June 24, 2022

FTV: Albums at 50


     Yikes!  As I scanned USA Today writer Melissa Ruggieri’s list in her article Timeless albums, tunes are turning 50 in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (published 6-13-22), all I could say was, “Yikes!”  How could fifty years have gone by since some of my favorite albums first began climbing the record sales charts?  While some of my musical memories of that period are based on my social behavior patterns in my college days, many others came directly from what we were playing in the band I was in at that time (Knockdown).  In the early 1970s, my social group frequented several ‘watering holes’ in the Marquette area, but all had one thing in common:  music blasting from the house system, a jukebox, a live band, or a DJ sound booth (although the last one had not become commonplace yet).  When I joined Knockdown in the spring of 1972, much of the music I played with them was tried and true old time rock.  As soon as I was comfortable with the playlist, we made a conscious effort to add some newer stuff to our sets.   Ruggieri’s list compelled me to dig a little deeper into the music of 1972 and what I found stirred a lot of pleasant memories of what was happening in the music world fifty years ago.  The following remembrances are by no means a complete list of 1972 albums.  They are discussed here in a rather random order and if one is of a certain age, readers are sure to insert their own favorites from that period.

     One of the first albums Ruggieri mentions is the Allman Brothers Band Eat a Peach (released on February 12).  I knew about the Allmans and heard quite a bit of their music at our social gatherings, but I never did pick up any of their albums.  When our guitarist, Ray ‘the human jukebox’ taught us Stand Back, I didn’t realize it was an Allman Brothers’ tune until we had been playing it for several months.  I remember it fondly because it was the first time Ray suggested I play a song ‘kind of funky’.  He must have liked what I did because the first time we played it live, he turned around and said, “Yeah, that’s it!”  Once I heard the ABB version, I sought out more of their records and instantly fell in love with tracks like Statesboro Blues (a song Ray didn’t want to cover because he didn’t play slide guitar).

     Alice Cooper’s single School’s Out first hit the airwaves on June 30.  An instant radio hit, it was impossible to escape but it wasn’t a tune we tried to work up.  We were already doing Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room by Brownsville Station so perhaps we figured we had already mined enough music dealing with school.  Alice would become big, but I never played any of his music in any of the bands I was in.  The eponymous Eagles album was released on June 1 and it plonked a bunch of songs on the radio and jukeboxes.  Witchy Woman, Take It Easy, and Peaceful Easy Feeling apparently arrived with no ‘sell by date’ because I didn’t start playing their music until the fall of 1974 with my third band, Sledgehammer.  By then, Take It Easy was already two years old but the Eagles were big enough that any of their songs, new or old, got instant reaction.

     David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars appeared on June 16.  I wasn’t much of a Bowie fan until his Diamond Dogs album came out when Mick Ronson’s Rebel Rebel riff caught my ear (February 1974).  I did go back and mine some of The Spider’s earlier tunes like Suffragette City from 1972, but again, it was all radio and jukebox fodder, not songs we worked into our playlists.  Elton John’s Honky Chateau would become his first number one record not long after its May 19 release.  Rocket Man blared from the speakers in every bar we frequented and the album marked the first of EJ’s seven No. 1 albums over the years.  The inclusion of the song Honky Cat left Ruggieri wondering if Honky Chateau really should be on the ‘hallmark albums list’, but for me, it fit the album just fine.

     One band that isn’t really remembered from 1972 is the Canadian outfit Brave Belt.  When Randy Bachman left The Guess Who, he hooked up with an original member of The Guess Who (Chad Allen) and formed Brave Belt.  The trio later added bassist C.F. ‘Fred’ Turner to their touring  lineup but Brave Belt were not getting much traction.  Allen’s country flavored songs were not cutting it and after he left the lineup, the band struggled on.  Brave Belt were doing a college gig in Thunder Bay, Ontario and their repertoire of Chad Allen’s songs was not going over well.  The promoter was going to fire them and bring in a ‘rockier’ band for the second night.  Failing to find one on short notice, he begged them to dig into their roots and perform classic rock songs like Proud Mary, Brown Sugar,  and All Right Now. 

      According to Bachman, “We instantly saw the difference between playing sit-down music people could talk over and playing music they would jump out of their seats and dance to.”  The template for Bachman Turner Overdrive came out of this gig in 1972, but BTO didn’t start making waves until 1973.  We covered a fistful of BTO songs in Sledgehammer and I could not agree with Randy’s above statement more.  We had some gigs where they wanted ‘dinner music’ first and we would do our best to accommodate with some softer fare like BTO’s Blue Collar.  The gigs with Sledgehammer never really came to life, however, until we got to BTO’s first mega-hit Taking Care of Business.  For this reason, I mark their album Brave Belt II from 1972 as a milestone.  Okay, it would not pay off for them until they changed their name to BTO the next year, but it was a landmark album for them just the same.  I should add that their albums were well regarded in Japan but they never got the opportunity to tour there as Brave Belt.  Now that I have digressed a bit, perhaps we need to get back to other noteworthy albums that made it big in 1972.

     I fully understand that in the limited space she had to work with, Ruggieri had to pick and choose.  Certainly we would disagree in some places as to what would or would not make the list as an indispensable record from 1972.  I am a little surprised Uriah Heep’s Demons and Wizards didn’t even get mentioned in her list of ‘good but not notable enough to make the cut’ albums.  Released in May of 1972 on the Bronze label in the UK and Mercury Records in the US, D&W was the band’s fourth LP.  It was also the first record featuring what is now considered the ‘classic’ Uriah Heep lineup.  Guitarist Mick Box and vocalist David Byron said the band clicked immediately when drummer Lee Kerslake joined with his former bandmate Ken Hensley (song writer, guitar, keyboards) and new bassist Gary Thain.  Hensley called the album, “Just a collection of our songs that we had a good time recording,” but they also meshed well with the medieval fantasy cover art of Robert Dean.  The album captured the imagination of record buyers on both sides of the pond.  Even Rolling Stone Magazine (who had slagged the band’s earlier releases) changed their tune, writing, “They may have started out as a thoroughly dispensable neo-Cream & Blooze outfit, but at this point, Uriah Heep are shaping up into one hell of a first-rate modern rock band.”  Kerslake said Randy Rhoads loved Heep and was inspired to write the riff that would become Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman with a little help from Kerslake and Bob Daisley. 

     The Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street hit the streets on May 12.  Many felt this double album recorded when they were in ‘tax exile’ in the south of France (hence, the title) was a lesser effort than their previous album from 1971, Sticky Fingers.  True, there were some standout tracks like ‘Sweet Virginia, Happy, and Tumbling Dice, but they had a hard act to follow.  Sticky Fingers tracks like Brown Sugar, Wild Horses and Sister Morphine set the bar pretty high.  Regardless, dedicated Stones fans couldn’t get enough of the ‘new’ Rolling Stones sound as they distanced themselves from their poppier 1960s period.  Marquette’s fabled band Walrus was one of the best purveyor’s of live Stone’s music around.  The more I sawWalrus play tracks from both of these early 1970s LPs, the more I came to appreciate this era of the Stone’s music.

     Steely Dan arrived on the scene with the November release of the Can’t Buy a Thrill album and the infectious first single, Do It Again.  I had a half year under my belt with Knockdown by then and I remember Do It Again as one of the first songs I brought to the band to learn.  Ray was the master arranger in the band but he had not heard the song when I showed up with the lyrics and chord changes.  I played it through once and he said, “Let me take this home and learn it” which he did.  One rehearsal later and we were playing it in our set.  As much as I would have also liked to learn Reeling in the Years off the same album, it was too complex for me to figure out and Ray just never got around to arranging it.  Can’t Buy a Thrill turned out to be the tip of the iceberg in terms of Steely Dan’s album output.  I was thrilled (pun intended) when I attempted to get Do It Again on the Sledgehammer setlist and guitarist Barry countered with, “How about Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me) instead?”  We later added the title track of their Pretzel Logic album and were always proud we were the only local band covering Steely Dan songs.

     If there was ever a band with a cult-like following, it would have to be Blue Oyster Cult.  They had several other names (like Soft White Underbelly and Oaxaca) in their formative years. They didn’t exactly embrace their BOC moniker (taken from a poem by their manager, Sandy Pearlman) but as their audience grew past cult-like numbers, they got used to it.  In Pearlman’s poem, the Blue Oyster Cult was a group of aliens who had assembled to secretly guide Earth’s history.  BOC’s eponymous first album was released in January of 1972 and featured songs like Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll and Stairway to the Stars.  Again, this was not heralded as one of the big albums of 1972.  Their next few albums, while containing other songs that would become staples of their live set, were an acquired taste.  When I finally heard the band live at Marquette’s Lakeview Arena on September 23, 1979, I had already become a fan via the albums Agents of Fortune (1976) and Spectres (1977).  These records put me on a quest to seek out their 1975 live double disk, On Your Feet or On You Knees.  By the time I heard the band in Marquette, I was familiar with most of their concert list, much of it dating from as far back as 1972.

     BOC made it a habit to release a new live album every few years (as of 2022, there have been at least five) so I ignored their studio output in favor of picking up the latest live LP.  I opted back into their studio recordings in 1998 for Heaven Forbid, followed by Curse of the Hidden Mirror (2001) and their latest, The Symbol Remains (2020).  With the core duo of Eric Bloom and Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser still in place, they have maintained a rabid fan base and continue to tour behind their extensive catalog.  Perhaps they looked into the crystal ball in 1972 and saw this long career ahead of them, but I doubt it.  Their album sales started out modestly in 1972 and they built their audience the way the best bands do:  on the road.  Eric Bloom stepped to the mic after a particularly loud ovation at the 1979 Marquette show and said, “Man, we have to get out of New York more often!”  That they did, returning to Lakeview in 1981 for a double bill with Rainbow.  Rainbow canceled at the last minute, robbing me of my chance to see Ritchie Blackmore live.  BOC ended up doing two sets and I, for one, am glad I was there to see it.

     Other notable albums from 1972 kicked off long and storied careers for bands and artists who are still in demand on the concert trail in 2022.  Neil Young’s Harvest (released in February) spawned two hits (Old Man and Heart of Gold) but it is hard to say if it created any type of template for his career.  Neil has performed so many changes in direction in the last fifty years it is a wonder he has not suffered whip-lash.  I remember Harvest from my second summer at the Huron Mountain Club because one of the young guys down the hall played it every day before we headed off to dinner.  The rooms in our employee dorm were small and one could feel the music through the walls.   I am pretty sure if he had been a few rooms closer to the older guys who worked on the river crew (what the maintenance and carpentry guys were called), they may very well have planted this kid in the river attached to several cement blocks.

     Jackson Browne’s eponymously titled first album was often called (erroneously) Saturate Before Using.  The cover art was made to resemble those cloth sacks that used evaporation to keep their contents cool.  Those words stenciled on the picture of the fabric that covered the album sleeve gave many the impression it was the name of the record.  Soon after the album came out in January, the single Dr. My Eyes began climbing the charts.  Browne was also an early member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but his association with the Eagles would make him a lot of money down the road.  Rod Stewart’s Never a Dull Moment didn’t make quite as big a splash as 1971’s Every Picture Tells a Story, but the single You Wear It Well carried it into the No. 1 spot on the UK charts and No. 2 in the States.

     One of the biggest band coming out parties was held when the Doobie Brothers’ Toulouse Street hit the streets on July 1.  With three hit singles spun off their introductory album (Listen to the Music, Jesus is Just Alright, and Rockin’ Down the Highway), they made a buzz louder than a room full of bees.  One could not turn on the radio in 1972 without hearing the Doobies.  The radio play stimulated massive pre-release orders for their 1973 follow up The Captain and Me.  The sets they did on the TV concert shows like The Midnight Special and In Concert were chocked full of hits.  This is no big surprise when one considers The Captain and Me also produced a trio of hit singles:  Long Train Runnin’, China Grove, and Without You.  When Barry and I first started jamming together (just drums, guitar, and vocals), Without You was the first song he taught me from the Doobie Brothers’ catalog.  By the time Sledgehammer was fleshed out with Mike and Lindsay on bass and second guitar, we were doing six songs by the Doobies and six more by BTO.  No wonder our business cards said, “SLEDGEHAMMER – WE DON’T DO POLKAS”.

     Certainly, 1972 wasn’t the only magical year in terms of great albums, but it would have to rank somewhere near the top of the list.  We would need a much longer article to include the likes of Machine Head (Deep Purple), Close to the Edge (Yes), Talking Book (Stevie Wonder), and The Slider (T-Rex).  It was a pretty good year for music!

Top Piece Video:  I did say Taking Care of Business was BTO’s first big hit – true, but it was Let It Ride that bridged the gap from Brave Belt to BTO – this is the band more recently with just Randy and Fred still on board.