Treble’s Top 200 Songs of the ’70s

170. Jorge Ben
Ponta de Lança Africano (Umbabarauma)
(1976; Philips)
Available on Africa Brasil

In the 1960s and early ’70s, Jorge Ben contributed dramatically to shaping the direction of Brazilian popular music, from his early samba hit “A Minha Menina,” later covered by Os Mutantes, to his epic collaboration with Gilberto Gil, Gil e Jorge. In 1976, though, Ben turned his efforts to getting louder, dirtier and funkier with the incredible funk-samba of África Brasil, which kicks off with one of the coolest, most explosive tracks in all of MPB. “Ponta de Lança Africana (Umbabarauma)” is almost all groove, slithering, writhing and shaking, as a chorus of female backup singers chant beneath Ben’s increasingly louder, more manic wails. It’s all energy — danceable, sexual, whatever — don’t let it go to waste. – Jeff Terich


169. Sex Pistols
God Save the Queen
(1977; Warner Bros.)
Available on Never Mind the Bollocks, It’s the Sex Pistols

As a true Englishwoman, I feel that I am given license to believe something that has been debated for more than 30 years: the Sex Pistols were the originators of punk. Undoubtedly, there’s a strong argument for bands such as the Ramones or New York Dolls starting it all, but what song better captures the spirit of punk — rebellion, misspent youth and outrageous clothing — better than this one? Ironically, what was supposed to be a rebellious slight against monarchy has become almost a second national anthem to the UK. More often than not, naysayers such as myself choose to crank it loud on occasions such as a Royal wedding, and it was even featured in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. While it may have lost some of its rebellious spirit this far along, there’s no arguing here: this song is punk through and through. – Grace Barber-Plentie


168. John Lennon
Instant Karma
(1970; Apple)

John Lennon was going his own way well before The Beatles collapsed. As idealistic and sweetly infectious as his songs seemed there was an acerbic vein that kept pulsing whether he wanted it to or not. With “Instant Karma” Lennon has to threaten listeners before putting them on a pedestal. He would do less of the former as his solo career went on, but this hastily written and released song is the best possible testament to Lennon’s emotionally complicated, even maddening genius. – Chris Morgan


167. Patti Smith
Because the Night
(1978; Arista)
Available on Easter

It’s one thing for an artist to excel at creating his or her own material, but there’s something of an added challenge in making someone else’s work unmistakably their own. Smith has and always will be the poet laureate of post-boho anti-hippies the world over, but her musicianship was tested and strengthened when she shocked new energy into Bruce Springsteen’s sloppy seconds. Her clearer, less defeated vocals and willingness to jettison the sax parts saved a great song from being perpetually skipped over on Darkness at the Edge of Town. – Chris Morgan


166. Lou Reed
Perfect Day
(1972; RCA)
Available on Transformer

It seems quaint to think that a perfect day for the man who broke down barriers infamously writing songs about heroin use and various taboo sex-related topics involves feeding animals at the zoo and then catching a movie. But Reed leaves the listeners with enough to know that not all is well with him and this is just another attempt for Reed to lose himself. It’s through a seemingly harmful affair rather than through a needle, but it’s clear when he repeats “You’re going to reap just what you sow” that nothing being reaped here is probably good for either one of them. It’s of course a gorgeous, melancholy pop song, the kind only Reed could write. – Chris Karman


165. Black Sabbath
Iron Man
(1970; Vertigo)
Available on Paranoid

“Ba Ba BabaBa Badadadadadadada BabaBa.” It’s one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in all of rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s only part of what makes “Iron Man” so badass and influential. In less than six minutes, the song tells a nightmarishly apocalyptic tale of time travel that is too complex to recount here. It is Edgar Allan Poe fused with the nocturnal theatricality of ’70s hard rock. The sense the song expresses of being helplessly trapped in the tomb of one’s body even ended up passed down to later generations of heavy metal, being taken up by successors Metallica in their own opus “One.” Black Sabbath are rarely given credit for the social content of their music, but “Iron Man” expresses the nihilistic misanthropy that informed the anti-authoritarianism of later songwriters such as Henry Rollins and Kurt Cobain. “Iron Man” may not be quite as well known as “Paranoid” in the Black Sabbath catalogue (if only by a slight margin), but it is more representative of what makes the band so innovatively iconic. – Jimmy Falcon


164. ABBA
Fernando
(1976; Atlantic)
Available on Arrival

No, you’re not crazy: There is something bizarre about ABBA. Their impossibly catchy Nordic kitsch is so sleek and shiny it almost seems beamed in from another planet, yet (as the 1995 Australian movie Muriel’s Wedding so ably demonstrated) it can also serve as the perfect soundtrack for a bar fight. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the English version of “Fernando.” ABBA’s wizardry at conjuring earworms is well documented, but is probably no better demonstrated than here, where a group of Swedes singing sentimentally about the Mexican Revolution and its Zapatistas manages to shut off the Critical Thinking section of every listener’s brain, and switch on the Delicious Pop Receptors. Maybe Sweden is another planet. – Liz Malloy


163. Fela Kuti
Expensive Shit
(1975; Soundsworkshop)
Available on Expensive Shit

Shit can be expensive. Shit can be political. Shit can be the occasion for an unforgettable groove. If the police in an oppressive regime plant a joint on you, you can eat it, and when they take you to jail and wait for you to shit out the evidence, maybe then you can switch shit with a fellow inmate, be released and put together an epic, 13-minute long song about the whole ordeal of that costly shit experience. That’s what Fela Kuti did anyway, but no one else could have ended up with the brilliantly incendiary “Expensive Shit,” quite probably the most danceable indictment of a corrupt government ever laid down, and, more, one that doesn’t even toy with generalities but draws its immense energy through a single incident, among many, which becomes perfectly representative of the whole shitty situation. – Tyler Parks


162. Kraftwerk
The Model
(1978; EMI)
Available on The Man-Machine

Much of the propulsive proto-electro in the Kraftwerk catalog features lyrics of scene-setting or mere observation. Ralf Hütter normally sang thematic mantras, or lists of related items, but against a spare backdrop of warm, catwalk-worthy synths “The Model” was a significant exception. Here he seems to creep into the realm of obsession, portraying a detached fan relating a model’s work history and hoping to meet her beyond the confines of a chance encounter. Seeing as Kraftwerk rarely approached hot-button topics beyond songs like “Sex Objekt” and “Radioactivity,” it’s as successful as it is disturbing. – Adam Blyweiss


161. Gary Numan
Cars
(1979; Beggars Banquet)
Available on The Pleasure Principle

Normally a four-minute song with only 30 seconds of vocals wouldn’t be the centerpiece of an album, but “Cars” does more than simply repeat and finesse the tonal themes that show up throughout The Pleasure Principle, Gary Numan’s powerful break away from Tubeway Army. Propelled by a memorable keyboard wail and Numan’s reedy voice, it’s a meditation on being surrounded by modern technology as a panacea against paranoia and agoraphobia — hello, Internet! — only to whip right back and question it all. – Adam Blyweiss

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