Treble’s Top 200 Songs of the ’70s

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40. Buzzcocks
What Do I Get?
(1979; United Artists)
Available on Singles Going Steady

Pop-punk has long since been accepted as a given pop culture staple — Blink 182 and Green Day in particular. But at one point, rowdy punks weren’t interested in having pop hooks anywhere near their sets, and pop fans weren’t ready for punk’s explosive, anarchic energy. So what happened? Well, it was there all along (see: The Ramones). But the Buzzcocks were pioneers in refining and further combining these seemingly opposing elements. “What Do I get” is not only a perfect representation of this fusion, but also a brilliantly simple three-minute performance by a simple-yet-brilliant band. If the pop element ever seems too overwhelming, just imagine yourself on a concrete floor, slamdancing the daylights out of your fellow hooligans, and it’ll all make sense. – A.T. Bossenger

39. Marvin Gaye
What’s Going On
(1971; Motown)
Available on What’s Going On

There’s no question mark in “What’s Going On.” It’s not rhetorical, it’s an exasperated and devastated summary of the state of war and political turmoil in the world in the 1970s. This is what’s going on, or what was, anyhow, back in 1971 when Marvin Gaye took a step back from his more romantically inclined material to deliver a state-of-the-union built on frustration, but bolstered with positivity and just a twinge of hope. After already cranking out nearly a decade of hits, Gaye had a lot to get off his chest, and it’s hard to imagine a more profound creative outlet for those reflections than “What’s Going On.” Gaye’s smooth and soulful vocals deliver the message in soft and sympathetic tones, but amid all the sweet sounds is a desperate cry for peace and understanding. “What’s Going On” pulls the rare trick of sounding optimistic while decrying an utterly hopeless state of affairs. – Jeff Terich

38. Wire
Map Ref. 41º N 93º W
(1979; Harvest)
Available on 154

Wire’s early career is often defined by the creative brilliance that carried them from punk minimalists to post-punk experimentalists. This reputation has allowed the band’s innovations and artier tendencies to overshadow the fact that they had an incredible ability to craft strikingly memorable melodies. Even at the most abstract point in the band’s first incarnation the band didn’t sacrifices song craft for sound. By 1979, Wire may have driven by atmospheric synth washes and ambient textures, but they still managed to give us what’s arguably their most infectious song to date, “Map Ref. 41º N 93º W.” In addition to making a sing-along out of “Lines of longitude and latitude,” the real genius is the minute and half they use to build the track before finally letting loose with the “chorus!” – Chris Karman

37. Modern Lovers
(1976; Beserkley)
Available on Modern Lovers

Most great rock ‘n’ roll songs have something teenage about them. You need look no further for proof than “Roadrunner.” The Guardian‘s Laura Barton once described the Modern Lovers as the Velvet Underground “cooked sunnyside up,” and that’s as apt description as I’ve seen. While Jonathan Richman & Co. owe a great deal of their sound to the Velvets, lyrically the Modern Lovers are much more hopeful and intrigued by the outside world. “Roadrunner” is a giddy description of driving fast and listening to the radio, but more than that, the song is about the sense of possibility to intrinsically linked with youth. The excitement about discovering what’s around the next corner, what song might come on next, who might drive by in the car next to you that make driving at night so intruding to young people — it’s all about exploration. “Roadrunner” is that 17-year-old inside all of us who wishes the road would never end and curfew would never come. – Liz Malloy

36.Richard Hell and the Voidoids
Blank Generation
(1977; Sire)
Available on Blank Generation

Talkin’ about my generation? Ok, if you want. The title track from the Voidoids’ only album with the original line-up of Richard Hell, Ivan Julian, Robert Quine and Mark Bell (aka Marky Ramone) isn’t a riposte to the Who’s mid-’60s classic, but it’s easy to see why a 14-year-old who first heard it in 1977 could fly that flag. “Blank Generation” is a scummy, bluesy, and swinging track, with great guitar brawl between Julian and Quine. Don’t tell the 14-year-old but it wouldn’t have felt out of place on The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. -Stephen Chupaska

35. Al Green
Love and Happiness
(1972; Hi)
Available on I’m Still In Love With You

There’s a bit of a fakeout to “Love and Happiness” — it twinkles in as a jazz ballad, spare and seductive, but darkly intriguing. It only takes a minute or so for Green to throw that idea out completely, however, and with a few taps of Al Jackson’s drums, and a guitar lick from Mabon “Teenie” Hodges that signals a dancefloor ready to get down and dirty, “Love and Happiness” gets raw, gets gritty and It. Gets. Funky. But let’s define our terms here. Given the thick, heady sound of the song and the booty call confessions therein, “Love” and “happiness” may as well be euphemisms. They get people into trouble — “Something’s wrong/ someone’s on the phone/ three o’clock in the mornin’/ talking bout, how we can make it right.” But love, physical or emotional, feels good, and that’s the important thing to remember here, no matter what routine it disrupts or sleep it prevents. It makes you do right, or makes you do wrong, as Green wisely reflects, but if loving “Love and Happiness” is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. – Jeff Terich

34. Queen
Bohemian Rhapsody
(1975; EMI)
Available on A Night at the Opera

While Pete Townshend may have perfected the rock opera, Freddie Mercury and Queen certainly made opera rock. A rhapsody in structure, the tape was famously almost destroyed by all the vocal overdubs, primarily by Mercury. With his angelic, emotive, and malleable tenor, Mercury is able to tell the story of man who confesses to murder to his mother, goes to hell, and appears to at last find peace. The rest of the band add their always brilliant work, with especially affecting solo work from guitarist Brian May. Tongue-in-cheek, but still heart-wrenching, the song was long in the making, with portions going back to the late-`60s. After much research on the bohemian ethic, Mercury crafted what he referred to as a “mock opera.” Split into six sections (intro, ballad, solo, opera, hard rock, and outro), the song is an exercise in musical dexterity, and provided the group the centerpiece of their ambitious, gleefully backward-looking, and wonderfully bombastic album A Night at the Opera, as well as a hit the reached the Billboard Top Ten on two separate occasions, in two separate decades. Not too shabby for tongue-in-cheek. – Nick Ulbrickson

33. Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Pump It Up
(1978; Stiff)
Available on This Year’s Model

A song of apparent sexual frustration, that alludes either to the pumping of one’s pride before a date or masturbation after the failure of the same. And Costello really paints an unflattering portrait of the woman (or women) as the subject of his ire: a gossiping tease that imposes a tedious evening upon the narrator and has no real interest in more physical intimacy. Costello supplies his typically breathless and snarling vocal over an insistently throbbing bassline, accompanied by a pounding, tom-laden dance beat, with a descending chord progression that can barely contain the energy. The heroes of the recording are rhythm section Bruce and Pete Thomas (bass and drums, respectively), who provide not only the musical backbone, but instrumentally the narrative theme. One of many brilliant songs on This Year’s Model, “Pump it Up” is a perfect example of the sarcastic and caustic songs that Costello made not only catchy, but thought-provokingly fun. – Nick Ulbrickson

32. Pink Floyd
Wish You Were Here
(1975; Harvest)
Available on Wish You Were Here

“Wish You Were Here” is a heartbreaking ballad of absence and isolation. Musically the song is more conventional than the majority of Pink Floyd’s experimental progressive rock up to the point of its release in 1975. There’s an uncharacteristic simplicity in its melancholic soliloquy, even as one the finest guitar recordings of the century. David Gilmour’s phrasing is immaculately delicate, the sorrowful emotion it evokes intensified by his raspy vocal delivery. Pink Floyd traveled a long way by time they recorded Wish You Were Here, and founding member Syd Barrett was no longer in the band due to his psychological instability, possibly resulting from years of copious LSD consumption. As a result, the entire Wish You Were Here album was a tribute to him, most explicitly the multiple movements of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” Yet the title track is the sound of a “lost soul” worn ragged by the ravages of experience, retaining an appreciation of the exquisite composition of life’s semi-tragic beauty. It is much more than a tribute to one man. It has been a source of comfort and sadness to many funeral-goers throughout the years. “Wish You Were Here” is for anyone confronting the stark immutability of loss, or who can relate to that feeling. It is a song of consolation. – Jimmy Falcon

31. Miles Davis
Pharaoh’s Dance
(1970; Columbia)
Available on Bitches Brew

Transitioning from the fusion groove of In a Silent Way released the year prior, with Bitches Brew, Miles Davis began using the credit “Directions in Music by Miles Davis,” which probably should have served as harbinger of forward thinking head trips for those not quite ready for the assault on tradition that he and his assemblage of musicians were about to undertake. Ahead of its time for using tape loops and sample edits, while being very much of its time as a product of the psychedelic era, the album’s 20-minute “Pharaoh’s Dance” isn’t so much jazz or rock as it is a kind of supernatural alchemy. A pair of pulsing, funky drumkits drive the lengthy, disorienting acid trip, unleashing something much more than a jam session, and more like a rhythmic exorcism. What a heady brew it is. – Jeff Terich

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