorded: Château d’Hérouville, Hérouville, France, January 1972
Side One Side Two
Honky Cat
Mellow
I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself
Susie (Dramas)
Rocket Man
Salvation
Slave
Amy
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Hercules
Band Musicians
Elton John – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Davey Johnstone – Guitars, Banjo, Mandolin, Vocals
Dee Murray – Bass, Vocals
Nigel Olsson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The fast and spirited “Honky Cat” kicks off the album with a choppy piano tune that contains a touch of banjo by Johnstone playing banjo. This Top Ten pop song is accented by a horn section and is mirrored by the closing “cat” song “Hercules”. “Mellow” is a slow tempo piano ballad which gains a bit of funk during the chorus and contains a very odd yet melodic organ solo by John. The tongue-in-cheek parody “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself” maintains the New Orleans-style atmosphere while dealing with the serious subject of suicide. “Susie (Dramas)” once again returns to the choppy, upbeat piano template but with a cool guitar riff during choruses.

“Rocket Man” is the most famous song from this album, reaching the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic and inspired by a shooting star sighting by Taupin. The lyrics describe an astronaut’s mixed feelings at leaving his family in order to complete his mission. The song really stands out sonically with atmospheric textures, showcasing the talents of producer Gus Dudgeon. The production also features the layered vocal harmonies provided by Johnstone along with bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson.

Side two of the album is filled with mainly pleasant yet unremarkable songs. “Salvation” fits the early 1970s singer/songwriter mold with an almost-Gospel backing choir. “Slave” is driven by a melodic acoustic rhythm with a great topical electric guitar with excellent chorus effect and a definite country feel with some pedal steel and banjo by Johnstone. “Amy” returns to the “honky piano” but with a rhythm that at times seems unsure. But the one song that shines on the second side is “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”, a simply beautiful and elegant ballad that looks at New York City from the street-level view. This emotionally charged song best illustrates the songwriting skills of John/Taupin, using minimal instrumentation but achieving so much melody and movement with just piano, mandolin, and very melodic vocals.

Honky Château became Elton John’s first number one album in the United States and was eventually certified platinum. It also set this artist up for the most successful year of his career in 1973.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

 

Blue Öyster Cult

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Blue Oyster CultThe eponymous debut album by Blue Öyster Cult kicked off the year 1972 as well as the recording career of this Long Island, New York based rock group. Often referred to as “the thinking man’s heavy metal group” or “heavy metal for those who hate heavy metal”, the band drew lyrical influence from a series of literary figures, often in the fields of mystery, science fiction, or horror. Musically, the album drew influence from a variety of artists ranging from Black Sabbath to The Who and a quick listen to the CD bonus tracks of omitted tracks reflects that the band spent significant time exploring a range of styles before settling on their own specific niche.

Blue Öyster Cult was formed as “Soft White Underbelly” in 1967 on the campus of Stony Brook College by students Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer, who both moved on to become professional rock critics by the time of the band’s debut (although, while not official members, both wrote lyrics and Pearlman was a co-producer of this album). Two band members who persisted from the earliest days were guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and drummer Albert Bouchard. The band was briefly signed to Elektra Records under the names “Oaxaca” and “Stalk-Forrest” and recorded many tracks that were never released and the band was soon dropped from that label. Reformed with vocalist Eric Bloom and bassist Joe Bouchard (Albert’s brother), the group settle and the name Blue Öyster Cult and were signed to Columbia Records in late 1971.

The resulting debut is a kind of dark psychedelia with layered guitar riffs and thick and muddy vocals with mysterious meanings. Songs that are tough to decipher adds to the whole mystery surrounding the band which is accented by album art, symbolism, imagery, and their very name.
 


Blue Oyster Cult by Blue Oyster Cult
Released: January, 1972 (Columbia)
Produced by: Murray Krugman, Sandy Pearlman, & David Lucas
Recorded: The Warehouse, New York City, October 1971
Side One Side Two
Transmaniacon MC
I’m on the Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep
Then Came the Last Days of May
Stairway To the Stars
Before the Kiss, a Redcap
Screams
She’s As Beautiful As a Foot
Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll
Workshop of the Telescopes
Redeemed
Group Musicians
Eric Bloom – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Donald Roeser – Guitars, Vocals
Joe Bouchard – Bass, Vocals
Allen Lanier – Guitars, Keyboards
Albert Bouchard – Drums, Vocals

 
The riff-driven “Transmaniacon MC” starts things off and alerts the listener that a very different was being brewed here. Three perfectly synced guitars are contrasted by keyboardist Allen Lanier‘s traditional rock piano. The lyrics explored the infamous murder at the Altamont festival in 1969, although not quite as eloquently as Don McClean had in “American Pie” the previous year. The follow-up, “I’m on the Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep” is far more cryptic lyrically and less entertaining musically.

Roeser’s “Then Came the Last Days of May” speaks of a drug deal gone wrong with the country-soft melody and musical arrangement adding great contrast to the dark lyric, adding a chilling layer to the narrative. “Buck Dharma” also adds some great stinging guitar lines, making this one of the finest tracks on the album. The first side concludes with the cosmic “Stairway to the Stars” followed by the boogie rave “Before the Kiss, a Redcap”.

Blue Oyster Cult in 1972

The most famous song on side two (as well as the entire album) is “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll”, with an intense and powerful that even outdoes Black Sabbath (and that’s saying something for 1972). This punchy song was the band’s first single, and although it made few ripples commercially it became a cult classic (no pun intended) for fans beyond the band’s dedicated followers. Lyrically, it paints a vivid picture of “three thousand guitars” setting a city alight, an anthem on the power of rock and roll which would be watered down and regurgitated by fellow Long Islanders Kiss in the years to follow. The remainder of the side has short and interesting tunes, such as Joe Bouchard’s psychedelic track “Screams” and the eastern-flavored gem “She’s As Beautiful As a Foot”. “Workshop of the Telescopes” and “Redeemed” finish off the album with more lyrics of deep quizzicality accented by layered guitar riffs and strong rhythms.

Although Blue Öyster Cult would put out more popular albums with more radio-friendly songs in the decade that followed, they never again quite captured the hard rock density or originality of their 1972 debut.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Eat a Peach by The Allman Brothers Band

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Eat a Peach by The Allman Brothers BandA unique hybrid album that bridges two eras of The Allman Brothers Band, the 1972 double album Eat a Peach was recorded prior to and in the wake of the tragedy which took the life of lead guitarist Duanne Allman. Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in October 1971 and the album is a tribute to him and his fantastic guitar work. The album consists of live performances recorded at Filmore East in New York City in early 1971 (and not included in that year’s Live From Filmore east along with studio tracks recorded before and after Allman’s death. The original 4-sided vinyl version of Eat a Peach was uniquely laid out with the three tracks recorded post-Duane Allman on side one, live and studio songs featuring Allman on side three and the colossal, 34-minute live “Mountain Jam” split to occupy the entirety of sides two and four (on CD versions of the album this is one complete track #4).

There has been a long-standing rumour that the album’s title (and cover art) referred to the truck involved in Duane’s fatal motorcycle accident. But that was not a peach truck, but a flatbed lumber truck. The album name actually came from a quote by Duane Allman who, when asked what he was doing to help the “revolution” replied;

There ain’t no revolution, it’s evolution, but every time I’m in Georgia I eat a peach for peace.”

This album showcases the band at their peak. It was originally intended to be light and free form but this mission soon tilted towards best showcasing Duane’s talent and paying tribute to him in his absence. In all it makes for one of the most interesting, diverse, and entertaining albums ever.


Eat a Peach by The Allman Brothers Band
Released: February 12, 1972 (Capricorn)
Produced by: Tom Dowd
Recorded: Filmore East, New York & Criteria Studios, Miami, March-December 1971
Record One Record Two
Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More
Les Bres in A Minor
Melissa
Mountain Jam (Part 1)
One Way Out
Trouble No More
Stand Back
Blue Sky
Little Martha
Mountain Jam (Part 2)
Band Musicians
Gregg Allman – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Duane Allman – Guitars
Dickey Betts – Guitars, Vocals
Berry Oakley – Bass
Jai Johnny Johnason & Butch Trucks – Drums, Percussion

“Mountain Jam” may be the longest song ever attempted on a mainstream rock album and (understandably) may be a little hard to sit through for typical rock fans. Still, there is remarkably little repetition is this tune which is credited to all band members. Anchored in solid rock, the tune explores jazz-like improvisation, with guitarist Dicky Betts adding sharp but in-sync accompaniment to Duane Allman’s soaring leads. This track is really where the album should begin as it is chronologically the oldest and its opening notes can actually be heard in the fadeout of At Fillmore East‘s closer “Whipping Post”.

Other songs recorded at the Fillmore include two blues covers. Sonny Boy Williamson’s “One Way Out”, one of the most famous recordings ever by the band. Duane plays call and response licks to his brother Gregg Allman‘s vocals, which is later topped off by a more blazing slide guitar solo by Betts. It may demonstrate the Allmans at their absolute peak as they perform their core blues-rock roadhouse style. Muddy Water’s “Trouble No More” follows with more slide guitar by Duane on slide again in an updated version of a song the band originally recorded for their 1969 debut album.

Greg Allman’s “Stand Back” is the first of the three studio tracks with Duane. More funk-oriented and harder rocking than anything else on the album, with a more typical lyrical theme of scorned love. Dicky Betts “Blue Sky” was a minor radio hit written for his wife (whose Native American name translated to “Blue Sky”). There are some excellent harmonized guitar riffs between the verses and a long lead section of traded riffs between Betts and Duanne Allman during the middle section, all above a pleasant acoustic diddy. “Little Martha” was Duane Allman’s instrumental coda, an acoustic duet piece which ends the modern version of the album. It was the only Allman Brothers track written solely by Duane and was the most recent recorded prior to his death, making it a fitting tribute.

Allman Brothers Band in 1972

After Duane’s death, the shocked band members immediately went separate ways, assuming the group was over. However within a month, they got back together and began planning the format for this album, which included recorded three more tracks to generate enough material for a double album. “Ain’t Wasting Time No More,” was the first track by this “new” band, with Gregg Allman vocalizing both sadness and defiance with the wistful and melancholy lines. This simple but powerful and bluesy pop/rock song Makes a great contrast to the more extended tracks to follow. “Les Brers in A Minor” is a long instrumental composed by Betts, starting with very improvised, Miles Davis-like jam for the first three minutes or so before breaking into a much tighter rock/funk groove led by the bass of Berry Oakley and highlighted by the newer guitar/organ harmonies between Betts and Allman and some wild percussion parts by dual drummers Jai Johnny Johnason & Butch Trucks.

The most haunting and beautiful song on the album is “Melissa”, a sweet and melodic love song featuring somber vocals and acoustic guitar by Gregg Allman and weeping, decayed guitar notes by Betts. The song was actually originally written by Gregg Allman in 1967 and first recorded by his then-group called The 31st of February. A favorite of Duane Allman’s, The Allman Brothers had planned to record it on their debut album but it was never completed. Although Duane does not play on this track it all, it is clear his spirit echoes through every floating note on the beautiful ballad.

With three sides of “old” and one side of “new”, Eat a Peach was both a sad ending and hopeful beginning, and showed the band had great perseverance to carry on. Although the group would not be quite the same without Duane, they did put out some respectable albums in the years after his life was cut tragically short.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Fragile by Yes

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Fragile by YesFragile, the fourth album by Yes is really a bridge between its rock-influenced predecessor, The Yes Album, and the nearly pure prog albums which would follow. The album features four tracks of full band performances, three of which were of eight minutes length or longer interspersed by five short tracks each showcasing an individual member of the band. This approach makes for a very interesting and dynamic mix as some laid back and introspective, individual tracks give way to a much bolder, harder, and more aggressive style of playing by the band as a whole during the full-lineup extended tracks.

The album was recorded in September 1971 and co-produced by Eddy Offord, who worked on most of the band’s earliest material. During the recordings there was a major lineup change, reportedly due to keyboardist Tony Kaye’s refusal to embrace the Moog synthesizer and stick exclusively to the Hammond organ. Kaye was replaced by Rick Wakeman. Often using as many as a dozen keyboards on stage, Wakeman added a bit flair to the band’s performance and completed the picture of their classic lineup.

More than any other album, Fragile is an absolute showcase for bassist Chris Squire, who also happens to be the only person to appear on every Yes album (a band known for constant lineup shifting). Squire may have been the first to truly bring this instrument, which is normally buried in the low end of the mix, to the forefront and in unique and inventive ways. Although the album was released in November 1971 in the UK, it was held over until January 1972 across the Atlantic, because there was still chart momentum for The Yes Album in the states.


Fragile by Yes
Released: January, 1972 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Yes and Eddie Offord
Recorded: Advision Studios, London, September 1971
Side One Side Two
Roundabout
Cans and Brahms
We Have Heaven
South Side of the Sky
Five Per Cent for Nothing
Long Distance Runaround
The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)
Mood For a Day
Heart Of the Sunrise
Band Musicians
Jon Anderson – Lead Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Rick Wakeman – Organ, Synths
Chris Squire – Bass, Vocals
Bill Bruford – Drums, Percussion

The opener “Roundabout” is the ultimate journey song, a musical odyssey which moves from Steve Howe‘s signature, classical guitar intro to a frantic bass-driven riff by Squire to an even more frantic organ solo by Wakeman. The song’s lyrics were written by lead vocalist Jon Anderson and inspired by a long tour ride through Scotland, which alternated between stretches with mountain and lake scenery and traffic-clogged roundabouts.

The middle of side one contains the first two “individual” pieces. “Cans and Brahms” extracts from Brahms’ 4th Symphony in E Minor as arranged and performed by Wakeman. Although a complete left turn from the dynamic opener, it fits in with the larger context of the album. Anderson’s “We Have Heaven” is a much more interesting vocal sound scape by Anderson. Multi-tracked melodies are accompanied only by a simple guitar and drum beat. “South Side of the Sky” closes the side and seems to predate some of the syncopated music of future bands like Devo. The eight minute song contains many musical forays and sound effects, including fine piano by Wakeman and wordless vocal harmonies by Anderson, Howe, and Squire during a unique middle section.

Drummer Bill Bruford launches side two with the frantic, 35 second “Five Per Cent for Nothing”, a wild intro to “Long Distance Runaround”, the most pop-oriented song on the album. The song way be the best example of the band’s tightness as Howe’s bright and economical guitar cutting is counteracted by Squire and Bruford’s simultaneous complex rhythms, without a single moment of confusion. It is like holding three individual thoughts concurrently and not having any get muddled in the slightest. Contrarily, the verse and chorus sections contain Anderson’s simple and melodic vocals over the slow rock rhythm of Wakeman’s choppy keyboard. The song segues into “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)”, Squire’s official individual showcase, although there is certainly a case that he shines on several other tracks.

“Mood For a Day” is a solo guitar piece by Howe, a Spanish-flavored flamenco centerpiece, which sounds at times like a cross between a warm-up exercise and a heartfelt recital. It is still entertaining enough to keep listeners on their toes and showcases Howe’s many styles. “Heart of the Sunrise” starts with Squire and Bruford offering one last, intense riff sequence to launch the closer. The longest track on the album, the song is yet another musical journey with lyrics about being lost in a city. This final track gives the album an overall sense of symmetry by closing in the same general neighborhood where it opened.

Fragile propelled Yes in popularity from a small but dedicated following to international stardom. The album reached number 4 in the U.S. and stayed on the charts for nearly a year, the band’s biggest ever commercial success. Yes would take a sharp turn towards pure progressive rock on their next three albums through the mid 1970s.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.