The 1970s were one of the best decades for music. Beginning with the breakup of the Beatles and ending with the dominance of punk and disco, it saw a wide range of classics across many genres.
What are the best songs of the 70s? We take a somewhat unorthodox look here. Alongside many of the biggest rock songs, you’ll also find signature tracks of the decade from practically every conceivable genre.
There’s even a classical song. Dig.
The Best 70s Songs
30. “Close to You” – The Carpenters
The 1970s are sometimes seen as an era of angst and aggression, but soft rock like the Carpenters dominated the airwaves.
An easy choice for one of the best 70s songs, “Close to You” will always be a favorite. Even The Simpsons loved it, using it in multiple episodes.
29. “How Deep is Your Love?” – The Bee Gees
What is the #1 song in the 70s? Though Bee Gees hits like “Stayin’ Alive” had more cultural currency, that’d be “How Deep is Your Love,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for an astonishing 33 weeks.
Who has the most hits in the 70s? You better believe it was the Bee Gees.
Though they’re fun, the band is still relatively lightweight, which is why “How Deep is Your Love” only reaches #29 on our best 70s songs list.
28. “Jailbreak” – AC/DC
Sure, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” “TNT,” and “Big Balls” are more popular AC/DC songs, but nothing gets to the heart of their reckless aggression like “Jailbreak.”
Because it has been overshadowed by so many other AC/DC hits, “Jailbreak” could certainly be considered one of the best forgotten 70s songs. At least relatively.
27. “Dreams” – Fleetwood Mac
It’s tough to pick one Fleetwood Mac song for a best 70s songs list, but we’ll go with “Dreams,” if only because it was recently huge on Tik Tok.
Taken from their massive 1977 album Rumors, “Dreams” was Fleetwood Mac’s only number-one single in the United States.
26. “Trans Europe Express” – Kraftwerk
Electronic music saw something of a heyday in the 1970s, and it all began with Kraftwerk.
Just try not to get hypnotized by this revolutionary track.
25. “Detroit Rock City” – KISS
I’ve always had a soft spot for KISS. In fact, it almost got me run out of town in Minnesota.
Paul Stanley shared my review of one of their shows on his social media channels with the comment “Amen!,” though, so I got the last laugh.
Like it or not, KISS is one of the most iconic bands of the 70s. Their big rock music was some of the best of the decade, and they transformed the concept of a live show.
24. “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin'” – The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones solidified their singular brand of blooze rock in the 70s. The druggy, jammy swagger of “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin'” is a case in point.
The fan favorite is from their seminal 1971 release Sticky Fingers.
23. “Madman Across the Water” – Elton John
You’ve heard all of Elton John’s biggest songs, such as “Bennie and the Jets,” “Rocket Man,” and “Crocodile Rock” like a million times.
So give the epic title track from Elton John’s 1971 album Madman Across the Water a listen instead. It’s better than all his hits from the 70s anyway.
22. “Bitches Brew” – Miles Davis
Let’s not be too rock-centric, eh? After all, other things were going on musically in the 70s.
One of those things was Miles Davis completely re-inventing jazz (again) with a series of albums like On the Corner, A Tribute to Jack Johnson, and, of course, Bitches Brew.
The title cut from that 1970 album, nearly 30 minutes of heavenly joy, might just re-wire your brain. Its mix of jazz, rock, African, and Indian music is on its own astral plane.
21. “Because the Night” – Patti Smith
Patti Smith is the queen of punk. One of the most creative minds of the decade, she beguiled everyone from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen.
Speaking of the Boss, he wrote this classic, but it took Patti Smith to transform it into one of the sexiest songs of the 70s.
Related: 27 Fascinating Facts About Bob Dylan
20. “Imagine” – John Lennon
“Imagine,” the title track from John Lennon’s most popular (but not his best) solo album, is the most polarizing choice on this list.
Either you think that it’s beautiful in its message and execution or that it’s a flaccid anthem for a squalid dystopia.
Regardless, it’s on every best songs of the 70s list, so here it is.
19. “Born to Run” – Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen was initially known as “the new Bob Dylan,” but he came into his own on the 1974’s Born to Run.
The anthemic track is rightly considered one of the best songs of the 70s. The E Street band is in full force, especially “Big Man” Clarence Clemons and drummer Max Weinberg.
Dig that key change (at the “1-2-3-4!” part)
18. “Layla” – Derek and the Dominos
What was the number-one rock and roll song in 1970? That’d be “Layla” from Derek and the Dominos, the supergroup that featured Eric Clapton and Duane Allman.
The iconic piano outro, though, was penned by drummer Jim Gordon.
17. “Hotel California” – The Eagles
The Eagles began as a country rock band. Think “Take it Easy,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”
They became more of a standard rock band by the late ’70s. “Hotel California” is the ultimate song from that era of the group.
Joe Walsh made a huge difference in their transition. His epic guitar solo at the end makes the song.
16. “Stay On It” – Julius Eastman
I told you there’d be a classical song.
Minimalist composer Julius Eastman is criminally overlooked. He died homeless and alone in New York in 1990, but not before creating some of the most influential classical music of all time.
“Stay On It” is based around an insistent riff that repeats in various forms throughout its 25 minutes, surrounded by chanting vocals and free-form improvisations.
Eastman drew on the freedom and grooves of jazz and rock, blending them with minimalism in the vein of Philip Glass and Steve Reich to create something as catchy as it is experimental.
15. “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” – James Brown
The hardest-working man in show business released one of his very best songs, “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” in 1970. It reached #2 on the Billboard R&B Chart and #15 on the Hot 100.
“Sex Machine” ‘s combination of funk, soul, and rock is simply transcendent. You can practically hear James Brown sweating as he puts everything into his performance.
14. “Man in Black” – Johnny Cash
Let’s give 70s country its due, shall we? And what better way than to include Johnny Cash with his signature song.
The message of “The Man in Black” will, unfortunately, always be relevant.
13. “Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin
Stairway denied? I don’t think so.
“Stairway to Heaven” is a team effort from Zeppelin. Robert Plant’s vocal is tender then wild, Jimmy Page’s guitar work is perfect, and John Bonham’s drumming at the end is just heavy.
It’s also a feat songwriting-wise. Listen to it with fresh ears and you’ll understand why it’s so legendary
12. “Marquee Moon” – Television
“Marquee Moon” belongs on this list of best 70s songs simply because it check so many boxes: it’s rock, it’s punk, it’s new wave, it’s even a bit prog.
The title track from their 1977 debut album simply needs to be heard to be believed.
11. “Dancing Queen” – Abba
What song best represents the 70s? It’s hard not to go with Abba’s stone cold classic “Dancing Queen.” It’s the ultimate disco song.
By the way, you don’t have a soul if you don’t like Abba. Don’t kill the messenger. It’s just science.
10. “London Calling” – The Clash
“London Calling” is the pinnacle of punk: it’s reckless, it has an attitude, and it just rocks.
The double album of the same name cemented Joe Strummer and company’s place in music history.
9. “Free Bird” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
“Free Bird” is one of those 70s songs everyone knows.
Taken from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1973 debut album, the epic track that always gets requested at concerts only reached #25 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Like “Stairway to Heaven,” listen to this one with fresh ears.
8. “Wish You Were Here” – Pink Floyd
Many Pink Floyd classics come to mind when you think of the best 70s songs: “Time,” “Money,” “Careful With That Axe, Eugene,” and so many others.
“Wish You Were Here,” the band’s loving tribute to their founder Syd Barrett, is their most beautiful song.
David Gilmour’s acoustic guitar riff on this is essential for any beginning guitar player, and Roger Waters provides one of his most affecting set of lyrics.
7. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Simon and Garfunkel
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel are one of the most legendary duos in rock history. Gorgeous “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is practically a hymn.
Initially, Paul Simon thought this was a minor song, and it took his producer’s prodding to get him to write the B part (“sail on, silver girl…”) and finish it. Crazy to think that’s true.
6. “Father and Son” – Cat Stevens
As far as best 70s songs with a message go, it’s hard to beat “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens. The hit single from his 1970 album Tea for the Tillerman.
Rolling Stone put it at #408 on its recent 500 Best Songs of All Time list. Glad it made the list, but it should be higher.
5. “Redemption Songs” – Bob Marley
A Best 70s Songs by Bob Marley list could be twice as long as this one. “Jammin’,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Get Up, Stand Up”…take your pick.
Like “Father and Son” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the beauty and universal message of “Redemption Songs” makes it almost hymn-like.
4. “Heroes” – David Bowie
It’d be criminal to have a best 70s songs list and not include David Bowie.
He had so many iterations in the 1970s, from the glam rock Ziggy Stardust to the coke-ed out Thin White Duke that it makes it especially difficult to choose just one of his songs.
We’re going with his Berlin period, where he branched out into a more experimental direction with famous collaborator Brian Eno.
“Heroes” is one of the most beautiful rock songs ever recorded. “We can be heroes/just for one day” indeed.
3. “What’s Going On” – Marvin Gaye
Simply, the spirit of the 70s is distilled in “What’s Going On.”
Musically, it’s the pinnacle of the Motown and soul sound that Gaye helped form. Lyrically, it gets to the heart of the societal issues of the late 60s and 70s better than any other song.
2. “Let It Be” – The Beatles
Perhaps the defining moment of the 1970s happened at the beginning of the decade: the breakup of the Beatles.
Poetically, they left us with “Let It Be,” from their 1970 swansong album of the same name.
Paul McCartney gives us one of his best vocal performances on “Let it Be,” perfectly balancing tenderness and toughness. Billy Preston’s organ is also a highlight.
1. “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen
When you think of the best 70s songs, one choice immediately comes to mind: Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
What can be said about it? It’s beyond iconic. It’s beyond legendary. It’s its own world and its own universe.
Taylor Schultz contributed to this article
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