The past is inscribed in the future dates of pop’s annual calendar. Anniversaries increase, an incentive for reissues and appreciation. The half-century festival has a particularly weighty meaning. An album that is still in general circulation at the age of 50 has surpassed the coming and going of short-lived cards. It entered pop’s equivalent of antiquity and joined the classics.
One incomparable figure is particularly large in the 1972/2022 cycle. Stevie Wonder’s career goes back to his Motown child star starting in 1962, but it was a few releases 50 years ago that announced him as a Renaissance man for the era of multi-track recordings. This technology allowed Wonder to layer different vocal and instrumental parts with seductive complexity, at the same time intricate and fluent, the product of an extremely gifted songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist and arranger. Music of my mind came out in March, an artistic declaration of independence, while Talking Book followed in October.
The Rolling Stones are celebrating their 60th anniversary in 2022 and are still touring despite Charlie Watts’ death in August. Never be ashamed to repackage their past, they have a landmark record that turns 50 in May: Exile in Main Street, the messy, charismatic double album directed by Keith Richards while he and his bandmates spent time as tax evaders in the south of France. His rare mix of country blues, R&B and Memphis soul had a lukewarm reception when it came out, but it is now recognized as their masterpiece.
June brings a glam-rock double-header with the 50th anniversary of Roxy Musicself-titled debut and David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars. In the summer of 1972, Bowie brought Lou Reed to the stage in London for a Save the Whales benefit performance. It was the former Velvet Underground frontman’s first live appearance in the UK. His most celebrated solo album, Transformer, came out in November, co-produced by Bowie.
Aretha Franklin’s Young, Gifted and Black was released in January, a day before Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American person and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. (She lost to George McGovern.) Curtis Mayfield’s movie soundtrack broadcast from the streets of black America, Super Fly, came out six months later.
What would soon be known as krautrock took shape with New! it debuts and Can’s breakthrough album, Aegean Okra. Sandy Denny’s most famous solo album also turns 50, Sandy, and Joni Mitchell’s For the Roses, the Canadian’s follow-up to Blue. Then there’s Neil Young’s Harvest, Steely Dan’s debut Can not buy a thrill and Al Green’s I’m still in love with you. The antiquities of 1972 set the modern ones of 2022 a high bar.