When I was 17, it was a very good year

Last weekend, I returned to my home town of Cleveland and participated in my 45th high school reunion.  It was so great to see old (in both senses of the word!) classmates and wander the grounds and the halls of my alma mater, which brought back fond memories of my formative years.

I was particularly pleased to hear a lot of great music playing in the background — songs from 1972 and 1973, when we were in our senior year.  My friend Chris, a former DJ and music lover like me, played a pivotal role in compiling the tunes we would be hearing, then activating the “shuffle” mode and letting the music wash over us.

It was an incredibly fertile year.  At that time, the 45-rpm single was no longer the 1973-featureddominant form of recorded music, although there was still a vibrant Top 40 Billboard chart that offered everything from romantic soul and glam rock to straight pop and syrupy ballads.  More people were buying albums by then instead, and the list of albums released that year is truly mind-boggling.

Let’s look at the hit singles first.

As the 1972-1973 school year started in September 1972, the singles charts were still dominated by some of the songs from the summer months:  “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass; “Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress)” by The Hollies; “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers; “Alone Again (Naturally)” by maxresdefault-16Gilbert O’Sullivan; “Hold Your Head Up” by Argent; “Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway; “Goodbye to Love” by The Carpenters; “I’m Still in Love With You” by Al Green; “The Guitar Man” by Bread; “Saturday in the Park,” Chicago;  “Black and White” by Thee Dog Night.

A new batch of singles began their rise in October and November:  “Backstabbers” by The O’Jays; “Go All the Way” by The Raspberries; “Everybody Plays the Fool” by The 117397274Main Ingredient; “Garden Party” by Rick Nelson; “Listen to the Music” by The Doobie Brothers; “Tight Rope” by Leon Russell; “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts; “Burning Love” by Elvis Presley; “Living in the Past” by Jethro Tull; “Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues; “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash; “Elected” by Alice Cooper; “Ventura Highway” by America; “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” by The Temptations; “Operator” by Jim Croce; “My Ding-a-Ling” by Chuck Berry.

As the holidays rolled in, these were the songs Top 40 radio was playing:  “Me and Mrs. Jcover-large_file-1ones” by Billy Paul; “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon; “It Never Rains in Southern California” by Albert Hammond; “Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins and Messina; “Do It Again” by Steely Dan; “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy; “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest; “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John; “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder; “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” by James Taylor; “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” by Johnny Rivers.

During the first three months of 1973, the airwaves were filled with tunes like:  “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver; “Oh Babe What Would You Say” by Hurricane Smith; “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” by Dr. Hook; “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend” by Lobo; “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack; “Could It Be 131hook32973I’m Falling in Love” by The Spinners; “Danny’s Song” by Anne Murray; “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” by Tony Orlando and Dawn; “Right Place Wrong Time” by Dr. John; “Sing” by The Carpenters; “Witchy Woman” by The Eagles; “Duelin’ Banjos” by Eric Weisberg; “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got)” by The Four Tops.

My senior year concluded with the radio playing hits like these in April, May and June:  “Cisco Kid” by War; “Space Oddity” by David Bowie; “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray; “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter Group; “Peaceful” by Helen Reddy; “Hocus Pocus” by Focus; “Will It Go Round in Circles” by Billy Preston; “My Love” by Paul McCartney lou-reed-walk-on-the-wild-side-rca-5and Wings; “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon; “Love Train” by The O’Jays; “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple; “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealer’s Wheel; “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed; “Give Me Love” by George Harrison; “Long Train Runnin’” by The Doobie Brothers; “Reelin’ in the Years” by Steely Dan.

Talk about a mixed bag!  Like every year, there was garbage in there (I think my readers can identify which tunes I’m talking about) along with the stellar tracks that still hold up very well many decades later.

Meanwhile, over on the album charts, my senior year offered an almost unbelievable cornucopia of excellent stuff.  Some artists even found a way to release two solid LPs in one calendar year.  You never see THAT happen anymore…

Typically, albums do better on the charts when they include a hit single or two carney-frontsimultaneously climbing the Top 40 listings, and there were many examples of that:  Leon Russell’s “Carney,” Paul Simon’s “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon,” Rod Stewart’s “Never a Dull Moment,” Steely Dan’s “Can’t Buy a Thrill,” Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man,” Cat Stevens’ “Catch Bull at Four,” War’s “The World is a Ghetto,” Bill Withers’ “Still Bill,” The Doobie Brothers’ “Toulouse Street” AND “The Captain and Me,” Lou Reed’s “Transformer,” Carly Simon’s “No Secrets,” Jethro Tull’s “Living in the Past,” The Temptations’ “All Directions,” Elton John’s “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player” AND “Goodbye 16b47c4f5272ccc3becd0087f8f95961Yellow Brick Road,”  Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly,” Jim Croce’s “Life and Times,” The Allman Brothers’ “Brothers and Sisters,” Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Red Rose Speedway,” Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Babies,” America’s “Homecoming,” Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book” AND “Innervisions,” Neil Diamond’s “Moods,” Chicago’s “Chicago V,” Joe Walsh’s “The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get,” The Moody Blues’ “Seventh Sojourn,” Dr. John’s “In the Right Place,” Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” Edgar Winter Group’s “They Only Come Out at Night,” Grand Funk Railroad’s “Phoenix,” Pure Prairie League’s “Bustin’ Out.”

220px-DavisBowieAladdinSaneAnd yet, some of the classic LPs of the year sold well without benefit of a hit single:  David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane,” Yes’s “Close to the Edge,” Todd Rundgren’s “A Wizard/A True Star,” J Geils Band’s “Bloodshot,” Emerson Lake & Palmer’s “Trilogy,” Humble Pie’s “Eat It,” Van Morrison’s “St. Dominic’s Preview,” Joe Walsh’s “Barnstorm,” Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken,” Jethro Tull’s “A Passion Play,” Diana Ross’s “Lady Sings the Blues,”  Led Zeppelin’s Yes-closeHouses of the Holy,” Johnny Winter’s “Still Alive and Well,” The Who’s “Quadrophenia,” The Small Faces’ “Ooh La La,” Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Birds of Fire,” Traffic’s “Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory,” Joni Mitchell’s “For the Roses,” Santana’s “Caravanserai,” Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” The Grateful Dead’s “Europe ’72,” The Eagles’ “Desperado.”

Also, in the same year came debut albums by artists who would soon be major stars:  Aerosmith, The Marshall Tucker Band, Bette Midler, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Peter Frampton, Bob Marley, Lynyrd Skynyrd, KISS, Jackson Browne, 10cc.

And then there were the albums that flew under the radar that I was lucky enough to stumble upon at the right time.  Technically released in 1971 but discovered by me in the fall of ’72, Batdorf and Rodney’s “Off the Shelf” was on my turntable for untold hours in the winter and spring of 1973.  It’s interesting, almost creepy, to note that the lyrics to the leadoff song, “Oh My Surprise,” addresses the issue of reminiscing about the good old days:  “I thought I could never go back to those years I loved so well, oh my surprise, oh my surprise…”


517EgECnPrLThe year 1973 was a significant year for another big reason, according to Michael Walker, author of the revealing 2013 book, “What You Want is in the Limo.”  In his introduction, he maintains that 1973 was the year that the Sixties finally died and modern rock stardom was born, when bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who and Alice Cooper put together monumental, physically punishing concert tours that set new standards — for attendance, for the quality and quantity of recreational drugs, for the amount of equipment and lighting on stage, for backstage and hotel hijinx, for the sheer volume of sound coming from the speakers.

“The bands and music of the ’60s created an outsized hunger for rock culture but lacked the infrastructure to deliver it,” Walker writes.  “In 1973, supply finally catches up with demand.  As the ’60s bled into the ’70s, the naive counterculturalism that bound rock bands in generational solidarity to their audience began to fray.  A new generation of AliceCooperfans too young for Woodstock inherited the tropes of the ’60s, minus the boring poli-sci socio-overlay.  Thus do peace, love, and understanding devolve into sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  The sex was younger, the drugs harder, and the rock and roll louder, longer and infinitely more belligerent.”

Walker makes a valid case that, post-1973, the rock music got bigger but more indulgent, more of a business and less of a pleasure, more destructive and less creative.  “The template created in 1973 will, three years later, metastasize into mega-albums by Peter Frampton and Fleetwood Mac and, in the ’80s and ’90s, tours upsized from civic arenas to Jumbotronned stadia and records shipped in R-52_LedZeppelin1973_Gruenthe tens of millions, though by then the rituals, commodified by corporate patronage, will seem increasingly scripted.”

Of course, there were many exceptions to these statements, but there’s no question that rock stars became more distant from their fans by the mid-Seventies.  In 1970-1972, you could still go see a show by a big name group and not have to take out a loan to buy a ticket.  Walker sums it up this way:  “1973 distills a decade’s worth of decadence into twelve awesome months and resets the clock for the rest of the Seventies and all that they imply.  It’s a year that, by any measure, ought to be its own decade.”

For a guy who graduated from high school that year, I must say I wholeheartedly agree.  The singles and albums outlined above demonstrate that fact.


I’ve compiled two playlists on Spotify for this post.  The first includes some of the more commercial hit singles from ’72-’73, and the second offers a sampling of some of my favorite deeper tracks from the albums of that period.


Sweet dreams are made of this

With each passing year, I grow fonder and fonder of the songs and albums I grew up with.  This is no surprise, and a common phenomenon for nearly everyone, regardless of 5f65bd9195fc80cb58d86ea1b21d7470age.  The music we listened to when we were young — roughly from age 13 to 30 — made the deepest impressions and forged the most lasting memories.

Problem is, though, if you turn to radio stations which purport to play music of your era, they play the same 50 songs OVER AND OVER AND OVER.  You like Led Zeppelin?  All you’ll hear are the same five tracks, despite the fact there are many dozens of superb tunes in their repertoire.  The same holds true for any band you name.  So many lost classics out there, waiting to be exhumed!

That’s where Hack’s Back Pages comes in.  This is the 11th installment of my periodic visits to the hidden treasures to be found on the LPs of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.  Readers tell me they love these forays into our collective past, so I hope you enjoy this week’s batch.  As usual, there’s a Spotify playlist at the end so you can listen as you read.

Rock on, music lovers!


 “Dance on a Volcano,” Genesis, 1976

genesis_trickfIn 1975, when Genesis vocalist/frontman Peter Gabriel announced he was leaving at the end of its “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” tour, many observers figured it would be the end of the group.  Gabriel’s distinctive voice and stage presence were arguably the most important audio and visual elements of the band’s success.  Granted, keyboardist Tony Banks, guitarist Steve Hackett, bassist Mike Rutherford and drummer Phil Collins were all superb musicians who contributed mightily to the songwriting and arrangements… but who would sing?  As the story goes, they apparently auditioned nearly 200 vocalists (!) before they found the answer right in their own back yard.  Phil Collins, it turned out, had the uncanny ability to sound a lot like Gabriel, especially in the studio, where they came up with an astounding transitional LP, “A Trick of the Tail,” featuring eight songs of fantasy/progressive rock much like the stuff they’d been churning out with Gabriel.  The excellent opening track, “Dance on a Volcano,” is perhaps the best example of this Genesis 2.0 model, which had a shelf life of about five years before a much more commercially oriented Genesis 3.0 version took over around 1980.

“Out in the Country,” Three Dog Night, 1970

R-4004954-1354101218-7866.jpegPerhaps my favorite song from the Three Dog Night catalog is this pretty piece from their “It Ain’t Easy” LP in the fall of 1970.  This group was famous for recording tunes written by other notable composers, from Harry Nilsson (“One”) and Randy Newman (“Mama Told Me Not to Come”) to Laura Nyro (“Eli’s Comin'”) and Hoyt Axton (“Joy to the World”).  “Out in the Country,” which reached #15 on the singles chart, was no exception — it was written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols, known for white-bread commercial fare like The Carpenters’ hits “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days and Mondays,” as well as another 3DN song, “Just an Old Fashioned Love Song.”  The track was the group’s only hit that featured unison vocals instead of featuring one lead vocalist.  Its lyrics, which cry for concern for the environment, are every bit as relevant today as we face new threats to the planet’s future:  “Before the breathing air is gone, before the sun is just a bright spot on the nighttime…”

“Rehumanize Yourself,” Police, 1981

Ghost_In_The_Machine_coverSlickly produced and full of diverse, engaging songs, The Police’s “Ghost in the Machine” continued the British band’s commercial success and musical evolution as one of the top artists of the early Eighties.  The group maintained the foothold in punk and reggae they’d been featuring since their 1977 debut, but this album was more New Wave, introducing synthesizers and even horns to the mix.  Hits included the catchy “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and “Spirits in the Material World,” but just as intriguing were deep tracks like “Secret Journey,” “Darkness, “One World” and my favorite, the uptempo “Rehumanize Yourself.”  They would go on to rule the airwaves and the charts two years later with their final LP, “Synchronicity,” before songwriter/singer Sting headed out for a long solo career.

“Echoes of Love,” Doobie Brothers, 1977

R-808765-1324219197.jpegIn 1976, medical conditions caused singer-guitarist-songwriter Tom Johnston to withdraw from the band he had formed six years earlier.  To replace him, the Doobies recruited Steely Dan background vocalist Michael McDonald, who turned out to be a pretty decent songwriter as well, although his stuff was markedly different from Johnston’s rock ‘n roll boogie.  The Doobies began a new phase in their career with “Takin’ It to the Streets,” a solid album with one Johnston song amidst a half dozen McDonald-led numbers.  Throughout all of this, there was always another vital piece of the band’s sound:  singer-songwriter-guitarist Patrick Simmons, who had been responsible for tunes like “Black Water,” “South City Midnight Lady,” “Toulouse Street” and others.  On the 1977 LP “Livin’ on the Fault Line,” Simmons shines brightly on his outstanding song “Echoes of Love,” with McDonald on harmonies and the venerable California band sounding as tight as ever.

“Car on a Hill,” Joni Mitchell, 1974

220px-CourtandsparkWhat a marvelous track from a perfect album!  Together with the live “Miles of Aisles” LP that followed it, “Court and Spark” was Mitchell’s high-water mark commercially — both albums went Top Five — but she soon tired of “stoking the star-maker machinery behind the popular song” and began writing and recording with top-flight jazz artists through the rest of the ’70s.  Joni is one of only a handful of songwriters whose lyrics and music are of equally fine caliber.  In particular, “Car on a Hill” has a fabulous melody and arrangement, and the words do a beautiful job of describing the angst of waiting by the window for the unfaithful lover’s car that never comes:  “He said he’d be over three hours ago… Now where in the city can that boy be?, waitin’ for a car, climbin’, climbin’, climbin’ the hill…”

“Go Back Home,” Stephen Stills (with Eric Clapton), 1970

converted PNM fileAfter the implosion of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in the summer of 1970, each went off to make solo LPs, although they made guest appearances on each others’ albums.  Stills had headed to London to record with a broad array of musicians, including the legendary Jimi Hendrix, who added guitar on “Old Times Good Times” only a month before his death.  More impressive, however, was the contribution from Eric Clapton, who offered up a scorching performance on the second half of Stills’ mid-tempo shuffle “Go Back Home,” arguably one of Clapton’s best guest solos.  (It was recorded at the same session that produced “Let It Rain” and “After Midnight” for Clapton’s solo debut LP that same year.)  You need to crank up this one!

“All the Things She Said,” Simple Minds, 1985

811ilns8qeL._SY355_One of England’s greatest bands of the 80s and ’90s got its start in the late ’70s but didn’t have much success on the UK charts until their fourth album in 1981, when they began a string of seven Top Five albums (including three #1 LPs) through 1995.  Here in the US, their impact was far more brief.  They contributed the huge #1 hit “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” to the John Hughes teen comedy classic “The Breakfast Club” in early 1985, and followed that with a Top Ten charting for their “Once Upon a Time” LP, spawning two big hits, “Alive and Kicking” (#3) and “Sanctify Yourself” (#14).  It was the third single, “All the Things She Said” (which managed only #28), that always struck my fancy.  Lead singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill, the band’s chief songwriting team, really hit their stride with this album, but I never understood why the next several Simple Minds releases (1989’s “Street Fighting Years,” 1991’s “Real Life” and 1995’s Good News From the Next World”) stiffed in the US, because they’re full of excellent material in the same vein as “Once Upon a Time.”

“Gypsy,” Moody Blues, 1969

to-our-childrens-childrens-children-52e2cfad3b928It should have happened about 20 years ago, but the great Moody Blues were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.  So much great music from these pioneers of British progressive rock, especially the seven albums they released in the 1967-1972 period.  Their fourth LP, 1969’s “To Our Children’s Children’s Children,” had no hit singles, but charted high on the album charts (#2 in the UK, #14 in the US).  Released shortly after the moon landing, the album explored the cosmic themes of space travel and children, and the legacy of the human race.  The standout track for me was “Gypsy,” yet another amazing song by the consistent singer/guitarist Justin Hayward, who wrote the vast majority of their better known tunes.

“Caroline,” Jefferson Starship, 1974

51BV9ZCDDTL._SY355_Singer/songwriter Marty Balin formed the Jefferson Airplane in 1965 in San Francisco when he met up with guitarist/singer Paul Kantner, and with the addition of Grace Slick, they became household names in the late ’60s as voices of the counterculture.  But the group crashed and burned in 1972, with Balin bailing out when Kantner kept advocating his wild-eyed sci-fi/fantasy themes.  By 1974, Kantner and Slick had teamed with new instrumentalists and re-introduced themselves as Jefferson Starship.  “Dragonfly,” their first LP with that lineup, was a delicious surprise, highlighted by great stuff like “Ride the Tiger,” “That’s For Sure” and “All Fly Away.”  The sleeper track, though, was “Caroline,” written and sung by none other than Balin, who was coaxed to participate.  It’s a gorgeous power ballad, actually better than the huge hit “Miracles” he wrote for the “Red Octopus” #1 LP the following year.

“Why Must I,” ‘Til Tuesday, 1988

93864-everythings-different-nowSinger-songwriter Aimee Mann was the primary talent behind the ’80s alt-rock group ‘Til Tuesday, who emerged out of Boston in 1985 with the LP and Top Ten single “Voices Carry.”  They lasted for two more albums before Mann headed out on her own in 1992.  I always thought ‘Til Tuesday’s second and third LPs — “Welcome Home” (1986) and “Everything’s Different Now” (1988) — were very underrated.  “Coming Up Close” and “What About Love” made modest dents in the singles charts, but there were eight or ten other strong songs worthy of attention.  My favorite was “Why Must I” from the 1988 LP, which features a catchy melody, inventive arrangement and great performance by Mann and her band.

“With You There to Help Me,” Jethro Tull, 1970

cover_947152292009Tull’s 1969 second album “Stand Up” went to #1 in England, and their monumental fourth LP, 1971’s “Aqualung,” was Jethro Tull’s greatest international success, but sometimes overlooked is their third effort, 1970’s “Benefit.”  It’s among their hardest rocking collections ever, with the minor hit “Teacher” appearing on the US version of the album.  Ian Anderson on flute and vocals and Martin Barre on guitar were, as always, the key elements of Tull’s sound, with John Evan adding keyboard parts on some tracks for the first time.  FM stations in the US gave airplay to a few tracks, most notably “To Cry You a Song” and the prog rock beauty “With You There to Help Me,” which includes a great lyric in the chorus about the warm feeling you get when you return home:  “I’m going back to the ones that I know, with whom I can be what I want to be…”  

“The Back Seat of My Car,” Paul McCartney, 1971

paul_mccartney_ram_john_lennon_imagine_pig_photoIn the wake of The Beatles’ breakup in 1970, each member’s solo career was put under the microscope for intense scrutiny, as many observers felt their solo work could never measure up to the work of the band as a whole.  McCartney in particular took a lot of heat for writing and recording a lot of slight, inconsequential stuff, but he was always able to come up with two or three really excellent tracks on every album.  From the 1971 LP “Ram” (credited to Paul & Linda McCartney), which spawned the cutesy #1 hit “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” by far the strongest moment was the album closer, “The Back Seat of My Car,” beautifully arranged and performed, full of lush orchestration and voices, solid electric guitar by Paul, and a memorable repeated chorus, “Ohhh, we believe that we can’t be wrong…”