Senior Year, 1972: Post-'60s Mellow
by Justin Farrar | May 14, 2012
In the years following Woodstock, the country's unified youth culture began to break apart like an iceberg that has drifted into warmer waters. No longer would the masses fixate on a single entity the way they did The Beatles (who split in 1970). Nowhere was this fragmentation more apparent than in the American high school, where kids formed tribes around their favorite subgenres of pop music. There were the heavy-metal lunkheads, the progressive-rock nerds, the glitter-rock weirdoes, the straight-up teenyboppers still clinging to the increasingly corny sounds found on the AM dial.
There were also a growing number of young folk grooving to the mellow sounds of Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Carole King. These kids were 18 going on 35. They played at being old, because old was hip. After the social and aesthetic turbulence of the '60s, the singer-songwriters they obsessed over were all about settling down, finding their way in the world, turning inward, playing house, grooming their cats. Sweet Baby James might've been their most identifiable icon (though not their most talented), seeing as how he enjoyed living the quiet life in secluded country cottages, where he could wax philosophic on all the fire and rain of his past (even though he was only 22 -- talk about feeling old).
This new domesticity blossomed in the canyons of Los Angeles and the quaint villages of New England, but you could find it being explored in most of the notable folk scenes in America and the United Kingdom: Hudson Valley/Woodstock (Don McLean), Philadelphia (Jim Croce), London (Cat Stevens).
That said, these teenaged sensitivos didn't restrict their bedroom hi-fis to folk and folk-pop. They found a similar solace in the smooth vibes then sweeping through soul music as well. Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were all turning introspective and tender, much like their coffeehouse peers. Boasting hushed meditations on the environment and spiritual love, Gaye's What's Going On is one of the great singer-songwriter albums of the decade.
Just one last thing: best to explore this music while swathed in an earth-toned shawl. It will really get you in the mood.