The second time ever I saw your face

Layla and Other Love Songs by Derek & the DominoesHey everybody, I’m back to posting weekly. Just decided it’s the thing I want to do. But I need a break from the heady and want to post something light and breezy this time (Where have I heard words like those before?)…something about pop music, but maybe not meaningless. I just don’t know what it means.

You see, as with most all things pop-music, something strange happened in 1972. (Something else, I should say. There was also this and this and this and this and this.) And that is the release of a whole bunch of good songs that were recorded a couple of years earlier.

I recently wrote about a song that became a hit in late 1972 a few years after it was first released. My mind being such that it is, I immediately started thinking about all the other songs that were hits in 1972 or early 1973 but were recorded in 1969 or thereabouts. Without trying very hard, I came up with these 6:

  • Living in the Past” by Jethro Tull was first released in 1969 but didn’t become popular in the US until the end of 1972 when released as a single from the album of the same name. That’s the song that got the mental ball rolling.
  • Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes (Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, et al.) was recorded in 1970 but hit #10 on the charts in 1972. In the interim, “Stairway to Heaven,” released in late 1971, made long songs safe — fashionable, even — for radio airplay.
  • Space Oddity” by David Bowie, originally released at the time of the 1969 Apollo moon launch, didn’t make it big until downers about space travel became the rage (as I’ve talked about before).
  • The sublime “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues, originally from way back in 1967, made it to #2 (and #1 in Canada) in a shortened version in 1972. Five years ahead of its time, apparently, time caught up.
  • You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones was the flip side of “Honky Tonk Women” in 1969, but charted on its own in 1973. The single was trimmed down to 5 minutes both times.
  • Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” from her 1969 album, First Take, was released as a single in a slightly shortened version in 1972 after being featured in the Clint Eastwood film Play Misty for Me (1971). It hit #1 that spring and stayed there for 6 weeks, making it the #1 song of the year.

Play Misty for MeSo, what’s going on here? Why so many delayed hits around this time? Most of these songs were long in their original versions, and some (but not all) achieved success only after being shortened. What does that have to do with anything? Hell if I know.

I like to solve these little mysteries and find an explanation — I’ve been mulling this one over for weeks — but sometimes there just isn’t one. Why did a half-dozen especially good songs almost simultaneously become hits a few years after being recorded? Ideas? Could be there is no reason. They just did.


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