Category Archives: The 1972 Project

1972 Case File #14.

The O’Jays
The O’Jays, Back Stabbers

File Between: The Temptations and The Chi-Lites

Comments: I’d call the title track one of the all-time great soul singles, and the rest of the album almost lives up to it. (Almost, but not quite; there are a few too many ballads for my taste.) The O’Jays were one of the finest male vocal groups in soul music during a period when you could hardly spill your coffee on the charts without caffeinating a fantastic male vocal group.  Their producers borrowed heavily from psych-soul geniuses like Norman Whitfield and Isaac Hayes, and their gritty-but-righteous vocal approach kept the juke-joint flame alive in an era when soul music was becoming better known for its smoothness and sweetness than for the fire down below.  I wasn’t familiar with anything but “Back Stabbers” before hearing the record, but there are at least three more songs that deserve to be just as well known — and “Love Train” is fantastic proto-disco — which may say more about my educational failings than about the unacknowledged greatness of the record.

A Keeper? Hell, yeah; this is one of only two records in my 1972 collection which I own in a recent pressing, instead of one that’s actually been around longer than I have. It was good enough to buy new.

Vinyl Rip: Time To Get Down

1972 Case File #13.

Johnny Nash
Johnny Nash, I Can See Clearly Now

File Between: Jimmy Cliff and Billy Paul

Comments: This is, unfortunately, the closest I’ve been able to get to 1972 reggae on vinyl. (I have tons of the stuff on CD and mp3, but this list is about my record collection.) Johnny Nash was an American soul singer — and not a particularly successful one — until a visit to Jamaica inspired him to bring that funky new sound to US ears. At least that’s what the back cover copy on the sleeve says. (This is as good a place as any to admit my great love for the laughably hyperbolic text pieces on the backs of pop records from the sixties and early seventies. Every record is the greatest ever, every artist is world-changing. The thing is, that’s always true for someone.) The record starts off promisingly with a pop-soul cover of “Stir It Up,” but too many weedy tunes and shallow production bog it down until the awesome, eternal title song kicks off a much better second side. Relatively, anyway: only about half the songs on the record qualify as even pop-reggae; the rest are generic pop-soul with a vaguely Caribbean lilt. Nash’s pleasant tenor croon covers a lot of sins, however.

A Keeper? It’s all right; one great hit and a bunch of good-to-okay songs. Not a patch on Bob Marley, Lee Perry, or Toots Hibbert, though.

Vinyl Rip: Cream Puff

1972 Case File #12.

Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell, For The Roses

File Between: Van Morrison and Edith Piaf

Comments: I’ve never been able to give Joni Mitchell the attention she deserves for the length of an album. Call it attention-deficit disorder, call it rockism, call it male privilege, I can’t take in her loosely-structured warbling for more than the space of a few tunes. Which necessarily means that I underrate her albums, even while I recognize the greatness of individual songs. The great song here, the pop moment that every great album needs, is “You Turn Me On I’m A Radio,” probably my favorite Joni Mitchell song of all time, jazzy, airy, and sharp-witted, with a liltingly funky rhythm that gets dissipated on the longer, slower compositions, none of which I’ve been fully able to wrap my head around yet, even after several dozen listens to the album. I’m still taking it as much on faith as on hearing that Joni Mitchell is one of the great musical personalities of her era; I mean, I’m sure it’s true, I just can’t completely hear it yet.

A Keeper? My preferred method of listening to Joni is in playlist form, where I can gather the highlights that do speak to me and leave behind the rest. But then again, patience is a virtue.

Vinyl Rip: Barangrill

1972 Case File #11.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will The Circle Be Unbroken

File Between: The Louvin Brothers and the Band

Comments: The first requirement of being a music nerd is to realize that there are some records you’re bigger than and some records that are bigger than you — and then being able to tell the difference. An album in the old sense of the word, a collection of records, the music on these grooves could easily be on 78rpm shellac discs filed into the brown paper sleeves of a leatherbound album with its title spelled out in gold leaf. Giants of country music from the 50s, 40s, 30s, and 20s are here: guitarists, banjo pickers, fiddlers, dobro players, pedal steelers, autoharpists, and singers from the Grand Ole Opry, from bluegrass and honky-tonk, both high lonesome and old-time, Appalachian jigs and gospel laments. The long-haired hippies of the eponymous Dirt Band mainly sticks to rhythm instruments and stays out of the way of their guests: even the studio chatter included between tracks is from the old-timers. It’s a two-hour feast for the ears and sensibility, American vernacular music at its finest, and far, far bigger than I could ever do justice to describing.

A Keeper? Son, you don’t keep a record like this: it keeps you.

Vinyl Rip: Way Downtown

1972 Case File #10.

Bette Midler
Bette Midler, The Divine Miss M

File Between: Cher and Ethel Merman

Comments: Bette Midler’s debut album, as much statement of purpose as collection of tunes, and more in line with current trends than someone only familiar with her Broadway-diva persona might think. She lays claim to the tradition of girl-group pop, with souped-up versions of “Chapel Of Love” and “Leader Of The Pack” that still don’t quite live up to the Dixie Cups and the Shangri-La’s. She puts in a couple of bids to be another rootsy white-soul singer, with the funky “Daytime Hustler” and a great version of “Delta Dawn.” And she engineers an unlikely hit with a scrupulously faithful cover of the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (Of Company B).” But the rest of the material fits her better: dramatic, theatrical, even show-tuney in a very 70s kind of way. “Hello In There” reminds me of David Ackles, and with “Am I Blue” she connects with the nightclub-jazz tradition that is the origin of her diva persona. She belts and croons, and throws in spoken asides in a cheerful Jersey accent. All in all, it’s a terrific showcase for her talents, thoroughly entertaining and even, in a couple of places, moving.

A Keeper? You gotta love Broadway to like it, but luckily I do. People who have issues with camp need not apply.

Vinyl Rip: Friends