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The 20 best rock albums of 1972

20 best albums of 1972
(Image credit: Future)

In 1972 a split level, three bedroom, three bathroom home with central heating and a double garage in Iowa City cost just $32,000.

Elsewhere, 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by the Black September Gang at the Munich Olympics, five White House staffers were arrested for burglarising the offices of the Democratic National Committee, and the American Space Shuttle Programme was announced. It wouldn't fly until 1981. 

In music, Wings made their debut performance at Nottingham University (Paul McCartney's first public show for six years), Dark Side of the Moon was performed for the first time (at The Dome, in Brighton), Aerosmith were signed to Columbia Records, and Creedence Clearwater Revival disbanded.

These are the 20 best albums of 1972.

Allman Brothers Band -  Eat A Peach (opens in new tab)

While At Fillmore East (opens in new tab)is arguably the Allmans (opens in new tab)’ defining statement, Eat A Peach is far from rotten fruit. 

A combination of new studio tracks and live material left over from the Fillmore recordings, the sprawling, live Mountain Jam is balanced by studio cuts such as the fragile Blue Sky, and the punchy One Way Out and Trouble No More.

Jeff Beck Group - Jeff Beck Group (opens in new tab) 

The second of a brace of albums after putting together a new version of the Jeff Beck Group is another varied and masterful collection of funk-laced rock-metal from one of the most innovative, influential and maverick guitarists rock has seen. 

An often underrated album, it’s a powerful and punchy hybrid of two often difficult-to-fuse musical styles

Black Sabbath - Vol 4 (opens in new tab) 

Coming after Master Of Reality (opens in new tab), Vol 4 was always going to struggle against such a great record – but it only lost the fight on points. It may not match its predecessor for killer riffs, but it shows Black Sabbath (opens in new tab)embellishing their sound and beginning to explore different themes. 

Overall, it might not have the steamroller weight and momentum, but Supernaut is among the heaviest tracks the band ever recorded, which is counter-balanced by the gentle ballad Changes.

Budgie - Squawk (opens in new tab) 

With their heavy riffs and high-pitched lead vocalist, it’s easy to see why Welsh power trio Budgie (opens in new tab) were often seen as a hybrid of Black Sabbath and Rush (opens in new tab)

But really Budgie have a sound of their own, and the classy metal on Squawk – highlighted by Drugstore Woman and Hot As A Docker’s Armpit – really does make you wonder why Budgie never took off in as big a way as many think they should have

David Bowie - The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (opens in new tab) 

Like only a few of all the albums listed here, Ziggy Stardust… is gold-plated from start to finish, with not a poor/filler song in sight.

Covering a range of musical bases, and with Mick Ronson (opens in new tab)’s sublime guitar work simply sparkling throughout, when it comes to highlights, with the likes of Starman, Suffragette City and Moonage Daydream, you really are spoiled for choice.

Deep Purple - Machine Head (opens in new tab) 

What can you say about such an all-time great album as this in just a few words? It’s got power, it’s got intensity, it’s got amazing instrumental pyrotechnics. 

It’s also got a brilliant overall vocal performance, it’s got some unforgettable songs, and it’s got the guitar riff to trounce them all: Smoke On The Water (opens in new tab). It’s not a bad album, you know.

Deep Purple - Made In Japan (opens in new tab) 

And this isn’t a bad album either, if you don’t mind understatement. It features material from Deep Purple In Rock (opens in new tab), Fireball, and Machine Head (not bad songs, then) extended, embellished, improvised on and generally mangled into twisted metal monsters. 

With Ritchie Blackmore (opens in new tab)’s guitar playing and Jon Lord (opens in new tab)’s virtuoso displays on Hammond organ adding to the highly energetic and electric performances, this is both a great Deep Purple (opens in new tab) album and a great live album.

Emerson, Lake And Palmer - Trilogy (opens in new tab) 

Less of a prog rock edifice than their previous records, ELP (opens in new tab)’s fourth album had more to do with focused, disciplined songwriting than with bombast and grandeur (although those things were not completely thrown out with the bath water). And on that level, it shines. 

The songwriting is tight and precise, the performances are relatively restrained, and the result is the favourite ELP album of people who are not big ELP fans.

Genesis - Foxtrot (opens in new tab) 

After a period of always looking like they were going to record something a bit special that would raise them to the next level, Foxtrot (opens in new tab) lit the blue touch paper and launched Genesis (opens in new tab) into the prog/art rock stratosphere. 

With not a single damp squib in sight, the magnificent, shapeshifting, gleefully complex 23-minute Supper’s Ready (opens in new tab) is the glittering centrepiece of a scintillating album.

Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick (opens in new tab) 

Conceived as a single idea in several pieces in a themes-and-variations ‘suite’, Thick As A Brick (opens in new tab) is a one of prog rock’s touchstones. 

Incorporating elements of hard rock, minstrel-like folk and classical overtones, the music leaps and drifts dynamically between musical styles, while the lyrical thread twists, turns and remains progtastically unfathomable.

Mott The Hoople - All The Young Dudes (opens in new tab) 

The album that gave the band a new lease of life just as they were about to take their last breath. And what a new lease it was. 

There are a number of wonderful but underrated band songs alongside the Bowie-written title track and Lou Reed (opens in new tab)’s Sweet Jane, while Bowie sideman Mick Ronson arranged the strings on the stirring Sea Diver.

Lou Reed - Transformer (opens in new tab) 

Featuring Lou Reed at his most tuneful and accessible, with a collection of strong songs that he would arguably never better: Walk On The Wild Side, Satellite Of Love, Perfect Day

Produced by David Bowie with Mick Ronson on guitar, piano and arrangements – a good year for Dave and Mick, then.

The Rolling Stones - Exile On Main Street (opens in new tab) 

Given a critical kicking at the time, this double album has come to be widely regarded as one of the Rolling Stones (opens in new tab)’ definitive records, even though (or perhaps because) it contains relatively few Stones favourites. 

At times dark, shadowy and bleak, at others it’s relentlessly upbeat and rockin’ – only repeated listening reveals all of its treasures.

Roxy Music - Roxy Music (opens in new tab) 

They looked like an overdressed bunch of freaks, and Roxy Music (opens in new tab)’s genre-defying, futuristic-primitive debut record was a completely different animal to anything else that was around at the time. 

With its warbling wind instruments, detuned-radio synth tones and Bryan Ferry’s alien lounge-lizard vocal delivery, Roxy Music was wonderful, unique, and breathtaking.

Todd Rundgren - Something/ Anything? (opens in new tab) 

The album that cemented Todd Rundgren (opens in new tab)’s reputation as a genius in the studio (he played virtually all the instruments) and a gifted songwriter, this was also the record that brought him a much wider audience. 

Something of an epic journey through the history of popular music, sprinkled with some exquisite pop-rock songs Something/ Anything? is one of rock’s greatest and genuinely awesome single-handed achievements.

Slade - Slade Alive! (opens in new tab) 

Slade (opens in new tab) may be mostly remembered as one of the really great British singles bands, but this early-days (real) live album shows convincingly that Slade knew how to cut the mustard in front of an audience. 

Typically raucous, boisterous, loud and stomping, with the element of chaos just adding to the electric atmosphere, it really does make you wish you’d been there.

Steely Dan - Can’t Buy A Thrill (opens in new tab) 

Steely Dan’ (opens in new tab)s debut album, is a gloriously slick, superbly crafted and stylishly played collection of songs that raised the barrier for American pop-rock. 

Standout tracks among a number of real gems include Dirty Work, the blissful Do It Again, the country-flavoured Brooklyn and the driving Reelin’ In The Years – the latter featuring a spine-tingling, cheese-grater guitar solo that is reputed to be one of Jimmy Page’s favourites.

Yes - Close To The Edge (opens in new tab) 

With this album, Yes (opens in new tab)’s ambitious eclecticism was stepped up a gear. Comprised of just three tracks, with the sprawling Close To The Edge (opens in new tab) taking up half of the album, it’s a tour de force of changing rhythms and time signatures, virtuoso instrumental bombast, lush harmonies and soaring and swooping melodies. 

It was keyboard player Rick Wakeman’s second Yes recording – he made his debut on the previous year's Fragile – and his contribution was crucial.

Neil Young - Harvest (opens in new tab) 

Having used his previous album, After The Goldrush (opens in new tab), to emphasise his more sensitive, pastoral side (and with great commercial success), on the wonderful Harvest Neil Young (opens in new tab) continued in the same vein. 

Typified by Heart Of Gold and Needle And The Damage Done, this record received similarly deserved acclaim.

ZZ Top - Rio Grande Mud (opens in new tab) 

Continuing the basic simplicity of their debut, ZZ Top (opens in new tab) this time had a much better collection of songs on which to hang their gloriously dirty blues-rock boogie. 

The production is raw, the guitar and bass have just the right amount of grimy fuzz, and highlight Just Got Paid is an absolute stonker.

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