Treble’s Top 200 Songs of the ’70s

120. James Brown
The Boss
(1973; Polydor)
Available on Black Caesar

James Brown had a unique talent — he could take about 20 words and turn them into a verbal symphony. And his tightly wound back-up band comprised some of the most intensely subdued talent that the music industry has ever seen. The next time you listen to “The Boss,” pay attention to how many different sounds you hear throughout, and how none of them sounds out of place, or even just a little bit extravagant. And when you hear that deceptively simple complexity, tip your hat to the hardest working man in show business, the godfather of Funk, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. James Brown. – A.T. Bossenger


119. Bobby Womack
Across 110th Street
(1973; Polydor)
Available on Across 110th Street

If “Across 110th Street” lasted no longer than its first 15 seconds, it would still end up in the pantheon of ’70s soul hits. The wah-wah and strings in the opening riff, arguably among the more memorable and inviting of the decade, have been used in films such as “Jackie Brown,” as well as by every DJ on soul night at your hippest local bar. And then there’s Womack’s wonderful burnt umber vocal. Crucial record, really. – Stephen Chupaska


118. Marvin Gaye
Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)
(1971; Tamla)
Available on What’s Going On

The third single to be released from the legendary What’s Going On, “Inner City Blues” wrestles with the cold, hard facts of poverty, of a life stripped of living, buried beneath worry, drained of any aspiration beyond procuring the bare necessities. Gaye sounds all the more authoritative and persuasive for laying out his anger coolly over Bob Babbit’s funky yet pensive bassline, for letting us know that it makes him want to throw up his hands and holler, rather than actually doing so. The piano chords and hand drums of the intro set the tone before a single word is sung: a vision of a broken world, which gets inside you, hangs heavy in your chest. But when Marvin sings the blues it’s hard not to believe in something, if only life. – Tyler Parks


117. Magazine
Shot by Both Sides
(1978; Virgin)
Available on Real Life

The advent of post-punk was not the revolution that punk was, not with Magazine leading the way. Arguably the creepiest band of its time, their debut single has a solid punk exterior that soon becomes possessed by a sinister force out of which the primal became the anxious and the angry became the cynical. – Chris Morgan


116. David Bowie
Ziggy Stardust
(1972; RCA)
Available on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

David Bowie’s trademark theatricality was never more enthralling than on his Ziggy Stardust album. This is arguably the moment in which the ’70s truly arrived, ushering in all manner of excess. Although the concept record was invented in the ’60s, Bowie embraced the theatrical potential of utter artifice in a way The Beatles or Rolling Stones never did. This is spectacle for the sake of itself. Ziggy Stardust, “the nazz with god-given ass,” is a precursor to imagistic alter-egos such as Sasha Fierce and Diamond Rings. And MAN, “could he play guitar.” Mick Ronson’s opening riff is one of the most indelible imprints of an era that produced more memorable guitar riffs than any other. Like Robin Hood or the hitch-hiking adventures of Arthur Dent, the mythology of Ziggy Stardust has been taken up by the masses. What greater honor could a fictional Martian-man hope for, except perhaps a plaque at 23 Heddon Street, London where he first descended so marvelously upon the world. – Jimmy Falcon


115. Gram Parsons
Return of the Grievous Angel
(1974; Reprise)
Available on Grievous Angel

A song of wandering and return, “Return of the Grievous Angel” was written for Gram Parsons by a poet and fan from Boston, Thomas Brown, and in the portrait it draws of a man who has lived out on the road, seeking, only to find what he has been looking for at the point from which he first departed, it resonates with (and probably partially created) the myth of Parsons that has been growing with each passing year, inflecting it with a sadness and joy that are inseparable from a man on the move who arrives too soon for the last time. It’s sweet and simple, a love song and a song for the road, wherever you may be going, and however far that is from where satisfaction or contentment may reside. – Tyler Parks


114. Suicide
Frankie Teardrop
(1977; Red Star)
Available on Suicide

It starts bleak, gets bleaker and by the end of it you’re bummed beyond belief. In many ways the centerpiece and the most skipped track on Suicide’s absolutely essential debut album, “Frankie Teardrop” is nevertheless a harrowing tale of working class disappointment and violence. Springsteen famously cited the song as one of his favorites and it’s easy to see its influence in his early ’80s records. -Stephen Chupaska


113. Sugarhill Gang
Rapper’s Delight
(1979; Sugar Hill)
Available on The Sugar Hill Records Story

The oldest of old-school MCs had to spit rhymes for 7, 10, 12 minutes or more at a time to propel the roller skaters or rooftop partiers in front of them. For all of the boasting and chest-thumping in rap today, when was the last time Kanye went the distance like that? Who really thinks Rick Ross could “uhh” and “yeah” that long and maintain credibility? And sure, Sugar Hill’s lyrics might be simplistic in these days, where we’ve been spoiled by tongue twisters like Eminem and MF Doom. Yet powered by one of the first and best samples ever (thank you, Chic!) we are treated to possibly the world’s greatest one-take song this side of Radiohead’s “Creep.” “Rapper’s Delight” is part roll-call and part short story collection, members of the Gang battling Superman for a girl, suffering through a bad meal, or planning how they’re going to “shake your derriere.” – Adam Blyweiss


112. The Bee Gees
How Deep Is Your Love?
(1977; RSO)
Available on Saturday Night Fever

One of the most tender love songs I know, the Bee Gees tear at the heartstrings with their earnest harmonies from monster disco hit Saturday Night Fever. Feather-light vocals float over keyboards, synthesizer, and perhaps the most tastefully spare use of guitar in their entire oeuvre to confess their feelings and to ask that simple title question, with a melody that’s gorgeous, rising and falling in a way that could make even Brian Wilson jealous. It could’ve been terribly hokey and embarrassingly saccharine, but the Gibbs pulled it off in style, racking up not only another hit, but also one of the greatest, gentlest, and most heartfelt love songs of all time. – Nick Ulbrickson


111. Devo
Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy
(1978; Warner Bros.)
Available on Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo

Collectively, Devo’s greatest contribution to rock music was fusing punk rock with a spastic, synth-driven affinity for the bizarre and a narrative-driven social commentary based partially on science fiction and partially upon the radical upheaval of the ’60s and ’70s. That said, on an individual track-by-track basis, “Gut Feeling” ranks at the top of the heap for being an epic, ambitious punk rocker that starts off tense and only grows faster and more unhinged as it ascends toward climax. The song is also notable for featuring a Mark Mothersbaugh performance that could rival Lydon or Strummer, as he sneers “I’ve had just about all I can take, I can’t… take it no more!” before howling the song’s title repeatedly. And just as it turns to complete chaos, the band regroups and delivers a minute-long, two-chord pisstake without losing a beat. It’s de-evolution in action. – Jeff Terich

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