Treble’s Top 200 Songs of the ’70s

70. The Beach Boys
Surf’s Up
(1971; Brother)
Available on Surf’s Up

When Brian Wilson reached the conclusion in 1966 that Smile‘s ship would never leave the dock, its cargo was redistributed to a number of subsequent Beach Boys vessels, and its complex centerpiece “Surf’s Up” took a good five years to finally land a proper release of its own. Sequenced as a series of disparate movements that differ in rhythm, tempo and arrangement, “Surf’s Up” is not so much a pop song as it is a psychedelic chamber piece, beautifully performed and disorientingly composed. For something so elaborate, however, it came together surprisingly quickly, Wilson and Van Dyke Parks having penned it in a single night and deciding to slap on an ironic title, given the distance the Beach Boys had traveled from their early surf-pop material. There are those who say that Brian Wilson’s solo piano version is the superior rendition of the song, but they’re overlooking something pretty big. Taking out all of the strange, engrossing embellishments not only removes half the story, but also deprives the listener of a truly overwhelming sonic experience. – Jeff Terich


69. Sex Pistols
Anarchy in the UK
(1976; EMI)
Available on Never Mind the Bollocks, It’s the Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols’ debut single was the musical equivalent of the `shot heard around the world.’ Introducing the world to the knowingly controversial and nihilistic musings of the disaffected British youth, the song managed to crack the Top 40 before EMI dropped the Pistols due to their infamously profane appearance on the Bill Grundy hosted Today. The lyrics gleefully embrace a violent form of anarchy, though they don’t get much more specific than that, as well as evoking a number of European revolutionary groups. I can imagine it as being very shocking for this sentiment to be both profitable and popular, especially during a time of social and economic turmoil. With hindsight, the song doesn’t seem particularly serious, but rather a means to push the buttons of the stuffy authority. At any rate, it began the fast and short ascent of the group, before becoming among the first of punk rock’s casualties, dissolving after just over a year after the release of this song. – Nick Ulbrickson


68. Lou Reed
Satellite of Love
(1973; RCA)
Available on Transformer

In 1972 Lou Reed teamed up with producer David Bowie, hoping to harness some of his mass appeal, while Bowie was enchanted by Reed’s critical success and artistic vision from The Velvet Underground catalogue. However, both parties knew if Transformer were to succeed, an emulation of styles past wasn’t going to cut it. As a result, the album is stylistically eccentric with songs that feature everything from swinging jazz bass lines (“Walk On The Wild Side”) to an old-timey full brass section (“Good Night Ladies”). “Satellite of Love” is sonically more reserved; apart from the bridge after the second chorus, the tune is mostly composed of Reed’s lyrics over a soft piano melody with David Bowie providing excellently high-pitched background vocals. The lyrics center around a man obsessed with a love that’s continuously out of reach (or possibly under surveillance), and like most offerings on Transformer, Reed sings with a level of compassion and intimacy that invites the listener to spin his/her own personal interpretation. As Reed stated in one of his interviews, “Just because I wrote [“Satellite of Love”] doesn’t mean I know what it’s about.” – Donny Giovannini


67. Fleetwood Mac
Dreams
(1977; Reprise)
Available on Rumours

Everyone knows about Stevie Nicks’ wispy, mystical floatiness, so I have been told, but without “Dreams” there’s a good chance it (the mystical floatiness of Stevie Nicks that is) would seem a whole lot more vacant. It’s all about the mood that it creates, sedative and lucid, a space outside of the to and fro of possession and loneliness, responsibility and freedom, human relationships and their disintegration. Not that everything is particularly clear: if it’s a crystal vision, it’s not one seen in a crystal ball, but a superimposition of images refracted through multiple polished faces. Understanding someone else’s position is always interrupted by one’s own fantasies. There is something cathartic about “Dreams,” but it is always getting swallowed up again in the general flow of the song, which slips from one section to another with the ease of one, yes, dream slipping into another. On waking everything is shades of blue, faintly beautiful and bruised, wind blowing through the screen door on a warm summer evening in California. – Tyler Parks


66. David Bowie
Sound and Vision
(1977; RCA)
Available on Low

Low is the first of Bowie’s iconic Berlin series, a trilogy that found Bowie personally recovering from a strung-out, cocaine-addled life in Los Angeles, but musically continuing the nuance and creativity displayed on both 1976’s Station to Station as well as the Bowie produced Iggy Pop debut, The Idiot. The album is almost endlessly dissectible, but is in many ways defined by the dual personality of the sides: A contains the more traditional pop structures and vocals while B ventures into exciting and dramatic instrumental territory. “Sound And Vision,” which sits comfortably on side A, features Brian Eno’s innovative cracking percussion as well as female vocals that were originally intended to be soft background sounds before Bowie decided that he wanted to feature them during the song’s first half. This traditional pop element is quickly balanced out by Bowie’s reclusive, introspective lyrics that define the manic, obsessive personality that was necessary to craft such a complex recording. – Donny Giovannini


65. Iggy Pop
Lust For Life
(1977; Virgin)
Available on Lust For Life

Lovable rogue that he is, only Iggy Pop could make heroin addiction sound like so much fun. To be fair, “Lust for Life” is really a hymn to debauchery in general. Pop is “just a modern guy” who doesn’t make much distinction between drugs, alcohol and whatever kind of sex you’re up for. Most noted for its drum line that bridges the gulf between girl group and hardcore, the song is an unapologetic ode to libertinism. The Iggy Pop lifestyle probably isn’t advisable to most mere mortals, but he seems to be getting along fine for a career going on fifty years. And hey, if you got it, flaunt it. – Liz Malloy


best songs of the 70s The Clash64. The Clash
Train In Vain (Stand by Me)
(1979; CBS)
Available on London Calling

It’s a testament to the versatility (and confidence) of The Clash that they could end their sprawling, genre hopping opus London Calling with the lighter dance rock of “Train in Vain.” A straightforward song about lost love on an album dominated by ponderings on war and poverty, it doesn’t quite jibe with the idea of “The Only Band that Matters.” But that’s ultimately what gives the song its swagger. (That, and the killer beat). It’s as if the group was saying, “We helped invent punk and brought ska and reggae to a white audience. Oh, you want a love song that’s so danceable it borders on disco? Yeah, we can do that too.” It’s like Nolan Ryan serving up nothing but 100 mile per hour fastballs but then striking you out with his curve, just to show you he can. It may be one of the most radio friendly things The Clash ever recorded, but make no mistake – it’s punk as fuck. – Liz Malloy


63. Sly and the Family Stone
Family Affair
(1971; Epic)
Available on There’s a Riot Going On

Its deep groove may distract for a second, but it doesn’t take long to realize that the celebratory vibe of their first number one single, “Everyday People,” had long vanished from the ranks of Sly and the Family Stone by the point of their last number one single “Family Affair.” By 1971, the band’s laundry list of difficulties — a great deal of which were due to excessive drug use — was definitely rearing its head in the music. Sly gives a very real depiction of urban life that’s hard to ignore. And if he doesn’t echo the hopeful protest of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, he still manages to coax some positivity out of “Family Affair.” Even among the crushed lives depicted here, there’s still a sense of solidarity, however tested it may be. And even if it isn’t all that cheery, it’s the unrivaled grittiness that really gives the song its power anyway. – Chris Karman


62. Bill Withers
Ain’t No Sunshine
(1971; Sussex)
Available on Just As I Am

With the silky-smooth voice of pure soul and the social consciousness of a folk-singer, Withers is somewhat of an anomaly in the world of R&B. His first hit was this song about the conflict felt by a man yearning for someone who he knows he should forget, in this case a younger woman. The famous verse consisting of “I know” two dozen times was left in by the young songwriter after the veteran musicians involved in the recording wisely encouraged him to do so. It reinforces the tale of the heartache so many people repeatedly, and knowingly, put themselves through when performing acts of self harm, both physical and emotional. While the theme could’ve been off-putting to some listeners, Withers and his crew gave the tune a warm and empathetic production, setting the standard for future Withers recordings, including several hits and classics. – Nick Ulbrickson


61. Cheap Trick
Surrender
(1978; Epic)
Available on Heaven Tonight

I know, I know. It’s “Surrender,” the ultimate crank-it-in-the-Camaro power pop song. And it when it comes on the radio, I most certainly do. And that could be the end of it. But bear with me, “Surrender” is also among the more lyrically clever of the ’70s radio bashers on this list. It’s about a kid observing the hip behavior of his parents, who, in the course of four minutes, knowingly (and lovingly) warn him about sex and drugs, get stoned and fuck on a couch to Kiss records. It’s ironic, because to a teenager ALL parents are weird, but weird like this? Well, in the end, we’re all all right. – Stephen Chupaska

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