Treble’s Top 200 Songs of the ’70s

20. Can
Vitamin C
(1972; United Artists)
Available on Ege Bamyasi

The first time I heard “Vitamin C,” what I noticed first were the traces of soul music: the groove of Holger Czukay’s bassline and the fact that Damo Suzuki’s vocal performance seems to channel a female soul singer playing at evocative restraint, but also the overriding tone of it, twilit and marooned. It’s sexy. And then, the chorus shatters the whispered vagaries of the verse imagery. It becomes a rock song like no other rock song. Hey you! You’re losing your vitamin C! Who the hell is this guy screaming at and what the hell kind of thing is that to scream about? And, is that drummer for real? (This question remains and grows more pressing.) Jaki Liebezeit? Inarguably, this is a pretty standardly structured Can song, but all the elements in it are anything but normal, and together they compose one of those rare and unforgettable songs that hangs about in the back of your mind, almost laughing, knowingly, knowing you will never find another tune provide quite the same fix. – Tyler Parks

19. Black Sabbath
(1970; Warner Bros.)
Available on Paranoid

There are few absolutes in rock ‘n’ roll — which is how it should be — but one thing I know for certain is that not a single one of the thousands of metal bands in existence can deny the influence of the genre’s almighty Creator: Black Sabbath. To suggest otherwise would be cardinal sin, tantamount to worshipping false idols. And the proof is in “Paranoid,” not only one of the first true heavy metal anthems, but certainly one of the best. Tony Iommi’s riffs alternate from fiery fretwork to some dingy drop-D power chords that unearthed a great and mighty fuzz like none before them. But where some of Sabbath’s other songs might have taken solace in chemical escapes (“Sweet Leaf,” “The Wizard,” “Fairies Wear Boots”), here Ozzy Osbourne revels in darkness and psychological demons: “Finished with my woman because she couldn’t help me with my mind/ People think that I’m insane, because I am frowning all the time.” A song about crippling mental illness, particularly one delivered with first-person torment, rarely makes for such a furious anthem, but thus was another of Sabbath’s gifts to metal. It can be dark, violent, even outright disgusting if need be, for this brotherhood is a safe and sacred realm. Catharsis knows no bounds. – Jeff Terich

18. Gang of Four
Damaged Goods
(1979; Warner Bros.)
Available on Entertainment!

The pinnacle of the anti-love song, Gang of Four’s “Damaged Goods” is the most famous song off their masterpiece debut album Entertainment!. In its jerking, post-punk fashion, the group deconstructs a romantic relationship in the dehumanizing terms of a financial transaction. Either the narrator is damaged, in that he is incapable of love (at least in this instance), or the subject of his lust is damaged in the slang for slut. Or maybe it’s simply a story of repeated rendezvous with a prostitute. At any rate, the song’s catchy, dance-floor rhythms, much like the rest of the group’s catalog, belie the angry critiques of society’s myriad hypocrisies depicted in the lyrics. Gang of Four’s music has been influential from practically the beginning, and the list of artists who owe the band some overdue debt payments — from Flea and Michael Stipe to more recent dance-punks Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party — is way too long to list here. – Nick Ulbrickson

17. Ramones
Blitzkrieg Bop
(1976; Sire)
Available on Ramones

Hey! Ho! Let’s Go! Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” That’s how the Ramones introduced themselves to the world, and how most of the world was introduced to punk rock. A shot of adrenaline mainlined into a mid-`70s music scene drowning in bloated arena rock and button-down piano men, Like all the Ramones’ early songs,” Blitzkrieg Bop” was an attempt to bring rock music back to its roots, which inadvertently generated a whole new genre. The reference to the Nazi’s Blitzkrieg campaign in the song’s title bestowed a dangerous glow on a group who sang otherwise relatively chaste songs about teenaged romance (the group really just liked how the word Blitzkrieg sounded), and the three distorted chords playing over and over gave it a unique accessibility. Everyone, it seemed, could do this. The Ramones would write many songs that sound a lot like “Blitzkrieg Bop,” some of them quite good, but there’s never anything quite like that first taste. – Liz Malloy

16. Patti Smith
(1975; RCA)
Available on Horses

It’s the coolest opening line in the history of rock music — “Jesus died for somebody’s sins/ But not mine.” Plenty has been written about how the line is Patti Smith’s “goodbye to all that” send-off to her religious upbringing, but I think there something additional at work here. It’s about takign ownership and control of your life, about redirecting that faith toward yourself. That doesn’t mean it advocates selfishness, but giving yourself responsiblity and control. After all, Smith tacked her own words on to the most famous garage rock song of all time. And in our minds it’s played by four males, I would hazard anyway. Smith completely turns that on its head. She claimed the song as her own and didn’t ask permission. But, most importantly, she made sure it still kicks ass. And it does, to this day. -Stephen Chupaska

15. Funkadelic
Maggot Brain
(1971; Westbound)
Available on Maggot Brain

Funk power ballad? Psychedelic R&B? Black classic rock? Infused with the soul and sounds of Jimi Hendrix and backed by the quiet folk-rock arpeggio of a Van Morrison epic, Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel led listeners down one rabbit hole of a guitar solo. The title track to their third album benefited from two calculated decisions on the part of crazy-like-a-fox bandleader George Clinton: allegedly suggesting Hazel play as though his mother had died, and bringing down the levels of the rest of the players on the song so the auditory focus was on Hazel. The result — wrapped in just one amazing take — saw the guitar turned into a volcanic and emotive troubadour. There aren’t many instrumentals on our list, and technically it does begin with a soliloquy from Clinton, but when you hear Hazel’s notes cry and wail and feed back on themselves you’ll understand why this is one of them. – Adam Blyweiss

14. Donna Summer
I Feel Love
(1977; Atlantic)
Available on I Remember Yesterday

So entrenched is this song in the history of techno, and so spread it has been across compilations and mixes, that we tend to forget where Summer and co-producer Giorgio Moroder first put it. Summer’s 1977 concept album I Remember Yesterday found its A-side revisiting the sounds of the 1940s through 1960s; the B-side looked at the then-present of pop, and closed with “I Feel Love” as its future. This was reportedly the first time disco used an electronic arrangement instead of an orchestra. It added a hypnotic quality to the genre’s taut sexuality, and threatened to loop musical drama and climax ad infinitum. And it’s as if nobody other than Summer — from her lilting vocals to her slut-positive album art to her stage presence — could have been the come-hither face of this sound. – Adam Blyweiss

13. The Who
Baba O’Riley
(1971; Polydor)
Available on Who’s Next

As novel as it may have been, it’s awfully easy to completely overlook the key inspirations for “Baba O’Riley”: Indian mystic Meher Baba and minimalist composer Terry Riley. It’s easy because, although Pete Townshend’s inspiration for the arpeggiating organ introducing the track and ultimately providing its foundation is inspired by the minimalist techniques of Riley and the core philosophical inspiration for “Baba” is Baba, the song rocks like no other. It reintroduced the idea of The Who as a loud band, one that had grown considerable muscle in comparison to the ramshackle nature of their earlier rocking days. Keith Moon’s careening drum fills and Roger Daltrey’s shouts add an extra layer of power to one of Townshend’s most inspiring compositions. The “teenage wasteland” repeated in the song’s lyrics is reportedly Townshend’s impression of Woodstock; in that regard, the song is a fitting epitaph for some of the misguided convictions of the preceding decade. – Chris Karman

12. Iggy Pop
The Passenger
(1977; Virgin)
Available on Lust For Life

“The Passenger” is a catchy pop song, but it’s probably one of the most hardcore songs you’ll ever hear. Right from the gallop of the opening guitar you know you’re in for a ride. Iggy makes the abject abandon of the song feel utterly believable. There is disturbing truth in his stark vision, but when Pop and Bowie begin to chant the chorus with manic detachment you can’t help but feel a slight comfort in knowing that you are listening to a song and not actually living this darkness. At the same time you feel a dangerous allure. There is freedom in the wildness, to just give oneself over to the Id within. In an insane world, sanity is the most insane response of all, and the song can disrupt you so strongly because it rocks so hard. “La la, la la, la la la la.” – Jimmy Falcon

11. Bob Dylan
Tangled Up in Blue
(1975; Columbia)
Available on Blood on the Tracks

In a `Top Songs of the ’70s list, it would be a little shortsighted of us to have not allowed Dylan’s name to pop up at least once or twice. The troubadour’s frequently bombastic folk-rock provided the backdrop for a generation fueled by numerous sources of disappointment, social and political alike. Yet, as a poetic and musical icon, his music also began to take inspiration from more personal sources, namely his divorce, which consumes Blood On the Tracks and begins with the epic narrative of “Tangled Up In Blue.” The song highlights all of the qualities that made Dylan famous in the ’60s, yet applied to an entirely new paradigm. Not an overly ambitious arrangement by any means, this mid-`70s classic walked a perfect middle ground between Dylan’s first full-band recordings and the more straightforward, melancholy styles he would sink into later on. – A.T. Bossenger

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