Pop Culture in Review for the Year 1972

Pop culture has always been around. It is usually best observed in the present, but we can’t forget that the past was once blooming with a pop culture of its own. Most probably, our current pop music, arts, fashion, and literature are a product of history. If so, the year 1972 had several such interesting events. The Godfather set the definitions of successful film production, the ancestor of all video games was developed, and humanity took its last steps on the Moon.


  • The Godfather

You can’t talk about the ’70s without mentioning The Godfather. The film earned its status as the highest-grossing film of the year, besides breaking the previous record of the highest-grossing film in the world. The performances of Brando and Pacino more than transcended the expectations and established a new benchmark for modern cinema.

The film stands out for providing the viewers with the gangster perspective of the mafia, accurately portraying mobsters as individuals with intellectual depth and complexity, as opposed to previous similar films, which provided the outlook of a disregarding outsider. In the style of most great films, The Godfather is based on Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel of the same name.

  • What’s Up, Doc?

Ranked 61st among the 100 Greatest American Comedies by the American Film Institute, What’s Up, Doc? is a homage to the screwball comedy of the 1930s.  Thanks to the energetic roles of Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, the film never failed to fill the theatres with laughter.

In one particular scene, Ryan O’Neal parodies his previous performance from Love Story (1970). When Judy (Barbra Streisand) says one of the most famous lines in romantic cinema, “Love means never having to say sorry,” Bannister (O’Neal) replies, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.” It’s also the first film in the American and British industry to duly mention the stunt people in the credits.



  • The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

Roberta Flack’s cover of the 1957’s folk song The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face was a sudden international hit. The song was originally written as a folk song in 1957 by Ewan MacColl for his future wife, Peggy Seeger. It was sung by several folk singers over the years until Flack stole the spotlight in 1972 by winning the Grammy Awards for Record of the Year.

Flack’s version is much slower-paced than the original one sung by Peggy Seeger. While preparing the studio recording for the song, she felt the loss of her pet cat, who had died two days prior in an accident. The song was also played as the wake-up music for the Apollo 17 astronauts on their last day in lunar orbit before returning to Earth.

  • ABBA

The Swedish supergroup ABBA had its root in Stockholm in the year 1972. The name was chosen based on the first letters of each member’s name. Before their prime years, the group made its first medium-sized hit with the release of their single People Need Love. The team had put much effort into the song, and thus its success encouraged them to aim big.

The following years would see the band become one of the most successful music groups in the world, with estimated sales of over 150 million records. They also won the 1974’s Eurovision Song Contest and are remembered as the most popular music group to ever compete in it.


  • The First Successful Video Game

The first generation of the current wildly popular video games was marked by the launch of PONG, a table-tennis themed arcade featuring simple two-dimensional graphics. The game was developed by the American game manufacturer Atari. It was meant to be a training exercise for the Atari employee Allan Alcorn. Luckily, the quality of Alcorn’s work did not escape Atari’s attention, leading the company to commercially manufacture the game.

In 1975, Atari had made PONG into a console system game in response to the constantly increasing demands of youngsters. By 1978, PONG was pinging away in almost 13 million American homes. And even though its popularity went into decline in the ‘80s, PONG had established its place as “the arcade video game of history.”

  • Introducing Digital Watches

The world’s first commercial digital wristwatch, the Pulsar P1, was developed by Hamilton Watch Company. Even though the first mechanical digital watch appeared in the late 1800s, the Pulsar was the first electronic digital watch. It was encased in 18-karat gold and featured a red LED display.

The watch was initially sold for $2,100, which would amount to more than $12,000 today. However, the following yeas saw several different markets emerge as the wristwatch quickly went into fashion. From extremely expensive watches certifying personal adornment to inexpensive designs only $20 apiece, the wristwatch became an essential part of culture worldwide.


  • Ease-Is-of-the-Essence Philosophy

The start of the year saw a pause in the excitement spread by the 60’s fashion. Without much fuss over the measurements of hemlines and waistlines, the comforting dressing mood of sportswear was adapted for both the daytimes and the evenings. According to designers, the key aspect guiding the fashion in 1972 was not to look as if one had bothered to spend too much effort or money on their appearance.

The sweater was the most important part of this effortless style. From the bodice of luxurious evening gowns to the basis of city costumes, they were the special ingredient for the whole year. Besides sweaters, women had a choice of mini, midi, or maxi skirts. Celebrities were observed in everything from faded blue jeans to floor-length dresses.

The fashion for men mostly consisted of the traditionally masculine shapes and gentlemanly designs. The Donegal tweed and polyester knit jacket checked into the fashion picture with an easy-going style. The beefy sweater was back in shetland and mohair knits. The year also saw the comeback of favorites such as the seersucker, khaki, and the buttoned-down shirt.

  • Accessories

Pearls took their place as the most popular embellishments for the ears, necklines, and wrists. Knitted hats were overtaken by brimmed cloche hats, whereas the shoulder bags of the preceding years were steadily surpassed by flat envelopes designs. Clog, wedgies, and chunky high-heels were as abundant as ever.

Men’s footwear consisted of wild color shoes with thick platforms and heels as high as three inches. People opted for ties with smaller proportions and classical patterns. The overall look gave the impression of a bearing as relaxed and classical as you could imagine


  • The Launch of HBO

The year 1972 saw the launch of the prestigious television network HBO, making it the oldest and longest continuously running TV service. It was originally named the Green Channel, but the founders later chose the name Home Box Office to highlight their Hollywood and sports content. The first HBO film to air was the largely-forgotten 1971’s Sometimes a Great Notion.

  • All in the Family

CBS’s All in the Family featured the unforgettable Archie Banker, who was played by John O’Connor and named by Bravo TV as the greatest protagonist of all time. It started off in 1971 and was one of the only three shows that had the highest Nielsen ratings for five consecutive seasons (the others being The Cosby Show and American Idol).

The show pioneered in the depiction of key social issues that were previously thought unsuitable to be mentioned in a TV show. These included its groundbreaking yet hilarious takes on concepts like racism, antisemitism, homosexuality, women’s rights, religion, abortion, and even impotence. Its episode “Sammy’s Visit” has been ranked 13th on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Times.

  • Sanford and Son

This sitcom TV series was Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin’s second hit after All in the Family. With its development overseen by the same duo, Sanford and Son was NBC’s answer to All in the Family. The series maintained its enormous popularity for five straight seasons. Its theme song, The Streetbeater, has been featured on multiple TV series, including Scrubs and The Simpsons.

The show is also remembered as the show that killed off ABC’s The Brady Show. With both shows occupying the same time slot every Friday Night, Sanford and Son steadily convinced the middling audience to abandon The Brady Bunch, resulting in ABC being forced to cancel the latter in 1974.

  • M*A*S*H

M*A*S*H was aired in 1972 and ran for eleven years, technically longer than the Korean War it was based on. The show was a combination of comedy and war-drama and is based on the 1970’s top-rated film M*A*S*H. Later episodes ofthe showwere made after consulting the impressions and recollections of the original M*A*S*H veterans.

The series finale “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” broke the record for the most-watched television broadcast with 106 million live views. The episode was so popular in fact that a rumor originated that the New York City plumbing system malfunctioned due to the sheer amount of fans that were waiting for the ending to rush to the toilet.


Mark Spitz, who had won the title of the World Swimmer of the Year in 1967 and 1971, once again proved himself the superstar of the decade. Spitz, who had won six gold models in the Olympics of 1969, aimed to do so once again in 1972. He did that and more as he earned seven gold medals as well as established a new world record in each one of the events.

Before his final gold-medal-winning performance in the 100-meter freestyle event, Spitz expressed fears of not being able to win the seventh gold model, and thus “becoming a failure.” However, he won the event by just half a stroke and set the world-record time of 51.22 seconds. Spitz’s achievement of winning seven gold medals in a single Olympics would not be surpassed until 2008.


  • Final Crewed Landing on the Moon

On December 7th, 1972, the American nation would witness the launch of the sixth and the last Apollo flight. The mission was distinguished by the use of battery-powered Lunar Roving Vehicle and extended hardware capability. Besides the three crew members, the flight also consisted of five mice that were part of an experiment determining the effects of cosmic rays on the body.

The mission holds several records, including those for the largest lunar sample, longest moonwalk, and longest time spent in lunar orbit. Although there have been multiple uncrewed missions since, Apollo 17 remains the most recent one in which humans made contact with the lunar surface.

  • The World’s New Best-Selling Car

In early 1972, when the Volkswagen Beetle No. 15,007,034 rolled off the assembly line, it broke the record for the best-selling car in the world, which was previously held by the Ford Model T for four decades. The car had adopted a large rear window, a revised speedometer, four-engine lid cooling slots, and a hinged parcel shelf in the back.

For its time, the car was notable for its efficient fuel consumption and its durability. However, given the modern designs of American and Japanese cars dominating the competition, the extreme success of the Beetle was short-lived. By 1974, Volkswagen was facing a financial crisis as it had relied on a single model that was now fast declining.


  • Kenner Blythe Dolls

It was in 1972 when the popular and highly collectible Blythe dolls were released by Kenner, a toy company known for making the classic Star Wars action figures from the 70s and 80s. Blythe dolls have thin bodies and a large head and eyes, and some dolls would have eyes that change colors by just simply pulling a string on the doll’s back. To know more about this doll, head over to our article titled “The Most Popular Retro Dolls.”


The year 1972 was the start of a promising film and TV industry. Music was as diverse as ever. The first digital wristwatch marked the beginnings of a more-or-less revolutionary change in the way we keep track of daily activities. The persistent wave of fashion carried by the previous decade showed down to a natural obliviousness. Competitive swimming brought out players as capable as could be hoped for. Finally, the VW Beetle served as a valuable addition to the timeless collection of friendly vehicles.

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