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Hot hits, 1972

A gem of a year for music is about to reach its ruby anniversary

Tim de Lisle | January/February 2012

It was the best of years, it was the worst of years. Seen from one angle, the music of 1972 summed up all the faults of the era: shouty pop songs with silly spelling (“Mama Weer All Crazee Now” by Slade), sacrilegious cover versions of great spirituals (“Amazing Grace” by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards), tedious novelty records (“My Ding-a-Ling” by Chuck Berry), soggy ballads from teen idols (“How Can I Be Sure” by David Cassidy). And all these went to number one. But if you put them aside, 1972 was solid gold. (All songs at iTunes.)

DAVID BOWIE "Five Years"
Few rock stars have ever had a year like Bowie in 1972. He released four classic singles—“Changes”, “Starman” and “The Jean Genie”, plus “All the Young Dudes”, which he handed to Mott the Hoople—and one classic album, “Ziggy Stardust”, featuring this superbly theatrical ballad.

ROXY MUSIC "If There is Something" 
After unleashing the pop-art pop of “Virginia Plain”, Roxy supported Bowie at the Rainbow, Finsbury Park. Years later, Bowie covered this track from their first album: a gorgeously tortured country song, written by Bryan Ferry, which also looms large in the Daniel Craig film “Flashbacks of a Fool”.

T REX "Telegram Sam" 
Bowie’s mate Marc Bolan was on fire too in 1972, persuading a whole generation to spend 45p on songs that were little more than snappy R’n’B tracks sprinkled with glitter. This one still has a kick. To avoid British taxes, it was recorded in France, just like...

THE ROLLING STONES "Happy"
“Exile on Main Street” has weathered astonishingly well given the amount of heroin that went into its creation. A British number one in 2010, it is the Stones LP that ranks highest in lists of great albums. “Happy”, written and sung, or muttered, by Keith Richards, is a delicious shambles.

JOHN LENNON & YOKO ONO "Woman is the Nigger of the World"
Say what you like about “Imagine”, Lennon had a rare gift for seeing issues coming and turning them into mantras. He was half visionary, half copywriter. Banned by the BBC in 1972, this song still has asterisks on iTunes today.

STEVIE WONDER "Superstition"
First he survived child stardom with less damage than anyone else in pop. Then he reeled off a series of sublime records in his early 20s. This hit, from “Talking Book”, has the funkiest riff ever played on the clavinet. 

AL GREEN "Let's Stay Together"
There are fast songs, there are slow songs, and there is Al Green. Nobody ever made a medium tempo so slyly seductive. A decade later, this tune kickstarted Tina Turner’s comeback.

ROBERTA FLACK "The First Tme Ever I Saw Your Face"
Ewen MacColl’s ode to his long-distance lover Peggy Seeger has been sung by a thousand singers, but seldom so slowly or surely as this. Its success was slow too. Recorded in 1969, it didn’t catch on till Clint Eastwood used it for a love scene in “Play Misty for Me” (1971). Finally released as a single in ’72, it topped the US chart and ended up as song of the year at the Grammys in ’73. 

PAUL SIMON "Mother and Child Reunion"
Simon at his soulful best. This strange and mournful day changed the course of pop, as he left New York for Kingston, Jamaica, and discovered how much fun he could have with the rhythms and grooves of sunnier climes. 

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