***** CONTENT WARNING: This post contains references to drug use and suicide *****
These albums are all turning fifty (!!) in 2022. This list is chronological by release date.
- Paul Simon – Paul Simon
CHART POSITION: #4 in the US (it went to #1 in four other countries: Japan, Finland, Norway, and Sweden)
SINGLES: “Mother and Child Reunion”, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”, “Duncan”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Mother and Child Reunion”, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”, “Run That Body Down”, “Paranoia Blues”
FUN FACT: The inspiration for the name “Mother and Child Reunion” was a chicken-and-egg dish Simon saw on a Chinese menu.
- Harvest – Neil Young
CHART POSITION: #1 (Harvest was the best-selling album of 1972 in the United States)
SINGLES: “Heart of Gold”, “Old Man”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Heart of Gold”, “The Needle and the Damage Done”
FUN FACT: Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor provided background vocals for “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold”.
- Something/Anything? – Todd Rundgren
CHART POSITION: #29 in the US
SINGLES: “I Saw the Light”, “Couldn’t I Just Tell You”, “Hello It’s Me”, “Wolfman Jack”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, plus “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference”, which was featured on the soundtrack to one of my all-time favorite films, Almost Famous.
FUN FACT: Rundgren was a prolific writer in those days – he claims to have written “I Saw the Light” in twenty minutes – which he has attributed to his use of Ritalin.
- Eat a Peach – The Allman Brothers Band
CHART POSITION: #4 in the US
SINGLES: “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”, “Melissa / Blue Sky”, “One Way Out”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “One Way Out” (ALSO featured on the Almost Famous soundtrack), “Mountain Jam” (based on Donovan’s “There Is a Mountain”)
FUN FACT: The album’s gatefold art, done by W. David Powell and J. F. Holmes, is incredible; the pair were “profoundly influenced” by Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch.
- Pink Moon – Nick Drake
CHART POSITION: N/A
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: Written while Drake was in the throes of severe depression, the songs of Pink Moon are bleak but breathtaking, so “favorite” might not be the appropriate word. But Pink Moon is worth experiencing; just be prepared to go to a dark place.
FUN FACT: Drake is one of the least commercially-successful artists on this list, but his music has inspired countless other artists, including Kate Bush, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, and The Cure’s Robert Smith (in fact, The Cure’s name is derived from a Nick Drake lyric from the song “Time Has Told Me”). His tragic death by suicide in 1974 meant that Pink Moon would be Drake’s final album.
- Thick as a Brick – Jethro Tull
CHART POSITION: #1 in the US, Australia, Canada, and Denmark
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Thick as a Brick, Part I”, “Thick as a Brick, Part II”
FUN FACT: Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson, offended by a critic who labeled the band’s previous effort, Aqualung, a “concept album”, decided to record a Monty Python-style spoof of a concept album. Thick as a Brick consists of two songs, the aforementioned “Thick as a Brick, Part I” and “Thick as a Brick, Part II”. And while it received mixed reviews at the time of its release, Thick as a Brick is generally considered one of the ten best prog-rock albums ever.
- Machine Head – Deep Purple
CHART POSITION: #7 in the US, #1 in six other countries, including the UK and Australia
SINGLES: “Never Before”, “Lazy”, “Highway Star”, “Smoke on the Water”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Highway Star”, “Smoke on the Water”, “Space Truckin'”
FUN FACT: Machine Head is a pivotal album in the development of heavy metal, but it almost didn’t happen. Deep Purple intended to record the album at the Montreaux Casino in Switzerland, but the casino burned to the ground when a fan set off a flare gun at a Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention show. Fortunately, there were no major injuries from the fire, and the band was able to book another venue. Deep Purple’s most iconic song, “Smoke on the Water”, was written about the incident.
- You Don’t Mess Around With Jim – Jim Croce
CHART POSITION: #1 in the US and Canada
SINGLES: “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim”, “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)”, “Time in a Bottle”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, plus “New York’s Not My Home”, “Photographs and Memories”, “Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy)”
FUN FACT: “Time in a Bottle” was not originally intended as a single (in fact, he’d released another album by then), but after Croce’s death in a plane crash in September of 1973, radio stations were bombarded with requests for the song, forcing the label to release it as a single. It went on to become Croce’s second #1 hit (“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was the first).
- Exile on Main St. – Rolling Stones
CHART POSITION: #1 in five countries, including the US, the UK, and Canada
SINGLES: “Tumbling Dice”, “Happy”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Tumbling Dice”, “Sweet Virginia”, “Rocks Off”, “Shine a Light”, “Soul Survivor”
FUN FACT: Liz Phair’s 1993 debut album, Exile in Guyville, is a song-by-song response to Exile on Main St (though not in the literal sense). A Spotify user helpfully put together a playlist for comparison.
- Honky Château – Elton John
CHART POSITION: #1 in the US, #2 in the UK
SINGLES: “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)”, “Honky Cat”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”, “Honky Cat”, “Rocket Man”
FUN FACT: Honky Château was Elton John’s first recording to feature two members of his road band, bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson. Olsson performs with John to this day (Murray died in 1992 of skin cancer).
- Eagles – Eagles
CHART POSITION: #22 in the US, #13 in Canada
SINGLES: “Take It Easy”, “Witchy Woman”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above
FUN FACT: “Take It Easy” was written by Jackson Browne and Eagle Glenn Frey. The lyric “Well, I’m a-standing on a corner/In Winslow, Arizona/Such a fine sight to see/It’s a girl, my Lord/In a flat-bed Ford/Slowin’ down to take a look at me ” was written after Browne’s vehicle broke down in Winslow (Frey added the part about the girl in the Ford). In 1999, the city of Winslow commissioned a statue and mural at the corner of Second Street and Kinsley Avenue. The mural depicts a red Ford flatbed truck and an eagle.
- Obscured by Clouds – Pink Floyd
CHART POSITION: #46 in the US, #6 in the UK
SINGLES: “Free Four”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Burning Bridges”, “Wot’s… Uh the Deal?”, “Childhood’s End”
FUN FACT: Obscured by Clouds was the soundtrack to the Barbet Schroeder film La Vallée.
- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – David Bowie
CHART POSITION: #21 in the US, #5 in the UK
SINGLES: “Starman/Suffragette City”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Five Years”, “Moonage Daydream”, “Starman”, “Ziggy Stardust”
FUN FACT: The primary inspirations for the Ziggy Stardust character were English singer Vince Taylor and American proto-punk icon Iggy Pop.
- Roxy Music – Roxy Music
CHART POSITION: #10 in the UK; didn’t chart in the US
SINGLES: “Virginia Plain”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Re-Make/Re-Model”, “2HB”, “Bitters End”
FUN FACT: “Virginia Plain” was recorded during the Roxy Music sessions and released as a single in advance of the album, only to be scrubbed from the finished product. In later printings of the album, “Virginia Plain” is included. “2HB” is Bryan Ferry’s love letter to Humphrey Bogart and includes the lyric “Here’s looking at you kid”, as well as a sax solo influenced by “As Time Goes By”. The model on the cover, by the way, is Kari-Ann Muller, who also appeared on the cover of Mott the Hoople’s 1974 album, The Hoople. Muller would later marry Chris Jagger, Mick’s younger brother.
- Superfly – Curtis Mayfield
CHART POSITION: #1 in the US
SINGLES: “Freddie’s Dead”, “Superfly”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: Just listen to the whole dang thing, okay?
FUN FACT: This funk/soul masterpiece was the soundtrack to the Blaxploitation film of the same name; the album was so successful, it’s one of the few soundtracks to outgross their accompanying movie.
- #1 Record – Big Star
CHART POSITION: N/A
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Thirteen”, “The Ballad of El Goodo”, “In the Street”,
FUN FACT: #1 Record only sold about 10,000 copies upon its initial release but fifty years later, the album is considered a power-pop masterpiece. Big Star’s Alex Chilton, who’d achieved fame at the age of sixteen with The Box Tops (“The Letter”, “Cry Like a Baby”), is a legend of the genre who inspired artists like The Replacements, R.E.M., and The Posies.
- Close to the Edge – Yes
CHART POSITION: #3 in the US, #4 in the UK
SINGLES: “And You and I”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Close to the Edge”, “And You and I”
FUN FACT: Among the inspirations for Close to the Edge: Symphony Nos. 6 and 7 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, Wendy Carlos’s Sonic Seasonings (widely regarded as the first new-age album), and the Herman Hesse novel Siddhartha. Close to the Edge was the first Yes album to feature the iconic band logo created by Roger Dean.
- Foxtrot – Genesis
CHART POSITION: #12 in the UK (Genesis didn’t crack the Billboard 200 until their follow-up to Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound)
SINGLES: “Watcher of the Skies”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Supper’s Ready”
FUN FACT: “Supper’s Ready”, at just over twenty-three minutes, is the longest song Genesis ever recorded. The song is comprised of seven parts and undergoes multiple key and time signature changes. Foxtrot was the last of three Genesis album covers to be designed by Paul Whitehead (Trespass and Nursery Cryme were the other two).
- Talking Book – Stevie Wonder
CHART POSITION: #3 in the US (#1 on the R&B chart)
SINGLES: “Superstition”, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Maybe Your Baby”, “You’ve Got It Bad Girl”, “Superstition”, “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)”
FUN FACT: Wonder’s Music of My Mind was also released in 1972, and while it’s a fine album, Talking Book is better. Talking Book earned Wonder his first Grammy, and on the same night, Wonder took home his first of three Album of the Year awards for his subsequent album, Innervisions, which was released during the same eligibility period.
- Transformer – Lou Reed
CHART POSITION: #29 in the US, #13 in the UK
SINGLES: “Walk on the Wild Side/Perfect Day”, “Satellite of Love”, “Vicious”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, “I’m So Free”, “Goodnight Ladies”
FUN FACT: Transformer was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, who were both hugely influenced by Reed’s work with The Velvet Underground. “Vicious” was inspired by Reed’s friend and mentor Andy Warhol, who suggested Reed write a song about someone vicious. When Reed asked Warhol what he meant by “vicious”, Warhol replied, “Oh, you know, like I hit you with a flower.”
- The World Is a Ghetto – War
CHART POSITION: #1 in the US
SINGLES: “The Cisco Kid”, “The World Is a Ghetto”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “The Cisco Kid”, “Four Cornered Room”, “The World Is a Ghetto”
FUN FACT: The World Is a Ghetto was the best-selling album of 1973 and was selected as Album of the Year by Billboard magazine.
- Can’t Buy a Thrill – Steely Dan
CHART POSITION: #17 in the US
SINGLES: “Do It Again”, “Reelin’ in the Years”
MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Do It Again”, “Dirty Work”, “Only a Fool Would Say That”, “Reelin’ in the Years”, “Fire in the Hole”,
FUN FACT: Steely Dan’s name is a reference to a steam-powered, strap-on dildo in William S. Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch (the dildo’s full name is Steely Dan III from Yokohama).