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Best 70s Songs: 20 Decade-Defining Rock, Pop And Soul Classics
List & Guides

Best 70s Songs: 20 Decade-Defining Rock, Pop And Soul Classics

From classic-rock wizardry to the boogie-inducing enchantment of disco and funk, the best 70s songs prove why it was such a magical decade. 

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As an era of musical innovation and experimentation that brought us some of the most memorable songs of all time, the 70s was an iconic decade whose many hits have since gone on to become classics. From rock’n’roll to funk, disco and even new wave, the 70s well and truly had something for everyone. Whether you’re into timeless ballads or upbeat dance tracks, get ready to take a trip down memory lane and experience the best 70s songs.

Listen to our 70s playlist here, and check out the best 70s songs, below.

20: Chic: Good Times (1979)

Giving rise to such fashions as platform shoes and bell-bottom trousers, the 70s also birthed the inner-city party-loving genre disco, and one of the most seminal songs released during this period was Good Times by Chic. A revolutionary song in its own right, Good Times ushered in a new era of dance music, its infectious beat and sleek bassline going on to influence early hip-hop acts such as The Sugarhill Gang. Chic’s unique blend of funk and R&B-inspired rhythms created a sound that was both uplifting and hypnotic, and the combination of Nile Rodgers’ staccato guitar riffs and Bernard Edwards’ walking bassline gave Good Times an unmistakable groove that would become instantly recognisable around the world. Written and produced by Rodgers and Edwards, the song peaked at No.1 in the US and became the best-selling single in the history of Atlantic Records.

19: Joni Mitchell: Big Yellow Taxi (1970)

As one of the very best 70s songs, not only does Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi have an indelible melody, but it also encapsulates post-hippie environmentalism as its core message (“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”). Now something of an Earth Day anthem, Big Yellow Taxi was written by Mitchell after she took a trip to Hawaii, where she observed rampant urban development that threatened to destroy the natural environment. “I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance,” Mitchell said in a 1996 interview. “Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart… this blight on paradise.” The only single lifted from her Ladies Of The Canyon album, Big Yellow Taxi captured Mitchell’s dismay at seeing a once tree-filled valley being concreted over. Peaking at No.24 in the US and No.11 in the UK, it is now regarded as one of the best Joni Mitchell songs, its powerful message as relevant now as when it was first released, over half a decade ago.

18: The Sugarhill Gang: Rapper’s Delight (1979)

A landmark moment in hip-hop history, and one of the most influential songs in popular music as a whole, Rapper’s Delight, by The Sugarhill Gang, was the first rap single to become a crossover hit and reach the US Top 40. Released in September 1979, it put the legendary Sugar Hill Records on the map, and saw Bronx-based MCs Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright, Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson and Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien bust some rhymes over the bassline to Chic’s disco hit Good Times. By kick-starting not only the poetic impetus of hip-hop but also the art of sampling, Rapper’s Delight was a historic release that blazes its own trail through the best 70s songs. Even Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers would acknowledge its cultural importance: “As innovative and important as Good Times was,” Rodgers said in a 2005 interview with Blender, “Rapper’s Delight was just as much, if not more so.”

17: Neil Young: Heart Of Gold (1972)

A staple on classic-rock radio, the heartfelt lyrics and immediately recognisable harmonica solo in Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold easily makes it one of the best 70s songs. Reportedly recorded in just two takes while nursing a back injury, this highlight from Young’s Harvest album quickly became one of his biggest hits, peaking at No.1 in the US and effortlessly incorporating the Canadian songwriter’s panache for earthy folk-rock with meaningful lyrics that spoke of hope and resilience (“I want to live, I want to give/I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold”). Demonstrating his peerless ability as a songwriter, Heart Of Gold still ranks highly among the best Neil Young songs and it remains one of the 70s’ most soul-stirringly expressive anthems.

16: Talking Heads: Psycho Killer (1977)

Quickly rising to prominence due to its unique sound, the wiry and nerve-jangling spirit of Psycho Killer, by Talking Heads, encapsulated the New York City punk scene of the late 70s. Bursting with creativity and eclecticism, this highlight from the band’s debut album, Talking Heads: 77, captures the birth pangs of new wave, with frontman David Byrne delivering witty and cleverly written lyrics that delve into the mind of a serial killer with an abundance of dark humour. “It’s a little bit crazy and it’s a little bit funky,” Talking Heads guitarist Chris Frantz told Songfacts. “It’s kind of like Alice Cooper meets Sam And Dave. It hits the mark.” With Tina Weymouth’s pulsing bassline and Byrne’s schoolboy French (“Qu’est-ce que c’est?”), Psycho Killer stands out among the best 70s songs for igniting the new-wave explosion with arty and eccentric relish.

15: Carly Simon: You’re So Vain (1972)

Carly Simon’s 1972 hit single You’re So Vain has been a beloved breakup song ever since it topped the US charts. Immediately disarming the listener with its busy-fingered bassline, the song is a masterclass in wry humour, with Simon’s lyrics recounting the story of a narcissistic ex-lover before lambasting the playboy in her catchy chorus (“You’re so vain/You probably think this song is about you”). Naturally, the true identity of the character (or characters, as Simon has suggested) has been a source of much speculation over the years, with fans linking the song to anyone from movie stars to business moguls. Regardless of who it is about, one thing is certain: You’re So Vain more than lives up to its reputation as one of the best 70s songs.

14: Joy Division: Transmission (1979)

Released by Factory Records in October 1979, Joy Division’s debut single, Transmission, combined singer Ian Curtis’ haunting vocals with a kinetic tempo to lay the groundwork for the post-punk genre. Full of Bernard Sumner’s angular guitar riffs and Peter Hook’s turbo-charged basslines, Transmission earns its spot among the best 70s songs for the way it crackles with edgy and forward-thinking spirit (live, Joy Division’s urgency drove Curtis to dance wildly to the song’s memorable refrain, “Dance, dance, dance, to the radio!”). With memorable hooks and atmospheric production from Martin Hannett, Transmission has become an enduring indie classic that exemplifies the full power of the best Joy Division songs.

13: Donna Summer: I Feel Love (1977)

Easily one of the most future-shaping entries among the best 70s songs, Donna Summer’s 1977 hit single I Feel Love was a truly game-changing release. Co-written and co-produced with Giorgio Moroder, its groundbreaking and innovative synthesised bassline pioneered a new sound in electronic music, and it also boasted a hypnotic chorus that stood out in the disco era. Rightly hailed as a milestone in music production, I Feel Love captures a feeling of being overwhelmed with emotion and transported to another realm, making it an instant success at discotheques around the world. Not only did the song propel Donna Summer into superstardom and cement her place as one of disco’s leading figures, but it would also prove to be a seminal release in the evolution of electronic dance music.

12: Black Sabbath: Paranoid (1970)

Widely considered to be a pioneering work of proto-metal, Black Sabbath’s 1970 single Paranoid is a timeless hard-rock classic. Peaking at No.4 in the UK, Paranoid grabbed listeners by the throat with Tony Iommi’s hard-hitting guitar riffs and Bill Ward’s powerful drum beat, not to mention frontman Ozzy Osbourne’s wails of palpable despair. “Basically, it’s just about depression,” Osbourne later said in a 2013 interview with Mojo magazine, “because I didn’t really know the difference between depression and paranoia.” Regarded as one of Black Sabbath’s signature songs and a key influence on the development of heavy metal, Paranoid continues to wreak havoc to this day, remaining highly popular among the best 70s songs thanks to its breakneck tempo and edgy blasts of distortion.

11: Television: Marquee Moon (1977)

Emerging from New York’s CBGB scene, the title track from Television’s debut album, Marquee Moon, was far more ambitious than most two-minute blasts of punky noise, with the band opting instead to explore a ten-minute epic of spidery and intermeshing guitar work. Beginning with an entrancing riff that sets up a tight groove for vocalist Tom Verlaine’s distinctive vocals to soar over, the song’s raw energy and eclectic ingenuity landed like a brick being hurled through a window, pointing the way for other incendiary post-punk and new wave acts to follow. Though it failed to chart as a single in the US, Marquee Moon peaked at No.30 in the UK and brilliantly showcased guitar duo Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine’s intricate soloing talents. Television’s fresh take on virtuosity is what gave Marquee Moon its enduring power, and that’s why it deserves a place on our list of best 70s songs.

10: Lou Reed: Walk On The Wild Side (1972)

Embarking on a solo career after leaving The Velvet Underground following the release of the group’s fourth album, Loaded, Lou Reed’s 1972 single Walk On The Wild Side saw Lou Reed team up with David Bowie on production duties to serve up one of the best-known songs of the decade. As an ode to Andy Warhol’s Factory superstars that features both a standout saxophone riff and one of the best basslines of all time, Walk On The Wild Side is both poetic and edgy, encapsulating a feeling of liberation during a time when social norms were being challenged and new ideas were being explored. Reed’s gruff-voiced delivery was a refreshing change of pace from pop songs at the time, with the single going on to peak at No.16 in the US and No.10 in the UK. One of the most influential songs of the era, Walk On The Wild Side captured something truly unique.

9: Kate Bush: Wuthering Heights (1978)

Released in January 1978, Kate Bush’s debut single, Wuthering Heights, soared straight to No.1 in the UK and signalled Bush’s arrival on the music scene. Featuring a memorable guitar solo from Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, the song was inspired by Emily Brontë’s novel, Wuthering Heights, and the lyrics capture some of the book’s key themes – passion, longing and loneliness. The combination of Bush’s pixie-like vocals and Gilmour’s ethereal guitar playing make Wuthering Heights one of the best Kate Bush songs, standing out as one of the most haunting and otherworldly listening experiences of the decade. Its music video also deserves a special mention – with its dream-like visuals and choreography, it perfectly encapsulates what makes the song so captivating.

8: Pink Floyd: Money (1973)

Gesturing toward an anti-capitalist message, Money is a commercial powerhouse built on one of the best 70s basslines. A highlight from Pink Floyd’s 1973 album, The Dark Side Of The Moon, the memorable bass hook is a mainstay on classic-rock radio, and the song still pays its dues thanks to its abrasive and cynical lyrics (“New car, caviar, four-star daydream/Think I’ll buy me a football team”); an uproarious saxophone solo from Dick Parry; and David Gilmour’s face-melting guitar work. Though Pink Floyd usually avoided releasing singles, Money became a rare exception and subsequently ended up peaking at No.13 in the US. With a hypnotic beat and thoughtful lyrics that explore themes of greed, power and materialism, it still resonates strongly with listeners today, easily earning its place among the best 70s songs.

7: Stevie Wonder: Superstition (1972)

Musically speaking, it doesn’t get much better than this. Motown’s boy wonder Stevie Wonder truly came of age when he released his 1972 single Superstition, which swaggers with brio and confidence to a funk-laden groove. Augmented by distinctive horn parts, punctuated by funky clavinet riffs and topped off with Wonder’s powerful vocal performance, Superstition peaked at No.1 in the US and set the bar for further developments in Black music of the 70s. With a driving bassline and lyrics that speak of overcoming fear and doubt in life (“When you believe in things that you don’t understand/Then you suffer”), it’s an undeniably influential song that found Wonder at the peak of his creative powers.

6: Eagles: Hotel California (1977)

Using a mix of folk-rock sounds with country instrumentation to create an unforgettable atmosphere, the 1977 single Hotel California, by Eagles, is a six-minute epic that still leaves listeners spellbound. “I had this acoustic 12-string and I started tinkling around with it, and those Hotel California chords just kind of oozed out,” Eagles guitarist Don Felder explained in an interview. “Every once in a while it seems like the cosmos part and something great just plops in your lap.” One of the best Eagles songs, and the title track to their multi-platinum-selling Hotel California album, there’s a touch of Southern gothic poetry to Don Henley and Glenn Frey’s lyrics, which evoke themes of addiction and materialism in a haunting exploration of a stay in a hotel that cannot be escaped (“You can check out any time you like/But you can never leave”). Blessed with a mesmerising guitar solo, Hotel California peaked at No.8 in the UK and No.1 in the US, and is rightfully considered one of the most iconic songs of the decade.

5: Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On (1971)

The 70s were a time of great social and political upheaval in the US. Amid civil-rights struggles, racial tensions and anti-war protests, Marvin Gaye’s classic What’s Going On stands out among the best 70s songs for making one of the most powerful musical statements from that era. With its lyrical themes of social justice, it remains a generation-spanning anthem that sees Gaye’s soulful tones give voice to contemporary issues such as police brutality, as well as being a deeply personal statement on the singer’s life at that time. A plea for peace, love and unity, What’s Going On’s memorable hook, lush arrangements and complex harmonies – not to mention those instantly recognisable horns – immediately made it one the best protest songs of all time.

4: Fleetwood Mac: Dreams (1977)

Widely considered to be one of the best 70s songs, Fleetwood Mac’s US No.1 hit single, Dreams, featured enchanting vocals from singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks, whose unique style and bohemian spirit forever established her as one of the greatest female singers in history. The alluring soundscape created by Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar riffs combined with Mick Fleetwood’s metronomic drumming made for the perfect backdrop for Nicks’ mesmerising voice, expressing philosophical lyrics that convey an intense feeling of melancholy (“Thunder only happens when it’s raining/Players only love you when they’re playing”). One of the best Fleetwood Mac songs, and a defining part of their 1977 album, Rumours, Dreams is a calm and meditative work of splendour.

3: Led Zeppelin: Stairway To Heaven (1971)

Written by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and frontman Robert Plant, for the group’s untitled fourth album (aka “Led Zeppelin IV”), the eight-minute masterpiece Stairway To Heaven slowly builds from an acoustic-led whisper to an unforgettable hard-rocking crescendo. “To me, I thought Stairway crystallised the essence of the band,” Page later said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. “It had everything there and showed the band at its best… as a band, as a unit.” With Plant’s lyrics conjuring the ghosts of medieval England and a Page guitar solo that aims to awaken spirits from their slumber, Stairway To Heaven exemplifies the uplifting power of the best Led Zeppelin songs and demonstrates why even the world’s best guitarists continue to cite the band as an influence. A classic-rock staple ever since its release in 1971, it’s no stretch to claim that Stairway To Heaven is not just one of the best 70s songs, it’s one of the greatest rock songs ever written.

2: Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody (1975)

Barmy and audacious, Queen’s 1975 single Bohemian Rhapsody saw Freddie Mercury unleash his inner figaro to craft an eccentric six-minute symphony of operatic rock’n’roll. Unlike anything that had ever been released before, the song peaked at No.1 in the UK and is credited with being Queen’s crowning glory, opening the door to international superstardom. Lauded as a masterpiece and standing out as one of the band’s best-known works, Bohemian Rhapsody’s complexity was made possible thanks to the musical genius of Mercury and Brian May, who combined classical ingredients with contemporary rock’n’roll elements to create something unique. Today, Bohemian Rhapsody remains an iconic anthem all over the world, beloved by millions for its heartfelt lyrics and beautiful melody, and comfortably earning its place among the upper echelons of the best 70s songs.

1: David Bowie: “Heroes” (1977)

No song captures the Cold War era better than David Bowie’s 1977 single “Heroes”. Recorded while living in the shadow of the Iron Curtain, the song’s lyrics tell the story of two lovers spied kissing by the Berlin Wall. This romantic backdrop serves as inspiration for a message that can be read as hopeful or despairing (“Though nothing will drive them away/We can beat them, just for one day”). Featuring hair-raising guitar work from King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, the song lent its title to Bowie’s groundbreaking “Heroes” album, and speaks to listeners on an emotional level by reframing heroism as intimacy in the face of tyranny, while also hinting at wider political issues such as seeking freedom under oppressive regimes. The song has become an anthem for many, inspiring courage and hope among listeners, and that’s why it tops this list of the best 70s songs.

Looking for more? Check out the best 70s albums.

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