Steven Urgo on why 1972 was the Greatest Year in Music

We asked local drummer Steven Urgo to pick his favorite year in music.

Steven has played drums with numerous Philadelphia bands, including The Interest Group, Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band and The War On Drugs. Read his case for 1972 below. Vote for your favorite year here.


 

My approach for choosing the Greatest Year in Music was straightforward: Find the years that my favorite bands released records, then weigh those years based on both the quality and the quantity of their records. 1972 definitely came through in spades on both accounts, and I loved how many different genres the records encompassed.

Let’s start with my ultimate heavy hitter from ’72: Exile on Main Street by The Rolling Stones. When I started writing this, I immediately looked up Exile‘s release date. This is the consummate rock band releasing the consummate rock record, it takes every core element of the genre and weaves them together perfectly. I love its duality. It’s raw, yet the production is flawless. It’s stripped down of any fluff, yet it’s incredibly well-arranged and layered. Nothing is superfluous and nothing is lacking.

I wanted my year to have some VU-related output. ’72 didn’t disappoint, as both Lou Reed and John Cale were just hitting their solo strides. Reed especially, as ’72 saw the release of his landmark record Transformer. Reed delivered one of my favorite recorded performances in Hempstead, NY on Boxing Day of 1972. This take of “Heroin” is beautiful: 70’s New York at its finest.

Maybe the strength of ’72 had something to do with Big Star’s #1 Record going virtually unnoticed when it came out. The Big Star story is well-documented at this point (if you’re unfamiliar, watch the Big Star documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me and/or read the Alex Chilton biography A Man Called Destruction), but it still stuns me that this record, at the height of the record industry’s success, didn’t even sell 10,000 copies. “The Ballad of El Goodo” is one of my all-time favorites. The songwriting, production, and performance combine to make something gorgeous, there’s nothing else quite like it.

I’m a huge nerd for Krautrock, and there was a lot of output from the Germans in ’72. Neu!’s self-titled debut was a big one. The reductionist approach of Hallogallo’s motorik soundscape was a total gamechanger for me, it’s still one of my favorite pieces of music. I was also glad to see Can’s Ege Bamyasi, one of their best records, had a 1972 release date. Jaki Liebezeit is my favorite drummer by a mile, and on Ege his seemingly always perfect feel and relentless groove is in full effect. Cluster and Kraftwork both released their synth-textural second records in ’72, and Faust and Agitation Free released records that year as well.

Some of my favorite Soul/R&B records came out in ’72, including not one, but two killer Stevie Wonder records. Talking Book is the more notable one and features “Superstition,” an undeniable all-time mega hit. But I’ve always had a soft spot for Music of My Mind. I’m enamored with the burned-out vibe of “Love Having You Around” and the overwhelming onslaught of “Keep On Running”.

Speaking of soft spots, I’ve loved Al Green since I was kid. Let’s Stay Together came out in ’72, and with it some of my favorite Al Green material. I’m a sucker for his Soul Train performances, this one from ’72 is no exception.

Jazz was pretty fried by ’72, but electric Miles was still in full effect. Bitches Brew is the one you always hear about, but I’ve always been more of a fan of ’72’s On The Corner.  The perfect meeting point between “out” jazz and endless groove. This record is fearless and completely idiosyncratic. I love hearing a musician, or group of musicians, getting so into a zone that the idea of “songs” becomes an afterthought.

I haven’t even hit on some of the biggest records of ’72 (Ziggy Stardust and Harvest to name a couple). ’68 was a close second for me – it’s hard to say no to a year that had my two favorite Byrds records – but Krautrock’s inclusion and Exile sealed the deal for me for ’72.

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Julie Miller

Article by: Julie Miller