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.

 

Paul Simon

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Paul Simon 1972 debut albumStaking his own claim in the musical landscape, Paul Simon began exploring world influences with his 1972 eponymous album. It was his first post Simon and Garfunkel album, and let Simon subtly explorations musical genres from America and around the world. While there is much experimentation, most of the album;s songs have a stripped-down arrangement with a low-key feel, allowing Simon to shine brightly with his truly solo compositions. Paul Simon was actually the second solo album by this artist, as he had recorded and released an album in the U.K. in 1965, which remained unreleased in the U.S until 2005.

Simon was actually teaching songwriting classes at New York University shortly after the split from Garfunkel in 1970. He then traveled to several locations to record demos and tracks for this album. Recordings took place in Kingston, Jamaica, Paris, and New York. Much of these recordings are individual performances with differing levels of production quality, but this serves to make the album all the more interesting. Since the album uses instrumentation so sparingly, the additional riffs and melodies make a greater impact during their short sequences.

The album contained many autobiographical elements lyrically, with several songs making explicit reference to Simon’s marriage to Peggy Harper, while others make more veiled references to Simon’s own adolescence, the place he grew up, and the challenges of the music industry.
 


Paul Simon by Paul Simon
Released: January 14, 1972 (Columbia)
Produced by: Roy Halee & Paul Simon
Recorded: Various Locations, January-March 1971
Side One Side Two
Mother and Child Reunion
Duncan
Everything Put Together Falls Apart
Run That Body Down
Armistice Day
Me and Julio Down By the School Yard
Peace Like a River
Papa Hobo
Hobo’s Blues
Paranoia Blues
Congratulations
Primary Musicians
Paul Simon – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Percussion
Larry Knechtel – Piano, Organ
Hal Blaine – Drums

 
Recorded in Jamaica, “Mother and Child Reunion” may have been the very first mainstream use of reggae, something that would cascade in the years to follow. The song also includes a strong dose of Motown influence, making it a bit more unique that many of its pop successors. The song included a plethora of background musicians who would not appear anywhere else on the album. A sharp musical turn takes place with Celtic influenced folk song “Duncan”. The ringing guitars, banjo, dual flutes, and cheap and distant hi-hats accent this song of travel and discovery with a slightly Dylan-esque in lyrical approach (with flutes replacing harmonica).

I was playing my guitar, lying underneath the stars, just thanking the Lord for my fingers…”

The remainder of side one explores some soft jazz compositions. “Everything Put Together Falls Apart” is the shortest and sparsest song, finger-picked acoustic nearly throughout with just a dash of bluesy piano. “Run That Body Down” is in the same basic genre, with a fuller musical arrangement using the whole spectrum of rock instruments and some surprise musical interludes, including an excellent guitar solo using heavy jazz wah-wah by Jerry Hahn. On “Armistice Day”, Simon really attacks the acoustic guitar with the most base type of musical discovery, almost violently, until the song evens out a bit with an electric guitar overlaid along with some topical horns.

The second side begins with the most popular song from this album, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”. Although upbeat and melodic, this song has some darker undertones about crime and drug use along with some cryptic lyrical puzzles. “Peace Like a River” is a kind of a bluesy folk song with some great arpeggio riffs throughout, and a very non-symmetrical arrangement. “Papa Hobo” is waltz-like with a bluesy acoustic and a distinct big bass harmonica by Charlie McCoy.

The hobo sequence continues with “Hobo’s Blues”, an upbeat, jazzy instrumental feature the violin of Stéphane Grappelli, who also co-wrote the song (the only one on the album not completely written by Simon). “Paranoia Blues” is straight-out acoustic blues with consistent kick-drum and hi-hat by Hal Blaine and lyrics that sum up as an anti-New York screed. The mellow ballad “Congratulations” completes the album with a softer, yet still bluesy acoustic and pleasant electric piano by Larry Knechtel who plays completely solo as the song and album ends.

The juxtaposition of simple, American genres along with some complex and original arrangements makes Paul Simon the first of several gems by this unique composer. You can say what you will about Simon, you can never call him unoriginal.

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

1972 Images

 

The Eagles

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The Eagles debut albumThe Eagles produced an impressive, diverse, and sonically superior debut album in 1972, launching a successful elevation throughout the rest of the decade. The album was produced in London by Glyn Johns and was an immediate commercial and critical success. The album is extraordinarily balanced with all four band members writing and singing lead vocals on several tracks, with a mixture of rock, folk, and country, throughout musically. The sound was forged from the budding country-rock scene in Los Angeles, led by groups such as Poco, adding instruments like banjo and pedal steel guitar to the basic rock arrangement. Leading the way in forging this sound was guitarist Bernie Leadon.

Prior to forming the group, the band members all acted as backup players for singer Linda Ronstadt and all four played on her eponymous album, released in 1972. Leadon, along with bassist Randy Meisner, guitarist Glen Frey, and drummer Don Henley, decided to break off and start their band and were soon signed to the new label Asylum Records. The band’s name was allegedly suggested by Leadon during a peyote trip in the Mohave desert.

Despite their rapid formation and quick recording of this debut, it is amazingly polished and has a remarkable level of pop sensibility. The Eagles spawned three top 40 hit singles, all which remain very popular to this day, while much of the rest of the album contains well-constructed songs with incredible vocal harmonies by all four band members.


The Eagles by The Eagles
Released: June 17, 1972 (Asylum)
Produced by: Glyn Johns
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, February 1972
Side One Side Two
Take It Easy
Witchy Woman
Chug All Night
Most Of Us Are sad
Nightingale
Train Leaves Here This Morning
Take the Devil
Early Bird
Peaceful Easy Feeling
Tryin’
Band Musicians
Glen Frey – Guitars, Keys, Vocals
Bernie Leadon – Guitars, Banjo, Vocals
Randy Meisner – Bass, Guitar, Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Vocals

The album begins with the popular “Take It Easy”, a song written by Frey and fellow L.A. songwriter Jackson Browne. A relatively simple anthem with memorable and clever lyrics, the song possesses a definitive country/rock arrangement accented by Leadon’s frantic banjo in the second half of the tune. There are rich harmonies throughout, establishing another later trademark of the band’s on this first single which peaked at #12 on the charts.

The moody and mysterious “Witchy Woman” follows in great contrast to the opening song. Henley took over vocals on this tune he co-wrote with Leadon, and showcases his fantastic vocal talents for the only time on this album. Leadon adds to the mood with his great guitar on this tune that he began while a member of the band Flying Burrito Brothers at the beginning of the 1970s. The song’s protagonist was inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, and inspiration for many of his female literary characters.

The remainder of the first side contains the only real weak spots on the album. Frey’s “Chug All Night” is pretty much a throwaway song, the worst on the album. The country-waltz “Most of Us Are Sad” was also written by Frey, but sang by Meisner, while “Nightingale” is more upbeat country / folk. This last song on side one is the second contribution by Jackson Browne and has the quintessential early 1970s California sound with more great harmonies during choruses.

Side two is much more interesting. It starts with “Train Leaves Here This Morning”, co-written by Leaden and former Byrd Gene Clark. This is a great, laid back tune, much like Neil Young’s title song to Harvest, but with the added bonus of very rich vocals. The subtle acoustic is accented by calm electric slow riffs, which shows the definite Byrds influence. “Take the Devil” was composed and sang by Meisner and is almost like a dark twin to “Witchy Woman”, although it is clear that Meisner does not have the vocal range of Henley. “Earlybird” gets off to a very unique start with odd percussion and bird whistles. This Leadon tune has a heavy banjo presence throughout (almost as an arpeggio replacement for the bass) along with the inclusion of some wild guitars over top.

“Peaceful Easy Feeling” is a calm acoustic love song composed by L.A, singer/songwriter Jack Tempchin and delivered masterfully by Frey. The country-flavored ballad set in the desert (an image the Eagles ran with on their earliest material) became the third top 40 hit off the album, peaking at #22. The album concludes with Meisner’s upbeat “Tryin” which returns to the genre established on the first side that would one day be deemed “outlaw country”.

The three “hits” from The Eagles album comprised about a third of the 1976 compilation Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, which became the top-selling album of the 20th century. Although this is a fantastic feat, it conversely dampened sales of the Eagles first four studio albums, the best of which was this 1972 debut.

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1972 Images

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

 

Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones

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Exile On Main Street by The Rolling StonesMany esteemed and big-name rock publications have rated Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones as one of the greatest albums of all time (especially the publication which bears the same name as the band). Honestly, this fact may expose the single most egregious display of “group think” in the rock world or at the very least, a floating declaration that has gone unexamined for about 40 years. While the music is legitimate rock throughout, this 1972 double album pales in comparison to its predecessor, 1971’s single LP Sticky Fingers, while maintaining much of the same musical direction. In fact, there is very little new ground broken on Exile On Main Street, which fails to provide much stylistic variation among its four sides and seriously lacks top notch production quality. The album also presents a lack of band integrity, as many sessions featured outside players taking on prominent roles in the recordings.

The album featured material which was written and recorded between 1968 and 1972, with the bulk being done in the basement of a rented a villa called Nellcôte in France, while the band was on “tax exile” from their native England in late 1971. The loose plan was to sleep all day and record all night, but this loose setting and arrangement bred a rash of no-shows throughout the recording process, in which case band members and other players would fill in on instruments they may have not naturally played. Producer Jimmy Miller filled in on drums for a few tracks, while several players filled in on bass for Bill Wyman, who only played on about half of the tracks.

The resulting album is murky and raw, with the vocals of lead singer Mick Jagger often buried in the mix. While this is not terrible in of itself, it grows old over the course of 18 album tracks. Jagger has been critical of the album through the years, stating at the time of its release;

It’s very rock & roll, you know. I didn’t want it to be like that. I’m the more experimental person in the group, you see I like to experiment. Not go over the same thing over and over…everyone knows what their roots are, but you’ve got to explore everywhere…”

Apparently, much of the rock press expressed similar apprehension about the album at the time of release, but these mainstream critics have largely done an about-face and morphed in with the “all time greatest this” or “all time greatest that” party line.


Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones
Released: May 12, 1972 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Various Locations, June 1969–March 1972
Side One Side Two
Rocks Off
Rip This Joint
Shake Your Hips
Casino Boogie
Tumbling Dice
Sweet Virginia
Torn and Frayed
Sweet Black Angel
Loving Cup
Side Three Side Four
Happy
Turd On the Run
Ventilator Blues
I Just Want to See His Face
Let It Loose
All Down the Line
Stop Breaking Down
Shine a Light
Soul Survivor
Group Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Bill Wyman – Bass
Charlie Watts – Drums

Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards wrote the bulk of the material. The first of the four sides may actually be the weakest on the album. It starts with the decent loose jam “Rocks Off”, a sound later echoed by Aerosmith on their album Draw the Line, but then devolves into the very average rockabilly of “Rip This Joint”. Both feature the rock piano of Nicky Hopkins, who had worked with the stones on past projects. The Slim Harpo cover “Shake Your Hips”, brings back a sound reminiscent of the band’s earliest blues material, but by the time we get to “Casino Boogie”, Jagger’s strained vocals start to wear thin on the listener and the album’s flow seems to be nonexistent.

“Tumbling Dice” is probably the most popular song from Exile, with lyrics that tell a story about a gambler. The song was originally slated for Sticky Fingers, and features band manager Ian Stewart on piano and second guitarist Mick Taylor filling in on bass for Wyman.

The second side is probably the best of the four, starting with the country-inspired “Sweet Virginia” where drummer Charlie Watts plays a nice shuffle and a saxophone solo is provided by Bobby Keys. Lyrically, this song is both folksy and frank;

But come on come on down sweet Virginia / come on honey child I beg of you
Come on come on down you got it in you / got to scrape that shit right off your shoes…”

“Torn and Frayed” sounds like it landed just short of being great, just a tad too unorganized and under-cooked to be taken very seriously. Still, it contains a great slide guitar by Richards and organ by Jim Price above the three-chord honky tonk. “Sweet Black Angel” hearkens back to the sound on 1967’s Between The Buttons and is one of the few tracks on this album to feature all five Rolling Stones playing their appropriate instruments. Unfortunately momentum is lost with “Loving Cup”, which slides back to the predictable and mundane sound of the first side.

“Happy” features Richards vocals and is a refreshing change-up in ways, with crisp brass accenting this second single from the album which reached the top 40 in the charts. Keys prides saxophone and percussion, while Jim Price adds trumpet. “Ventilator Blues” was co-written by Taylor, the only song on the album which a member of the Stones besides Jagger and Richards gets a songwriting credit. “I Just Want to See His Face” commences with a bad fade in from “Ventilator Blues” and is yet another exhibit of a very average piece being lauded. It is a repetitive and (slightly) improvised piece with some gospel influence, but not much more. “Let It Loose” starts with a different sound of effect-heavy guitar riff but this is the only really interesting part of the song, which once again seems undercooked and weakly composed.

The final side of the album begins with “All Down the Line”, again the same exact song over again save for Taylor’s interesting slide. The Robert Johnson cover “Stop Breaking Down” reveals an embarrassing gap in composition quality between much of the original material and this (then) 35-year-old song. “Shine a Light” is the last good song on the album, perhaps best song on the album. This piano ballad that is focused yet soulful and features the fantastic organ and piano work by Billy Preston and great backing vocals by Clydie King and Vanetta Fields. It was written mainly by Jagger back in 1968 about then-band member Brian Jones’ addiction to drugs and detachment from the rest of the band, but was left off the Beggars Banquet from that year. “Soul Survivor”, another really uninspired song, finishes off the side and the album.

Beatles producer George Martin has opined that their double “White” album may have worked better as a really good single album. That sentiment is multiplied and on steroids with Exile on Main Street, which would have worked best is saved for some future “basement tapes” collection. As a proper album of this great era, it is extremely average and definitely not the desert island record that so many had deemed it to be.

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1972 Images

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

 

Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie

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The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars by David BowieThrough a very long and distinguished career, David Bowie’s absolute classic is the 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It takes the musicianship and experimental of Bowie’s previous album, Hunky Dory in 1971, to a whole new level where Bowie really hit his stride and forged his distinctive sound. Although it is a concept album, nothing feels forced and nowhere is it repetitive, just a grand parade of songs which collectively tell a story. Bowie’s lyrics and vocals are deep and emotive, albeit tragic, while guitarist Mick Ronson held the music down to a respectable rock level with his sharp and fat guitar riffs.

The concept follows the character “Ziggy Stardust”, a space alien who manifests himself as a self-indulgent rock star who takes this form to try and convince humanity to alter their path of destruction. As Bowie described;

The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll…”

The character of Ziggy Stardust was inspired by a collection of real life personalities, including singers Vince Taylor and Stardust Cowboy, and fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto. Bowie planned for the album to coincide with a stage show or television production but neither fully materialized.

There were also several extra compositions and recordings created during the sessions for this album. One of the most famous was “All the Young Dudes”, written within the context of the “Ziggy Stardust” concept but ultimately given to the band Mott the Hoople, for whom the song would be a big hit. A couple of songs that would become radio hits for Bowie – “John, I’m Only Dancing” and “The Jean Genie” – were also recorded during these sessions but not included on the album.


The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars
by David Bowie
Released: June 6, 1972 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie & Ken Scott
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, September 1971–January 1972
Side One Side Two
Five Years
Soul Love
Moonage Daydream
Starman
It Ain’t Easy
Lady Stardust
Star
Hang Onto Yourself
Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City
Rock n’ Roll Suicide
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Saxophone
Mick Ronson – Guitars, Piano, String Arrangements, Vocals
Trevor Bolder – Bass
Mick Woodmansey – Drums

An off-beat drum pattern by Mick Woodmansey fuels the opening song “Five Years”. Moody and low key with a definite influence from Plastic Ono Band era John Lennon, the character of Ziggy Stardust is introduced in dramatic yet elegant fashion with profound lyrics, such as;

“my brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare / I had to cram many things to store everything in there…”

“Soul Love” is also percussion-driven with a steadily strummed acoustic and unique vocal choruses by Bowie. There is some strongly accented layered electric guitars by Ronson during the chorus and Bowie’s saxophone solo to close the album. “Moonage Daydream” continues the acoustic trend with a steady but animated bass by Trevor Bolder and sharp electric riff overtones. This song adds a lot more sonic flavoring than its predecessors with piano, backing vocals, orchestration and a wild, “moon age” guitar lead towards the end.

David Bowie and Mick Ronson

“Starman” is the best song on the album and a late addition to the album. It is classic David Bowie hearkens back into the same groove thematically as his first major hit “Space Oddity”. An acoustic ballad accentuated by space age transitional effects, orchestration, and great post-chorus riff by Ronson, the song was Bowie’s first commercial hit in three years and persists as one of his classics to this day. Some have even stated that it is the single most influential song in his entire catalog. The song is also a pivitol point in the album’s concept where the protagonist morphs from being manipulative to delusional.

The first side concludes with the only cover song on the album; “It Ain’t Easy”, written by Ron Davies and covered by many artists including Three Dog Night who had a 1970 album of the same name. It may seem l;ike an oddity to include a cover on a “concept” album, by “It Ain’t Easy” fits right in with the vibe of this album even though it uses unique instrumentation such as a 12-string acoustic and a harpsichord in the mix.

The moody piano of “Lady Stardust” starts off side two with a ballad of almost Elton John quality and structure. There is once again great bass by Bolder but little to no guitar presence on this tune loosely dedicated to Marc Bolan of T. Rex and the “glam” scene in general. “Star” is a sort of retro piano rocker which speaks of gangs and cliques in London, while “Hang On to Yourself” comes off like early proto-punk with a definite glam twist. This latter song contains an interesting slide guitar by Ronson and sets the album up for a climatic conclusion.

Suffragette City single“Ziggy Stardust”, the album’s default theme song, is interesting and unique rocker with tight instrumentation which heavily leans towards riff-driven classic rock during the verses, while the choruses drift towards the newly-established Bowie sound. Mick Ronson really shines on this song with his crisp, distorted, and methodical guitar riff which gives the song an eternal signature. Bowie accents the two parts of the song with distinct vocals and well delivered lyrics in each. The original album mix segued from “Ziggy” into “Suffragette City”, another standard with rocker with great edge and execution by both Bowie and Ronson. Drawing inspiration from a range of artists that span from Little Richard to the Velvet Underground, “Suffragette City” reminds the listener that David Bowie is, in fact, a rock star first and foremost, no matter how “out there” the bulk of his material may drift. The song was originally offered to Mott the Hoople before they chose “All the Young Dudes” for their own project.

After the frantic, top-notch electric rock, the album closes with the calm and acoustic “Rock n’ Roll Suicide”, which documents Ziggy’s collapse as a washed-up performer (showing an amazing sense of self-awareness at time when rock was still relatively young). The song gradually builds though subtle, tremolo electric guitar effects and into full orchestration as a dramatic coda for the album.

A concert film of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was directed by D.A. Pennebaker and eventually released in 1973, a slight consolation to the intended television special which never materialized. The album was vastly more successful in the U.K. than in the U.S. upon release, but has grown to become universally renowned over the past 40 years as one of the best ever produced.

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1972 Images

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