Treble’s Top 200 Songs of the ’70s

160. Gerry Rafferty
Baker Street
(1978; United Artists)
Available on City to City

At this point, the saxophone on “Baker Street” is so ingrained in our culture that I think it’s imprinted in our DNA. Years before I knew who Gerry Rafferty was or had even been aware of this hit song, I knew that saxophone intro. It leads into a wonderful song that depicts Rafferty’s life while litigating during the dissolution of Stealer’s Wheel, commuting from the country into the city to do so. The song has a gritty polish to it, like the façade through which the narrator sees the real London. The guitar solo is terrific and symbolizes the desperation from which the song stems. Rafferty may not have had many hits, but when he did he always nailed it. – Nick Ulbrickson

159. James Brown
(Get Up I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine
(1970; Polydor)
Available on Sex Machine

Groove is one of the most difficult features to achieve in music, to create the illusion that the song is being carried along by itself. “Sex Machine” is a seriously groovy jam — virility distilled into its musical essence. James Brown keeps singin’ “Get up” but what he really means is get down, down with your lover or down on the floor. This song was made for dancing. Rhythm has a way of bringing out the hedonism within us. It’s not healthy to keep that all pent up. Give it up. Live it up “like a sex machine.” – Jimmy Falcon

158. Wire
Ex-Lion Tamer
(1977; Harvest)
Available on Pink Flag

In the canon of punk rock between 1977 and 1982, there are probably at least two-dozen songs that sneer at bullshit on TV, but none performed with as much fun and as little bludgeon as Wire’s “Ex-Lion Tamer.” One of only a few songs on Pink Flag that lasts long enough to contain two verses and two choruses, the song is a two-minute, four-chord masterpiece, Colin Newman setting up dangerous cliffhangers with the Lone Ranger and Batman in one moment, while painting a portrait of the mundane in the next (“Fish fingers all in a line”). In context, “stay glued to your TV set” is a dismissal of a wasted life, but in a song this buoyant and propulsive, it sounds like triumph. – Jeff Terich

157. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
American Girl
(1976; Shelter)
Available on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

One of the first songs Tom Petty ever wrote stands up among his best. “American Girl” evokes a golden era that only exists in our imaginative memories. The song is not about a specific American girl, but rather about the idea of an American girl, inspiring a sense of nostalgic longing for something that passes you by: “God it’s so painful when something that’s so close/Is still so far out of reach.” This feeling of yearning is bittersweet, because even the memory of something so pure and beautiful is as joyful an experience as anyone could hope to have in this life. This wistful exultance is continued in later Petty classics such as “Learning to Fly” and “Free Fallin’,” making “American Girl” the template of a Tom Petty hit. Pure catharsis that almost everyone can relate to, its deliverance is achieved in the dynamic energy of the song’s jangly power pop. – Jimmy Falcon

156. The Saints
Know Your Product
(1978; Harvest)
Available on Eternally Yours

Yeah! All right! Sing it up west coast! Too much! It’s pretty clear from the Stax-style horn section and Chris Bailey’s enthusiastic shouts at the onset of The Saints’ “Know Your Product” that the band was already progressing well beyond the fairly myopic vise grips of punk rock and into a rock `n’ roll powerhouse. Raw and raucous, but inspired as much by R&B and funk as it is by garage rock, “Know Your Product” is a fiery update of the anti-marketing screed in the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” But where Mick Jagger’s protagonist couldn’t win for losing, Bailey’s nonetheless seems to be enjoying himself in spite of the treacle that he decries. In three minutes and one towering beast of a hook, one Australian punk band gave every band in Europe and the United States a run for their money. – Jeff Terich

155. Cat Stevens
The Wind
(1971; Island)
Available on Teaser and the Firecat

My favorite Cat Stevens song is also one of the shortest songs I can think of, clocking in at a lean 1:42. Using a deceivingly complex finger-picking style, Stevens and his guitar start off Teaser and the Firecat with this story about a man facing his inner self: accepting peacefully where life will take him, without harmful behavior distracting him from that destination. It’s a very religious song, but not in a preachy and off-putting way. It’s a gently affecting song, quiet and serene. It’s also a song that caught the ears of such filmmakers as Cameron Crowe and Wes Anderson, having appeared in both Rushmore and Almost Famous. – Nick Ulbrickson

154. Althea and Donna
Uptown Top Ranking
(1977; WEA)
Available on Uptown Top Ranking

It’s a little depressing to realize that someone could land a hit single that got to number one in the UK charts at an age when most of us hadn’t even decided on a college major. Althea Forrest and Donna Reid were only 17 and 18 when they recorded “Uptown Top Ranking,” a song that found great commercial success after being championed by DJ John Peel. The song, just one of a large pool of great Jamaican records making waves in the UK and U.S., quickly found a receptive market, and understandably so. It’s a perfect slice of reggae, with vocals heavily featuring Jamaican slang, which the duo used to both engage and disorient an audience. – Grace Barber-Plentie

153. Bruce Springsteen
Thunder Road
(1975; Columbia)
Available on Born to Run

Wait. “Thunder Road” comes in at No. 153? Thunder effing Road? Well, that settles it, Treble writers, you’re all completely drunk. What part of, “We’re riding out tonight to case the promised land,” and “You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re all right” don’t you get? And the thrilling Wall of Sound goin’ 85 mph on the Jersey Turnpike production? And Springsteen’s vocal? Has desperation ever sounded more optimistic? It’s OK. We can talk about this. -S tephen Chupaska

152. Neil Young
Don’t Let It Bring You Down
(1970; Reprise)
Available on After the Gold Rush

After a close reading of “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” I can’t decide if the song is an optimistic take on depressing subject matter or a dark interpretation of a bright opportunity. The “castles [are] burning” likely indicate society is in a violent state of transition, and the only way to come around is to “find someone who’s turning.” Whether or not that person is merely turning away from the destruction or actively moving towards brighter grounds may be ambiguous but one thing is for sure —”DLIBYD” manages to stand out amid an album full of near-perfect song writing and instrumentation. – Donny Giovannini

151. Kraftwerk
Trans Europe Express
(1977; EMI)
Available on Trans Europe Express

It’s difficult to calculate the enormous influence Kraftwerk has had on the music that’s followed in its footsteps even up to the present day. And although “Autobahn” may have been the catchier single, eventually proving to be their lone hit in America, one can’t help but think that the minimalism, repeating chants and slowly building synths of “Trans Europe Express” may have had the more lasting impact on electronic music. Either way, the song — which perfectly captures the feeling of a steadily moving locomotive — is a hypnotic work of genius, one that continues the band’s obsession with transportation and technology to masterful effect. – Chris Karman

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