Friday Five: April 1972

Did anything good come from 1972?

We got The Godfather, The Poseidon Adventure, Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury, and Cabaret in films. Kung Fu, Sanford and Son, M*A*S*H, and Emergency! all premiered on TV. As for albums, Exile on Main Street by the Stones dropped in ’72. So did Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together and Still In Love With You. Eat a Peach by the Allman Brothers, Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and The World is a Ghetto by War all came out that year.

And in May, I was born.

Quite a year indeed! Here’s five top five hits from April 1972, just before I entered this world.

“Betcha By Golly, Wow by the Stylistics”
Ah! Pure 70s soul. It climbed up the charts in April, hitting the #4 spot on the R&B charts that month before peaking at #2 the following month. It also topped out at #3 on the Hot 100.

“A Horse With No Name” by America
It was the debut single for the band America, which also became their biggest hit. It was the top song in the country for three weeks, including the first two of April ’72. Detractors thought it derivative of Neil Young (singer Dewey Bunnell sounds like him, too, as well as Young’s buddy Steven Stills) but it’s an enduring song, to say the least. While I wasn’t old enough to know it in its heydey, it was a frequently played song in my memories of the 70s. I remember being in our old Ford Pinto hearing the song and being taken by it’s mystery.

“Look What You Done For Me” by Al Green
The first release from Green’s I’m Still In Love With You album——my favorite of all his albums——this is the master doing what he does best. It peaked at #2 on the R&B charts in April (and #4 on the Hot 100).

“I’ll Take You There” by the Staples Singers
This song hit #3 on the R&B charts in month of April. It would eventually hit the top spot in May and, in June, hit #1 on the Hot 100. Some say it’s a song about the utopian world of racial equality, a song about when the movement is done. All I know is that it’s perfection, plain and simple.

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack
Roberta Flack was already making amazingly good music but she wasn’t topping the charts before this song. Clint Eastwood chose it for the soundtrack to his 1971 movie Play Misty for Me and it took off from there. It was the #1 song in the country for six weeks from April to May 1972 (which means it was the #1 song on the day I was born). Billboard ranked it #1 for the year. It won the Grammy for best song (for the writer) and best record (for the performance of the single). In short, it was a massive hit. What I didn’t know until right now was that it was written by a British folk singer (Ewan MacColl) in 1957 for his future wife Peggy Seeger, who is the half sister of Pete Seeger.

Friday Five: 1972

This is the end of the first week of the spring semester at the Claremont Colleges. And each spring I get to teach my class on comparative race movements of the post-WWII era, “All Power to the People!” One of my favorite things about the class is the music. We start each class with a song, something that usually aligns with the topic or theme of that day’s class.

Even though I’m the teacher, it’s a great learning experience for me. The goal of finding music that’s appropriate for the class fuels a lot of my listening habits on a weekly basis. As a result, I continue to discover songs from the past that I’ve never heard before, songs that are great and that fit perfectly into the class. I also get to play songs I know intimately and love passionately with a group of young people who, often, have never heard them before.

That’s always been the point behind this “Friday Five” thing, too. So, I started thinking it might be fun to cover the span of my life through these weekly posts. I can still share music, but by covering one year each week I get a more organized way of writing about the music I love and remember, as well as discover stuff I missed along the way or rediscover the stuff I forgot about.

So, here we go! I was born in 1972, and so the music I love from that year is a mix of songs I remember hearing a lot as a small child as well as songs I’ve come to love in my teen and adult years. These five are a mix of both, all worth a listen.

5. “Garden Party” (Rick Nelson)
At some point in the 1980s, one of the “basic cable” stations started playing repeats of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” I knew about Ricky Nelson and his family before that, mostly through pop cultural references and appearances on talk shows. While his teen hits were in regular radio play in my youth, this is the song I most associate with the times. It’s a mix of country and rock, something that somehow sounds so 70s and, yet, kind of reminiscent of earlier sounds.

4. “A Horse With No Name” (America)
At some point in the 1980s, I started to understand the negative reaction to 70s pop that was widespread within segments of the hardcore rock ‘n roll purists. I suspect folks like that hated the band America. The lead singer sounded like Steven Stills, and their music sounded like the kind of “AM Gold” that dominated the airwaves in the 70s. But I can’t deny this song its rightful place in my youthful memories. I can remember hearing it as a small kid, riding in our Ford Pinto, holding on to my doll of The Six Million Dollar Man. Even now, the sound of it is both comforting and kind of haunting.

3. “Burning Love” (Elvis)
It’s the King’s last song to enter the Top Ten, and his last #1 single. And it’s so gorgeously white-leather-jump-suit-in-Vegas that I can’t help myself!

2. “Use Me” (Bill Withers)
I just couldn’t be happier that Bill Withers is getting inducted in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame this spring. The man was viciously good, as a song writer and performer. This is, hands down, my favorite song of his. I can still remember the first time I ever really listened to the lyrics. I was a teenager and even though I had known the song for my entire life, I had never really thought about what it was about. It’s a hefty piece of music, sexy, soulful, and funny. (The single version, below, is tight. But I’ve long had a soft spot for this acoustic version, too.)

1. “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green)
It might be cheating to add Al Green’s most famous hit to a list of 1972 songs since it was first released as a single the year before. But the song was the highlight of his album of the same name, released in 1972. The song reached #1 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in that year, coming in at #11 for the year overall. Al Green is in my “holy trinity” of musical performers, along with Elvis and Tom Waits. Few people can turn it on like he could. Willie Mitchell, his producer, deserves a lot of the credit. But that voice!