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2022 Music Jubilees 1997 and 1972


In this jubilee year of 2022, it’s a good moment to celebrate two of the greatest years in popular music – the silver jubilee of 1997 and the golden one of 1972. This celebration was written and conceived as a networking 4Sight presentation back in the summer of 2022, looking ahead to the Platinum Jubilee of HM the Queen. Sadly, of course, she has since died, but that doesn’t diminish the years in question. And it’s a good moment to consider the seeming light years of musical development that took place during the Queen’s long reign.

When she acceded to the throne on 6 Feb 1952, crooner Johnnie Ray was at number one with ‘Cry’, and when she died, on 8 Sept 2022, it was Eliza Rose at the top spot with BODA, Baddest of Them All, in its own way perhaps a great tribute to Her Maj…

25 years on: 1997

My strongest musical memory from that year was taking my son Ben, aged 13, to his first major concert – Radiohead at the NEC on the OK Computer tour, with diverse support from DJ Shadow (amazing) and Teenage Fanclub (one of my favourite bands, but lost in a stadium full of Radiohead fans…). As for the headliners, it felt like a special moment in their career, a blistering set, and as Ben has gone on to make a career in music, I like to think it was a formative event.

OK Computer still makes the top of many album polls, but it was by no means the only great album released in ’97. This year saw so many bands and artists at the top of their game, with favourite albums of mine released by Bjork, Blur, Spiritualised, Cornershop, Teenage Fanclub, Supergrass, Stereolab and Yo La Tengo. Even Bowie released his best album of the ‘90s, Earthling.

These albums + other music referred to in this blog are summarised on this ‘Celebrating 1997’ Spotify playlist: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/12KE01MRb45ARgfjecipRd?si=50a21e31f2c44213

Various trends emerged in ’97. For sure, it was a hugely successful year for the music industry, particularly looking back 25 years and comparing it with today’s commercial landscape in music. CD sales were phenomenal. The two bestselling albums in ’97, from Shania Twain and Celine Dion, sold 70M copies, which is more than total CD sales in the US and UK in 2021! ’97 was also the year of the bestselling single of all time (33M copies sold!), Elton John’s Candle in the Wind 1997, of course reflecting the exceptional circumstances of Diana’s death.

The gap between the commercially successful music of the time (Barbie Girl, Teletubbies, Titanic soundtrack) and the quality of some of the music released, was as wide as ever, and certainly a similar pattern to that of 1972. There were some great tracks though which were chart successes and still sound great: Never Ever, Lovefool, Bitter Sweet Symphony, Firestarter, Richard III, Beetlebum and Setting Sun, to name a few, still sound great.

The beats of the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy were part of an emerging scene, with Daft Punk’s debut, David Holmes’ Let’s Get Killed and others contributing to a new style of dance music. Girl Power was a thing still, with the Spice Girls releasing their second album, Spice World (+ nuts movie) and All Saints debut album, which remains a great record.

Some great artists’ debut albums came out in this year. The mighty Mogwai arrived with Young Team, plus Erykah Badu’s peerless Baduizm, and an unlikely worldwide hit from some wonderful old guys from Cuba, Buena Vista Social Club. Just as great new music was emerging, ’97 also saw some bands tipping over and falling from their heights. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the notorious release of Oasis’s ill-fated third album, Be Here Now. I say ill-fated, it still sold bucketloads, with fans rushing out to get the album after the magic of their first two, but charity shops soon filled up with discarded copies of this bloated mess.

So, looking back, although the nineties and noughties years all start, to me, to blur together a bit when thinking about musical trends, ’97 is definitely worth focusing on and rediscovering.

50 years on: 1972

No danger of any blurring with this year, a true landmark year in music, the year of Ziggy, Roxy and Lou, of prog’s peak, of Neil and Joni and Carly, of Machine Head and Exile, and so much more. I was 15 and spent the summer on Long Island listening to Layla and School’s Out, what a time to be alive!

So much was crammed into each year from, say, 1966-1972 that, looking back, the excitement each month brought in terms of amazing new music was incredible. Whole books have been written about 1972, and indeed many of the albums released that year, so summarising briefly is hard.

However, check out my ‘Celebrating 1972’ playlist for a taste of what happened: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2VIJLnWqUx7ObiPZobpmT6?si=0cc6a5aac894407a

As with ’97, the charts didn’t necessarily reflect the quality of what was going on. In the top five singles of ’72 are Donny Osmond, New Seekers and… Lieutenant Pigeon with Mouldy Old Dough, surely one of the most bizarre number ones ever. In the album charts, the most successful artists were MOR stalwarts such as Bread, the Carpenters and Simon & Garfunkel. However, Neil Young and Bowie were in the top 5 too, which is pretty remarkable.

Great singles of ’72, where to start?? Layla, Stay with Me, Silver Machine, All the Young Dudes, Virginia Plain, School’s Out, Starman, Lady Eleanor… the list goes on! And in virtually every genre, it was a peak year: Prog delivered Close to the Edge, Foxtrot, Argus, Trilogy and Thick as a Brick. In rock there was Machine Head, Sabbath Vol 4, Grateful Dead Live in Europe, Eat a Peach, Caravanserai, Can’t Buy a Thrill, and the last great Stones album, Exile on Main Street. It was also the height of the era of the singer-songwriter, with these landmark albums: Harvest, Pink Moon, No Secrets, For the Roses, Never a Dull Moment, Catch Bull at Four, Sandy, and Jackson Browne.

Three other genres were on the rise, reflecting the diversity of music on offer. Black music was producing some of the most interesting and innovative new sounds, led by genius Stevie Wonder, whose astonishing Music of My Mind AND Talking Book both came out in this year. Miles Davis’ On the Corner remains probably his most controversial album and listening now it sounds light years ahead. Artists such as Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield, Jimmy Cliff and Al Green were all stretching the possibilities of their genres, producing great music in the process.

Then there was glam… Bolan’s glitter on his cheeks had started it in ’71, but it was Bowie’s Starman on TOTP on 6th July 1972 which produced glam’s truly iconic moment. As well as Ziggy Stardust, ’72 saw the release of (IMHO) the greatest debut album of all time, Roxy Music + the classic non-album single, Virginia Plain. Lou Reed put on the eyeliner too, with the Bowie-produced Transformer, with its Walk on the Wild Side, and one of my favourite album opening lines: “Vicious, you hit me with a flower”. Oh, to get a taste of some Ziggy excitement on the big screen, do check out the Moonage Daydream movie, with its previously unseen clip of a Ziggy-era concert.

The other emerging intriguing genre was krautrock (can I call it that??). Forged totally outside the US or UK traditions of music, the sounds emerging from Germany were so different, so neu! Neu!’s Hallogallo and that first album, when you listen to it you need to keep checking it’s from 1972. Similarly, Can’s Vitamin C and the Ege Bamyasi album, and the ambient/electronic sounds from Cluster and others sound from another planet.

That’s just a selective taster from the joys of 1972 (and 1997), so set off on your own musical jubilee celebrations of 1997 and 1972 – you won’t be disappointed.