My first post from the lower reaches of the US Album chart of 50 years ago put me on to some interesting music that probably wouldn’t have found a way on to my playlist & that’s a good thing. A first look at those records in positions 101-150 for January 22nd 1972 is similarly encouraging & if there is any problem making three selections there are always groups I’ve never heard of (the Siegel-Schwall Band #149) & I’m sure that the “Muppet Alphabet Album”, #110, is a good one.
Cat Stevens was in a good place in 1972. As a teenage Pop star in the UK there had been three Top 20 45s in 1967 however a hectic work schedule (two LPs in that year) resulted in tuberculosis, a collapsed lung & a year’s bedrest. His re-emergence as a singer-writer of gentle, reflective acoustic tunes was received with goodwill then major commercial success for “Tea For The Tillerman” (1970). “Teaser & the Firecat”, more romantic, relatable introspection, Cat’s melodious Pop sensibility still apparent, was even more popular, sitting at #7 on the album chart for January 22nd. “…Tillerman” was still around at #66, its longevity assisted by songs featured in “Harold & Maude”, a comedy of innocence & experience still on everybody’s favourite films list. How the heck his record label didn’t release “If You Want To Sing Out”, a non-album track, as a single is a mystery because this simple uplifting song is one to be heard & sure sounds like a hit record to me. Cat Stevens was an international star shifting a lot of vinyl. In 1972 his old record label tried to cut in on some of that action.
“Very Young & Early Songs” was Cat’s third album on the listing, a new entry at #114. The 10 tracks were recorded at the time of, or just after, the “New Masters” LP, attempts to recapture the fresh, finely observed vignette “Matthew & Son”, his big hit early in 1967. The three singles, “Lovely City”, “Here Comes My Wife” & “Where Are You” all failed to chart, the songs lacking the writer’s earlier acuity, complicated by over-elaborate productions by Mike Hurst, hindsight confirming that simplicity would enhance Cat’s strengths. At loggerheads with his producer & his label Deram, he was able to extricate himself from them after recovery from his illness. I am a fan of Cat Stevens the Pop singer but this inconsistent assembly for the US market while interesting smacks a touch too much of cash-in cynicism when Cat had moved on. In the UK Deram got a double album from these leftovers so at least there’s that.
It was not too long after drummer Joey Covington replaced Spencer Dryden in Jefferson Airplane that singer Marty Balin gave notice that he too was eyeing the exit. Joey had introduced his friend Papa John Creach, a very experienced fifty-something violin player, to a rather fragmented, factional group, showing greater interest in their splinter projects. Papa John contributed to three tracks on “Bark” (1971) & was a group member for “Long John Silver” (1972) while, concurrently, joining the Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen & Jack Casady for two records with Hot Tuna, his gypsy-blues fiddle prominent & adding texture to a duo who were seasoning their acoustic Blues with some Acid Rock muscle. (Jorma Kaukonen was my teenage guitar hero & “Burgers” (1972) is a fine album). Meanwhile over on the Starship side, Grace Slick & Paul Kantner, John was to be heard on two “Sunfighter” (1971) cuts & one on “Baron Von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun” (1973). It must have been quite an experience for a musician, who for over 30 years had gotten by taking jobs in clubs, ocean liners even orchestras, playing whatever it took to get the audiences on to the dance floor & to pay the bills, to be mixing with these Rock aristocrats but he fitted right in, a significant addition to the Airplane family’s sound at this time.
All of the records checked above were released on the group’s own Grunt label & Papa John took the opportunity to to make his own eponymous album, a new entry a #140 on the chart. San Francisco’s finest showed out to support him. On the opening “The Janitor Drives His Cadillac” he shares vocals with Grace while John Cipollina from Quicksilver Messenger Service adds guitar, his Hot Tuna mates provide the big beat for two tracks, Carlos Santana called around, “Danny Boy” & “Over the Rainbow” are kept from the cabaret times. Across it all Papa John’s playing is adroit & energetic without being flashy, it’s “Soul Fever”, with the Dead’s Jerry Garcia & Santana’s Greg Rolie, that’s my pick. There were two further LPs on Grunt, “Red Octopus” with Starship & other records with his own group. Papa John Creach found a new, bigger & younger audience for his music & this dapper gentleman did what he always had done, put on a great show.
The first I was aware of Nils Lofgren was when his name appeared on the label of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” (1970), a record so good that you paid notice to everybody involved. Nils stuck around for the first album by Crazy Horse, another one you need on your shelf. It’s an enduring attachment to Shakey & the Horse that continues today with “Barn” (2021) but he had the connections to get a deal for his own band & Grin’s debut came around in 1971. The follow-up “1+1” (1972) is a new entry at #148 on this week’s list, a “rockin'” side followed by a “dreamy” one. Nils was just 20 on its release, a kid raised on the Beatles, the Stones & the Who & there’s a fresh, romantic, sincere innocence about both records assisted by “…Gold Rush” producer David Briggs who found the strength in the songs & let the tape roll. “White Lies”, the rockin’ opener, is the radio-friendly 45 that sure sounds like a hit, should have been a hit & what the heck happened there?
Maybe things would have been different if “1+1” had found a wider audience. Grin’s next two records were a little rushed & looking for a hit before they quit. Nils went solo, with a set of great songs, fine support for his guitar & keyboards & Briggs keeping it simple, he released one of the best US Rock albums of 1975 which failed to trouble the chart compilers. More good music followed but he never wrote a “Heart of Gold”, “Born To Run” or “Refugee” that would elevate him to headlining stadiums. He will be best remembered as a trusty, long-standing sideman for Neil & Bruce which is fine but if you need some crisp, straight ahead American Rock there are two Grin albums & at least three, maybe five, of his solo records that will do the trick.
OK, we have a little time left for something from the “dreamy” side of “1+1”. There’s a whole lotta things that I never done but I ain’t never had too much “Soft Fun”.