In 1972, dozens of now-classic albums zig-zagged genres. Bowie introduced us to the legend of Ziggy Stardust. Neil Young released his “Heart of Gold” off Harvest. There was Lou Reed’s transformative Transformer, and Aretha Franklin took Nina Simone’s 1969 song and made it her own on Young, Gifted and Black.
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Now celebrating their golden anniversary in 2022, we took a look at 10 albums that made their mark 50 years ago. In this first part of three, here are 10 of the best albums of 1972.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars / David Bowie
Already a performance artist, a mimer, and dancer, Bowie wasn’t inept at role-playing, and the embodiment of Ziggy around his fifth album came naturally. Released on June 6, 1972, co-produced by Ken Scott and written by Bowie, Ziggy Stardust was as much as an enigma in its 11 tracks as the man himself moving through “Five Years,” “Moonage Daydream,” “Lady Stardust,” “Suffragette City,” and “Starman,” performed by an alien-like Bowie (Ziggy) on Top of the Pops following the album release. “Everybody was convincing me that I was a messiah,” said David Bowie of his persona Ziggy Stardust. “I got hopelessly lost in the fantasy.”
Harvest / Neil Young
Struggling through back issues and mourning the death of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and other band tension, the release of Harvest may have been off at the time yet remains one of Young’s best albums of all time. Featuring guests James Taylor, Linda Rondstadt, and other bandmates David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills throughout the album, the single “Heart of Gold” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100, and Harvest became the best-selling album in the U.S. in 1972. In 2015, Harvest was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
For the Roses / Joni Mitchell
Released between two of Mitchell’s biggest successes, Blue and Court and Spark, For the Roses reflects on the artist’s breakdown of her relationship with James Taylor in several songs, including the title track and “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire,” to her tiring of radio stations asking for something more listener-friendly on “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio.” In 2007, For the Roses was one of the 25 albums added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
Transformer / Lou Reed
After the Velvet Underground split up, Lou Reed, the band’s key songwriter took many of their unreleased songs for his self-titled debut in 1972. Not making much of a splash as the Underground did for him with his first release, Reed reconvened with his music and connected with David Bowie, who would become his next producer. Still reimagining some Underground songs, Reed started recording his second album Transformer at Trident Studios in London along with co-producer and Bowie’s Spiders from Mars guitarist, Mark Ronson. Released on Nov. 8, 1972, Transformer was charged in sex and drugs on Reed’s “Hangin’ Round” and the “Perfect Day” ode to addiction and was ahead of its time with transgender bending on “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.”
Young, Gifted, and Black / Aretha Franklin
After performing three nights in March 1971 at the Fillmore West, which would result in the release of Aretha Live at Fillmore West, Aretha Franklin was rebounding. Previously hitting a crossroads in her career, and personally, by the onset of the ’70s, maintaining her reign as the Queen of Soul started to take a toll on Lady Soul. Following her Fillmore shows, Franklin was reinvigorated and stepped back into Criteria Studios in Miami and Atlantic Recording Studios in New York to record her eighteenth studio album Young, Gifted, and Black. Named after the title track, originally written by Nina Simone in 1969, Young, Gifted, and Black, released on Jan. 24, spoke to the continued racial tensions in the country and black empowerment through its 12 tracks, including four songs Franklin wrote on her own—the funkier “Rock Steady,” ‘Day Dreaming,” “All the King’s Horses,” and “First Snow in Kokomo.”
Honky Château / Elton John
Recorded 25 miles north of Paris inside the 18th century Château d’Hérouville, Honky Château was the most fitting title for Elton John’s fifth album. Along with longtime co-writer Bernie Taupin and producer Gus Dudgeon, bassist Dee Murray, drummer Nigel Olsson, and new guitarist Davey Johnstone, John recorded Honky Château within two weeks. Honky Château reached No. 1 on the charts, along with the first single “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time”),” which remains one of John’s all-time biggest hits.
The Slider / T. Rex
Partially recorded at Château d’Hérouville by the suggestion of friend and collaborator Elton John, Marc Bolan was continuing the more plugged-in adventure from Electric Warrior, T. Rex’s first break from the previous folk-driven music of their self-titled debut and earlier Tyrannosaurus Rex days. Along with longtime producer Tony Visconti, who also worked with Bolan’s friend David Bowie, The Slider enters another mystical realm, and into Bolan’s mind, from the rockier “Metal Guru,” which coincidentally kept John’s “Rocket Man” from the top of the charts for some time, the drifter title track and “Spaceball Ricochet” and the jumpier “Telegram Sam” through some of the heaviest Rex tracks “Buick McCane” and “Chariot Choogle.”
Talking Book / Stevie Wonder
“Superstition,” “You are the Sunshine of My Life”… its hard to imagine that Talking Book was Wonder’s 15th album and that he was just around 20 when he wrote and recorded it. Peaking at No. 3 on the Pop chart, Talking Book was Wonder’s first release to reach No. 1 on the Top R&B Albums chart and earned him three Grammy awards, including Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song for “Superstition.”
Eagles / Eagles
On June 1, 1972, the Eagles released their debut album, which birthed one of the band’s biggest hits “Take It Easy.” Produced by Glyn Johns, who had already worked with The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Who, the band made up of vocalist and drummer Don Henley, the late singer and guitarist Glenn Frey, guitarist Bernie Leadon, and bassist Randy Meisner, validated their country-rock roots and range on Eagles and everything that would follow.
School’s Out / Alice Cooper
“School’s Out” became the anthem for the youth in 1972. Cooper’s concept album explored the end of youth and the time when school comes to an end. The title track documented one of the greatest three minutes of your life, according to Cooper, which was the last three minutes of the last day of school. “You’re sitting there, and it’s like a slow fuse burning,” said Cooper. “I said, ‘If we can catch that three minutes in a song, it’s going to be so big.’” Produced by Bob Ezrin, School’s Out moved throughout the academic year and the other side (“Alma Mater”) and visually captured the scholastic concept on the etched wooden classroom table cover art designed by Craig Braun.