THIS WEEK IN CHART HISTORY – March 1972
March 17, 2016
What became of the people we used to be?
Tomorrow’s almost over – today went by so fast,
The only thing to look forward to is the past?
Theme song from ‘What Became of the Likely Lads?’
The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in ’68
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café
Joni Mitchell – The Last Time I saw Richard (from the album “Blue”, 1971)
The last days of winter: 1972, England. Unemployment lingers over 1 million, for the first time since the Depression. Cameras were trained on the Saltley coke depot outside Birmingham. Industrial pollution. Bloody Sunday. Fog on the Tyne indeed…
The culture-shock of the late 60s had left everyone with a fuzzy head – the counterculture was bruised by the swift, devastating blows of Altamont, Kent State, and Republican and Conservative victories in ’68 and ‘70. They had lost their rudder: 1972 was a post-Beatles world, and the four who had unified and steered the past decade were in open conflict (most egregiously on McCartney’s “Too Many People” and Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?”) or retreat (“I wouldn’t really care if no one ever heard of me again” – Harrison to Record Mirror in April ’72). Elsewhere in the pop world, everyone was nursing wounds, trying to make sense of where to go next.
What had emerged was the golden age of the album. Their dominance had been cemented by masterful signal posts: ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’, ‘Pet Sounds’, ‘Dusty in Memphis’, ‘Let it Bleed’, ‘Tommy’, ‘A Love Supreme’, ‘Sgt Peppers’, ‘Led Zeppelin IV’. LPs had outsold 45s for the first time in ’69, and by ’72 their status as definitive, unified, autobiographical statement was complete. Whatever forward momentum pop had left would move at 33 ½ rpm.
The fondness for longer formats meant pop could be a little baggier. Concept albums were now fully in vogue, ideas left to meander for two whole sides – take Jethro Tull’s parody Thick as a Brick (no.8). The packaging claims the album to be a musical adaptation of an epic poem by an 8-year-old genius. The format lent itself to the stoner crowd – you didn’t have to get up and switch sides every two minutes.
This is an albums chart with soft, hazy edges, filled with white, bearded men with acoustic guitars. Despite the strong American presence, but the whole thing seems very pastoral, very English, with a sheet of morning dew, tasting of Embassy Gold cigarettes and dark ale. It’s also full of transcendentally beautiful music.
The clue’s in the name, but Simon & Garfunkel’s final studio album was the crossover record that made for a more soothing passage out of the turbulence of the late sixties into the new decade. Recorded in November ’69, and released in January ’70, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’s warm, hymnal quality sounds both like an elegy and a new dawn. It struck a chord: this is its 109th week in the chart: 33 of those were at No.1.
At once delicately arranged and magnificently vast in its melodies and scope, it’s a supernaturally well crafted record. It’s perhaps the story of the early seventies as a whole, emerging from stormy weather to create a work of soft, hymnal solemnity. (Pop always has a trend to let the spiritual back in, either in mood, or outright: The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards’ version of “Amazing Grace” would be No.1 by mid-April).
Simon, meanwhile, was branching out on his own, this time for good (his debut solo was back in ’65). His self-titled album is at No.1 for the first time, and its Latin-flecked rhythms and intimacy mark it apart from the stirring orchestration of the departing duo’s work (save for “Cecelia”, a key indication of his future career). ‘Paul Simon’ is relaxed, candid and open, a further step on a career of exceptional songcraft. He may have lost Garfunkel’s beautiful choirboy coos, but he was now free of the duo’s earnestness and grandeur, and the mechanics of two part harmonies. Luckily, Simon turned out to be one of the best songwriters to have ever lived – his stream of effortless melodies have quietly amounted to one of the best known and beloved catalogues in all of pop.
Another artist navigating their way out of the 60s to find their definitive voice was Carole King (‘Tapestry’, No.18 this week). Starting her career in the cubicles of the Brill Building, she was an artist of the pristine pop that preceded the Beatles boom. Her early partnership with Gerry Goffin would produce “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, “Take Good Care of My Baby”, “The Loco-Motion”, “Up On the Roof”, “He Hit Me (And it Felt Like a Kiss)”, “One Fine Day”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman”. She’s written 61 UK chart hits. When all else is forgotten, she’ll be recognized as having a profound and singular influence in popular music.
By 1970, retreating to Laurel Canyon, barefoot on her windowsill, she tracked America’s progress and was making personal, raw, earthy music. Tapestry was number one on the US Billboard charts for 15 consecutive weeks – a record for most weeks at number one by a female solo artist which held for over 20 years, until Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard. The love the album has received in this country is similarly enduring: she’ll perform the album, in full, for the first time this summer in Hyde Park.
In Freudian terms, the loss of something loved – in this case the 60s revolutionary, utopian project – can be responded to with mournful, moping melancholia. Alternatively, we achieve catharsis; we are able to move forward, because we have found something new and immediate to dominate our attention. Marc Bolan would help in this regard.
T Rex were pure muscle and glitter. Their ‘Electric Warrior’ album is No.7 this week, after spending 8 weeks at No.1. They’re a peak of early seventies pop, a group that seemed to strut into the new decade with a new optimism. Bolan, effete and pretty, benefitted from prevalent colour television, he shined on Top of the Pops. After shaking off their early, woody, wispy aesthetic (they streamlined their name and sound: from Tyrannosaurus to T), T Rex stomped their way to a string of effortless Number 1s, and Bolan, the white swan of North London, was Britain’s biggest popstar in ‘72 (even starring in a film, ‘Born to Boogie’, the first of its kind since the Beatles – it was even directed by Ringo and aped Magical Mystery Tour)
Another way forward first appeared at the Toby Jug pub in Tolworth on 10 February ‘72 – Ziggy Stardust. Whether in Beckenham, Berlin or outer space – Bowie would go on to define the Seventies, in all its glam and fractures, more than anyone.
Nilsson’s “Nilsson Schmilsson’ is at No.5, propelled by its mammoth lead single “Without You” (spending its second of five weeks at No.1 on the Singles Chart). “Without You” has hung around in myriad of forms, and its reputation as a big-chorused sulk does disservice to its small moments of tender delicacy.
Lindisfarne, named after a small island adrift off Northumberland, famous for Monks and Vikings, just smell of the Seventies. Never more so than in Fog on the Tyne: “Suckin’, sickly sausage rolls… think I’ll sign off the dole”.
That’s the given narrative of the Seventies, somehow inherently tatty, a country flat lining, after the frenzy of the sixties. The soft edges of this chart may be seen as calm before the storm – the threat of punk lingering in its air. The decade is much more multidimensional than that battle, we’d also have Stax soul, summers of disco, Rollermania, funk, triumphs in Jamaica and Germany, prog, metal, heavy rock and even emergent forms of rap, house and post-punk before the decade was through. The charts are always a broad church, trends ebb and flow, recede and re-emerge, and there is always room for the novel, the transcendent, and bizarre. The decade ahead would be a raw exploration of new, strange combinations, each in reaction to the last, which would form the groundwork of popular culture as we know it today.
Top of the Pops was broadcast on the 16th, hosted by Ed Stewart. There were performances of “The Wizard” by Uriah Heep, “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’ Sullivan (6), “Too Beautiful To Last” by Engelbert Humperdinck (26), “Hold Your Head Up” by Argent (21) and “The World I Wish For You” by Cilla, as well as the video to “Without You”, crowd dances to “American Pie” (2), “Beg Steal or Borrow” by the New Seekers (3) and “Brother” by CCS (32). Pan’s People danced to “Floy Joy” by The Supremes.
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