There had to be something in the water in 1972 – there almost certainly was for these guys.
It was a year that spawned several instant American classics – and one that apparently teleported from outer space – that came to define rock music and set the template for the sexy, seedy decade to come.
– ‘Exile on Main St.’ by the Rolling Stones –
For guitarist Keith Richards, it was the Stones’ definitive record.
Fleeing the British tax authorities, the band settled in the rambling villa Nellcote on the Cote d’Azur in the south of France, got high and arguably released their last really great album.
It stands out for having no standout pop hits – instead serving as a love letter to American gospel and blues, with a surprisingly cohesive set of 18 songs, including “Sweet Virginia” and “Tumbling Dice,” which are become fan favourites.
Rock critic Yves Bigot was there. “I was not one of the dealers,” he told AFP with a laugh. “I was a local kid and we would sneak around with the food delivery people in the mornings when no one was awake. I stuck around and can confirm that the Stones were indeed alien creatures.”
– “Honky Castle” by Elton John –
Elton John was also staying in style in France, in the Château d’Hérouville near Paris which had been converted into a recording studio. The allegedly haunted pile was popular with other 70s luminaries including David Bowie and Iggy Pop.
“Elton was in his imperial period, with amazing tracks like ‘Honky Cat’ and ‘Rocket Man’,” Bigot said.
It underlined John’s star status in his native Britain and “laid the foundation for 70s soft-rock as a whole”, in the words of the NME music bible.
– “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars” by David Bowie –
Bowie found his most perfect avatar in Ziggy, and in doing so did perhaps more to awaken the world to the idea of gender fluidity than anyone else in 20th century culture.
A sense of authenticity was key: while the decadent camp was ubiquitous on the rock scene at the time, Bowie “never made his sexuality anything but a completely natural and integral part of his public self. , refusing to lower it to gimmick level,” Rolling Stone wrote at the time.
There were immediate hits – “Starman”, “Suffragette City” – but also an all-encompassing vision: futuristic and otherworldly, but also rooted in the grimy, twisted world of cabaret that kept it firmly bound to the Earth. .
– ‘Transformer’ by Lou Reed –
As Todd Haynes’ documentary ‘The Velvet Underground’ highlighted last year, Reed was a prickly character whose ego helped destroy one of the most influential bands of the 1960s.
But Reed emerged from his ashes with his most commercial and successful album in “Transformer”.
“Walk on the Wild Side” is now a rock standard, while “Perfect Day” got a second life two decades later on the “Trainspotting” soundtrack.
– ‘Harvest’ by Neil Young –
“Harvest” was Young’s fourth album, but his mainstream breakthrough, unexpectedly selling millions worldwide, propelled by the singles “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man”.
After years on the fringes of folk-pop, success worried Young: he later said that he had deliberately “gone into the ditch” on his next albums to escape in the middle of the road.
But there was also darkness on “Harvest,” particularly in the form of “The Needle and the Damage Done,” a poignant song about drug addiction that heralded the impending death of two close friends.