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The Best 70s Songs: More Than 200 Classics From Around The World

From rock to soul and funk to country, we go across the globe to bring you some of the finest songs from the decade.

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Marvin Gaye, writer of one of the best songs of the 70s
Photo: Jim Britt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The best 70s songs? It’s an impossible task, surely. There was simply too much going on throughout the world to accurately reflect the best music of the decade. That said, we’ve done our best in this introduction to the decade.

We’ve chosen to separate things into a variety of loose genre categories and to limit things to one song per artist, just so we could include as many different folks as possible. As you’ll see below, there was an enormous amount of great music being produced, so take this list as a starting point for future exploration. The best songs of the 70s do the same, pointing the way to music and art that demands your attention.

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Build your 70s vinyl collection with classic titles and under–the–radar favorites.

Rock

It’s kind of hard to believe, but rock was nearly two decades old by the time the 70s rolled around, which meant that things had come a long way from “Rocket 88.” The elements that made it great, however, remained much the same: Electric guitars and a love of the blues underpinned so much of what Eric Clapton, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, and many others had to say. As the decade progressed, however, rock ‘n’ roll began to see more and more influences seep in. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” borrowed liberally from classical and opera. But while the leading lights of rock’s early 70s contingent would continue to expand their horizons, things usually came back to a core type: Great songs about the fragility of human relationships. Whether it’s Lindsey Buckingham’s “Go Your Own Way” from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours or Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” the 70s saw some of the best rock songs of the genre’s history.

The Kinks – Lola

Janis Joplin – Me and Bobby McGee

Rod Stewart – Maggie May

Derek & The Dominos – Layla

Eric Clapton – Cocaine

The Rolling Stones – Brown Sugar

Three Dog Night – Joy to the World

Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young – Ohio

Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – American Girl

The Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane

Neil Young – Heart of Gold

Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2

Wings – Band on the Run

The Beatles – Let It Be

Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody

The Doobie Brothers – What a Fool Believes

Electric Light Orchestra – Mr. Blue Sky

The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up

The Jam – The Eton Rifles

Music from Africa

There had already been incredibly popular music coming from Africa for decades, but the 70s saw a few singular artists emerge that would have an enormous impact. Fela Kuti pioneered Afrobeat with legendary drummer Tony Allen, while Mulatu Astatke mixed jazz, Latin music, and his native Ethiopian sounds into a complete unique concoction. Perhaps the most far-reaching song of all, however, was Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa,” which has since been interpolated by Michael Jackson and Rihanna in various forms.

Fela Kuti & Africa 70 – Zombie

Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Hello My Baby

Orchestre Poly–Rythmo De Cotonou – It’s a Vanity

William Onyeabor – Atomic Bomb

Mulatu Astatke – Mulatu

Lijadu Sisters – Come On Home

Ebo Taylor – Heaven

Amara Toure – El Carretero

Bembeya Jazz National – Petit Sekou

Manu Dibango – Soul Makossa

AOR (Album/Adult Oriented Rock)

People often mistake softness for weakness. Listen to “Big Yellow Taxi” or “Deacon Blues,” however, and you’ll understand that plenty of the best 70s AOR has a bite to it. The songs below often showcase the complexity of love, whether it be the banquet of Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” or the attention-seeking Pretenders. But perhaps the most famous song of all was an ode to rock ‘n’ roll heroes, Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

Eagles – Hotel California

Chicago – If You Leave Me Now

James Taylor – Fire and Rain

Patti Smith – Because The Night

Don McLean – American Pie

The Pretenders – Brass In Pocket

Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi

The Carpenters – (They Long To Be) Close To You

Steely Dan – Deacon Blues

Van Morrison – Moondance

Todd Rundgren – Hello It’s Me

Check out our playlist of the best 70s music on Spotify.

Funk

It’s hard to imagine a more vital genre in the 70s than funk. Songs from Black artists all over the United States were busy soundtracking dance floors the world over. The intent was often simply to make folks move: “Haven’t You Heard,” “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” and just about everything James Brown put to wax, for instance. But just as much music was intent on saying something about the world we lived in. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” “War.” “For the Love of Money.” The best funk songs of the 70s often did both. And, as the decade rolled to a conclusion, there was one song that signaled the beginning of something new that would slowly conquer the world: “Rapper’s Delight.”

Isaac Hayes – Theme From Shaft

The Brothers Johnson – Strawberry Letter 23

Roy Ayers Ubiquity – Everybody Loves the Sunshine

Edwin Starr – War

Kool & the Gang – Summer Madness

Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different

War – Low Rider

Wild Cherry – Play That Funky Music

Gil Scott–Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

Patrice Rushen – Haven’t You Heard

A Taste of Honey – Boogie Oogie Oogie

Parliament – Flash Light

KC & The Sunshine Band – Get Down Tonight

The Staple Singers – I’ll Take You There

Mandrill – Fencewalk

Sly And The Family Stone – Family Affair

The Isley Brothers – That Lady

The O’Jays – For the Love of Money

James Brown – Get Up Offa That Thing

Michael Jackson – Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

Stevie Wonder – Superstition

Curtis Mayfield – Move On Up

The Temptations – Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone

Sugarhill Gang – Rapper’s Delight

Punk

Punk, in the popular imagination, swept away everything bloated and old before it. It’s not quite as simple as that, but it likely felt that way during the last few years of the 70s. How else to explain the vital energy that produced “God Save the Queen” and “Blitzkrieg Bop”? What’s often lost in all of that talk about punk is the musicianship of some of its earliest stars. You’d be hard-pressed to find guitar playing more beautiful than Television’s “Marquee Moon” or more ferocious than The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy.”

The Clash – London Calling

Sex Pistols – God Save The Queen

New York Dolls – Personality Crisis

The Ramones – Blitzkrieg Bop

Richard Hell and the Voidoids – Blank Generation

Television – Marquee Moon

Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)

The Cramps – Human Fly

The Stooges – Search and Destroy

Black Flag – Nervous Breakdown

Music from Brazil

The seismic impact of the Tropicália movement hung over Brazil’s musical output in the 70s. Artists were either continuing to build on its revolutionary fervor or trying to build something different in its wake. Tropicália artists like Gal Costa and Caetano Veloso released some of their best songs in the 70s. Tim Maia and Erasmo Carlos, meanwhile, had been making music for many years by the time the 70s rolled around, but truly started to hit their stride.

Gal Costa – Pontos De Luz

Tim Maia – Réu Confesso

Caetano Veloso – You Don’t Know Me

Erasmo Carlos – Gente Aberta

Jorge Ben Jor – Taj Mahal

Milton Nascimento – Tudo Que Você Podia Ser

New Wave / Power Pop

The best New Wave and power pop artists in the 70s wrote songs that simply didn’t quite fit into the established narratives of the decade. Many of these artists embraced technology in unconventional ways. (Gary Numan, 10cc, and Blondie were all at the cutting–edge in terms of sound.) But just as many were simply exceptional at the craft of writing songs, Elvis Costello, Big Star, and The Cure among them.

Elvis Costello – Alison

Blondie – Heart Of Glass

Marianne Faithfull – Broken English

The B–52’s – Rock Lobster

Talking Heads – Psycho Killer

The Cure – Boys Don’t Cry

10cc – I’m Not in Love

Gary Numan – Cars

XTC – Making Plans For Nigel

Squeeze – Up The Junction

The Knack – My Sharona

Big Star – September Gurls

Jazz

Jazz was a many splendored thing throughout the 70s. The best songs, however, found artists stretching at the confines of the genre, pressing forward into uncharted territory. Alice Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Don Cherry all pushed things in strange, exciting new directions. Some jazz got cosmic, other folks used music as a vehicle for protest. One of the major genres to emerge was the sometimes–abstract sounds of jazz fusion. But just as many artists embraced pop music, like George Benson and Donald Byrd. And then there was the best–selling piano recording of all–time, a solo concert by Keith Jarrett. In short, there was something for just about everyone when it comes to jazz in the 70s.

Miles Davis – Pharaoh’s Dance

Alice Coltrane – Journey in Satchidananda

Don Cherry – Brown Rice

Sun Ra – Door of the Cosmos

Pharoah Sanders – Black Unity

Archie Shepp – Attica Blues

Keith Jarrett – The Köln Concert, Pt. 1

Herbie Hancock – Chameleon

Freddie Hubbard – Red Clay

Jaco Pastorius – Donna Lee

Pat Metheny – Bright Size Life

Mahavishnu Orchestra – You Know, Know

Weather Report – Birdland

George Benson – Breezin’

Bobbi Humphrey – Harlem River Drive

Donald Byrd – Where Are We Going?

Post-Punk

Where do you go when you feel like everything has been destroyed? Even further out, seemingly, in the case of post-punk artists like Suicide, Throbbing Gristle, and The Slits. The best post-punk songs of the 70s threw away all the rules and emerged with some of the most vital music of the decade. Perhaps just as important, it was some of the most inspiring music of the decade. More than a few folks that listened to Delta 5’s “Mind Your Own Business” went out and formed their own band.

Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead

Joy Division – Transmission

Gang Of Four – Damaged Goods

Iggy Pop – Lust For Life

The Slits – Typical Girls

Suicide – Ghost Rider

Throbbing Gristle – Hot on the Heels of Love

Delta 5 – Mind Your Own Business

Brian Eno – Needles In The Camel’s Eye

Music from and inspired by Jamaica

The influence of Jamaica on popular music is hard to overstate. The 70s is the decade that some of the best songs from the island had a massive international impact, like Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” On the island itself, Lee Perry was pioneering dub techniques, helping to bring together The Congos’ masterful “Fisherman.”

Junior Murvin – Police & Thieves

Toots and the Maytals – Funky Kingston

The Abyssinians – Satta Massagana

Lee Perry & the Full Experiences – Disco Devil

The Congos – Fisherman

Althea & Donna – Uptown Top Ranking

Bob Marley & The Wailers – Three Little Birds

Dillinger – Cokane in My Brain

Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come

Country / Folk

Country music was truly hitting the national stage throughout the 70s. The best songs from the genre led the breakthrough, with Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter” among them. Underneath the surface of the mainstream industry, the outlaw country movement was beginning to surface, with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings ensuring that mammas would never feel comfortable letting their babies grow up to be cowboys. Elsewhere, experiments with country and folk sounds continued, with Leo Kottke and John Fahey proving just how strange and wonderful the guitar could sound.

Conway Twitty – Hello Darlin

Crystal Gayle – Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue

Don Williams – Tulsa Time

John Denver – Take Me Home Country Roads

Glen Campbell – Rhinestone Cowboy

Kenny Rogers – The Gambler

Loretta Lynn – Coal Miner’s Daughter

Dolly Parton – Jolene

Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings – Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

Leo Kottke – Eight Miles High

John Fahey – Voice of the Turtle

Disco

Everyone, seemingly, made a disco record by the end of the 70s, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. The best disco songs of the 70s, though? Perfection. The partnership between Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder delivered some of the finest disco of the decade. And, of course, there’s also the Bee Gees, who made one of the best–selling records of all–time. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll soon get to the great non–disco artists making incredible one-offs (ABBA, Diana Ross).

Diana Ross – Love Hangover

Cerrone – Supernature

Giorgio Moroder – Chase

Bee Gees – Stayin’ Alive

Donna Summer – I Feel Love

Chic – Le Freak

ABBA – Dancing Queen

Grace Jones – Pull Up The Bumper>/h3>

Thelma Houston – Don’t Leave Me This Way

Music from Germany

For a long time, they called the best songs to emerge from Germany in the 70s krautrock, but that’s simply because it was impossible to find a word for what was happening. While so many styles of music went big and loud, Neu!, Can, and Kraftwerk locked in on a groove and simply let the thing play out into infinity. In the process, they created an entirely new language that has influenced generations of musicians in Germany and beyond.

Neu! – Hallogallo

Faust – It’s a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl

Can – Vitamin C

Tangerine Dream – Phaedra

Kraftwerk – Autobahn

Singer–Songwriter

Songs are all about communication. The best singer-songwriters of the 70s, however, had very different concerns. It was simple representation for Helen Reddy. Elton John and Bernie Taupin wanted to capture the feeling of being in a new place, one that you didn’t quite understand. John Lennon, meanwhile, just wanted you to imagine a different world. Whatever the message, the songs below are some of the very finest of the decade.

Nick Drake – Pink Moon

Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

Leonard Cohen – Famous Blue Raincoat

Helen Reddy – I Am Woman

Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights

Bob Dylan – Tangled Up in Blue

Elton John – Tiny Dancer

Carole King – It’s Too Late

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain

Jimmy Buffett – Margaritaville

George Harrison – My Sweet Lord

John Lennon – Imagine

Paul McCartney – Maybe I’m Amazed

Film Scores and Soundtracks

More and more pop music began to be used in films throughout the 70s and, as a result, some of the best songs of the decade have iconic visual memories attached to them. Who can forget Rocky and “Gonna Fly Now”? Or the intro to the Bond classic Diamonds Are Forever? Film composers were also producing some of the most iconic music of the decade as well. Little new can be said about Nino Rota’s Godfather “Love Theme” or John Williams’ world-famous Star Wars theme.

Bernard Herrmann – Main Title (from Taxi Driver)

John Williams – Star Wars Main Title

Nino Rota – Love Theme

Shirley Bassey / John Barry – Diamonds Are Forever

Bill Conti – Gonna Fly Now

John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John – You’re The One That I Want

Barbra Streisand – Love Theme From A Star Is Born (Evergreen)

Hard Rock / Prog

As rock ‘n’ roll entered into its adolescence, many of the artists that picked up guitars were looking for something louder and complicated. Sometimes both. Bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple marked the beginnings of metal, while Rush and Genesis created elaborate concepts to undergird their lengthy albums. At its core, though, all of these bands sought to do something more, whatever it is, embodying the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll at its best.

The Who – Baba O’Riley

Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town

AC/DC – Highway to Hell

Aerosmith – Sweet Emotion

Bad Company – Can’t Get Enough

Grand Funk Railroad – Some Kind of Wonderful

Black Sabbath – War Pigs

Rush – Closer to the Heart

Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Gong – Master Builder

Van Der Graaf Generator – Theme One

Deep Purple – Smoke on the Water

Led Zeppelin – Stairway To Heaven

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama

Check out our playlist of the best 70s music on Spotify.

Latin Music

Sound-wise, the decade in Latin music was dominated by salsa, a sound created by Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians in New York City. The life-affirming music had an impact that is impossible to measure. Label–wise, Fania was once again the dominant player, an imprint that perfectly balanced progessive sounds and commercial instincts. Like many English language labels of similar stature, they had artists that were just as socially conscious too: Just listen to Eddie Palmieri’s “Vámonos Pa’l Monte” or Willie Colon and Ruben Blades’ “Pedro Navaja” for proof.

Eddie Palmieri – ‎Vámonos Pa’l Monte

Santana – Oye Como Va

Angel Cnales – Lejos De Ti

Ray Barretto – Indestructible

Roberto Roena – Tu Loco Loco Y Yo Tranquilo

Willie Colon & Ruben Blades – Pedro Navaja

Celia Cruz & Johnny Pacheco – Quimbara

El Chicano – Sabor A Mi

Soul

Soul music had basically been perfected throughout the 60s by Motown and others, so the following decade was all about broadening the genre’s borders in different ways. Eddie Kendricks, for instance, helped pioneer disco with “Girl, You Need a Change of Mind,” while Minnie Riperton took things to the stratosphere with her impossible vocal performance on “Lovin’ You.” The explicit way that artists tackled political and social issues, however, was the biggest change from the 60s to the 70s in terms of the best soul songs, with Marvin Gaye’s landmark “What’s Going On” leading the way.

Bobby Womack – Across 110th Street

Donny Hathaway – A Song for You

Five Stairsteps – O–o–h Child

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly with His Song

The Jackson 5 – I’ll Be There

Al Green – Let’s Stay Together

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

Eddie Kendricks – Girl, You Need a Change of Mind

Rose Royce – I’m Going Down

Minnie Riperton – Lovin’ You

Bill Withers – Lean on Me

Glam / Art Rock

What’s the fun in rock ‘n’ roll if you aren’t dressing up or playing around with the form itself? Glam and art-rockers took this question to the logical conclusion throughout the 70s. The best glam songs rocked as hard as anything else, but did it through a sheen of glitter. (T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong” being a prime example.) Sparks and Frank Zappa, meanwhile, proved that you can have a laugh and create timeless music at the same time.

The Sweet – The Ballroom Blitz

Roxy Music – Love Is The Drug

T. Rex – Bang a Gong (Get It On)

David Bowie – Starman

Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us

Frank Zappa – Bobby Brown Goes Down

Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side

Serge Gainsbourg – Melody

Build your 70s vinyl collection with classic titles and under–the–radar favorites.

“George
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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. David

    July 6, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    I would have to include Free and Argent. Probably All right now (although I prefer My brother Jake) and God gave rock n roll to you. No?

  2. John

    July 6, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    Slade cos I luv u

  3. chris woods

    July 6, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    baker street, jerry raferty, golden brown stranglers,take the long way home, supertramp.

  4. LaDonna

    July 7, 2017 at 1:38 am

    Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress-The Hollies, Victim of Love-the Eagles, Green Eyed Lady-Sugarloaf, Midnight Rider- Allman Brothers Band, Layla-Derek and the Dominoes, These Eyes-The Guess Who, We’re an American Band-Grand Funk, It’s Too Late-Carol King, Me and Bobby Mcgee-janis Joplin, Flirting with Disaster- Molly Hatchet

  5. T

    July 7, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    Wonderful Life by Colin Vearncombe aka Black should be there on the top since we are listing songs.

  6. Jorge alpa

    July 15, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Band on the run McCartney
    Rocket man Elton John
    Barracuda Heart
    Raounabout Yes
    From the beginning ELP
    Jeylous guy Lennon
    Potograth Ringo Starr

  7. Keith

    July 18, 2017 at 2:19 am

    How can you have a 70’s list without Freebies???

  8. Victor Peres

    September 4, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    I think Ummagumma was launched in the 60’s

  9. Mike Nietadka

    September 5, 2017 at 12:57 am

    Superstition-Stevie Wonder

  10. wdi

    September 5, 2017 at 4:50 am

    Santa Esmeralda,SuperMax,Blondie,Rod Stewart,Boney M,Bee Gees_Toto…

  11. Tim Barton

    September 5, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    I’m Not in Love by 10cc, Brick House by Commodores, Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, Autobahn by Kraftwerk, the Wings classic Band on the Run. Just a few too add to a great list.

  12. Eugene G

    September 5, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    How many of the others had a musical based on the songs THEY wrote run on Broadway for over 14 years?

  13. Beth Jones

    September 5, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    Aerosmith “Walk This Way” Sweet “Ballroom Blitz” Badfinger “No Matter What” Cheap Trick “Surrender” Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated”

  14. Amedeo

    September 8, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    “Evergreen” – Barbra Streisand

  15. Victor Romero

    July 12, 2021 at 10:30 pm

    Mark Don & Mel. Y are they always left out.

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