best 70s songs

70s Songs: 100 Essential Tracks You Need to Know

Rocks Off counts down 100 of the best 70s songs spanning all genres from the diverse decade we all know and love…

100 of the Best 70s Songs of All Time

100. “Summer Nights” – John Travolta & Olivia Newton (1978)

A top ten single the world over, this sweet, nostalgic number captured the innocent charm of Grease, and was picked by Billboard as one of their top ten “Best Summer Songs of All Time.” Hard to argue.

99. “Gimme Three Steps” – Lynyrd Skynyrd (1973)

Supposedly based on true events, this rock anthem with a riff deadlier than a bullet from a .44 tells of barroom antics on the wrong side of the tracks, and of the dangers of making eyes at the wrong girl.

98. “My Sharona” – The Knack (1979)

There was a time when The Knack were set to be the biggest band in the world and “My Sharona” their signature anthem. Though they never quite made it, the song remains an insistent, propulsive gem.

97. “Born To Run” – Bruce Springsteen (1975)

It’s iconic, it’s legendary, it may just be the greatest driving song ever written. The E-Street Band are firing on all cylinders and that unstoppable rhythm makes you want to put your pedal to the metal.

96. “Soul Man” – Blues Brothers (1979)

Originally co-written by Isaac Hayes in 1967, this slick soul number underwent a drastic makeover for the hit cover version by the comedy duo of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.

95. “Jamming” – Bob Marley & The Wailers (1977)

A perfect reggae anthem from Bob Marley at the height of his powers, which featured on his legendary album Exodus. “Jamming” remains a mainstay on R&B radio, and is often covered but never, ever bettered.

94. “The Loco-Motion” – Grand Funk Railroad (1974)

A radical cover from the iconic rockers, and one which radio DJs were convinced the American public was not yet ready for. They even had the audacity to remove the guitar instrumental section when broadcasting it (sacrilege!). But that didn’t stop it from becoming a number one single.

93. “Beer Barrel Polka” – Bobby Vinton (1975)

By the beginning of the 1970s, you’d be forgiven for thinking Bobby Vinton was washed up. But he came storming back into the charts with his gold-selling album Melodies of Love, and then this cover of a traditional drinking song.

92. “Rock Lobster” – B-52’s (1979)

The first hit for the unclassifiable B-52s, this classic of new-wave surf rock managed to be both retro and futuristic, as well as very catchy. It also broke the top 200 in Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

91. “Lean On Me” – Bill Withers (1972)

This emotional anthem from Bill Withers is a paean to the small mining community where he grew up. The stirring vocal will bring a tear to your eye and put fire in your belly.

90. “Joy To The World” – Three Dog Night (1971)

Grammy nominated smash hit or nonsensical children’s song? “Joy to the World” manages to be both. Interestingly, when the song hit number one in the Billboard chart, it made author Hoyt Axton and his mother Mae the first mother and son to have each written a number one. Mae wrote “Heartbreak Hotel” for Elvis Presley.

89. “Burning Love” – Elvis Presley (1972)

Speaking of Elvis… “Burning Love” was one of his last major hits and was a mainstay of his live concerts in the final years of his life.

88. “I’ll Be There” – Jackson 5 (1970)

This was the fourth number one single in a row for the Jackson 5. Michael Jackson was eleven years old when he sung this, but he did it with such panache that it made the world sit up and take notice of his remarkable talent for the first time.

87. “New York State Of Mind” – Billy Joel (1976)

A jazzy soft-rock number which has been a perennial staple of Billy Joel live shows, this number took on added significance in the wake of 9/11 and remains a great anthem of hometown pride.

86. “Shake Your Groove Thing” – Peaches & Herb (1979)

This disco masterpiece spent a total of 22 weeks in the US charts, eventually acquiring Gold status. Something of a comeback for Peaches and Herb, this tune also stormed the charts in the UK, Netherlands, Canada and Australia.

85. “Always And Forever” – Heatwave (1978)

This song had the unenviable task of being Heatwave’s follow-up to their smash hit “Boogie Nights,” the song which established them on the disco scene. But releasing a gentle ballad next proved to be an ingenious move, and gave countless high school proms their slow dance number.

84. “Sweet Emotion” – Aerosmith (1975)

Allegedly inspired by the antipathy the rest of the band felt toward guitarist Joe Perry’s wife, this proved to be a breakthrough for the now legendary rockers. It cracked the top ten and remains one of their signature songs.

83. “Ladies Night” – Kool & The Gang (1979)

Their first hit in the UK, this song proved a game changer for the disco pioneers. Nowadays, its hard to imagine a local ladies’ night without it blasting through the speakers.

82. “How Deep Is Your Love” – Bee Gees (1977)

Get used to the Bee Gees, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of them on this list. In many ways, they owned the 1970s. This heartfelt ballad, augmented by Barry Gibb’s unmistakeable falsetto, is one of their finest moments.

81. “Night Fever” – Bee Gees (1978)

This is the song that spawned a whole cultural movement. In many ways its appearance in the smash hit movie Saturday Night Fever helped to define disco as we know it today.

80. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Diana Ross (1970)

The first solo single from Diana Ross, it’s fair to say that she and the technical wizards at Motown HQ threw everything they had at this number. Gospel, classical strings, a spoken word bridge… and the results? Well, they speak for themselves.

79. “Take A Chance On Me” – ABBA (1978)

A seventh number one for the Swedish legends. It was one of their first not to incorporate any outside help from their manager or additional songwriters, and the experiment seems to have paid off!

78. “Let It Be” – Beatles (1970)

The last hurrah for the almighty Beatles, “Let It Be” has its origins in a dream of Paul McCartney’s. Like so many other Beatles hits, it marries a simple melody with a profound lyric to achieve pop rock majesty.

77. “Beast Of Burden” – Rolling Stones (1978)

A slow, bluesy number with a soulful lyric, this was a rare quiet moment on the otherwise boisterous Some Girls album. Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood trade gorgeous, fluid guitar licks and Mick’s semi-improvised vocal performance is stirring.

76. “Somebody to Love” – Queen (1976)

With its complex gospel influenced melody, this was Queen at their most versatile. How does a band follow up the mighty “Bohemian Rhapsody” you ask? Well, here’s your answer.

75. “Rapper’s Delight” – Sugarhill Gang (1979)

This song was a major event in the evolution of hip hop, and a key signifier of the genre’s crossover into the mainstream. Not bad for the result of an open mic freestyling session!

74. “Free Bird” – Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)

It’s epic and heart-breaking, and that kickass never ending outro solo will send shivers down your spine every time. This song proved a fitting epitaph for Ronnie Van Zant, who died tragically young in a plane crash less than four years after writing this masterpiece.

73. “Take Me Home Country Roads” – John Denver (1971)

One of the most famous John Denver songs, this enduring classic has its origins in a road trip through Maryland undertaken by songwriters Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert. It was John Denver who transposed the lyric to West Virginia, and history was made.

72. “Got To Give It Up” – Marvin Gaye (1977)

A foray into disco music for Marvin Gaye was a sign of the changing times. He disdained disco, and ironically his distaste for it fuelled this smash hit record.

71. “That’s The Way (I Like It)” – KC & The Sunshine Band (1975)

This disco gem hit the number one spot for a week in 1975, only to be replaced by a Silver Connection number. But then, three weeks later, it regained the number one spot for another week, making it virtually unique among disco hits.

70. “Only The Good Die Young” – Billy Joel (1978)

The controversial lyric of this Billy Joel song couldn’t stop it from soaring up the chart, in spite of various attempts to ban it for supposed anti-Catholic sentiment. In fact it’s a song about adolescent infatuation, like just about every other great rock song.

69. “Rock And Roll All Nite” – Kiss (1975)

It’s hard to estimate the sheer raw power of Kiss as a live band during their early days. Though they never quite captured this magic on record, “Rock and Roll All Nite” came pretty close.

68. “Some Kind of Wonderful” – Grand Funk Railroad (1974)

This song was originally performed by R&B musicians Soul Brothers Six. GFR took it to another level, though, and scored a number three hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

67. “Rock The Boat” – Hues Corporation (1974)

It appeared initially as though this disco single was going to sink without a trace. But it proved to be a slow burn, and gradually built up both sales and airplay to become what many consider the first disco number one.

66. “Maybe I’m Amazed” – Paul McCartney (1970)

One of the earliest solo hits for Paul McCartney, believe it or not this was never released as a single. Written in tribute to his beloved wife Linda, it remains one of the greatest love songs in pop history.

65. “You Sexy Thing” – Hot Chocolate (1976)

These disco icons managed to take “You Sexy Thing” into the top ten in three different decades. Not bad for a song that was originally written as a B-side.

64. “Crocodile Rock” – Elton John (1973)

With roots going all the way back to the early days of rock and roll, this fun Elton-Bernie Taupin co-write achieved iconic status, tapping into the nostalgia for those heady times when Bill Haley and his Comets ruled the universe.

63. “You Are So Beautiful” – Joe Cocker (1975)

A gorgeous vocal from Joe takes this track to another level. There’s a gravel and grit in his voice which no other singer has ever managed to recreate. Though he had nothing to do with the writing of this song, he undeniably made it his own and one of the most beautiful 70s songs.

62. “You Should Be Dancing” – Bee Gees (1976)

A breakthrough for the band, here Barry Gibb’s falsetto seemed to achieve its full potential for the first time. The world of popular music was never the same again.

61. “Three Little Birds” – Bob Marley & The Wailers (1977)

From the depths of adversity which culminated in an assassination attempt in 1976, Bob Marley produced a genuinely wondrous musical experience in his album Exodus. In “Three Little Birds” he crafted flawless, peaceful poetry.

60. “Cecilia” – Simon & Garfunkel (1970)

Paul Simon’s lyrics capture the fleeting nature of musical inspiration. Cecilia was one of their last singles from the duo and a flawless cut from the glorious Bridge Over Troubled Water.

59. “Get Up Off Of That Thing” – James Brown (1977)

Recorded live in the studio, this song captures the ecstatic nature of James Brown in his prime. Though he might have appeared washed up by the late ’70s, this song captures the sheer joy of letting loose. In many ways it was his comeback hit.

58. “Dancing In The Moonlight” – King Harvest (1972)

Written in the aftermath of a violent attack, this song captures a sense of hope and idealism, as well as dreamlike romance. It demonstrates the truly cathartic nature of music. Though the band did not last, this is one of the most recognizable 70s songs today.

57. “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” – Stevie Wonder (1973)

A Grammy award winner for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, this romantic hit from Stevie Wonder has also been selected by Rolling Stone as the 287th greatest song of all time.

56. “The Joker” – Steve Miller Band (1973)

Classic bluesy rock coupled with Steve Miller’s unmistakeable lyrical imagination made this an irresistible hit in 1973. They did the same thing twenty years later, when its appearance in a Levi’s commercial sent it soaring back up the charts once more.

55. “Landslide” – Fleetwood Mac (1975)

Arguably the finest moment from their self-titled 1975 album, Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” was written by Stevie Nicks and features an intimate vocal, coupled with delicate finger-picking guitar work from Lindsey Buckingham.

54. “Black Betty” – Ram Jam (1977)

A hard rock classic with loaded lyrics, this is an old African-American work song given a guitar heavy makeover. Controversial? Yes. Epic? Well yes, that too. And in spite of a proposed NAACP boycott, it sold nicely and remains a radio favorite.

53. “American Pie” – Don McLean (1972)

Rock music has always mythologized its heroes, and this eight and a half minute epic laments the loss of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. The sweet melody belies the subject matter, “the day the music died.”

52. “Crazy Love” – Van Morrison (1970)

When he recorded his third album Moondance, Van Morrison shunned the experimental, stream-of-consciousness approach to composition which had characterized his previous album. The result was a minor miracle of songwriting restraint.

51. “Boogie Shoes” – KC & The Sunshine Band (1977)

This song became a hit thanks to its appearance on the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, where it epitomizes the decadent disco lifestyle of the decade. A funky rhythm married to a suggestive lyric make this a dancefloor favourite even today.

50. “Moondance” – Van Morrison (1970)

It’s the song Van Morrison has played more than any other. “Moondance” is jazzy and sophisticated, but crucially it has an inherently commercial feel to it and so did wonders for Van’s fledgling career.

49. “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” – Charlie Daniels Band (1979)

A rip-roaring bluegrass behemoth, this tale of a deal with the devil has proved so iconic that Charlie and co. wrote a sequel in 1993, where the devil comes back for revenge.

48. “Just The Way You Are” – Billy Joel (1978)

A double Grammy award winner, this 70s hit came to Billy Joel in a dream. He wrote it for his first wife, but in the aftermath of their divorce refused to perform it live any more. Fortunately, he has since relented.

47. “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” – Meat Loaf (1978)

An elaborate, multi-faceted composition from Jim Steinman coupled with a belting performance from Meat Loaf have made this an enduring classic of youthful indiscretions gone wrong.

46. “Chicken Dance” – Various (1977)

Maybe the ultimate fad dance. Listen to a few bars of this and we guarantee you won’t be able to get it out of your head for the rest of the week.

45. “More Than A Feeling” – Boston (1976)

Tom Scholz, the mad scientist of rock music, reportedly spent five years writing this song before it ever saw the light of day. His craftsmanship and attention to detail paid off, and it remains Boston’s most awe-inspiring hit.

44. “Tiny Dancer” – Elton John (1972)

“Tiny Dancer” might run over six minutes, and it might lack a conventional hook, but this piano-led gem is one of Elton’s finest moments. It’s a slow burn, but that’s why we love it.

43. “Into The Mystic” – Van Morrison (1970)

As with so many Van Morrison songs, this one is tightly allied to the spiritual. It has a soft, subdued grace and power which is truly elemental.

42. “Superstition” – Stevie Wonder (1973)

Supposedly the result of a jam session with legendary guitar player Jeff Beck, “Superstition” is Stevie Wonder’s masterpiece and one of the greatest 70s songs of all time.

41. “Family Tradition” – Hank Williams, Jr. (1979)

A hymn to rebellion, this track signified Williams Jr. forging his own path, away from the formidable legacy of his father. But it is also a glorious, boozy singalong.

40. “You’re My Best Friend” – Queen (1976)

A sweet boy-girl romantic ballad from bass player John Deacon to his wife, “You’re My Best Friend” is something of an anomaly in Queen’s catalogue, a conventional three minute pop song. But as with just about every other genre they tried, they mastered it.

39. “Love And Happiness” – Al Green (1972)

An exquisite slice of pure Al Green soul, this song may not have made much inroads in the charts but it endures as a snapshot of Green in his prime. Gritty, raw and perfect.

38. “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” – Natalie Cole (1975)

A Grammy winner and a smash hit single, it’s easy to forget that Natalie Cole had been turned down by every single record label she approached, and that it is only down to chance that her remarkable talent ever saw the light of day.

37. “Your Song” – Elton John (1971)

One of Elton’s most personal and exquisite compositions, “Your Song” is famed for the romantic naivete of its lyrics and the innocent quality of its vocals. It was also Elton’s breakthrough, and brought him to the attention of an international audience for the first time.

36. “Is This Love?” – Bob Marley & The Wailers (1978)

Peaking at number nine in the UK, this was a significant hit for Bob at the time. It remains a high point for reggae, and the music video is notable for featuring a seven-year-old Naomi Campbell.

35. “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe” – Barry White (1974)

Barry White’s signature tune, and a perfect showcase for his rich, velvety baritone. A gold record which drips with sexiness, it has also made numerous appearances in episodes of The Simpsons.

34. “You’re The One That I Want” – John Travolta & Olivia Newton (1978)

The triumphant finale from the best musical of the ’70s, Grease, is also one of the biggest selling singles of all time, with estimates currently putting it at around fifteen million copies overall.

33. “Shake Your Booty” – KC & The Sunshine Band (1976)

The third chart topper for these legends of disco, its lyrics attracted controversy for the perceived sexual connotations. But as KC insisted, it’s really just about having a good time.

32. “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” – Barry White (1975)

Originally composed as a country song, but unrecorded for over twenty years, Barry White salvaged it from obscurity and reimagined it for the disco. He rewrote the lyrics, and he had himself a hit.

31. “Last Dance” – Donna Summer (1978)

Winner of an Oscar, Golden Globe and a Grammy, “Last Dance” is innovative in its mix of tempos and demonstrates the full range of Donna Summer’s extraordinary, sensual voice. A high point for disco, and one of Donna’s biggest hits.

30. “Fat Bottomed Girls” – Queen (1978)

A feminist anthem? Okay, maybe not. But it’s another almighty stomp-along shout-along beast of a song from Queen. Brian May manages to restrain his guitar playing to a simple yet thunderous riff. And as for Freddie’s vocal… well, best you hear it for yourself.

29. “American Girl” – Tom Petty & Heartbreakers (1976)

A classic 70s rock standard, this hit single is a hymn to personal ambition and striving for something better. A glorious crossover between folky songwriting skill and new wave sheen.

28. “Walk This Way” – Aerosmith (1976)

This song proved to be a game changer not once but twice. First time around, it showcased Joe Perry’s slick riffing and Steven Tyler’s quickfire, scat-influenced vocals. But when they re-recorded it in 1986 as a duet with rappers Run-DMC, it created a whole new genre, rap rock.

27. “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” – Four Seasons (1976)

Originally composed as a portrait of the repeal of prohibition (“December 1933”), Frankie Valli wisely argued for the lyric to be amended to refer to a youthful romance. It’s sweet, nostalgic and inherently danceable.

26. “Hotel California” – Eagles (1977)

Soft rock at its most haunting, this smash hit single conjures up lost souls adrift in the desert, with dual guitar harmonies that can’t be denied.

25. “Simple Man” – Lynyrd Skynyrd (1973)

Inspired by the death of his grandmother, this song is Ronnie Van Zant’s tribute to the homespun wisdom she imparted to him. But like so many great autobiographical ballads, it also bears universal significance.

24. “Isn’t She Lovely” – Stevie Wonder (1976)

A sentimental ode to his newborn daughter, this recording features the sound of the baby crying. Wonder was unwilling to shorten it for the purposes of a single release, but Tamla eventually compromised and it became one of his biggest hits.

23. “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen (1975)

This immortal anthem (or should that be opera?) will always be one of the greatest compositions in the history of rock. But what many people forget is that it also virtually single handedly invented the music video. Ahead of its time in so many ways, this truly is one of the best 70s songs.

22. “Bennie And The Jets” – Elton John (1974)

Technically experimental and often playfully rendered by Elton in concert, this is a straight-up rock and roll song which also serves as an acid satire on the music biz. Though it’s a classic these days, even Elton himself has spoken of the song’s “oddness.”

21. “Let’s Get It On” – Marvin Gaye (1973)

Could this be the finest make-out song ever written? It’s debatable and there are a few other worthy contenders in this list. But there’s no denying that this iconic track is one of Marvin’s finest moments and a high-point for soul music in general.

20. “I Will Survive” – Gloria Gaynor (1979)

Don’t let the frequent maulings this song takes at karaokes ruin it for you. Nothing beats the power of that vocal performance coupled with an irresistibly propulsive disco beat.

19. “ABC” – Jackson 5 (1970)

The bubblegum beauty of this song lies in its simplicity, coupled with the immense verve and obvious talent of child star Michael Jackson.

18. “Margaritaville” – Jimmy Buffett (1977)

Easy going and laid back in its orchestration and tempo, this hit for Jimmy Buffett is a perfect evocation of the sunny lifestyle he was enjoying in Key West when he wrote it. It’s also a fitting tribute to the greatest party drink of them all, the margarita.

17. “I Want You To Want Me” – Cheap Trick (1979)

Though the band themselves have since quibbled about the lightweight production on this recording, there’s no getting away from the songwriting skill at work here. And although sales were steady in the US, this single catapulted the power-poppers to the mainstream in Japan and elsewhere.

16. “Get Down Tonight” – KC & The Sunshine Band (1975)

This signature 70s disco tune has everything that made the genre great. An up-tempo rhythm, catchy but simple lyrics and expert musicianship. A dance floor classic, pure and simple.

15. “Signed Sealed Delivered” – Stevie Wonder (1970)

Not only was this song the first to be produced solely by Wonder himself, it was also the first to feature his signature female backing vocalists. Needless to say, this Grammy nominated 70s hit is an important moment in music history.

14. “Piano Man” – Billy Joel (1974)

It’s quintessential Billy Joel, as well as being his most personal song. It recounts reminiscences from his days as a lounge musician, and portrays a host of diverse characters under one roof, all bound by the power of music.

13. “Let’s Stay Together” – Al Green (1972)

Boasting no less a fan than Barack Obama, “Let’s Stay Together” is not only Al Green’s biggest hit, but has been successfully covered by artists such as Boyz II Men, Shirley Bassey and Maroon 5.

12. “Stayin’ Alive” – Bee Gees (1978)

As well as being the Bee Gees’ signature hit, this song can save lives. They use its insistent disco beat to teach CPR these days. Stayin’ alive indeed!

11. “September” – Earth, Wind & Fire (1978)

There has been a lot of debate around the lyrics to this song, what do they mean? What is the significance of that date? But in the end, it doesn’t matter when you’ve got that outrageous groove to keep you occupied.

10. “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” – James Taylor (1975)

This laid back cover of a song made famous by Marvin Gaye is breezy, summery and effortlessly cool. One of the best James Taylor songs.

9. “Play That Funky Music” – Wild Cherry (1976)

Over 2.5 million copies of this single were sold in the US alone. Funk rock behemoth Wild Cherry certainly hit the nail on the head with this one.

8. “Brick House” – Commodores (1977)

If not for a mechanical fault, we might not have this funky gem. The main riff and bass line were composed during a few minutes’ break while the Commodores’ recording equipment was repaired. Lucky for us!

7. “Dancing Queen” – ABBA (1976)

ABBA’s biggest hit was the europop equivalent of the disco craze sweeping the US, elaborately replicating Phil Spector’s famed Wall of Sound technique. But it retains the classical complexity of ABBA’s songwriting, and has been performed at the request of Swedish royalty.

6. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” – Michael Jackson (1979)

The first single over which Michael Jackson had any creative control, this song marked the beginning of his solo career, and was the lead off hit from his classic Off the Wall album.

5. “Old Time Rock & Roll” – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (1978)

Another irresistibly sentimental look at the early days of rock and roll, it has since been voted the second greatest jukebox single of all time.

4. “We Are Family” – Sister Sledge (1979)

The lyrics couldn’t be simpler but the message has taken on incalculable potency over the years, eventually lending its name to a charity run by co-writer Nile Rodgers.

3. “Sweet Home Alabama” – Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)

Originally written as a broadside against Neil Young, this 70s song continues to bear political significance for its references to segregation and racial inequality in the South. But it’s also a stomping anthem, guaranteed to get the party started.

2. “YMCA ” – Village People (1975)

This disco hit redefines the word “iconic.” It’s a gay anthem, it’s a dance move, it’s a ready-made drunken singalong. In short, it’s a legend. And let’s not forget, this song came at an important time in the world of gay rights and was a major marker of the movement’s segue into the mainstream.

1. “Wonderful Tonight” – Eric Clapton (1978)

A powerful soft rock ballad, weighted with significance concerning Slowhand’s relationship with Pattie Boyd, it runs the whole gamut of emotions from poignancy to hopefulness. Astonishing.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of 100 of the best 70s songs.

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