Where Were You in ’72?

Lenny Kaye

By Lenny Kaye

on 07.31.12 in Spotlights

Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968

Various Artists

“Five years stuck on my eyes,” sings David Bowie in the title role of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. “What a surprise.” More astonishing is the intervening 40, in which the futuristic world he envisioned surpassed even his moonage daydreams. Redrawn lines of communication — broadband signals in the air and the cloud — carry the news. Yet in the albums released in the year of 1972, recorded examples of the analog age, caught by the magnetic tape and 24-tracking of the ’70s, a new paradigm is both hailed and given a final hurrah. A time before drum machines, sample rates, cut and paste, amp modeling and downloads. Before the Fairlight and Synclavier and DX-7 and auto-tune. Before New Wave. You received a gold record if you had a hit; and if not exactly heralding a golden era, surely 1972 carbon-dates as silver.

In some ways, the year is when the last vestiges of the free-for-all ’60s are declared done, or at least ready for revival. I can’t speak for everybody, only my personal taste and agenda, but a shortlist of my faves of the year, chosen randomly with no sense of critical responsibility, show where my leanings were.

It was a debut year for Roxy Music, Blue Oyster Cult, Big Star and Lou Reed as a solo artist (later in the year, Transformer would solidify his unique urbanity, containing the unlikely hit single of “Walk On The Wild Side”). Taking hard rock ever further out on a limb was Alice Cooper with School’s Out, the Rolling Stones and their Exile on Main Street, Deep Purple’s Machine Head, Black Sabbath‘s Vol. IV, and Budgie’s Squawk. The soundtrack to The Harder They Come, featuring Jimmy Cliff, prophetically introduced reggae into the worldwide arena. Some sentimental highlights include Eric Andersen’s Blue River, the Kinks’ Everybody’s In Show-Biz, Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, and the lightning-strike of home town friends and comradely band rivals Looking Glass, whose “Brandy” went to No. 1 on the pop charts as the summer crested.

I was toiling away in the dog days of that summer, shuffling and seguing the varied tracks that would make up a double-disc anthology that Elektra Records, in the persona of Jac Holzman, had asked me to gather. Much like this look over my shoulder, I was retrospecting a time which seemed in 1972 to belong to another world; and yet was young enough in era that I had lived through it myself, as eyewitness and earwitness. History once removed.

My brief, according to Jac, was to gather those cuts on albums that had one stand-out track (I’ve always thought he had just gotten one of the first cassette recorders, and was making his own mix tapes, winnowing his record collection). In my spin, it allowed me to gather those groups that had formed in Americain the wake of the Beatles’ tsunami, and pick those that seemed to embody a new sense of possibility sparked by the English Invasion. The sea-change was dramatic, as the aspirations of the street-corner harmony group was replaced by the garage band, and rock’s renewable life-source was once again given a jolt of current. The term garage bands came after the fact, as if to emphasize their domestic untutored roots and untrammeled desire; but really, at a remove of five years, I only knew that these were great records, regardless of genre purity, and the fact that it uncovered a sliver of rock’s many gene pools was because, for me, it was nearest at hand. I had played in a band called the Zoo, had a nom de tune of Link Cromwell from a folk-protest single my uncle, Larry Kusik, had cooked up with an ex-member of the Fireflies (“You Were Mine”), and though we never came up with any original material, surely learned our trade doing four sets a night of cover versions that enlivened many a college fraternity house or swim club.

With Elektra’s encouragement, I got to re-enact my parabola of ’60s transition from British Invasion to acid-rock of the Fillmore variety, beginning with the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” (we dressed in animal skins), and ending with the paisley’d Zoo sitting cross-legged on the floor raga-ing “My Generation.” When it came time to assemble the chosen tracks, a game of chance often dictated by licensing rights and shattered dreams along the wayside, the world in which Nuggets: Original Artyfacts of the First Psychedelic Era essentially re-appeared was one in which its virtues seemed to be in short supply, when the edge and the off-balance and the desperation of desire needed a new formulation. The word “punk” was in the air, and 1972, I recall, was also the year of the New York Dolls, and their imagining of rock ‘n’ roll’s perfect shape-shiftings (though their album wouldn’t be released until the following year); the Stooges had crafted much of Raw Power, the Flamin’ Groovies were in London keeping the flame alive, and glitter-rock was in the air.

In thinking about Nuggets, as I’m often inclined to do, since those who listened have bought me a beer many times over these ruby-flected years, I am surprised that it managed to encapsulate a moment in time without getting too protective of its parameters, partially because I was making it up as I went along, and hadn’t figured out a way to fuck it up. Many of the 27 songs on that initial volume stretch garage-rock beyond the considerable tune-up benefits of owning a car. There is symphonic studio production (Sagittarius‘s “My World Fell Down”), Brill Building songsmiths (Third Rail‘s “Run Run Run,” the Strangeloves‘ “Night Time”), and of course, one-shot wonders galore: The Seeds‘ “Pushin’ Too Hard” (actually their point-and-shoot glory encompasses four albums of grandiosity), the double-or-nothing of “Talk Talk” (the Music Machine) and “Liar Liar” (the Castaways), the Blues Magoos‘ version of “Tobacco Road” contrasting with the Blues Project‘s “No Time Like The Right Time,” the howl of the 13th Floor Elevators‘ “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” and then the scratch of guitar strings going haywire with the Count Five‘s “Psychotic Reaction.” These are great records, regardless of what your listening post is, and that was really my only imperative; not really an album for collectors, who as they have proved, are quite capable of mining their own gold-dust.

Today such an assemblage might be called a playlist, as if you came over to my apartment in 1972, when the index cards were on the floor and I was spinning the Chocolate Watch Band into…hmmm…”Farmer John?” I had the opening side figured out. Gotta lead off with the Electric Prunes‘ “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” ’cause that backward vibrato is the sound of that moment in time. True pitch-shifting. The Standells‘ “Dirty Water” lets you catch the coast-to-coast continental drift, the west of Los Angeles singing about the east of Boston. “Oh, you’re my home…” The Knickerbockers to solidify the British roots of where all these bands were inspired. And so we’re on our way…

It may be strange to be writing about 1972 through the prism of the mid ’60s, but that is when it started to become clear to me that the ’70s were at hand, in all their Taxi Driver splendor (“You talking to me?”), the generations about to begat, and so too until today, when I write this with the counterweight of time’s passage. Still, as ever, you need a great hook-laden song that gets inside you and doesn’t let go; and in this cornucopia that is our modern playlist, sometimes the finding is the important part.

I should know. I’m still looking…