While 1970 marked the dawn of a new decade, the socio-political upheaval of the late 60s was still very much at the forefront of artists’ minds. Plenty of musicians used their voices for change, with John Lennon, Curtis Mayfield, and Stevie Wonder, among others, calling for peace and equality.
1970 was the end of an era, as the Beatles disbanded. But it was also the beginning of four spectacular solo careers. It was a time of experimentation, as artists like Kraftwerk, Alice Coltrane, Pink Floyd, and Frank Zappa pushed the limits of their genre, and rising singer-songwriters and folk acts offered much-needed moments of reflection. Live albums, meanwhile, brought some of the era’s biggest artists into homes around the world.
Below, we explore the best albums that 1970 had to offer – from the solo triumphs of George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr to pioneering albums from Black Sabbath, Tangerine Dream, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
71: Isaac Hayes – The Isaac Hayes Movement
70: Bruce Haack – The Electric Lucifer
The electronic music pioneer’s 1970 album is a far cry from his other job making music for children, but if you can move past that, you’re in for a thrilling contemplation on the battle between good and evil that takes cues from acid rock and psychedelic music.
69: Charley Pride – Just Plain Charley
Despite his growing success, Charley Pride’s brand of country music never lost sight of its humble roots and celebrated them with charisma and superb melodies.
68: Conway Twitty – Hello Darlin’
The country singer’s compilation album showcases the best of his genre-blending sound which takes inspiration from R&B, rock, and pop.
67: Evan Parker, Derek Bailey & Han Bennink – The Topography of the Lungs
For anyone interested in free improvisation in jazz, this album is a must-listen. Parker’s first record as a bandleader and the first off his label, Incus, set the tone for the experimental genre.
66: Jean Jacques Perrey – Moog Indigo
The electronic artist’s Moog synthesizer-centered album offers a funky and light-hearted take on the groundbreaking instrument – it’s a perfect mix of pop and experimental music.
66: Os Mutantes – A Divina Comédia ou Ando Meio Desligado
The singular Brazilian band’s third studio album shows why they are so much better than the genres they are influenced by as they turn psychedelic rock, folk, and doo-wop on their respective heads.
64: Mountain – Climbing!
The hard rock band’s debut album includes hits like ”Mississippi Queen” and “Never in My Life,” and is an excellent snapshot of the blues and psych rock-inflected sound of the time.
63: Merle Haggard – A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills)
The country singer’s tribute album to the King of Western Swing is a touching and rollicking good time that reignited interest in the niche sound.
62: Pharoah Sanders – Deaf Dumb Blind (Summun Bukmun Umyun)
The jazz titan’s energetic album is a percussive and melodic treat that takes inspiration from African music, Latin music, R&B, and spiritual jazz.
61: Ringo Starr – Sentimental Journey
The former Beatle’s solo debut draws inspiration from the songs he would hear in the house as a child and offers a heartfelt meditation on family, home and childhood.
60: Stanley Turrentine – Sugar
With an all-star cast that included the likes of George Benson, Lonnie Liston Smith, and Ron Carter, the jazz saxophonist’s 1970 album is soulful, funky, and full of life.
59: Tammy Wynette – Tammy’s Touch
Home to hits like “He Loves Me All the Way” and “I’ll See Him Through,” the country queen’s seventh studio album strikes the perfect balance between stripped-back ballads and glossy country-pop.
58: Yoko Ono – Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band
The avant-garde champion’s debut album is made up of sprawling improvisational pieces that would go on to influence a slew of courageous artists.
57: Tangerine Dream – Electronic Meditation
The pioneering electronic group’s debut album pulls from Edgar Froese’s tape experiments and musique concrète to create a soundscape unlike anything else of its time.
56: Kraftwerk – Kraftwerk
The legendary group’s debut album is quite different from the futuristic sound they would become known for, nevertheless, it’s an excellent mix of electronic music, psych rock, and noise.
55: The Moody Blues – A Question of Balance
Looking for a sound that would work easily on stage, the English group abandoned their psychedelic roots for a streamlined sound, and successfully made the transition from studio wizards to hard rock champions.
54: The Mothers of Invention – Burnt Weeny Sandwich
Ever adventurous, Frank Zappa’s 1970 album with the Mothers offers his zany takes on everything from 50’s pop to classical music, blurring the lines between genres and throwing convention out the window.
53: Frank Sinatra – Watertown (A Love Story)
Perhaps his most ambitious album ever, Sinatra’s 1970 concept album relays the pain and confusion of lost love from the perspective of the person who has been left.
52: Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III
Known for heavy blues-rock, the English band took a turn towards folk music for this record, showing that even with the intensity turned down, they could still produce incredible music.
50: King Crimson – In the Wake of Poseidon
The rock group’s second album includes highlights like “The Devil’s Triangle” and “Cadence and Cascade” and features prominent use of the Mellotron.
50: João Donato – A Bad Donato
Recorded in Los Angeles, the Brazilian artist’s 1970 album blends together Brazilian pop with jazz, funk, and rock music for a thrilling listening experience.
49: Jorge Ben – Fôrça Bruta
Though its title translates to “Brute Force,” the Brazilian artist’s 1970 album is more of a subtle force that brings out the softer sides of samba.
48: Nick Drake – Bryter Layter
Drake’s sophomore album lets the light shine in via the instrumentation and a softer vocal performance, cushioning the sad truths his lyrics often tend towards.
47: Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother
The English rock band threw out all convention on this album, leaning into the weird, wonderful corners of psychedelia and luxuriating in extended jams like its 23-minute opener.
46: Randy Newman – 12 Songs
Including fan favorites like “Have You Seen My Baby?” and “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” Newman’s 1970 album is full of sharp satire and brilliant compositions.
45: Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed & Delivered
Though there are hints of his socially conscious bent, Stevie’s Motown album delivers on everything that made the iconic label so good: irresistibly catchy and soulful pop music.
44: Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs
Barrett’s first solo album after leaving Pink Floyd leans into his reputation as mentally unstable, flipping the expectations of listeners and revealing a singer-songwriter still very much on top of his game.
43: Tim Maia – Tim Maia
Maia’s self-titled debut was a smash hit in Brazil and includes favorites like “Azul da Cor do Mar” “Coroné Antônio Bento” and “Primavera.”
42: U-Roy – Version Galore
The legendary Jamaican DJ’s 1970 album features him toasting over classic rocksteady tunes, laying the groundwork for the MC in hip-hop music.
41: Deep Purple – Deep Purple in Rock
Including the monumental “Child In Time,” the band’s 1970 album introduced their best lineup yet and solidified their distinctly grand take on heavy metal.
40: The Beach Boys – Sunflower
The prolific band looked back to the gentle melodies and sweeping arrangements of their earlier work for this album and it is one of their most collaborative efforts to date.
39: The Doors – Morrison Hotel
Home to the fan-favorite “Roadhouse Blues,” the rock band’s 1970 album saw them returning to the R&B and blues sound of their earlier days and is one of their most popular albums to date.
38: The Guess Who – American Woman
Featuring the title hit, the Canadian rock band’s 1970 album is their most successful to date and shows off the band’s range as they tackle hard rock, prog, ballads, and more.
37: The Jackson 5 – ABC
Including all-time favorites like the title track and “ “La-La (Means I Love You)” and “The Love You Save,” the renowned family band’s second album made them household names.
36: Soft Machine – Third
The rock band’s third studio album extended the boundaries of the genre to include electronic music and jazz, making it one of the most exciting records of the decade.
35: Paul McCartney – McCartney
McCartney’s solo debut was a controversial release in that it coincided (and maybe caused) the break-up of the Beatles. Drama aside, it’s a wonderful collection of sketches and home recordings that pointed towards a very successful solo career.
34: Booker T & the M.G.s – McLemore Avenue
Booker T’s homage to the Beatles’ Abbey Road, offers a distinctly Memphis, Tennessee spin on the Beatles, taking their melodies to unexpectedly funky and exciting places.
33: Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon
The former teenage pop star took a left turn for his 1970 album, opting for restraint and introspection. The result is a refreshingly human portrait of young man trying to find his way in the world.
32: Jimi Hendrix – Band Of Gypsys
Hendrix’s first live album without the Experience band is one of his greatest performances on tape and includes the mind-boggling “Machine Gun,” where Hendrix produces unheard of sounds on his guitar.
31: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Déjà Vu
The group’s first album with Neil Young was highly anticipated and surpassed all expectations with its unforgettable melodies and stunning guitar work.
30: Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory
The swamp rock classic includes the hits “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” and “Run Through the Jungle,” not to mention a number of excellent covers like their 11-minute version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”
29: Joe McPhee – Nation Time
The saxophonist’s live album is an expansive journey through the annals of free jazz and established him at the forefront of the genre.
28: The Kinks – Lola versus Powerman and The Moneygoround, Part One
Ray Davies’ polemic against the music industry is as technically brilliant as it is passionate, never losing itself in anger or over-production.
27: Van Morrison – Moondance
The Northern Irish singer’s masterful album is full of understated beauty and would be his commercial breakthrough.
26: Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead
Taking a step back from experimentation, the Bay Area band went back to basics on their 1970 album, exploring stripped-down roots music, Americana, and folk.
25: Eddie Palmieri – Superimposition
The pianist and bandleader’s 12th studio album took Latin dance music to new experimental heights, playing with counterpoint and harmonics to create music you can both think and move to.
24: Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection
The versatile singer’s 1970 album took inspiration from Americana music and the country-rock style of the Band and finally brought the songwriting duo of Elton John and Bernie Taupin statewide success.
23: Freddie Hubbard – Red Clay
The jazz trumpeter’s 1970 album takes the edge of hard bop, the groove of fusion, and the soul of jazz to create a masterpiece of uncategorizable, incredible sound.
22: James Taylor – Sweet Baby James
Home to the instant classic, “Fire and Rain,” Taylor’s second studio album has all the traits that make him such a beloved artist: understated vocals, frank reflections, and the soul of a folk hero.
21: James Brown – Sex Machine
With a show-stopping lineup that included Bootsy Collins, Clyde Stubblefield, and Maceo Parker, Brown’s live album confirms that he remains one of the greatest performers of all time.
20: Neil Young – After The Gold Rush
Young took a turn towards country-rock on this album, surprising some fans of his earlier work, but it paid off extremely well and includes some of the most enduring songs of his career like “Southern Man.”
19: Santana – Abraxas
The Latin rock icon’s first album to top the US charts is a perfect blend of rock, jazz, and Latin dance music that cleverly values experimentation over genre purity.
18: Simon And Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
The dynamic duo’s final album together is home to the beloved title track and was such a success that it spent years on the charts.
17: Alice Coltrane – Journey in Satchidananda
The spiritual jazz titan’s album takes conceptual inspiration from Hinduism and sonic inspiration from modal and experimental jazz and is a landmark record in each genre niche.
16: The Grateful Dead – American Beauty
The enigmatic group has a reputation of not being able to transmit the transcendent energy of their live shows onto records. This album is a rare exception and is widely regarded as their best studio album.
15: The Temptations – Psychedelic Shack
The soul music superstars surprised their fans when they delivered a funky psych-rock album in 1970 – turns out it was a risk worth taking and it shows off the immense versatility of the Motown legacy act.
14: The Velvet Underground – Loaded
Lou Reed and company took a turn towards the commercial for their fourth studio album, intentionally making pop-oriented music. However, rather than alienating their anti-mainstream fans, their 1970 album is widely regarded to be one of their best.
13: The Beatles – Let It Be
The iconic rock band’s 1970 album has songs that keep on giving all these years later, like the famous title track, and also marked the end of an era, for it would be their last release as a group.
12: The Delfonics – The Delfonics
The Philadelphia soul titans struck gold with their fourth studio album off the back of five hit singles including “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” and “Over & Over.”
11: Black Sabbath – Paranoid
Full of tension and release, the heavy metal band’s second album set the tone for the genre and established the group as leading lights.
10: Joni Mitchell – Ladies of the Canyon
Home to the radio staple “Big Yellow Taxi,” Mitchell expanded her sonic palette on this album bringing in jazz elements and more expressive vocals that she would explore further on later albums.
09: The Who – Live at Leeds
The storied British band’s first live album has taken on larger-than-life status in the decades since its release. Full of energy, showmanship, and an intangible magic, it’s one of the greatest live albums ever.
08: Derek and the Dominos – Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs
Home to fan-favorite “Layla,” Eric Clapton’s side project produced what is widely regarded as his best album, an intensely personal and passionate contemplation on the highs and lows of love.
07: Funkadelic – Funkadelic
The iconic band’s debut album created a new language for music, freeing R&B and soul from the constraints of respectability and establishing funk as the premiere sound to get down to.
06: Curtis Mayfield – Curtis
The influential singer’s solo debut is a rich tapestry of soul music that weaves together influences as broad as orchestral music and rock into a cohesive, socially conscious whole.
05: George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
The rock great’s first solo record after the dissolution of the Beatles includes the beautiful, “My Sweet Lord” and paved the way for a very successful solo career.
04: John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band
Lennon’s first solo album after the Beatles changed the nature of pop music by leaning into honesty and deeply uncomfortable truths, proving that even at our lowest, our voices still deserve to be heard.
03: Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
Even if you haven’t listened to any Miles Davis, you’ve probably heard of this album, and for good reason. It changed the course of not just jazz, but funk and rock music as well and is just as futuristic-sounding today as it was in 1970.
02: The Stooges – Fun House
The band traded in precision for power while recording their sophomore album, the result is a career-defining record that wonderfully captures the uncontainable magic of Iggy Pop.
01: The Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!
The band’s famed live album helped establish their place as one of the greatest rock and roll bands in the world and while it may not be as polished as their studio recordings, its unbridled energy is unmatched.