Treble’s Top 200 Songs of the ’70s

Treble staff

60. Gang Of Four
Natural’s Not In It
(1979; Warner Bros.)
Available on Entertainment!

The problem, with leisure/ what to do, for pleasure.” What to do for pleasure is a simple enough question, but to view that question as a problem instantly raises the sophistication of the lyrics. After all, I can’t think of too many artists that have stressed over having too much time for booze, smoking and fornicating. The title of the track is a reference to the latter, suggesting that sex is really a quest for power instead of a natural expression of love. Gang of Four’s entire 1979 debut, Entertainment!, was charged with politically-minded and sometimes controversial lyrics, but “Natural’s Not In It” has more philosophical overtones than political ones — the lyric “this heaven gives me migraine” encapsulates the internal conflict between what feels right in the moment but wrong from an abstract, societal perspective. Combine these cerebral lyrics with powerful post-punk guitar riffs and you have a record that stands as one the true standout songs of the ’70s and a beacon of things to come in following decade.- Donny Giovannini


59. Joy Division
Disorder
(1979; Factory)
Available on Unknown Pleasures

The first time I put on Unknown Pleasures, I was hypnotized by “Disorder,” the drums, the bassline, the warm, sharp guitar lines, Ian Curtis becoming less and less restrained, hanging on by the thinnest of threads to his ability to feel. It’s as if he were just barely holding in check the threat of feeling’s absence from exploding. Things happen like that in Joy Division songs. Paradoxical things, explosions out of absences, and, ultimately, for a lot of people, some sort of brittle but crucial light carved out from deeply entrenched darkness. Obviously charged with the intensity of punk rock, but turned on to the sense of space at work in Bowie’s recordings with Eno, in Neu!, and in Can (among other things), “Disorder” locks its linearity into mood and its mood into linearity, and that tension, of a being animated by its lack of self-identity, leaves it as live a wire as ever. – Tyler Parks


58. Al Green
Let’s Stay Together
(1972; Hi)
Available on Let’s Stay Together

“Let’s Stay Together” is ground zero for quiet storm, a song that would set the foundation for generations of intimate love songs and, for that matter, slow jams. While not as overtly physical as some of his later hits in the ’70s, Green makes his intentions very clear. In fact, it’s right there in the title: Let’s stay together. It’s smooth, sensual and seductive. This isn’t a question or a request, it’s a demand sung in softest manner, in an attempt to become intimate. The aspect that makes this track so great, is that it offers much more than just staying together. It’s a song that’s littered with innuendoes. It’s basically a sex song without sex, which makes it all the more ironically seductive. – Giovanni Martinez


57. Neil Young
Heart of Gold
(1972; Reprise)
Available on Harvest

In a 1985 interview, Bob Dylan admitted to hating “Heart Of Gold” despite liking Neil Young, since the song so closely resembled his own style of music. He had every reason to feel the resentment though: it was Young’s only No. 1 single in the United States, and is his most popular song overall. It was also Young’s brief downfall as a rock musician — he would later claim that this song drove him toward the ditch and hindered his creativity due to the song’s massive success. Young’s artistic diversions in the late ’70s and into the ’80s would prove to be a trying time for the songwriter, both personally and creatively, though “Heart Of Gold” serves to prove how personal and direct Young could make his songs. It’s a brilliant piece that led to some drastic results, but it laid a foundation for Young’s colorful career. – Giovanni Martinez


56. The Damned
New Rose
(1976; Stiff)
Available on Damned Damned Damned

The first hit of the UK punk scene, oddly enough, is a simple love song, albeit one delivered with manic ambivalence. Comparing love to a thrashing ocean and then accepting it with resignation doesn’t exactly come across as championing it, nor does the sneering “Is she really going out with him?” at the beginning of the song. However, much like the sexually fueled music punk in general is influenced by, it really is a celebration of love, though performed as a discovery of lust. Over threadbare production values, tom-toms are thumped, razor-like guitars slashed, and sweaty vocals warbled, all announcing the arrival of a new and energetic subgenre of the mostly stagnant and overlabored world of rock and roll music. It caught on like a wild fire in the UK and changed popular culture, and formerly polite society, forever. – Nick Ulbrickson


55. T. Rex
20th Century Boy
(1973; T. Rex)
Available on 20th Century Boy: The Ultimate Collection

By 1973, T. Rex had already released two note-perfect albums stuffed with glam-rock swagger, dripping sexuality and inexplicably focused on automotive paraphernalia. But as big and bold as both Electric Warrior and The Slider were, Marc Bolan concluded that the only direction to go was upward and outward. In production and in sheer volume, “20th Century Boy” is the sound of glam rock taken to its most exagerrated degree. The guitars blow out speakers with their raunchy crunch, and Bolan wails himself hoarse. That the words are as nonsensical as ever (“Your friends say it’s fine/ your friends say it’s good/ ev’ry body says it’s just like Robin Hood”) only goes to show how much a great rock show can overshadow the least of one’s poetry. Feeling dumb never felt so good. – Jeff Terich


best songs of the 70s Fela Kuti54. Fela Kuti
Zombie
(1977; Celluloid)
Available on Zombie

Jimi Hendrix. Miles Davis. James Brown. Parliament/Funkadelic. On a level of both influence and artistic importance, if not necessarily in terms of American commercial success, these were Fela Kuti’s peers. And if you haven’t heard (or at least heard about) Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, here’s a quick primer: Both a brilliant multi-instrumentalist and composer, as well as an inspirational activist and political martyr, Fela accomplished musical and social ground unprecedented by many musicians and activists before him. After traveling to London and developing a fusion between highlife and jazz, Fela brought his unique sound back home to Nigeria, and used tracks like “Zombie” as a vessel for bringing about social and political change. One of Fela’s signature tracks, “Zombie” subtly infues African music, jazz and funk, without sounding like any standard form of pop music whatsoever. The track grooves and entrances the audience for more than five minutes, at which point Fela enters the frame and breaks it down with subtle yet impactful barbs pointed at the Nigerian military, like “Zombie don’t stop unless you tell him to stop” and “Zombie no go think unless you tell him to go think.” Fela was a pioneer, a hero and a master. – A.T. Bossenger


53. Neu!
Hallogallo
(1972; Brain)
Available on Neu!

If one piece defines the krautrock sound, it is probably Neu!’s “Hallogallo,” the Motorik drumming of Klaus Dinger (or “Apache Beat,” as he claims to prefer) rolling out on an endless straightaway, Michael Rother’s long guitar notes flaring up and slowly evaporating in the distance. It’s always seemed to me like some sort of analog for the stream of consciousness, a constant flutter of new information and sensation at the periphery, demanding attention, while what has already passed never completely vanishes but feeds back into the ceaseless, but meditative journey toward a horizon: and somehow it remains itself while constantly in flux. And then it ends, and, slightly disappointed, one always does well to just play it again, and again, remaining safe in the eye of the storm. – Tyler Parks


52. Big Star
Thirteen
(1972; Stax)
Available on #1 Record

There are at least a dozen songs on this list about being a teenager, some of them funny (“Surrender”), some of them bittersweet (“Teenage Kicks”), though none of them are simply gorgeous as Alex Chilton’s paean to those confusing, awkward and inexplicably romantic years we always get wrong and invariably wish we could recapture again. But then again, “Thirteen” is the teenage song that feels the least tied to those years. With its simple, finger-picked acoustic riffs and heavenly vocal harmonies, the song offers a gentler take on adolescent angst, the occasional plea like, “Won’t you tell your dad get off my back,” peeking through some otherwise universal themes of butterflies, lovesickness and the sometimes terrifying feeling of jumping into something new and exciting. The teenage Chilton in the song might be juggling a lot of feelings he doesn’t know what to do with, but the grown-up Chilton singing the song reflects on them with a knowing and sympathetic fondness. – Jeff Terich


best songs of the 70s Fleetwood Mac51. Fleetwood Mac
The Chain
(1977; Reprise)
Available on Rumours

Stevie Nicks once said that Fleetwood Mac made their best music when they were in the worst shape. If that’s true, then God only knows what kind of need for group therapy resulted in “The Chain.” Easily the most intense, seething track on Rumours, the song serves as a climactic release of bitterness that slowly but steadily inflates over the course of the album’s first side. A fairly low-key folk song at the onset, “The Chain” is temporarily illusory, as Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks’ vocal harmonies ultimately prove insufficient to conceal the sense of anger that comes bubbling up from underneath (“Damn your love! Damn your lies!”). By the end of the first verse it’s a stomping, snarling indictment that taps into the intensity of punk rock while actually predating the release of both The Clash and The Sex Pistols’ respective first albums. The inherent irony in the song is that, despite the hostility, it’s actually the only Rumours track to be a true collaboration between all five members of the band. So Stevie was probably right all along. – Jeff Terich

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