The 30 greatest rock guitar albums of 1972

Greatest Guitar Albums of 1972
(Image credit: Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Glam rock, prog rock, country rock, power pop, proto punk, funk, and heavy metal all thrived in 1972, a sign that record – and eight-track? – buyers were open to a wide range of electric guitar-driven styles.

While several established bands cemented their status as “rock elite” with what would go on to become all-time classic albums, there were also quite a few debuts, surprises, and LPs that only seemed to get attention many years later.

There is compelling case to be made that ‘72 was one of the most significant years for guitar music. Rock guitar’s horizons were being broadened by trailblazing artist and the omnivorous tastes of the record-buying public. 

Fender, ever aware of the prevailing trends in pop-culture, recognized that change was in the air, and that players wanted different. They hooked up with former Gibson pickup guru Seth Lover for Wide Range humbucker and duly augmented the Fender Telecaster’s design. 

But now, without further ado, let’s take a virtual time machine back a half century ago, to when Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern to be re-elected U.S. President, Pong became the first successful arcade video game, and West Germany defeated the Soviet Union in the UEFA European Championship, and inspect the albums that provided an awesome soundtrack to ‘72. 

Disclaimer: only studio albums released in ’72 qualify. So, no compilations, soundtracks, unplugged and/or concert albums were permitted in this rundown…

30. The Velvert Turner Group – The Velvert Turner Group

After the tragic passing of Jimi Hendrix in 1970, several guitarists attempted to fill the psychedelic-funk-blues-rock void – most obviously, Robin Trower and Frank Marino. But one seemingly forgotten gentleman had his “Jimi-isms” down pat, Velvert Turner, on this obscure self-titled debut by his Velvert Turner Group. 

Unlike the other aforementioned players however, Velvert had a legitimate link to the late/great guitarist – he took lessons from him.

29. Fanny – Fanny Hill

Fanny truly rocked hard, and was one of the few all-female groups of the era. And on their third album, they offered several spirited covers (Ain’t That Peculiar, Hey Bulldog) and kickass originals (Blind Alley, Rock Bottom Blues) – which feature the group’s singer/guitarist, June Millington, front and center. 

28. The Osmonds – Crazy Horses

What the heck is one of the era’s most family-friendly pop bands doing on this list? In one of the most dramatic stylistic shifts in pop history, the Osmonds suddenly transformed into a true hard rockin’ band for this release – particularly on the stomping title track, Hold Her Tight, and Life Is Hard Without Goodbyes (the latter sounding surprisingly similar to the future Rainbow composition, Love’s No Friend).

27. Big Star – #1 Record

Power pop was in full bloom in ’72, and one of the genre’s best was Big Star – featuring the vocal/guitar/songwriting duo of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. 

It still remains perplexing all these years later how such seemingly made-for-the-radio tunes as In the Street and When My Baby’s Beside Me weren’t hits, nor the exceptional ballads Thirteen and Watch the Sunrise. 

26. Lou Reed – Transformer

That David Robert Jones was one busy fellow in ’72. Who? David Bowie! Huh? Let us explain – Bowie was a major appreciator of proto-punks the Velvet Underground, and when he was looking to start producing other artists, the first artist he and his then-guitarist, Mick Ronson manned the mixing desk for was ex-VU singer/guitarist Lou Reed. 

The production duo even performed on this classic, which served as a commercial breakthrough for Reed – thanks to the inclusion of such subsequent classic tunes as Walk on the Wild Side, Vicious, and the lovely ballad Perfect Day. 

25. Scorpions – Lonesome Crow

Curious to hear what a 16-year old Michael Schenker sounded like on the six-string? All you have to do is check out the Scorpions’ debut – which as evidenced by such tracks as I’m Goin’ Mad, In Search of the Peace of Mind, and the title track, are decidedly more 'hippie dippie' than the anthemic arena rock they would take to the top of the charts a decade later. 

24. Captain Beyond – Captain Beyond

Original Deep Purple singer Rod Evans’ post-Purple group was expectedly hard rocking (Dancing Madly Backwards, Mesmerization Eclipse), but also morphed into psychedelia at points (Myopic Void, As the Moon Speaks). And he found just the right men for the job via a pair of former Iron Butterflies – guitarist Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt and bassist Lee Dorman.

23. West Bruce & Laing – Why Dontcha 

With Mountain seemingly split up in ‘72, guitarist Leslie West and drummer Corky Laing promptly hooked up with ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce, and showed great promise with this highly anticipated debut – particularly on the standout tracks, Why Dontcha, The Doctor, and Love Is Worth the Blues. However, the trio would be kaput two years later, with Mountain being briefly resuscitated. 

22. Wishbone Ash - Argus

It’s easy to assume that Iron Maiden got the idea for their trademark twin guitar harmony lines from Thin Lizzy, who perfected the approach within hard rock before Maiden came merrily galloping along. But it turns out that Steve Harris was a major fan of the third offering from this British prog band, which featured six-string duo Andy Powell and Ted Turner. 

And while their guitar harmonies are not as oft-used or intricate as Maiden’s would be, you can hear a preview of what was to come – particularly at the 3:00 mark of The King Will Come. 

21. Budgie – Squawk

The sophomore effort by these Cardiff rockers showed that Black Sabbath wasn’t the only group in ’72 laying down some serious proto-doom/stoner metal. 

Singer/bassist Burke Shelley and guitarist Tony Bourge team up for some industrial-sized riffing on Whiskey River, Hot as a Docker’s Armpit, and Stranded, and like Sab, would insert acoustic ditties from time to time (Rolling Home Again, Make Me Happy) before the next brutal metallic assault. 

20. Trapeze – You are the Music…We’re Just the Band

Although best known for his work with Deep Purple’s Mark III and IV line-ups, singer/bassist Glenn Hughes got his start with Trapeze. 

Also including future Whitesnake guitarist Mel Galley and future Judas Priest drummer Dave Holland, the trio began as a near metal band – specifically 1970’s Medusa – before getting a funk-rock makeover in time for this album, on the standouts Keepin’ Time and the title track, and momentarily turning down the amps for the gorgeous ballad, Coast to Coast. 

19. Blue Öyster Cult – Blue Öyster Cult

Fuzzed-out, distorted, and cranked-to-10 amps are usually associated with heavy metal. However, on Blue Öyster Cult’s self-titled debut, this was not always the case. Still, the New York group – featuring guitarists Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom – managed to create a seriously spooky vibe on Workshop of the Telescopes, Then Came the Last Days of May, and especially the awesomely-titled She’s as Beautiful as a Foot.  

18. Genesis – Foxtrot

As evidenced by several selections on this list, ’72 saw several prog bands choose to utilize entire sides of an album to get their point across, or in the case of Foxtrot, nearly an entire side (as a brief instrumental, Horizons, prefaces the 23 minute-plus Supper’s Ready). And Steve Hackett had no problem navigating his six-string through all of the unexpected compositional twists and turns. 

17. Roxy Music – Roxy Music

Were they art rock? Glam rock? Prog rock? Who knows for sure – and that is precisely what made the self-titled debut by Roxy Music so swell. Interestingly, one of their best-ever tunes, Virginia Plain (which featured a tasty lead break from guitarist Phil Manzanera), was included on the US version of the album, but was nowhere to be found on the UK edition. 

16. Todd Rundgren – Something/Anything?

Although often pointed to as a power pop tour de force, Todd Rundgren’s third solo effort (a sprawling double album), actually touched upon various styles – hard rock, R&B, psychedelia, piano ballads, etcetera. And while the radio hits Hello It’s Me and I Saw the Light remain the best known of the bunch, Rundgren gets to show off his underrated guitar soloing skills on Black Maria and Couldn’t I Just Tell You

Also of note, Rundgren proved to be an incredibly multi-talented musician – not only singing, producing the album, and penning 24 of the its 25 tracks, but also playing every bloody instrument on the first three sides! 

15. Neil Young – Harvest

Primarily thought of as Neil Young’s best – and most folky – solo effort (due to the inclusion of Heart of Gold and The Needle and the Damage Done), this US/UK chart-topper does include some rocking moments (Alabama, Words), and also a few tunes that contributed to the emergence of the “country rock” genre (Out on the Weekend, Old Man, Are You Ready for the Country?). 

14. The Allman Brothers Band – Eat a Peach 

When Duane Allman tragically died in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971, the Allman Brothers were in the midst of recording a studio album – which would go on to become the basis of this half studio/half-live double LP. 

That said, it’s no cobbled-together affair, as evidenced by the fact that two classic tunes, Melissa and Blue Sky (the latter penned by the group’s other guitarist, Dickey Betts) reside here, as well as a seemingly never-ending concert recording, Mountain Jam.

13. ZZ Top – Rio Grande Mud

You could always count on ZZ Top to deliver some lean blues-boogie throughout the decade. And their sophomore effort continued to help get the train a-rollin’, as singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons shines on such gems as Francine, Just Got Paid, and Chevrolet, as well as the forgotten riff rocker, Down Brownie. 

12. Jeff Beck Group – Jeff Beck Group 

The most celebrated eras of guitar great Jeff Beck’s career seem to be the psychedelic mid ‘60s with the Yardbirds, the hard rocking late ‘60s with the Jeff Beck Group (featuring a line-up that included Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood), and his jazz-fusion detour in the mid-late ‘70s as a solo artist. 

However, he had resuscitated the Jeff Beck Group for a spell during the early ‘70s (sans Rod and Ronnie), including this self-titled effort – aka The Orange Album – which spotlighted such guitar workouts as Going Down, Ice Cream Cakes, and Definitely Maybe

11. Funkadelic – America Eats Its Young

Funkadelic once offered up a song entitled Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?! And this is certainly a fitting assessment of most of their ‘70s albums – especially this double disc set. 

The George Clinton-led group utilized several guitarists here, including Eddie Hazel (I Call My Baby Pussycat), Garry Shider (Biological Speculation), Harold Beane (Loose Booty), and Catfish Collins (Philmore).

10. Curtis Mayfield – Super Fly

Undoubtedly one of the best motion picture soundtracks of all-time was this masterpiece by the former leader of the Impressions, which lyrically, reflected the onscreen story of tough guy/drug dealer, Youngblood Priest. 

Funky rhythm guitar (courtesy of Mayfield, Phil Upchurch, and Craig McMullen) and Mayfield’s incredibly soulful vocals are featured throughout – but especially on Pusherman, Freddie’s Dead, and the title track. 

9. T. Rex – The Slider 

Following in the same glam rock direction as its predecessor (1971’s Electric Warrior), Marc Bolan and company returned with another stellar album. And it’s loaded with guitar-driven treats, such as the classics Metal Guru and Telegram Sam, plus the lesser-known title track, Baby Strange, and Ballrooms of Mars. 

8. Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick

As previously pointed out in the entry for Foxtrot, ’72 saw several prog bands offer up extended compositions – including Tull’s fifth studio effort, which featured two songs across two sides (both going by the name of the album’s title, but differentiated by a Part I and Part II). 

Part I is by far the best of the pair – starting with the strum of Ian Anderson’s acoustic guitar, introducing the full band (with a bang) at the 3:03 mark, then presenting one of the most bouncy and jolly pieces of music a rock band has ever offered up at 12:32, while guitarist Martin Barre’s soloing capabilities are showcased at various points throughout. 

7. Yes – Close to the Edge

Like Genesis and Jethro Tull, Yes opted to treat listeners to an extended tune that traversed many peaks and valleys. And on their fifth studio effort overall, that tune would be the near 19-minute title track. 

But it turns out that the two ditties that comprise the second side were just as good…and possibly, somehow even better than side one – the ballad And You and I and the funk-prog rocker Siberian Khatru – the latter of which features some superb interplay between guitarist Steve Howe and bassist Chris Squire

6. Steely Dan – Can’t Buy a Thrill

The band long led by Donald Fagan and Walter Becker has been described as many things – jazz rock, soft rock, and even pop. But the best tune on Steely Dan’s debut is a straight-up rocker, Reelin’ in the Years – which features a simply blazing guitar solo by session man Elliott Randall. 

That said, the guitar work by then-members Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Denny Dias on Do It Again and Midnite Cruiser ain’t too shabby, either. 

5. Alice Cooper – School’s Out

It was on Alice Cooper's third album with producer Bob Ezrin worked that the group entered a truly cinematic realm – particularly on such tunes as Gutter Cat vs. the Jets/Street Fight, Alma Mater, and Grand Finale. 

Oh yes, it also contains one of the greatest guitar riffs of all-time (courtesy of the late/great Glen Buxton, along with Michael Bruce), within the anthemic title track. 

4. Black Sabbath – Vol. 4

Although it never received the same hefty amount of accolades as say, their debut or Paranoid did, Black Sabbath’s fourth offering overall is crammed with prime Tony Iommi detuned riffage. 

While a tune about the effects of the devil’s dandruff, Snowblind, is probably the best known rocker, it’s all killer/no filler here, particularly Wheels of Confusion, Tomorrow’s Dream, and Supernaut.

3. Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St.

Some musicians simply cannot function while on drugs. Others issue one of the best rock albums of all-time – case in point, the Stones with this classic double-LP (which come to mention it, that was another craze of ’72 – the double-LP!). 

Mick Taylor was still in the midst of serving as Keith Richards’ six-string lieutenant, and they sound gloriously ragged n’ rocking on Tumbling Dice, Happy, and Ventilator Blues – and a special shout-out goes to the greatest Stones song title ever, Turd on the Run)

2. David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Although there had been glam rock albums issued before the arrival of David Bowie’s fifth studio album – T. Rex's Electric Warrior, Alice Cooper's Love It to Death and KillerZiggy was the one that truly sent the genre over the top. 

And while it was primarily the Bowie’s androgynous look and spaceman lyrics that made Ziggy stand out from the pack, there’s no denying what guitarist Mick Ronson brought to the album – particularly his out-of-this-world lead on Moonage Daydream and riffing on Ziggy Stardust.

1. Deep Purple – Machine Head

Is it much of a surprise that the album that gave us arguably the greatest rock guitar riff of all-time is numero uno?

Of course, we’re talking about Smoke on the Water. But Ritchie Blackmore’s Fender Stratocaster is in fine form throughout Machine Head. And with the likes of Highway Star, Pictures of Home and Space Truckin’, song for song, it remains Deep Purple’s greatest studio effort of all time.

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Greg Prato

Greg is a contributing writer at Guitar World. He has written for other outlets over the years, and has been lucky to interview some of his favorite all-time guitarists and bassists: Tony Iommi, Ace Frehley, Adrian Belew, Andy Summers, East Bay Ray, Billy Corgan, Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee, Les Claypool, and Mike Watt, among others (and even took lessons from John Petrucci back in the summer of ’91!). He is the author of such books as Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, Shredders: The Oral History of Speed Guitar (And More) and Touched by Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story.