…and here we are!
For the past two weeks, we have been counting down the albums we voted as the best of the Seventies. In the process, we’ve covered classics from just about every genre in existence. Punk rock, new wave, soul, funk, pop, power-pop, jazz fusion…you name it, it’s somewhere there.
This is the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the most iconic albums of the decade, as voted by over 20 members of the Popblerd team.
That’s not it, folks. Read the list through to find out what else we have going on here as far as the Seventies.
…and hey, wondering what the albums were that just missed the cut? Here are the 25 titles that just missed the list (out of over 400 albums that received votes.)
Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo (Devo)
Loaded (Velvet Underground)
Jesus Christ Superstar Original Soundtrack (Various Artists)
Horses (Patti Smith Group)
Dreamer (Bobby “Blue” Bland)
Ooh La La (Faces)
Young, Gifted & Black (Aretha Franklin)
Marquee Moon (Television)
For Your Pleasure (Roxy Music)
You Don’t Mess Around with Jim (Jim Croce)
New York Dolls (New York Dolls)
That’s the Way of the World (Earth, Wind & Fire)
Silk Degrees (Boz Scaggs)
Reggatta de Blanc (The Police)
Live at the Budokan (Cheap Trick)
Something/Anything (Todd Rundgren)
Fleetwood Mac (Fleetwood Mac)
Peter Gabriel (Peter Gabriel)
Animals (Pink Floyd)
3 + 3 (The Isley Brothers)
Pearl (Janis Joplin)
Pronounced Leh-nerd Skeh-nerd (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Madman Across the Water (Elton John)
Tonight’s the Night (Neil Young)
Now, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for: the top ten:
Its not hyperbole to say that the first Van Halen album was one of the most influential and greatest debut albums of all time. Van Halen was unlike anything anyone had ever heard before.
Blasting from car and home stereo speakers was something that was new, fresh, loud and POWERFUL, at a time when disco was taking over and the bloated rock of Ted Nugent (then the highest grossing touring artist), KISS, Styx, Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper and a slew of others were running out of gas. The rock landscape was still evolving – New Wave bands were the darlings of nerdy critics and college kids (remember, this was before MTV) and punk was already starting to burn out. And most of all, neither of those genres would get you laid in the parking lot after a concert with a babe who was past curfew and was wearing a bootleg concert t-shirt she stole from her older brother. Clearly, the time was ripe for something new in rock n’ roll.
Enter four guys from Southern California. Eddie Van Halen and his brother Alex, along with Michael Anthony and David Lee Roth were already stars in the L.A. area after five-plus years of playing backyard parties and conquering the Sunset Strip with shows that are still legendary to this day. Its sometimes easy to forget that Van Halen wasn’t an overnight sensation – ttheir story grew in the L.A. area, constantly playing, putting flyers everywhere and building a reputation – especially Eddie, who was already becoming a guitar hero. The band played originals but they were also well known for their cover tunes – everything from Aerosmith to Zeppelin, K.C. & the Sunshine Band to Earth, Wind & Fire. This kind of diversity and musicianship showed up in the first album and is often overlooked by most. The band had chops – Eddie, of course lit it up but brother Alex on the drums and Anthony were a potent rhythm section – with bassist Anthony doing amazing high harmony backing vocals. Then there was David Lee Roth – whose screaming vocals might not have been the greatest but the guy’s showmanship via sheer force of will and outsized (that’s an understatement) personality didn’t limit the band’s audience. Guys wanted to be him, girls wanted to be with him.
After a demo done with Gene Simmons went nowhere, the band was still relentlessly playing the SoCal scene when Warner Brothers Records signed them. Come fall of 1977 Van Halen were like a coiled spring and cut their self-titled debut in three weeks. Producer Ted Templeman oversaw the sessions – with Eddie laying down his guitar parts with very little overdubbing and the majority of the album cut live. You can hear – and feel – the urgency in the songs and the performances.
The slow thump of the first track Runnin’ With the Devil” sets the tone: guitar virtuosity and a Tarzan-like scream fall into the verses and the chorus hits you with those huge harmony vocals. Next up is the track that simply blew millions of budding rock guitarists’ – and established guitarists’ – minds: “Eruption.” Nobody – nobody – was doing anything like this at the time. This song became the Holy Grail for a whole generation of hard rock guitarists. The hammer-ons, the fat tone, the speed. This was unlike anything you were hearing on rock radio in the 70’s. To be fair, the solo in “Runnin’ With the Devil” is amazing as well and gave notice to a new kind of guitar player, but “Eruption” sealed the deal.
One of the great things about Roth-era Van Halen – inherent in each of the amazing six albums with him – is the songs not only had great hooks and the great guitars, but they had a personality. This is evident in “Ain’t Talking About Love,” “You Really Got Me,” and of course, “Jamie’s Crying.” The songs on the first album were all aggressive (especially “Ain’t Talking About Love”; there’s some anger there) but you can dance to them. (compare this to the Sammy Hagar era – some cool rock songs but nothing you want to shake your ass to). Check it – give a listen to “Ice Cream Man” (sheer flat-out fun) or “Show Your Love” – the songs swing. Need more proof? Go ahead and crank up “Feel Your Love Tonight” and try and deny that fun groove. This was an outgrowth of those years of backyard parties where if you had a chance of winning over the audience you had to give them something that would make them want to dry-hump their dates.
In interviews Eddie has tried to describe the sounds the sounds he heard and created as “brown” – somehow that just fits. Listen to the guitar, as great as the solos are Eddie’s rhythm guitar playing is incredible – you forget there’s no double-tracking. Listen to Alex’s fills and the sound of that snare drum – a tip of the cap to John Bonham but there’s something else going on there as well – its like sheer horsepower put to music.
The album was deservedly a big hit – selling big from week one and setting the stage for five other albums of what Roth liked to call “Big Rock.” Lyrically and musically Van Halen always seemed bigger, smarter and simply ahead of their Sunset Strip rivals – and their amazing debut album was the blueprint for it all. (Steve R.)
9. Who’s Next (The Who, 1971)
Released in between two of The Who’s rock operas, “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia,” “Who’s Next” is possibly the greatest almost-rock-operas, that’s simply one of the finest Rock & Roll records ever. Containing elements of Pete Townshend’s abandoned “Lifehouse” project, “Who’s Next” stands out as a stone cold classic, with four or five songs that grace seemingly every greatest hits or best of collection. Talk about being at the pinnacle. Townshend’s innovative use of synthesizers created a once in a generation instantly recognizable song intro to, “Baba O’Riley.” The same goes for “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” This album is one of those that deserves to be played on a record player, with the volume massively loud and the lp cover in your hand, possibly your favorite adult beverage or mind altering green herb. A Life Changer Indeed! (Heavy Soul Brutha)
Wow, dude, did you hear that? Listen to this gritty guitar on “Get Back”—that’s a song I wanna see live!
Totally! Same thing with that “Dig A Pony” song. You can hear the whole band holding back, ready to bust out big time. And what about that title track? When he sings about Mother Mary, and you hear the organs and keyboards, it’s like going to the church of rock and roll.
I know! And what about that trippy “Across the Universe” song? I love that song. I can’t sing the other language, but it’s kind of cool. They kind of do the same thing with that holding back on “I Me Mine” too. They’re doing this nice enough song and then BAM! Take that, chorus!
Yeah, the rock is cool, guys, but I love that “Long and Winding Road” song. I’ll bet that song will be talked about forty years from now when we’re all old.
Hey, Phillip, no one asked your opinion. I was just talk with him.
Ah, let him talk. Why do you like it, Phil?
It’s just so beautiful, you know? You listen to the singer, and you know he is just missing that girl. And then you hear all that orchestra stuff come in to the song? It’s like a ballad, but a ballad that could have been recorded 20 years ago or 20 years from now.
Phil dude, I think the song is pretty too, but I sure hope people aren’t listening to all that violin junk and stuff like our parents did twenty years from now when we’re old. But what do you guys think about the whole thing? I want to buy Let It Be, but albums are expensive. Should I get the whole thing or just the singles?
Dude, I think you have to buy it all. That 909 song is right out of roots rock. I mean, you’ll keep listening to some of the stuff for a long time, but the whole album is really solid.
I dunno. If it was a Beatles album, I wouldn’t even think about it. But this whole album, I just don’t know.
Look, it’s not as awesome as The Beatles. Who is? But “Let if Be” is a damn fine album. You always have to go comparing music and stuff. It’s a damn good album. Just buy it and enjoy it. (George B.)
7. Songs in the Key of Life (Stevie Wonder, 1976)
How does one follow up back-to-back Album of the Year wins (1974’s Innervisions and 1975’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale)? Well if you’re Stevie Wonder you threaten to quit the music industry, threaten to leave the country, decide instead to take a year off and then come back with a double LP album that many consider your finest piece of work.
I guess that’s why he’s Stevie and we’re everyone else.
Songs in the Key of Life featured two No. 1 singles, “Sir Duke,” written primarily about Duke Ellington but also paying homage to other artists that influenced Wonder and “I Wish”, an upbeat tune where Wonder sings about his childhood. The song was later sampled by Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West” in 1999. Another famous sampling was made on Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” by Coolio’s 1995 smash “Gangsta Paradise”.
Though never released as a single, “Isn’t She Lovely”, became perhaps the albums most popular song. Personally, the song was used as an anthem for my daughter’s birth in 2008. The first girl on my side of the family in 30 years, I listened to the song over and over again and again every year on her birthday. (KJ)
6. What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye, 1971)
Every accolade you have read, for and about Marvin Gaye’s, “What’s Going On” is probably more than appropriate, and may not even be enough. The Best Album Of The 70’s. A Masterpiece Of Social Commentary. The list goes on. In my mind, the greatest album of all time. It’s amazing to read that Motown’s legendary founder Berry Gordy disliked the album and only reluctantly released it. Recorded in a haze of green smoke, if you know what I’m saying. Marvin’s commentary on the state of the country during the Vietnam war was both biting and uplifting. He had never sounded more mature. Aided by the incredibly tight playing of the legendary Funk Brothers, the music also reached another level. The record weaves it way from Gospel to Soul to Funk concluding with the magnificent look at urban society, “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).” A must own! (Heavy Soul Brutha)
5. Exile on Main Street (The Rolling Stones, 1972)
I only recently became a serious fan of The Stones. After running across some of their early 70’s albums while in my local used record shops, I was amazed to find out how soulful they were then. I’m sure there are Stones experts out there that will have known this for decades. I found out they recorded a few tunes down at the famous Muscle Shoals Studios in Alabama for their “Sticky Fingers” record and that Southern Soul influence can be heard on both “Fingers” and the follow up, “Exile On Main Street.” Although recorded mostly in France whilst the Stones were trying to escape the tax man, I think “Exile” kind of perfected that mix of Soul and Blues and is one of the finer double lp releases of the era. “Tumbling Dice” exemplifies that great soulful blues spirit, and no surprise, was the breakout single from the album. (Heavy Soul Brutha)
3. Rumours (Fleetwood Mac, 1977)
Rumours became the sonic tapestry of The Seventies.
The decade bookended with the breakup of The Beatles and the ascendancy of Michael Jackson as a solo artist featured hundreds of great records. None defined all that was the ‘70s like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.
The second album released by Fleetwood Mac’s last major lineup continued the group’s move from British bluesy-rock to a pastiche of every type of pop and rock popular at the time. Mick Fleetwood often said that the band always needed a guitar god up front, and Lindsey Buckingham was the latest in a line that included Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, Bob Welch and Danny Kirwan. In Buckingham, the band had their guitar hero and something new: a control freak as recording engineer.
Having won the band’s confidence with his word on 1976’s “Fleetwood Mac” and the first 3 Top 20 hits of their long career, Buckingham and engineer Richard Dashut ran the band through a seemingly never-ending set of takes, overdubs and experiments. With three lead singers and many songwriters, the jockeying for position might have been crazed were this not the Me Decade.
Rumours reportedly took so long to create that Warner Brothers executives contemplated introducing a co-producer who might harness the out-of-control band.
Perhaps because they didn’t do that, Buckingham and Dashut polished one of rock music’s gems in a pressure of cocaine, alcohol and affairs between band members. What emerged was a stunning album melding Top 40 AM radio with FM AOR that pushed soft rock and the nascent disco charts off radio.
Shimmering guitars, heavy bass hooks and the harmonizing of three competent lead singers made Rumours the biggest selling album of all time until Michael Jackson met Quincy Jones. The album showcased no one member and the road-tested veteran group as a unit. Tightly produced tracks like “Don’t Stop” and “Dreams” were played along with rockers like “Go Your Own Way” and belied the chaos that had gone into making each song.
Reviewing the songs as individual tracks is a hopeless exercise. As the individual members of Fleetwood Mac became a force greater than their solo talented, Rumours was much more than any one of its tracks listened to in isolation. Rumours is successful as a band of album-oriented artists honed their talent writing and performing hit singles.
More than anything else, Rumours stood atop a mountain of litter from self-help books, the commercialization of the counter-culture and the increasing use of drugs in the mainstream.
Rumours is a romanticized version of The Seventies, hiding a trail of broken hearts, addictions and bankruptcies. Despite the heartache and drama, Rumours remains one of the rock era’s very best albums. (George B.)
2. Off the Wall (Michael Jackson, 1979)
In light of the general weirdness: the changing skin color, the endless plastic surgery, the baby-dangling, the Peter Pan syndrome, whenever my faith in all that was MJ wavered, all I had to do was put on Off the Wall, and everything else was forgotten. The very first album I fell in love with, Off the Wall takes me to so many different places-all of them good. There’s a magnetism the music has, an optimism, an unbridled joy that not even Thriller has. I just get caught up in it, and have been getting caught up in it since I was barely old enough to walk and talk.
Off the Wall is the sound of a man discovering himself. Of course, Michael had help. The sound of this album wouldn’t have been the same without Quincy Jones behind the boards and his crack team of musicians (including members of Heatwave, The Brothers Johnson and Rufus.) Or the songwriting all-stars (including future collaborators Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder.) But if you remove Michael from the equation, there’s no album. Off the Wall is all about MJ-the joy with which he sings the title track and “Get on the Floor” (he actually laughs-laughs!-on this song.) The moon-eyed romanticism in which he tackles “Rock With You” and “I Can’t Help It.” The genuine sadness of “She’s Out of My Life” (never mind the fact that the song was written about Karen Carpenter.) The fact that even infants know to get up and boogie when “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” comes on (trust me, I’ve seen this happen for real.) The fact that this album sold multi-millions directly in light of disco being declared “dead.” The fact that Chris Brown, Usher, Justin and all the rest seem to channel Off the Wall-era Mike more than any other version of MJ when performing. What else can I say?
Led Zeppelin is one of those bands that, no matter how old you are, what decade you were born in, or what kind of music you listen to, you know at least one song by, even if it’s only because your favorite artist is influenced by them, which is a strong possibility.. And IV has most of the key songs from Zeppelin’s career. IV, for me, is an album that I’ve probably listened to since I was an infant, thanks to my parents. While I didn’t quite appreciate it then, now I can’t pass up influential tracks like “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” and “Misty Mountain Hop.” The tasty guitar licks and total jams are hard to resist, especially with Jimmy Page’s sexy, crooning wails like in “When the Levee Breaks.” “Going to California” shows the gentle, free spirited, bare feet and flowers in your hair carelessness. And one of their most noted songs of all time (do I even have to say it?) “Stairway to Heaven” is also on IV. Overall, this album is so strong that even though it’s from the 70s, it still lives on in greatness today. (Cassandra P.)
It’s not over yet, though! Stay tuned to this site, as we will soon be unveiling a Spotify playlist featuring tracks from (most of) the albums on this list as well as a podcast discussing the music of the Seventies!
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- the rolling stones pictures by christopher simmons in 1975