Elton John, Honkey Chateau (1972)
I could make a case for several albums being crowned album of the year for 1972. Lou Reed and David Bowie released groundbreaking records that would go on to be lauded, even studied, by generations of musicians. Randy Newman’s album still feels fresh nearly fifty years later. I was also thrilled to discover records by Dr. John and Al Green, both solid start-to-finish. But Elton John’s Honkey Chateau is a notch above the rest. It’s rare for a song that has been played ad nauseam for nearly half a century to still make me turn up the volume, but there are three here: “Honky Cat,” “Rocket Man” and “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.” All still in heavy rotation on classic radio stations everywhere, every day, and I doubt I’ll ever tire of them. The balance of the album — the lesser-known cuts – areallwondrous in their own way. Behold M4S’s Top 10 albums of 1972:
1. Elton John, Honky Chateau
2. Randy Newman, Sail Away
3. Neil Young, Harvest
4. Al Green, Let’s Stay Together
5. The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street
6. Lou Reed, Transformer
7. Jethro Tull, Transformer
8. David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
9. Dr. John, Dr. John’s Gumbo
10. ZZ Top, Rio Grande Mud
Matt Berringer, One More Second (2020)
Matt Berringer shares the same deadpan baritone vocal delivery as Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave but the difference for me is, I actually like Berringer. There are examples of his work with The National that rub me the wrong way, but still much of it is brilliant. Three tracks are out ahead of his debut solo album due later this month, Serpentine Prison. “One More Second” and “”Distant Axis” are lovely ballads and set the bar rather high for what’s still to come. Usually when an artist splits with their original group to record as a solo artist, it’s usually to persue a slightly different sound. Not so much here. All three of these cuts could just as easily been National tunes.
Pigeonhole: Alt rock, folk rock
Soccer Mommy, Color Theory (2020)
Not too long ago Sophia Regina Allison (aka Soccer Mommy) was posting DIY tunes on Bandcamp, and now her second LP has just dropped. It’s worlds better than the debut and brimming with memorable tunes. “Night Swimming” is not a cover of the great REM song by the same name, but a beautiful acoustic guitar ballad that begins with the lovely stanza: “I want someone who’s following a dream/Someone like me/Feels the air inside their body running free/I want the breeze.” Her vocals and tonality bear a slight resemblance to another up-and-coming female songwriter making waves these days, Phoebe Bridges. My fave here is “Lucy,” a moniker she’s labeled her inner demon. “I look in the mirror/And the darkness looks back at me.” Allison says the album is represented by three colors: blue for depression, yellow for mental and physical illness and gray for mortality. Apparently whatever colors she might apply to happiness, joy and optimism aren’t represented, which probably makes for a much more honest collection of lyrics.
Pigeonhole: Indie rock
ZZ Top, Rio Grande Mud (1972)
I was in high school in the Eighties, so when I think of ZZ Top I think of overplayed, overproduced songs like “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Gimme All Your Lovin’,”Legs” and “Got Me Under Pressure,” all songs that, for me, wore out their welcome years ago. So it was with great pleasure I discovered this record, their sophomore effort, from 1972. I nearly dismissed it, too, but then something clicked during “Ko Ko Blue,” an incredible blues song with soaring guitar lines and amazing vocals, as if early Rolling Stones collided with Yes. Then I went back and listened to “Just Got Paid” again and, damn, it’s really incredible, too. Some spectacular musicianship on this record, and Billy Gibbons’ vocals are perfect for the job (see also the phenomenal blues jam “Bar-B-Q”).
Pigeonhole: Southern rock, blues rock
Band of Horses, Why Are You Ok (2016)
Not sure why this album didn’t click more with me back when I heard it originally. Gave it another spin after really liking Infinite Arms (2010). Particularly enjoy “Found it in a Drawer.” although the mystery remains, after four minutes, to exactly what was found in the drawer. There’s mention of going to the laundromat, so perhaps the writer is searching for a lost rewards card at the bottom of the drawer. “Casual Party” is another highlight, although the subject matter is, again, a little murky, jumping from vacation homes, awful television, kids, a dog and a freshly-mowed lawn. BOH is gradually moving up my “like” meter, so I’m amending the 2016 best of list, moving Bob Mould’s Patch the Sky to the honorable mention category to make room for Why Are You Ok. Bob is a prolific songwriter, one of my all-time favorites. He’s also an album-releaser of monumental proportions, although there hasn’t been much variation in style over the years.
Pigeonhole: Indie pop, folk rock
Edgar Winter Group,They Only Come Out at Night (1972)
Between the notorious albino brothers, Edgar and Johnny Winter, my preference was always Johnny. His 1976 live album Captured Live! was the first true blues album I connected with, even though it would be another decade before I blossomed into a devote blues purist and quasi aficionado (Johnny produced three Muddy Waters albums in the late Seventies which, for me, are amongst the greatest blues records ever recorded.) So needless to say, Edgar was always the lesser Winter brother in my eyes, but this recording is surprisingly good. It contains what is arguably one of the most recognizable rock instrumentals of the Seventies, “Frankenstein,” which was only slightly more ubiquitous than the other over-played instrumental of the day, the Moog synth heavy “Popcorn,” by one-hit wonder Hot Butter (can you get any more contrived?). Edgar’s classic “Free Ride” is here, too (not to be confused with “Free Bird”). Sadly, “Autumn” slams the breaks on the momentum; a terrible ballad, made worse by how good the rest of the album is.
Pigeonhole: Rock, blues rock
The Japanese House, Chewing Cotton Wool (2020)
Another DIY artist on the move is Amber Bain, the talented English musician who performs under the name The Japanese House. Other than last year’s Good at Falling, she has released only LPs since 2015, six in all. If that weren’t formulaic enough, each EP is exactly four songs apiece, smart, perhaps, in this age of scattered attention spans. She does it all here: vocals, keyboards, guitar and synth. The heavily-handed production plays as much a roll here as any instrument or vocal. Her songwriting and androgynous vocals have drawn comparisons to The 1975, so it’s not surprising that they have toured and worked together. Justin Vernon from Bon Iver joins her on “Dionne,” a heavily distorted arrangement that refers the great singer two generations younger than either Vernon or Bain. Particularly like the line “We played Dionne Warwick, “Walk On By”/And Freddy put his head between his legs and cried.” My personal fave is the final cut and title track. Minimal orchestration allows Bain’s voice to beautifully engulf the space.
Pigeonhole: Synth pop, dream pop