10 Defining Songs of the 1970s
The sounds of the seventies
The 70s was a great era of music – it was the time of musical trends in transition. From bluesy rock going to disco, the sounds of the seventies remain a big part of the identity of that generation. Anyone alive at the time would not have been able to escape listening and knowing the following decade-defining songs by default with the relevance of radio in the midst of the rise of the television. The emerging end evolving genres of hard rock branching out into subgenres such as glam rock, hard rock, progressive, art rock and heavy metal were developed in the ’70s. Disco may be the biggest genre and culture of the decade, but these 10 songs are as synonymous to the ‘70s era as flared jeans and lava lamps.
10. “Hotel California” by the Eagles (1976)
The rock classic “Hotel California” was such a massive hit in the late 1970s that the band who has blessed us with this hit, the Eagles cemented themselves as the quintessential 70s rock group. The success of this song and the album with the same name, secured itself a place on the Rolling Stones 500 Best Albums of All Time and made the Eagles part of the Greatest Artists of all time. “Hotel California” was based on the loose-concept about the decadent lifestyle in California, particularly in Hollywood – a detrimental way of life experienced by lots of musicians in the mid-‘70s. The song reached the top spot in the US Singles chart and also won the Grammy award for ‘Record Of The Year’ in 1978.
9. “Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2” by Pink Floyd (1979)
Pink Floyd released this anti-establishment hit as the last of the decade in 1979. In the mid-1970s, as Pink Floyd’s mainstream popularity was rapidly increasing which made front man Roger Waters feel alienated. This fueled the creation of this ‘70s hit that made the band a relevant part of the decade. The song featured a dark disco bass line, a children’s choir that resonated a powerful but creepy element, and of course, an insane guitar solo by the great David Gilmour. The record also featured a hook that is hard to shake from anyone’s memory, and proving that it will stand the test of time. The entire song was a subtle but direct jab on the flaws of the school system, the one to be blamed for the reclusive behavior of children and even adults. The message of the song is conveyed in the building up of the thick atmosphere of its music.
8. “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder (1972)
There is definitely nothing unlucky about Stevie Wonder’s ‘70s hit “Superstition”. It was the song that put Stevie’s unmistakable musical talents on the map. It was the peak of Stevie Wonder’s funky soul. He did almost every single thing on this song – he wrote, produced, sang, and played instruments on the track. It was also almost released by Jeff Beck, who originally played drums on the track. Can you imagine anyone else singing this song like Stevie? It’s inconceivable!
The lyrics obviously talk about the common superstitions that exist such as walking under a ladder, the black cat, the No. 13 but it’s the music that makes it stand out. The catchy tune, the funky rhythm, and the killer vocals make this song hard to forget after a listen. Definitely one of Stevie Wonder’s greatest achievements.
7. “Dancing Queen” by ABBA (1976)
The introduction riff for this massive disco hit already makes people roll their shoulders and bop their heads. Everybody knows ABBA’s 1976 hit single “Dancing Queen”! It is the signature song of the world’s favorite Swedish pop group that became a big worldwide hit, topping the charts across almost 20 countries. “Dancing Queen” is a Europop version of American disco music that replicated the musical arrangements of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”. The positive, encouraging message of the lyrics resonates with the youth and the carefree blissfulness of their age. The dramatic chorus always gets people to let it out in dancing. In 2015, “Dancing Queen” was inducted into the Recording Academy’s Grammy Hall of Fame as it so deserved. If there is one song to associate with ABBA, it’s got to be “Dancing Queen”.
6. “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac (1977)
“Go Your Own Way”, released in December 1976 was the first single out of Fleewood Mac’s best-selling 1977 album “Rumours”. “Go Your Own Way” was nasty proof that “Rumours” was the band’s break-up album. Written by Lindsey Buckingham, the lyrics talk about the messy and complicated relationship he had with band member, Stevie Nicks. It’s like a classic ‘70s soap opera captured in a song. Even Buckingham’s gut-wrenching guitar solo speaks for itself. In spite of the dramatic background of the song, it gave many milestones for the band. It was Fleetwood Mac’s first major hit single featured male lead vocals. It had a slow climb to reach the top of the charts and it took a couple of re-releases to get there. The song ranked No. 120 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list.
5. “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor (1978)
The snappy disco anthem of the 70s generation! Even four decades later Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” is still very popular and still very relevant. The lyrics are originally enduring and powering on after a bad break up but over the years it has become a song about empowerment and being an overcomer of any tough situation. The song has become a standard of many things. It has set the standard of dance-pop and has become one of the most popular Karaoke songs ever. The single has been reproduced in 20 different languages as well. “I Will Survive” has the number 1 spot on VH1’s list of the 100 Greatest Dance Songs. As if it can go any more disco, the song won the 1979 Grammy for Best Disco Recording – the first and last time that the Grammys offered this category. What an honor!
4. “Imagine” by John Lennon (1971)
Two years after the Beatles officially split, John Lennon wrote his most famous and best-selling song of his solo career in 1971.
“Imagine” is an anthem of unity, peace, freedom, harmony, among mankind. The song’s lyrics were very relevant at the time of rampant violence and discrimination due to war in the 1970’s. The original concept of the song was derived from Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono’s art book called “Grapefruit” which speaks of living at peace without the divisions of religion, race, politics and the alienation of being too attached to material possessions. The song also received a lot of negative criticism, claiming the lyrics are communistic, socialistic, anti-religion, and anti-American. “Imagine” is one of three of John Lennon’s solo songs inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked “Imagine” #3 on its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. when it was released in September of 1971, the song peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and this album of the same name reached number one, becoming the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed album of Lennon’s solo career.
3. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen (1975)
This mammoth song catapulted Queen as one of the biggest bands in the world. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a ludicrous, six-minute suite of a combination of several musical sections including a ballad, an opera, a hard rock riff, and a reflective coda. It’s representative of the crazy but effective evolution of 1970s progressive rock. Released in 1975, the song became the biggest commercial success of the band, selling more than 1.5 million copies by the end of the year. It stayed at number one on the UK Singles Chart for a total of nine weeks and then reached number one again following Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991. It eventually became UK’s third best-selling single of all time. It was also the most expensive single ever made at the time of its release with its unusually long running time and genre-bending masterwork.
2. “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin (1971)
The 1970s musical era as part of history would not be complete without acknowledging this eight-minute miracle rock anthem that’s already so ingrained in rock music’s entire identity, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. This riff-filled Zeppelin classic was released in 1971 as the centerpiece of the iconic band’s untitled fourth studio album “Led Zeppelin IV” or “Zoso” as it was endearingly labeled by fans. The fact of the matter is, “Stairway to Heaven” is the ultimate rock song of the 70s and its legacy even transcends to this day. Despite being massive in influence and popularity, the song was actually never commercially released as a single but was at one point the most requested song in mainstream FM radio stations in the early 70s. The iconic hit possess some intensely visceral moments in rock music history. Deservedly so, the song was included in “Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. It was also placed at number three in 2000 by VH1 on its list of the 100 Greatest Rock Songs, 30 years after its original release. Nothing really ever comes close to the epic scale of this Zeppelin iconic hit.
1. “Stayin’ Alive” by Bee Gees (1977)
The 70s era is most commonly associated with the decade’s signature sound which is disco and no other song can represent that era and genre better than “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. The high-falsetto phenomenon put the Gibb brothers into worldwide superstardom during the era of “Saturday Night Fever”, which they will be forever associated to. The anthem about surviving and perseverance through a tough life in the city, the catchy, repetitive beat of “Stayin’ Alive” works into the listeners’ subconscious and makes one dance and strut with such confidence and gusto. It’s still the go-to disco song even more than 4 decades after! In 2004, “Stayin’ Alive” was placed at number 189 on the list of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It has also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”. One thing’s for sure, this timeless hit 70s classic is true to its name, still stayin’ alive after all these years.