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1972 Albums

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Two Quid Deal ? > Skin Alley

November, 1972
UK
Stax
4
As with most bands signed to Doug Smith's Clearwater Productions, Skin Alley were associated with the underground and the free festival scene. Founded by bassist Thomas Crimble and drummer Alvin Pope, the band included Bob James on sax and guitar and Krzysztof Henryk Juszkiewicz on keyboards. They released two albums on CBS before Crimble left for Hawkwind. His replacement was Nick Graham, fresh from Atomic Rooster; while Tony Knight replaced Pope on drums. Now signed to Transatlantic, Skin Alley recorded their finest album, Two Quid Deal?, in 1972. Oddly, the album (and their next) saw release in the US on Stax Records, famously known for Memphis soul and, up until that point, not anything remotely like progressive rock! Nevertheless, the album is a driving mix of funky organ-rock, with Graham's Roger Daltrey-esque vocals providing the icing on the cake; just check out the excellent "So Many People" or "So Glad." The band recorded a final album, Skintight; but even a proper Memphis production and commercial focus couldn't change their fortunes, and they folded shortly after its release. Graham went on to a successful career as a songwriter and musician, working with Cheap Trick and David Jackson of VdGG; while Crimble continued running the Glastonbury Festival that he co-founded.

The Magician's Birthday > Uriah Heep

November, 1972
United States
Mercury, Bronze Records (2)
4.2
On The Magician's Birthday, Uriah Heep quickly tried to replicate the success of their previous album, including another fantasy title and Roger Dean cover. "Sunrise" and "Sweet Lorraine" kick off the A and B sides, respectively, with confidence; but "Spider Woman" concedes to average rock ‘n' roll. The ballads generally work best; "Blind Eye" and the vastly underrated "Tales" rank among the album's finest songs. However, the more (according to the band) "experimental" tracks aren't fully realized, as the sprawling title track and "Echoes in the Dark" attest. Without a viable single, the album faltered slightly on the charts, reaching No. 23 in the UK but stalling out at No. 31 in the US. The following year saw a successful live album in May and another studio album in September. Recorded in France, Sweet Freedom contained a classic track in "Stealin'," and again hoisted Uriah Heep onto the charts. However, the pace of cranking out two albums a year with a full load of international touring started to take its toll. Recorded in Munich, 1974's Wonderland wasn't (wonderful), and bassist Gary Thain was subsequently ousted from the band. Bringing a recently ex-King Crimson John Wetton on board, Uriah Heep's next effort, Return To Fantasy, saw a return to chart success, reaching No. 7 in the UK. David Byron and Wetton, however, wouldn't last, and were replaced in 1976 by Lucifer's Friend vocalist John Lawton and Spiders from Mars bassist Trevor Bolder. Later records strayed further from their early progressive sound, but continued well into the 80s. In spite of prevailing trend and fashion, Uriah Heep continues to this day.

Focus 3 > Focus

December, 1972
United States
Sire Records Company
5
1972 saw Focus, now with Bert Ruiter on bass, back in the studio recording the formidable and lengthy double-album Focus 3. The record begins with the lively "Round Goes the Gossip..." then slides into the pastoral "Love Remembered." The bulk of the album, however, is two sprawling improvisations: "Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!" and "Anonymus II" (sic). Both showcase the band's talents, namely, Jan Akkerman's guitar heroics and one tight rhythm section; be sure to check out Ruiter's funky bass solo on side three. Thijs van Leer takes a few solos throughout, mainly on flute. But his organ work is an often-overlooked asset, always shining behind Akkerman's guitar. And if you dig those jams, check out Akkerman's first solo album Profile, which also was released in 1972, though recorded much earlier. The excellent album-side-long track "Fresh Air" is another great example of their hyperkinetic jamming, again with Ruiter and Pierre van der Linden as the rhythm section. The US version of the album closes with a re-recording of their first single, "House of the King." Overall, 1973 would be another banner year for the band, with both the album and the single "Sylvia" b/w "House of the King" nearing the UK Top 5. (The album reached No. 35 in the US.) Akkerman was even voted "best guitarist" in the annual Melody Maker reader's poll, knocking out Eric Clapton. In October, At The Rainbow was recorded at London's famed Rainbow Theatre, but studio recordings from that same year would be shelved. Focus then toured the US for the first time, and a re-release of the single "Hocus Pocus" b/w "Hocus Pocus II" made the US Top 10, while the live album hit No. 23.

Pollution > Battiato, Franco

December, 1972
Italy
Bla Bla
4.75
One of the few solo artists from Italy during the progressive era, Sicilian Franco Battiato was first heard as a beat singer in the 60s, as were many others of his generation. Battiato then signed to Bla Bla Records with Osage Tribe—defecting, however, for a solo career after just one single. His debut solo record, Fetus (with matching cover), was released in 1972. Primarily an acoustic affair, Battiato's songs were for the most part simple and almost folk in structure, albeit with a keen sense of melody. It's the production, however, that was truly innovative; Battiato used the studio to great effect, layering vocals, guitars, synthesizers and just about anything else he could find to create something quite sui generis. He continues in this direction on Pollution. The album saw release in late 1972, concurrent with the deployment of a giant magnetic stroboscope in Imola used to study the effects of the internal combustion engine. Again, it's a unique pastiche; but now much closer to rock progressivo Italiano, due to the instrumentation employed on the record. "Il Silenzio Del Rumore" begins with Battiato reciting something in Italian over a classical music tape, before diving into a hard-driving prog rock workout. The production once again sets it apart; Battiato synthesizer is uncommonly raw and unsubtle, riding up high in the mix. The fat synthesizer lines of "Areknames" carry the tune's infectious melody, sugarcoated with harmony and propelled by an offbeat rhythm; while "Beta" rides a stoner vibe. Battiato returns to more typical song structure on "Plancton," while the contagious melody and vocal harmonies of the title track close out. The album reached the Italian Top 20 in 1973.

Octopus > Gentle Giant

December, 1972
United States
Columbia
4.7
On their second release of the year, Gentle Giant delivers a more discrete and diverse record. Previously in the Welsh band Eyes of Blue and Pete Brown & Piblokto!, John Weathers was the newcomer; his hard-hitting drumming and a huge bass line launch "The Advent of Panurge" (again a nod to François Rabelais) into a hypnotic groove, from which the song switches back and forth from its chorus. The Moog on "A Cry For Everyone" squawks proudly, here the lyrics are under the influence of Albert Camus. "Raconteur Troubadour" offers a little medieval music, as does the band's tribute to their roadies, "Dog's Life." The band is adept at layering overdubs throughout; however, "Knots," based on the work of Scottish psychologist R.D. Laing, takes it to an extreme: It's a madrigal gone sideways—in other words, classic Gentle Giant. The second side opens with a "sample" of a coin toss, the first in a tradition that would extend over their next several albums. The autobiographical "Boys in the Band" shows Gentle Giant at their best: Rocking hard and steady, it demonstrates the band's musical dexterity and complex arrangements. "Think of Me with Kindness," featuring the tender vocals of Kerry Minnear, is an uncharacteristic ballad, but beautiful nonetheless. The closing "River" is another of the big power tracks on the album. Ray Shulman's wah-wah violin and Gary Green's bluesy guitar solo harken back to the earlier Giant albums; but here, Weathers's solid beat takes it up a notch. As such, the aptly titled Octopus dispatches eight ("octo") succinct compositions ("opus") that reflect the generous talent of Gentle Giant's six members. The band would continue to perform excerpts from the album in a more concise live arrangement. The album sparked some interest in the very lower reaches of the US charts, partly due to the band's extensive touring in the fall (opening for Black Sabbath) before the album's release, and its curious die-cut cover. However, the record would fail to chart in the UK—even with a Roger Dean album cover.