What is there to say about the songs of 1972? All over the world, first-class musicians were exploring uncharted territory, mixing and matching genres and sounds. Far from a 60s hangover, acts like The Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John ventured into the (relatively) new decade with a huge sense of purpose. In Germany, a new Krautrock sound was starting to take shape. In New York, Fania’s salsa was hitting some of its greatest heights. From Brazilian classics to iconic glam rock moments, there’s something for everyone in this list of the best songs of 1972.
66: Beach Boys – You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone
While most of us are used to sunshine California melodies from these iconic surfers, by 1972, the Beach Boys sounded a bit more like a rough-around-the-edges southern rock band. This deep cut from Carl and the Passion- “So Tough” is miles removed from Pet Sounds but still satisfyingly great.
65: Annette Peacock – Pony
“Pony” is the standout track on Annette Peacock’s I Am The One, a singular album of sci-fi sounds, abstract truth, and poetic vocals.
64: Plastic Ono Band – New York City
A rollicking ode to one of the great cities of the world, the Plastic Ono Band’s “New York City” is a raucous rock ‘n’ roll anthem that harkens back to John Lennon’s roots.
63: The Raspberries – Go All The Way
With resounding harmonies, the Ohio power pop quartet channeled the vintage British invasion sound and updated it for a new decade.
62: Catherine Ribero And Alpes – Jusqu’a Ce Que La Force De T’Aimer Me Manqu
This love song written by Ribero from their 1972 Paix album is another standout track from this French folk/prog ensemble known for their forward-thinking hybrid approach.
61: Cluster – Plas
Cluster were the group that put the kosmische in Krautrock with their hypnotic synthesizers.
60: Eddie Kendricks – Someday We’ll Have A Better World
The former Temptation dreams of a utopian world in this funky soul anthem off the singer’s 1972 album People…Hold On.
59: Fleetwood Mac – The Ghost
The pre-Buckingham/Nicks Fleetwood Mac had a slew of amazing records, including Bare Trees, featuring the mid-tempo anthem “The Ghost,” which showcases the band’s incredible musicianship.
58: McCoy Tyner – Sahara
Best known for his work in John Coltrane’s classic quartet, Tyner explored similar themes in his solo work, the sidelong “Sahara” showcasing the pianist’s contributions to the expansive sounds of spiritual jazz.
57: Harry Nilsson – Spaceman
A songwriter’s songwriter, Nilsson was beloved by more famous musicians like John Lennon and Paul McCartney. His powerful “Spaceman” is a timeless example of his enviable songwriting prowess.
56: Horace Andy – Skylarking
It would be hard to imagine reggae music without the incredible Horacy Andy. “Skylarking,” from his Studio One debut album, shows the singer’s unique style right out of the gate.
55: JJ Cale – Call Me The Breeze
One of his more recognizable hits, J.J. Cale combines various forms of Americana into an addictive Tulsa stew on “Call Me The Breeze,” a track that’s almost impossible to resist.
54: Sandy Denny – Listen, Listen
Sandy Denny was the most popular singer in the Fairport Convention stable, and it’s easy to hear why on “Listen, Listen” from her 1972 classic solo LP Sandy.
53: Pete Townshend – Pure and Easy
Just as addictive as his work with The Who, “Pure and Easy” finds the guitar-smashing rocker engaging the more mellow sounds of the 1970’s radio to great effect.
52: Rod Stewart – You Wear It Well
Rod Stewart’s solo career was on a roll of non-stop success by 1972, evidenced by the endlessly catchy “You Wear It Well,” one of the singer’s most enduring hits in a catalog filled with highlights.
51: Black Sabbath – Supernaut
Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi outdoes himself with one of the heaviest riffs of all time on “Supernaut,” but perhaps it’s drummer Bill Ward’s work on the epic break that takes this song to its unbelievable heights.
50: Chick Corea – Crystal Silence
Chick Corea was exploring uncharted territory with his ultra-mellow “Crystal Silence,” a meditative track that fused elements of what would become New Age and Jazz into its melodic, stripped-down composition.
49: Archie Shepp – Attica Blues
Archie Shepp was a soulful addition to the Impulse music and pulsed with a harder edge than his labelmates Coltrane and Sanders, as evidenced with the powerful “Attica Blues” from the album of the same name.
48: Terry Callier – Dancing Girl
“Dancing Girl” off Terry Callier’s classic 1972 What Color Is Love album is an almost 10-minute journey into the soul, a deep dive into the sound of hurt and redemption.
47: Genesis – Watcher of The Skies
Peter Gabriel-era Genesis was a musical force of nature, one need only look toward “Watcher of the Skies” from the band’s truly grand Foxtrot album to hear the telepathic interplay between these storied musicians.
46: Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick
What’s more prog than a 40-plus minute song that takes up a whole album? Ask Jethro Tull, as they released one of the genre’s most successful works with their album Thick As a Brick.
45: Chuck Berry – Let’s Boogie
Chuck Berry was still rocking strong in 1972, heard best on “Let’s Boogie” from The London Chuck Berry Sessions, which would become the best-selling album of his historic career.
44: Johnny Nash – I Can See Clearly Now
A one-time Bob Marley collaborator, Johnny Nash had an enduring smash with “I Can See Clearly Now,” a song with a feelgood vibe so prevalent that it hooks listeners with its very first line.
43: Miles Davis – Black Satin
Miles gets futuristic and funky on “Black Satin” from his astounding album Off the Corner, a record incredibly ahead of its time.
42: Aretha Franklin – Rock Steady
The deep groove on the 1972 song “Rock Steady,” combined with one of Franklin’s most assured and confident performances, results in an absolute party anthem.
41: Francois Hardy – La Berlue
The French pop icon takes a confident step in a glam-rock direction while maintaining her signature vocal style on “La Berlue,” an addictive and brief jolt of joy.
40: Funkadelic – America Eats Its Young
Funkadelic starts off its America Eats Its Young album with one of the hardest and most intense grooves of the band’s career before transitioning into a mellow, psychedelic trip.
39: Roxy Music – Ladytron
Few acts embodied the complexity and mystery of glam like Roxy Music. Take “Ladytron” from their self-titled debut album, which sounds remarkably familiar and alien at the same time.
38: Alice Cooper – School’s Out
The soundtrack to teenage deviants everywhere, Alice Cooper created a fantasy world where school was out forever.
37: Lou Reed – Perfect Day
The former Velvet Underground singer achieved a song that channels pathos, melancholy and redemption all in a few unforgettable minutes with its hummable melodies and Reed’s huge, anthemic chorus.
36: Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
As far as diss tracks go, Carly Simon made one of history’s best on this 1972 career-making hit which takes aim at a selfish former lover.
35: Rolling Stones – Rocks Off
34: Doobie Brothers – Listen to The Music
Sometimes a song gets stuck in your head the first time you hear it. Such is the case with Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music,” which became a monster hit for the band.
33: Chicago – Saturday in the Park
Chicago, as a band, had a lot of members and a lot of hits. One of their biggest hits was “Saturday In The Park,” an expertly executed bouncy pop tune from the large pop-fusion ensemble.
32: Cat Stevens – Sitting
Cat Stevens‘ “Sitting” details the songwriter’s forays into meditation and inner dialogues.
31: Caetano Veloso – You Don’t Know Me
1972 was a fertile year for South American music, exemplified by Catano Veloso’s Transa album. “You Don’t Know Me” was one of the key highlights from the songwriter-in-exile.
30: Frank Zappa – Blessed Relief
A mellow respite in what can be a heavy catalog, “Blessed Relief” finds Frank Zappa and crew in an almost meditative state.
29: Townes Van Zandt – Pancho and Lefty
Townes Van Zandt’s gorgeous voice, acoustic guitar, and a fiddle combine to tell this iconic story of an outlaw on the run.
28: Big Star – Thirteen
A tender acoustic ballad celebrating young love and the complexities of early adulthood, Big Star perfectly channels the feelings of discovery and nostalgia.
27: Carpenters – A Song For You
Karen Carpenter was a defining voice of the soft rock movement, and “A Song For You” was perhaps the prime example of her immense talent.
26: Neil Young – Heart of Gold
Simplicity is key, as evidenced in Neil Young’s incredible “Heart of Gold,” a solo ballad that tugs at the soul.
25: Joni Mitchell – You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio
Joni Mitchell’s “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” was catchy enough to earn the star her first chart hit in 1972.
24: Wishbone Ash – The King Will Come
Over the course of seven minutes and extensive guitar workouts, Wishbone Ash touch on timeless topics to inspire deep listening for rock fans.
23: Mott The Hoople – All The Young Dudes
Mott the Hoople were a struggling British rock band when David Bowie offered them the song “All The Young Dudes.” The tune’s success changed the group’s fortunes overnight and became a defining anthem of the glam era.
22: Milton Nascimento & Lo Borges – Tudo Que
Record collectors covet this incredible collaborative album by Milton Nascimento & Lo Borges, two Brazilian masters who sound even better together.
21: David Bowie – Starman
“Starman” was a big hit for David Bowie and helped propel his Ziggy Stardust album up the charts, another defining example of the glam movement in full effect.
20: Todd Rundgren – Hello It’s Me
Originally a B-side ballad for his group Nazz, Todd Rundgren’s song “Hello It’s Me” became a hit when DJs picked up on its subtle charms. Rundgren revisited the track as a solo artist, updating the tempo for the times.
19: Steely Dan – Reelin In The Years
With an unmistakable opening guitar riff, Steely Dan jump right in on their monster hit “Reelin In the Years,” a sardonic goodbye to an ex-lover.
18: Allman Brothers Band – Melissa
A bittersweet tribute to the then-recently departed Duane Allman, “Melissa” is the standout track from the Allman Brothers’ peak album, Eat A Peach.
17: Jackson Browne – Doctor My Eyes
A fantastic mid-tempo piano jam, Browne tells the tale of a man who has been through life’s hardships and comes out the other side more world-weary and resolute.
16: Can – Vitamin C
The motorik rhythms of Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit make “Vitamin C” a pinnacle of the form.
15: Roy Ayers – We Live In Brooklyn Baby
This funky jazz groove is the perfect accompaniment to riding the subways with headphones on.
14: Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come
13: T. Rex – Metal Guru
A glam party starter, T. Rex’s “Metal Guru” captures everything exciting and empowering about the movement.
12: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will The Circle Be Unbroken
Among the defining versions of this folk classic, the Nitty Gritty Band take country and bluegrass and update the sound for the 1970s.
11: Al Green – Let’s Stay Together
Al Green made one of the deepest, most soulful tracks of the decade on “Let’s Stay Together,” a song equal parts sexy and romantic.
10: The O’Jays – Back Stabbers
It’s not often that a soul group addresses false friends over such a funky, elegant groove, but the O’Jays prove they have more to sing about than love songs on this scorching diss track.
9: The Staple Singers – I’ll Take You There
The Staple Singers were a Gospel group of such power and soul, even secular listeners had to concede their greatness. “I’ll Take You There” may be the group’s finest moment, an instantly recognizable smash.
8: Willie Colón & Hector Lavoe – Che Che Colé
Two Salsa legends combine to make unbelievably rhythmic dance floor soundtracks, “Che Che Cole’” being a prime example off their 1972 joint album Cosa Nuestra.
7: Neu! – Hallogallo
The pulse, the repetition, and the beat combine to make Neu!’s ultimate contribution to German psychedelia, “Hallogallo,” a track perfect for drawn-out late-night hangs.
6: Curtis Mayfield – I’m Your Pusher
Curtis Mayfield, in a packed landscape of stylistic fly guys, sets a new bar for smooth with “I’m Your Pusher,” a highlight from the canonical Superfly soundtrack.
5: Nick Drake – Pink Moon
With a gentle touch unmatched by his peers, Nick Drake made the ultimate late-night folk record, one so direct it feels like entering into the artist’s personal space. “Pink Moon,” in particular, reverberates with a hushed profundity.
4: The Temptations – Papa Was A Rolling Stone
On what would go on to be one of the decade’s most celebrated tunes, The Temptations delivered the definitive version of this soulful anthem.
3: Deep Purple – Smoke On the Water
Deep Purple was one of the heaviest blues bands in existence, and “Smoke On The Water” was one of the most urgent riffs to ever come from Ritchie Blackmore and crew.
2: Elton John – Rocket Man
So synonymous with Elton John himself, movie producers named a 2019 Elton John biopic after this tune.
1: Stevie Wonder – Superstition
This No.1 hit may be one of Stevie Wonder’s most intense tunes, with funk-soaked riffs and an impassioned vocal.