Fifty Years On: Classic Folk from 1972

Fifty years ago, the folk revival slid further into the 1970s via some of the most iconic singer-songwriters to meet the form. A young band collaborated with the Mother of Country Music. A handful of Texans made lasting marks on the realm of songwriting. And Canadian artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell continued to reshape the American music landscape with their towering influence.

This month, in the Classic Folk Stream, we’re celebrating the folk and roots artists of 1972 with a carefully curated playlist of some of these classics. If you like this selection of influential albums from 1972, click on over to the stream and dive into more.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will the Circle Be Unbroken

In 1972, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released their tribute to the First Family of Country Music, pulling rom the Carter Family’s extensive catalog, which had formed the foundation of so much of American folk, roots, and country music. To boot, they brought Mother Maybelle into the studio (she called them “those Dirt boys”) along with an all-star cast of players. Much as the original band’s appearances on the Border Radio decades earlier had been, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s revival recording became hugely influential for a new generation of folk and country artists.

The Staple Singers – Be Altitude: Respect Yourself

On this side of history, folks tend to think of civil rights music as being confined to the 1960s, but it very much was not. This definitive recording, from one of the most influential family bands of their generation, released in 1972. With it came timeless songs like “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself.”

Townes Van Zandt – The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt

This album, produced by Cowboy Jack Clement in his Nashville studio, is still widely considered one of the hugely influential Texas songwriter’s best. After all, it includes the frequently revived tunes “Pancho and Lefty” and “If I Needed You.”

John Denver – Rocky Mountain High

Recently slated for a re-release, this classic album from the beloved folksinger John Denver was a career-defining moment. Not only was its title track widely successful, but the album itself was Denver’s first Top 10 release.

Nick Drake – Pink Moon

Pink Moon was the final studio album from English singer-songwriter Nick Drake, who died two years later. In a departure from his previous two albums, Pink Moon saw Drake performing solo. Many of its songs remain favorites among his still-devoted following.

Bill Withers – Still Bill

Bill Withers’ second album released in 1972, including a couple of his most memorable tunes—“Who Is He (and What Is He to You)?” and “Lean on Me.” It received more critical praise than his debut, Just As I Am, which had dropped the previous year with his classic “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

Paul Simon – Paul Simon

Paul Simon’s self-titled album was the first solo effort he released, two years after ending his collaboration with Art Garfunkel. Considering how young he was in his career as a solo artist, it’s remarkable to consider the excellence of some of the album’s songs: “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” “Peace Like a River,” and “Mother and Child Reunion,” to name just a few.

Bonnie Raitt – Give It Up

Bonnie Raitt’s sophomore release saw her killing it on songs by folk icons like Jackson Browne and Chris Smither. And though it was mostly packed with songs by other artists, Raitt was clearly capable of making any song she tackled her own. During a time when women instrumentalists were not the average, Raitt carved her place as a folk and blues artist with whom to be reckoned.

John Prine – Diamonds in the Rough

Nineteen-seventy-two was a big year for singer-songwriters’ second albums. John Prine’s sophomore release, Diamonds in the Rough, was also a notable recording for the artist who would become known as one of the most influential songwriters in the business. Named for a song collected by AP Carter, the album delivered “Souvenirs,” “The Late John Garfield Blues,” and this classic, “The Great Compromise.”

David Bromberg – David Bromberg

David Bromberg’s debut album released in 1972, introducing audiences to one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation. By the time Bromberg released his recorded debut, however, he was already revered by other artists of his generation. The album featured contributions from folks like David Amram, Norman Blake, and Bob Dylan.

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