Back in 1972, Half Price Books embarked on its mission to provide people things to read and to listen to, at prices they could afford. (And a few years later, with the emergence of the VHS tape, we offered them things to watch, too.) Those early customers liked what they saw on the shelves, and the many customers who have come along since have kept us at it, four decades later.
So what were our customers looking for all those years ago?
What We Read in ‘72
Even in the earliest days, our Fiction section was always well-stocked. Some of the current titles then were:
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a parable about a seagull seeking perfection, was an unlikely bestseller from Richard Bach, who said it came along at just the right time. It had been rejected by numerous publishers before Macmillan took a gamble on it and won
- Other popular books of that year included Watership Down, by Richard Adams; Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, which was made into two movies, three decades apart; The Exorcist (published in ’71 and filmed in ’73) by William Peter Blatty; and The Winds of War, a hefty WWII tome written by Herman Wouk and turned into a popular miniseries, starring Robert Mitchum, in 1983
We were reading some more literary stuff, too:
- Eudora Welty’s last novel, The Optimist’s Daughter, was published in 1972 and won the following year’s Pulitzer Prize for Literature.
- The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor, written between the ‘40s and her death in 1964, won the 1972 National Book Award.
- John Irving, who is still actively writing, published his second book, The Water-Method Man.
- The second of the four books in John Updike’s 30-year-spanning Rabbit series, Rabbit Redux, was a commercial and critical success.
On the shelves of our Mystery, Science Fiction, and Romance shelves, customers were pleased to find some favorites:
- P.D. James introduced detective Cordelia Gray in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman.
- Frederick Forsyth’s spy novel The Day of the Jackal won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel. His book The Odessa File was also popular at the time.
- Sci-fi fans were reading Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves in ’72.
- Victoria Holt was a decade into her long career as a historical romance author.
Several non-fiction titles were notable:
- I’m OK, You’re OK, by Thomas Harris, was written in 1969 but became a bestseller in 1972. It explained transactional analysis to the masses.
- English veterinarian James Herriot recounted some of his experiences with animals in All Creatures Great and Small, which combined his first two books into one and kicked off a run of bestsellers.
- The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn’s loving history of the Brooklyn Dodgers, placed second on a 2002 Sports Illustrated list of “The Top 100 Sports Books of All Time.”
Several classics that remain popular in our Children’s sections were published:
- Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Day became an ALA Notable Book, a Reading Rainbow book, and a multi-million seller.
- Perennial favorite Judy Blume gave us Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great.
- Freaky Friday, by Mary Rodgers, was made into three movies (1976, 1995, 2003).
- Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves won a Newbery Award, and just this year was involved in a digital rights lawsuit over its e-book publication.
What We Listened to in ‘72
In pop music, there were some standouts available on LP, cassette, or 8-track, but not yet CD:
- Roberta Flack first hit the Billboard charts—and stayed at #1 for six weeks—with “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” which had been used in the creepy 1971 flick Play Misty for Me.
- Nilsson, who wrote nearly all of his own songs, had his second hit-written-by-others, the pop-operatic “Without You,” composed by two members of Badfinger, who also had their own ’72 hit, “Day After Day.”
- Don McLean’s “American Pie”—sliced into two pieces—was the magnum opus of the year, a Cliff’s Notes history of American Pop in the ‘60s.
Several artists had multiple hits in 1972:
- Al Green not only topped the charts with “Let’s Stay Together,” but reached #2 with “You Ought to Be with Me” and “I’m Still in Love with You.”
- Bill Withers gave listeners the advice to “Lean on Me” but also to “Use Me.”
- UK singer Gilbert O’Sullivan appeared in the US out of nowhere with “Alone Again (Naturally),” followed it up with “Clair,” and then fizzled out, at least stateside.
On the lighter side, we listened to Sammy Davis, Jr., croon about Willy Wonka, the “Candy Man,” and we heard Melanie sing about her “brand new pair of roller skates” and your “Brand New Key.” Chuck Berry’s one-and-only number one single (incredibly) was 1972’s “My Ding-A-Ling.”
Some artists that were in our bins then are still active today:
- Neil Young (“Heart of Gold” was his biggest hit) is still touring, releasing albums, and even writing books—another memoir is due this fall.
- Elton John (“Rocket Man” and “Honky Cat”) still seems to be everywhere.
- Aretha Franklin (“Day Dreaming”) has become the idol of millions of vocalists who’ve followed.
All three also had top albums in 1972. Other classic albums included the Stones’ Exile on Main Street, Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly soundtrack, the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, and Steely Dan’s first album, Can’t Buy a Thrill.
Two late pop icons entertained us in ’72. Michael Jackson went on to bigger and better things after his love song to a rat, “Ben.” Elvis Presley was “just a hunk-a, hunk-a burnin’ love.” Smokey Robinson, after 18 years with the Miracles, went solo. And in 1972, for the first time, the top eight slots on Billboard’s Hot 100 were held by black artists.
What We Watched in ‘72
Francis Ford Coppola’s treatment of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel The Godfather was the movie of 1972. It was top box-office, won three Oscars, including Best Picture, featured a very popular Nino Rota theme song, and was critically acclaimed. That appreciation has stood the test of time: The Godfather is in the #2 spot on the American Film Institute’s list of all-time best American films, behind Citizen Kane.
Of course, there were other movies of note that year:
- Movie Musical Cabaret, based on the musical by Joe Masteroff (which was based on the play I Am a Camera by John Van Druten, which was based on Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood), was also a critical and popular success.
- Alfred Hitchcock made his penultimate movie, Frenzy, in 1972, still, at 73, the master of suspense.
There were also the aforementioned Superfly and The Harder They Come, as well as Deliverance, from the James Dickey novel, Dirty Harry, and Lady Sings the Blues.
Foreign films also did pretty well in ’72, including Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, and Fellini’s Roma.
So those are some of the things we were reading, listening to, and watching back in ’72, and our customers are still enjoying them all these years later—and we’re still stocking them, along with everything that’s come along since!
Steve is Staffing & Development Manager (aka the “Buy Guy”) at Half Price Books Corporate.