Hope you guys have been enjoying the list so far. We had a ton of fun compiling it. Amazing how much great music (in all genres) came out in the Seventies!!
80. Teaser and the Firecat (Cat Stevens, 1971)
As a kid of the 70s, I was initially attracted to Teaser and the Firecat due to the cover, which looked like something out of the books I was just learning to read. Of course, I wanted to play the record to hear the story like I did with my Superman and Spider Man records, but there wasn’t a narrator like I expected to be found. Instead, what I heard was the voice of a man singing songs that I could sing with my mom without anything jarring my curiosity too hard. Much like a successful children’s show, the singles that had been released were all mostly innocuous songs that could be taken at face value to a child, or have deeper meanings that an adult could apply to their own experience.
Therein lays the magic of Teaser and the Firecat: the universality of themes presented in a way that reaches the maximum number of people. There is a reason that artists as diverse as Dolly Parton and 10,000 Maniacs have covered “Peace Train,” because who really wants war, especially a war like Vietnam that was waging when Teaser was released in 1971. Stevens, much like his contemporary James Taylor, took the folk format and helped it evolve by infusing more of a pop feel that was hinted at on Tea for the Tillerman in “Wild World.” That continual evolution (and a religious conversion) would soon move him away from the mainstream, but Teaser and the Firecat captures a simpler time when one could hope the power of a song was enough to change the world. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but in this day and age it seems a much harder goal to achieve. (John H.)
79. Prince (Prince, 1979)
Prince Rogers Nelson was still finding his way as a recording artist prior to the release of the 1980 masterpiece Dirty Mind, but his self-titled sophomore effort showed glimpses of his burgeoning genius. At the time of Prince’s release, Prince was toying with the development of the Minneapolis Sound that would become his trademark in the ‘80s. As a result, Prince has a relatively MOR, contemporary hard funk/R&B sound compared to some of Prince’s later, more innovative LPs. What set Prince apart from similar R&B albums of its time was Prince’s masterful use of the Prophet 5 synth, and his earliest experimentations with the newly-developed Oberheim OB-X that would become a foundational aspect of his unique sound.
From day one, Prince had a gift for writing a good baby-makin’ ballad, and Prince certainly has its share of those (“When We’re Dancing Close and Slow,” “With You”). But it is the up-tempo numbers and rockers that shine brightest on this eponymous album. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” sets the pace for the LP with disco guitars and a blazing falsetto, and to this day is one of the most hopeful and love-affirming album openers in the history of pop music. Prince shows off his technical guitar prowess with a dueling lick to close out “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?,” and “Sexy Dancer” is one of the baddest dance grooves of a career that is embarrassingly rich with bad dance grooves. Everybody knows that Chaka Khan took “I Feel for You” to the top of the U.S. Dance and R&B charts in 1984, but Prince laid the blueprint with his original version on Prince. And the album’s hidden gem is “Bambi” – a balls-out cock-rocker about trying to convert a lesbian – on which Prince introduced a thrashing guitar technique that he had not previously pulled out of his arsenal. It was nice to see Prince spotlight the often overlooked “Bambi” by performing the song during his recent appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. (Michael Cunningham)
78. Turnstiles (Billy Joel, 1976)
Billy Joel recorded two albums in two years after moving to California to build a music career. Both records contained Top 40 hits, including the now anthemic Piano Man, but neither album’s mix of instrumentals, story songs and pop experimentation impressed critics nor the public.
A disillusioned Joel returned to New York, created a backing band instead of using studio session players, and wrote a tightly constructed set of songs about his hometown. The public still wanted nothing to do with the album; their piano man was still Elton John, but the critical acclaim for the newly focused Billy Joel sound was almost universal.
Turnstiles opens with mocking tracks about 1970s-era Southern California lifestyles. “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” and “I’ve Loved These Days” are biting commentary set to pop music, with the latter shredding the pretty plastic life stereotype.
Joel celebrated New York as much as he trashed Los Angeles, recording “New York State of Mind” as the album’s apex and ending with the futuristic “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)”. Both songs were New York valentines, name-checking local landmarks and embracing a more direct sound. They became more poignant twenty-five years later when performed at The Concert for New York following the September 11 terror attacks.
Turnstiles was more than Billy Joel’s return home. The album lays the groundwork for his future career as a pop superstar. The instrumentals were gone. The experimentation with styles like rag and country also disappeared, replaced by 35 minutes of pop that marked the beginning of Joel’s social commentary hidden behind power chords and hooks. If the album’s title is symbolic of Billy Joel’s return to New York, he rarely left again once he honed his ability to write in the day’s pop song format. (George B.)
77. L.A. Woman (The Doors, 1971)
Another sex symbol of their generation (and maybe even today), Jim Morrison and The Doors make things a little sultrier with their album L.A. Woman. Even though it’s their sixth studio album, it holds strong singles that help it live on (and Morrison live on, as he died shortly after this album). “Love Her Madly” was the lead single off the album, and placed at number 11 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 list. The song was composed by guitarist Robert Krieger and showcases Morrison’s talents as well as blends The Doors’ blues rock vibe with jangling keys. “Been Down So Long” and “Cars Hiss By My Window” radiate the traditional blues format, with a groovy slowed down tempo and down trodden relatable lyrics about missing your girl, running out of luck, and feeling depressed. Title track “L.A. Woman” makes “Mr. Mojo risin’” again (anagram of Jim Morrison, (a bunch of you, myself included, just went “ohhh”) thanks Wikipedia), as another one of their better known songs. The whirling keys and circular guitar riffs can’t help but make you dance and imagine a fierce, sun kissed woman walking the strip. “Hyacinth House” is a track that you can zone out to and get lost in. John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling King Snake” has attitude and a killer hook that adds to The Doors’ legacy. Lastly, “Riders on the Storm” closes out the album with a gentle rain and smooth jam under Morrison’s cooing, calm vocals. Not only is this album one of the best of the 70s because it’s Morrison’s last, but because it’s just so easy to listen to and forget about your own strife for a while. (Cassandra)
76. Outlandos D’Amour (The Police, 1978)
In 1978, long before Sting became the darling of the snoozy “Adult Contemporary” genre, and long before he started playing the lute, there was this band called The Police. In it, he sang and played bass. He also wrote most (but not all) of the songs. And that’s it. Simple, yet grand. Just Sting, Andy & Stewart playing heavy pop songs. No orchestra, no endless list of studio musicians, no Hugh Padgham. Just 3 guys in a room – drums, bass, guitar & vocals. Rock & Roll.
Outlandos D’Amour is an amazing debut. In addition to the two obvious hits – “Roxanne” (which, as we know, is about a hooker) and “Can’t Stand Losing You”, many of the album tracks are just as perfect – “Truth Hits Everybody”, “So Lonely”, and “Born in the 50s” in particular. There’s even a song about a blow up doll (“Be My Girl – Sally”) – how can you go wrong?
Outlandos D’Amour was where it all started, and depending on your perspective, it all went up (or downwards) from there. (May)
75. Head Hunters (Herbie Hancock, 1973)
Quite possibly the most popular album of the Jazz Funk renaissance. Head Hunters is a record my good friend played for me at a time that when I had really never listened to Jazz. And it was instantly a groove that just hit me right. It’s crazy to think that the signature opening tune is just shy of sixteen minutes long. Seriously, SIXTEEN MINUTES and every second kills. Driven by the incredibly tight bass of Paul Jackson and drummer James Levi, Herbie’s clavinet and synths weave their way through the groove masterfully. Not to be forgotten are Bennie Maupin’s various horns and Bill Summers on percussion rounding out the great sound. The reworking of Herbie’s bop classic, “Watermelon Man” into a Funk powerhouse is just stunning. “Sly” would have made any Blaxploitation flick of the era super hip. And “Vein Melter” closing out the album with a mellow and gritty funk makes this four song gem monumental. If you don’t know it, get this album in your life as soon as you can! (Heavy Soul Brutha)
74. Mothership Connection (Parliament, 1975)
In a certain sense, any Parliament album could’ve made this list; they were a remarkably consistent funk collective, and so there’s a certain degree to which any Parliament record will give you the emergency funk ration you require. Up For the Down Stroke, Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome… Parliament’s discography is a veritable embarrassment of riches, and if Mothership Connection attracts you for the songs you already know (“Give Up the Funk” and “P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)”, for starters), so be it — this is probably ground zero for ’70s funk anyway, in the sense that it’s a remarkably accessible record while still maintaining artistic integrity, and, more importantly, Parliament’s sense of otherworldly weirdness, painted in day-glo colors and riding on thick waves of deep, rubbery basslines. (Compare that to sister collective Funkadelic, whose records were every bit as groovy, but slathered in a layer of grit and social commentary.) Don’t let the hits fool you, friend — Parliament’s deep cuts here are aces. “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” is a corker, a lurching groove with an infectious chorus, but “Handcuffs” is the gem, a nugget of smirking, horn-laced funk that’s built for the floor as well as the boudoir. By the time the bass farts arrive on “Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples”, you’ll be in a tasty, spaced-out funk coma. (Drew)
73. Transformer (Lou Reed, 1972)
Lou Reed was on a steady decline post Velvet Underground when David Bowie and Mick Ronson stepped in to aid with the arrangements & production on Transformer. Lou hitched his trailer sonically to the burgeoning glam scene and it resulted in his greatest solo album. Transformer‘s songwriting was tried & true Reed though, exploring the hangover of post 60’s America with his classic street theater, dark humor, and even some uncharacteristic tenderness on “Satellite Of Love” and “Perfect Day.” (Luc)
72. The Clash (The Clash, 1977)
The Clash’s debut album captured the raw energy of punk rock while hinting at the wild experimentation that would follow it. Both musically accomplished and stylistically diverse, The Clash showcased every possibility of the new genre while remaining vital & primitive. Merging punk, reggae & rockabilly with social activism, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones captured the rare moment when fiery youth and world wisdom crossed paths. London Calling cemented them as one of the greatest bands of all time but The Clash defined the punk era more than any other record. It said everything that needed to be said about the England that surrounded them, all with eyes fixed on the wide world in front of them. (Luc)
Fulfillingness’ First Finale is the most obtuse of the five albums that constitute Stevie Wonder’s golden age. You can tell that just by looking at the title. While it’s not the qualitative equal of Talking Book, Innervisions, or Songs in the Key of Life, it’s still a masterful work from beginning to end. “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” is Stevie at his sassiest, with background accompaniment from labelmates The Jackson Five, while the subdued “Creepin'” is a love ballad that unfolds in particularly languid fashion. In between, Stevie is playful (“Boogie on Reggae Woman”) and fervent (“Heaven Is 100 Million Light Years Away.”) Lesser known cuts like “Too Shy to Say” are unheralded gems, or as unheralded as any songs made during Wonder’s hot streak could possibly be. Lost in the shuffle is the fact that even Stevie’s least recognized album ended up winning a Grammy for Album of the Year. It was worth a listen even if you couldn’t pronounce the album title (as an Eddie Murphy skit from the Delirious era made light of. “Fulfillingn…fulfillingn…you know, the good one!”) (Big Money)
What do you think our top three albums will be? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your guesses. If you’re correct, you’ll be entered to win a CD or a digital version of your favorite (in print) album from this list!