Treble’s Top 200 Songs of the ’70s

100. Bob Dylan
Shelter from the Storm
(1975; Columbia)
Available on Blood on the Tracks

T’was in another lifetime/One of toil and blood.” “Shelter from the Storm” transports its listener into a mythical realm stalked by “steel-eyed death” where “beauty walks a razor’s edge.” The power of the song is in its lyrics, transfixing through five minutes of steady verse, and their allegorical surface deepens the feelings of regret and affection that accompany the song’s elegiac tone. So much has been made of Dylan going electric in the mid-’60s, but in 1975 he released one of his greatest folk songs. Dylan’s lyricism was virtuosic from the beginning but it was also almost always hard-edged, from the political recrimination of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” or “Masters of War” to the knotty absurdist intellectualism of Blonde on Blonde. What’s so impressive about “Shelter from the Storm” is the gentle directness of its lamentive romanticism. – Jimmy Falcon

99. Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson
The Bottle
(1974; Strata-East)
Available on Winter in America

Gil Scott-Heron’s greatness was anchored in the uncompromising strength of his vision. “The Bottle,” written and performed with collaborator Brian Jackson, is about alcoholism in the urban underclass. Scott-Heron poignantly proselytizes about the destructive causes and consequences of addiction. He impels us to deeply consider social concerns at the heart of the issue with tales of domestic strife and ruined lives, but he also impels us to sweat it out to some badass bass and funky flute. “The Bottle” is dance music with a message. The lyrics and music are both brilliantly conceived, showcasing Scott-Heron’s versatility as an artist. More than the godfather of hip-hop, Gil brought a deep and gritty social consciousness to soul and funk. – Jimmy Falcon

98. Tubeway Army
Are ‘Friends’ Electric
(1979; Beggars Banquet)
Available on Replicas

“Are `Friends’ Electric” is credited to Tubeway Army, but by 1979 Gary Numan had essentially taken full command of the ship, his skinny limbs and bleached-blonde coif gracing the cover of second album Replicas without another human being in sight. That goes double for the music — Numan had replaced the band’s dirty guitars with the warm, throbbing sound of Moogs, and likewise had taken up interest in the science fiction of Philip K. Dick, turning Tubeway Army into the house band for a cybernetic dystopia. A catchy, even hard rocking new wave hit in its own right, “Are `Friends’ Electric” harbors a chilly paranoia straight out of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.” Companionship comes from cold, bloodless sources, and memories are seemingly implanted rather than organically developed. For all its infectious synth bleeps and dramatic guitar breaks, “Are `Friends’ Electric” didn’t really catch on outside of the UK, but for what it’s worth, nobody appreciated Blade Runner when it came out, either. – Jeff Terich

97. Led Zeppelin
(1975; Atlantic)
Available on Physical Graffiti

Despite its title, “Kashmir” has its roots primarily in Morocco. Drawing on Northern African and Middle Eastern music, Jimmy Page and John Bonham fleshed out the instrumentals while Robert Plant composed the lyrics on a drive through the Saharan Desert, far from the conflicted land between Pakistan and India to which the title refers. Eschewing his characteristic themes of Celtic mythology, Plant instead weaves Eastern philosophy over the intricate rhythms. Utilizing alternate tuning, drum effects and guest musicians for the orchestral arrangement, the song is probably the most progressive the group ever recorded, drawing not on early rock and roll, blues, English folk, R&B or any of their other typical influences. And even though it runs nearly eight and a half minutes, it garnered, and still continues to receive, a sizeable amount of radio airplay. It’s perhaps the largest feather in the group’s cap (though it’s best to forget the Puff Daddy version, Jimmy Page involvement notwithstanding). – Nick Ulbrickson

96. Siouxsie and the Banshees
Hong Kong Garden
(1978; Polydor)
Available on Once Upon a Time: The Singles

Written in tribute to one of Siouxsie Sioux’s favorite take-out places whose proprietors were regularly harassed by skinheads, “Hong Kong Garden” merges her frustrating experiences there with common and sometimes embarrassing tropes of China’s land and inhabitants. The saving grace is the band’s commitment to a chirping, wholly entertaining sonic motif that embraces traditional Chinese forms and transports them to a New Wave stomp. The Vapors dropped a few Eastern notes into “Turning Japanese,” a joke within a joke; the Banshees’ naive but loving tribute is just as fun and works better as an artful metaphor. – Adam Blyweiss

95. Can
Oh Yeah
(1971; United Artists)
Available on Tago Mago

Truly one of the pillars of kosmische music, on Tago Mago, Can balances mood, grooves and melodies so loosely, even if it does display expert musicianship, it’s not a huge surprise that much of it was improvised. At the centerpiece of this epic masterwork is “Oh Yeah.” At nearly seven and a half minutes, it’s actually one of the shortest pieces on the record, but it’s also the most powerful. Opening with a bomb detonation, what follows feels very much like the fallout. Damo Suzuki’s backwards voice haunts the entire first half of the song, but even when you can understand what he’s saying, the phrases barely cohere. Adding to the disorientation are backwards cymbal splashes, evocative guitar slides along with the song’s most dangerous weapon, the ethereal synth that hangs ominously over like a cloud amongst the wreckage. The song takes several twists and turns, growing slightly more approachable — but never less than chilling — with each one. – Chris Karman

94. Allman Brothers
Midnight Rider
(1970; Atlantic)
Available on Idlewild South

“Pheeeeeeeeeeeew.” That’s about all you can muster to communicate after listening to this one. The drums are tight, the groove is right and the vocals carry a certain righteous muscle. If you ask me, “Midnight Rider” should have at least cracked the top 50. But it’s cool — that sort of disappointment is fitting, since “Midnight Rider” is a track that wholeheartedly embraces a determined focus to fight for what’s yours, against all odds. If you need some groovy rock to get you through a tough night, this is your song, friend. – A.T. Bossenger

93. The B-52s
Rock Lobster
(1978; Warner Bros.)
Available on The B-52s

So much music from the 1980s owes itself to the six minutes of surf rock/punk rock/post punk/new wave that is “Rock Lobster” that it’s surprising the song was actually made in the `70s. Call it a harbinger. It essentially tells you everything you’d need to know about the B-52s for the rest of their career (weird guitar tunings, female harmonies, Fred Schneider nonsense) and also a good deal of where music was headed in the following decade. John Lennon famously said hearing the song made him want to write and record music for the first time in five years. Some of the B-52s’ later hits made a rapid descent into novelty, but somehow “Rock Lobster” remains interesting. Not just as an artifact of the era, but an astoundingly tight little rock `n’ roll song that doesn’t feel tied down by any decade. – Liz Malloy

92. Curtis Mayfield
(1972; Curtom)
Available on Superfly

Superfly was one of the myriad Blaxploitation films to be released in the `70s, and like Shaft before it, it’s difficult for us to admit that we’re able to distinguish it from the other non-Pam Grier vehicles without its iconic soundtrack, which outweighed the film in ambition and depth, taking a less ambiguous, less glamorized stance on urban living and the ills that plague it. The title track nevertheless complements the cool of the film’s protagonist, coke dealer Youngblood Priest, who in Mayfield’s estimation is a skilled, resourceful survivor if nothing else. Mayfield packs a good deal of rhythmic storytelling of our hero’s exploits over a glorious, unforgettable big band orchestration. “Superfly” did more than take Blaxploitation somewhat mainstream; it made pragmatism sexy. – Chris Morgan

91. Elvis Costello and the Attractions
No Action
(1978; Columbia)
Available on This Year’s Model

There is not one single songwriter on the planet that has as flawless a record at beginning albums as Elvis Costello, be it the unbreakable tension of “Beyond Belief,” the clever “I don’t know where to begin” of “Accidents Will Happen,” or this riotous rocket that goes straight for the jugular. Here, however, Costello swaps out his subtle wit and slow build for an explosive expression of sexual frustration and bile. “I don’t want to kiss you, I don’t want to touch,” he sneers, kicking off a blazing two-minute rave-up that serves as reinvention from pub-rocker to punk rocker, casting aside bluesy shuffles for sheer intensity. A lot of that has to do with Pete Thomas, whose drumming is more blitzkrieg than time keeping, which is appropriate; for a song as simple as scoffing at an ex-lover’s new beau, “No Action” is a pretty righteous hissy fit. – Jeff Terich

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