The best 1972 albums are among some of the most timeless records ever made. The Rolling Stones, Bowie, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John all released world-beating LPs. (Stevie even, somehow, made two.) You also had Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and The Staples Singers each putting out some of the best work of their careers as well. In short, this list of the best albums from 1972 has something for just about everyone. Dig in and discover a new (or old) favorite.
64: The Beach Boys – Carl and the Passions – “So Tough”
63: The Doobie Brothers – Toulouse Street
Featuring the eternal “Listen to the Music,” The Doobie Brothers’ second album sees the group starting to flesh out a unique sound all their own.
62: Wishbone Ash – Argus
Wishbone Ash were among the first to utilize two lead guitars, leading to an album of complex hard rock and prog brilliance.
61: Townes Van Zandt – The Late Great Townes Van Zandt
1972’s The Late Great Townes Van Zandt is one where you’d first find “Pancho and Lefty,” a song so beautiful that it already merits inclusion on a best albums of the year list.
60: Annette Peacock – I’m The One
Vocalist and pianist Annette Peacock’s I’m The One is a bizarre trip into psychedelia and free jazz. As her vocal delivery runs the gamut from screaming to an ominous monotone, the sound that Peacock carves out is like nothing else.
59: John & Yoko / Plastic Ono Band With Elephant’s Memory And Invisible Strings - Some Time In New York City
John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Some Time In New York City is among their most politically charged music, and remains controversial even today.
58: The Raspberries – Fresh
A brilliant bit of power pop, The Raspberries’ second album sees the group honing their instinct for indelible melodies and undeniable choruses.
57: Willie Colón & Hector Lavoe – Crime Pays
A collection of some of Willie Colón’s finest moments from the 60s and 70s, Crime Pays proves that his collaborations with Hector Lavoe were among the best things he ever recorded. “Che Che Colé” is one of the must-hear highlights.
55: Cat Stevens – Catch Bull At Four
Cat Stevens’ Catch Bull At Four was yet another No. 1 album for the singer-songwriter, proving that his direct and purposeful tunes spoke powerfully to the times in which they were released.
54: Carly Simon – No Secrets
With a rich, crystal-clear voice, there are few singer/songwriters that exemplified the 70s more than Carly Simon. No Secrets is both dreamy and heartbreaking with songs like “You’re So Vain” and “We Have No Secrets” deftly exploring the nuances of love and heartbreak.
53: Catherine Ribero And Alpes – Paix
With its idiosyncratic vocals and complex musical structures, Catherine Ribero And Alpes’ Paix is an intriguing progressive rock masterpiece. Whether it’s the swirling organ and driving rhythm of the title track or the standout, “Jusqu’a Ce Que La Force De T’Aimer Me Manqu,” Paix conjures sounds that capture the imagination.
52: Chicago – Chicago V
Chicago found success in the 70s, infusing pop music and rock with virtuosic jazz chops. Chicago V is one of the band’s crowning achievements, fusing musical styles beautifully on songs like “State Of The Union” and the smash radio hit “Saturday in the Park.”
51: Cluster – Cluster II
Cutting edge and immersive, Cluster II is a testament to the German band’s ability to conjure experimental electronic sounds.
50: Eddie Kendricks – People… Hold On
Famously known as the falsetto for The Temptations, Eddie Kendricks began branching out and releasing solo albums in the early 70s. 1972’s People….Hold On remains one of his finest releases, fusing heartfelt soul with meaningful social commentary on songs like “Someday We’ll Have A Better World.”
49: Fleetwood Mac – Bare Trees
Fleetwood Mac’s sixth studio album Bare Trees is anchored by standout songs like “Homeward Bound,” “The Ghost,” and “Child Of Mine.” With its vivid lyrics and arrangements that veer from rocking and heavy to sweet and understated, the album is a worthwhile listen even if it’s underrated when compared to the band’s more well-known releases.
48: McCoy Tyner – Sahara
Pianist, composer, and former Coltrane sideman, McCoy Tyner enjoyed a long and rich career as one of jazz’s premier musicians. With its complex compositions and inventive playing, Sahara showcases Tyner as jazz innovator.
47: Harry Nilsson – Son of Schmilsson
With songs like the cheeky rocker “Take 54” and the tender “Turn On Your Radio,” Son Of Schmilsson touches on many moods and styles.
46: Horace Andy – Skylarking
Skylarking is among Horace Andy’s best albums, with powerful reggae grooves to complement Andy’s distinctive voice.
45: J.J. Cale – Naturally
Elegantly combining the blues with country, jazz, and rock Naturally soars on the strength of J.J. Cale’s luminous, bittersweet songs.
44: Sandy Denny – Sandy
With lush organs, brass, and slide guitar augmenting her unique and understated voice, Sanny Denny’s fourth album is a garden of musical delights.
43: Roy Ayers Ubiquity – He’s Coming
When describing the cozy stylistic relationship that jazz, funk, and soul enjoyed throughout the 70s, you can’t help but mention singer/vibraphonist Roy Ayers. He’s Coming is full of memorable cuts like the slick and funky “He’s a Superstar” and the breezy orchestral-jazz masterpiece “We Live In Brooklyn Baby.”
42: Mott the Hoople – All the Young Dudes
Released at the height of the glam rock era, All The Young Dudes is as anthemic as it is flamboyant.
41: Pete Townshend – Who Came First
Pete Townshend’s first official solo album is the sound of an artist joyfully experimenting with one of the most advanced in-home studio set-ups of the period. The result was one of the best albums of 1972.
40: Joni Mitchell – For the Roses
Nestled among Joni’s run of classic albums, 1972’s For The Roses is gorgeous and packed full of gems. The entire album is strong, anchored by the lovely, popular hit “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio.”
39: Rod Stewart – Never a Dull Moment
Working closely with The Faces, Rod Stewart continued his successful fusion of hard rock and folk on Never a Dull Moment with tracks like “True Blue” and “You Wear It Well.”
38: Todd Rundgren – Something / Anything?
Todd Rundgren’s masterful ability to write a complex pop song is on showcase in what might be his finest album, 1972’s Something / Anything?
37: Alice Cooper – School’s Out
With its big riffs and memorable songs, School’s Out is a loud and raucous album. Adding a bit of camp to the proceedings with songs like “Guttercats vs The Jets,” School’s Out gets to the heart of rock’n’roll’s ecstatic spirit.
36: Caetano Veloso – Transa
Transa is a lovely and tender set of songs from the Brazilian master, Caetano Veloso. Alternating fluidly between English and Portuguese, Veloso’s rich voice lights up songs like “You Don’t Know Me” and “It’s a Long Way.”
35: Frank Zappa – The Grand Wazoo
Crafted in the bizarre and singular style that only he could pull off, The Grand Wazoo finds Frank Zappa jumping from rock to avant-garde jazz and beyond.
34: Jackson Browne – Jackson Browne
Jackson Browne’s self-titled album is a remarkable debut. Stripped down and beaming with emotional truth, Browne’s songs stick with you long after their first heard.
33: Black Sabbath – Vol. 4
Vol. 4 was the fourth entry in what would become a genre-defining run of albums for heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath. From the dramatic rocker “Wheels Of Confusion” to “Snowblind,” Vol. 4 lays down a rich template for blues-tinged hard rock with an air of mysticism.
32: Neil Diamond – Hot August Night
A fun and dynamic live album capturing Neil Diamond at the height of his powers. The joy and excitement is palpable especially when Diamond launches into favorites like “Cherry, Cherry” and “Sweet Caroline.”
31: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will The Circle Be Unbroken
With its spirited playing and soaring vocal harmonies, Will The Circle Be Unbroken is a beautiful reminder of country music’s kinship with the blues and gospel.
30: The Temptations – All Directions
“Papa Was a Rolling Stone” is the undeniable highlight on this excellent Temptations album, but there’s plenty of other gold to be found among the Norman Whitfield-produced psychedelic soul.
29: Chick Corea – Return To Forever
A landmark in the jazz fusion subgenre, Chick Corea’s Return To Forever marked a significant step in the evolution of jazz. Augmented by Flora Purim’s incredible vocal performances and the band’s dynamic interplay, the 1972 album is a rich stew of diverse influences.
28: Archie Shepp – Attica Blues
Decades after its release, Attica Blues remains a high point in the career of this celebrated jazz innovator. Straddling big band, soul, and free jazz, Attica Blues is both eclectic and socially conscious, capturing the fiery and radical spirit of the day.
27: Terry Callier – What Color Is Love
With the title track and the nearly 9-minute epic “Dancing Girl,” What Color Is Love combines folk and soul music to create a beautiful, transcendent sound.
26: The Allman Brothers Band – Eat A Peach
Featuring the timeless “Melissa,” Eat a Peach was the last album to feature Duane Allman. It was a beautiful send-off to one of the most talented guitarists of the 70s.
25: Genesis – Foxtrot
Ambitious and stunningly complex, Foxtrot is one of the highlights of Genesis’ 70s output and features classics like “Watch of the Skies.”
24: Neu! – Neu!
With its driving rhythms and open-minded musical approach, German experimental band Neu!’s debut was not only one of the most intriguing albums of 1972, its influence lives on in the sound of bands like Stereolab and Tortoise.
23: The Staple Singers – Be Altitude: Respect Yourself
“I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself” are the standouts on this excellent 1972 Staple Singers album, but there’s plenty more to dance and sing along to.
22: Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick
One of the most complex and ambitious pieces of rock music released in 1972, Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick is a dizzying and immersive musical journey.
21: Carpenters – A Song For You
Full of gorgeous pop songs with a tinge of melancholy, A Song For You is a standout of 1972. Karen Carpenter’s voice and multi-faceted delivery guides us through cuts like “Bless The Beasts And The Children” and their fantastic cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You.”
20: Chuck Berry – The London Chuck Berry Sessions
Recorded nearly two decades into his career, The London Chuck Berry Sessions captures Chuck Berry in fine, rockin’ form. A stellar live performance, the album opens with the funky, restrained groove of “Let’s Boogie” and closes with a rolicking version of “Johnny B. Goode.”
19: Can – Ege Bamyasi
Ege Bamyasi is the third album from German ensemble Can. Daring, innovative, and delightfully strange, the album shines on moments like the euphoric “One More Night” and the nimble, proto-hip hop groove of “Vitamin C.”
18: Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill
Can’t Buy A Thrill is one of the best entries in Steely Dan’s deep and varied catalog. Full of idiosyncratic songs couched in a breezy fusion of jazz and rock, if one were to only consider two of its monster singles “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ In The Years,” Can’t Buy A Thrill would still be an all-time classic.
17: Lou Reed – Transformer
Transformer is one of the best solo albums released by the former Velvet Underground frontman. Songs like “Vicious,” “Satellite of Love,” and “Perfect Day” proved that Reed was one of the most skillful and evocative songwriters in rock.
16: Big Star – #1 Record
Anchored by the dual songwriting attack of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, #1 Record is one of the quintessential rock albums of the 70s. The album is full of gorgeous, bittersweet songs like “The Ballad Of El Goodo” and fun rockers like “When My Baby’s Beside Me.”
15: Roxy Music – Roxy Music
1972 saw the outstanding debut album from English art-rock ensemble Roxy Music. As bold and theatrical as anything released that year, Roxy Music is a winner from Bryan Ferry’s dramatic vocal style to Brian Eno’s intriguing electronics and beyond.
14: Nick Drake – Pink Moon
Nick Drake was one of the most powerful singer-songwriters of his day. With plaintive, bittersweet songs like “Pink Moon” and “Things Behind The Sun,” Drake aims straight for the heart, with each song unleashing a tidal wave of emotion.
13: Milton Nascimento / Lô Borges: Clube Da Esquina
Equally funky as it is vulnerable and deep, Clube Da Esquina captures the beauty and power of Brazilian music.
12: Various Artists – The Harder They Come
If you needed to point to one album that truly broke Jamaican into the mainstream, the soundtrack to The Harder They Come would be the one.
11: Deep Purple – Machine Head
With “Smoke on the Water,” “Highway Star,” and “Space Truckin’,” Deep Purple’s Machine Head had loads of hits – and was arguably one of the biggest influences on early metal.
10: Elton John – Honky Château
09: Neil Young – Harvest
Featuring guest appearances from David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash and classics like “Old Man,” “The Needle and the Damage Done,” and “Heart of Gold,” Harvest was one of the best albums of 1972.
08: Stevie Wonder – Music Of My Mind
Shockingly ambitious and well-executed, Music Of My Mind finds Stevie Wonder operating near the height of his powers. Songs like “Superwoman: Where Were You When I Needed You?)” and “Happier Than The Morning Sun” not only display Stevie’s unique musical vision, they live on as eternal classics.
07: Miles Davis – On The Corner
Throughout the 70s, Miles Davis released music that flew in the face of established jazz conventions. With its minimalist funk sound, On The Corner may be his most radical project of the decade.
06: Al Green – I’m Still In Love With You
Able to mine the depths of romantic love for all its bittersweet glory, Al Green was among a rare class of greats during soul music’s greatest decade. With cuts like “Love & Happiness,” “I’m Glad You’re Mine,” and others, I’m Still In Love With You is a masterpiece.
05: Aretha Franklin – Young, Gifted and Black
The 1970s saw the ascension of Aretha Franklin to the ranks of one of the great geniuses of contemporary music. Young, Gifted and Black is among Aretha’s finest works, as it includes the classic title track, a beautiful cover of “The Long And Winding Road,” and the pulsating and funky hit “Rock Steady.”
04: David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
A masterwork and high achievement in David Bowie’s storied body of work, 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is one of the greatest rock albums ever.
03: Curtis Mayfield – Superfly
With its evocative musical arrangements and vivid tales of life on the street, Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack to Superfly is shockingly powerful. Songs like “I’m Your Pusherman” and the title track add striking nuance to Mayfield’s stories of street life.
02: Stevie Wonder – Talking Book
Created in the midst of Stevie Wonder’s legendary run of albums throughout the 70s, Talking Book is a flat out classic. Swinging between tender romantic ballads (“You And I (We Can Conquer The World”), bittersweet jams (“Tuesday Heartbreak”), and monster hits (“Superstition”), Talking Book is as expressive, varied, and complete as anything released in 1972 or in the decades since.
01: The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main St.
Quite simply one of the best rock albums ever made, 1972’s Exile On Main St. is a beautiful and scuzzy masterpiece.