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The Best of 1970s Music

June 29, 2024
 
By Joshua Davis

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Michael Putland/GettyImages
Michael Putland/GettyImages

The Decade at a Glance 

The 1970s proved to be a very rich and unique decade in the history of music. From hard rock to funk, pop to R&B and soul, the ‘70s embraced a wide variety of musical genres, creating a bridge between the rebellious society of the ‘60s and the happy vibe of the ‘80s.

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The decade also saw the emergence of disco, a beat-driven style of music that rose to fame in the ‘70s thanks to DJ-based underground clubs that helped give the style exposure. Derived from the word “discotheque,” it evolved into its own genre in the United States, with notable influences from funk, Latin American salsa, and soft soul. Disco music is most commonly associated with the party culture, which also became popular in the ‘70s.

Hip hop came into the limelight in the latter part of the ‘70s after DJs at New York block parties started isolating percussion breaks in disco, funk, R&B, and soul songs. Most of the early hip hop songs were derived from funk music, and as the genre’s popularity increased among listeners, performers known as MCs started to speak over the music as it played.

While rock ‘n’ roll was already a thing in the ‘60s, it rose to greater prominence during the ‘70s, with some of today’s best musicians taking it in a different direction back then. Musicians such as Led Zeppelin, KISS, and Black Sabbath took hard rock to a more intense level, inspiring a cult following not only during the 1970s but beyond.

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Apart from musical style, technology also took over the decade, with advances in equipment giving artists more room to experiment with their craft. The most notable technological advancements of the ‘70s include the 24-track recording machine (which allows separate multiple recordings at different times), the karaoke machine, the Mu-Tron III (which produces synthesizer-like sounds with the help of different electric instruments), and the Tascam Portastudio (a portable mixer and reel-to-reel tape recording machine). 

Electronic music also had a wide influence on popular music in the 1970s, with the use of electronic drums, turntables, and polyphonic synthesizers emerging in different genres of music. Vinyl records were also very affordable during the decade, and anyone with a record player could easily purchase vinyl and enjoy music at home.

Top Five Musical Sensations of the '70s

David Bowie

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David Robert Jones, more popularly known as David Bowie, was an English singer and songwriter from Brixton, South London. Bowie was an influential icon in the entertainment industry, revolutionizing music in the ‘70s and helping shape it into the landscape of free expression we have today. Bowie was able to capture the essence of the ‘70s perfectly, shaping the dread and anxiety of the era into exciting music. He also mastered different genres, melding a variety of styles into his own unique artform, from soul to funk, glam rock, and even krautrock. 

During Bowie’s lifetime, he sold an estimated 140 million albums worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artists in the world. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received five platinum and nine gold certifications in the US, plus ten platinum, 11 gold, and eight silver certifications in the UK. Apart from his musical career, Bowie also starred in several films, including The Man Who Fell to Earth and The Labyrinth. In 1972, Bowie launched his Ziggy Stardust Tour, with a whopping 182 shows in North America, the UK, and Japan. This was followed by many more concerts all over the world, never once failing to impress audiences with his versatility and unique sound.

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Queen

When it comes to the ‘70s, there’s no other band quite so synonymous with rock as Queen. The British band, formed in 1970 in London, and is composed of Freddie Mercury on lead vocals and piano, John Deacon on bass guitar, Roger Taylor on drums and vocals, and Brian May on lead guitar and vocals. Early in their career, their music focused more on heavy metal, progressive rock, and hard rock, but later on incorporated more conventional musical styles such as pop rock and arena rock. Their 1975 album, A Night at the Opera, was their ticket to international fame, featuring their iconic hit “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The song stayed at the top of the UK charts for nine weeks and led to the popularization of the music video format.

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Queen’s 1977 album, News of the World, featured the hit songs “We Are The Champions” and “We Will Rock You,” both of which have become anthems for many subsequent sporting events. Their song, “Another One Bites the Dust,” became their best-selling single while Greatest Hits became the best-selling album in the UK. Their performance at the Live Aid concert, a music-based fundraising event designed to support relief operations in connection with the Ethiopian famine, is still recognized as one of the greatest performances in rock history. The phenomenal band has sold somewhere between 170 million and 300 million records, based on estimates.

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Aerosmith

Aerosmith, an American rock band formed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1970, made their name in the music industry by becoming one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands in the country. While their main music style focuses on blues-based hard rock, they also incorporate elements of heavy metal, pop rock, and rhythm and blues into their songs. After signing with Columbia Records in 1972, the band released a series of platinum and gold albums, with their 1976 album, Rocks, cementing their place as superstars of hard rock.

The band’s first five albums achieved multi-platinum status, and Aerosmith toured extensively in the ‘70s, even developing a huge following of fans referred to as “the Blue Army.” Their Rocks Tour was their first major headlining tour, with the band playing in some of the biggest US stadiums. By the end of the decade, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that they were one of the most famous hard rock bands anywhere in the world. 

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AC/DC 

AC/DC is an Australian rock band hailing from Sydney. While the group formed in the ‘70s, they reached great heights during the ‘80s, following the release of their album, Back in Black, dedicated to their former member Bon Scott who died of acute alcohol poisoning. Their following album, For Those About to Rock We Salute You, was the first to reach the top spot in the S. To date, the band has sold more than 200 million records worldwide, with 71.5 million of those sales from the United States.

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The band holds the 10th spot on the list of highest-selling bands in the United States and are the 14th best-selling artists in the world. They also hold the 7th spot on MTV’s list of Greatest Heavy Metal Bands of All Time, and 4th on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock list. Most of their early concerts were held in Australia, but they went on to perform for a wider audience in Germany, London, and Sweden. 

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Elton John 

Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, this famous English songwriter, singer, pianist, and composer from Pinner, Middlesex would make his impression in the world of music as Elton John. Having developed a love for music at a very young age, Elton John later became known for his unique blend of rock and pop styles, turning him into one of the biggest music icons in history. He got his first break as a singer in 1969, with his album Empty Sky. From that moment on, he smashed out one hit after another, his star growing brighter and brighter throughout the ‘70s.

Apart from his unique musical style, Elton John became known for his outlandish outfits. With his over-the-top costumes and attention-grabbing glasses, Elton John’s signature look held people’s attention while he performed on the piano for hours. Some of his most notable songs include “Your Song,” “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” He also established the Elton John AIDS Foundation, donating more than $400 million in support of various HIV and AIDS programs worldwide.

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The 5 Most Popular Songs of the ‘70s

"You Light Up My Life” - Debby Boone - Peak Date: October 15, 1977

Debby Boone’s Oscar-winning song became one of the most popular wedding tunes in the ‘70s. Originally written by Joseph Brooks, the song sat at the #1 spot in the US, going on to win the Grammy for Best Song of the Year. Boone, meanwhile, clinched the Best New Artist Award for her performance.

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"Tonight's The Night (Gonna Be Alright)" - Rod Stewart - Peak Date: November 13, 1976

Written and performed by Rod Stewart, the suggestive lyrics of the song initially got it banned from the BBC. This was eventually lifted after insistent demand from the public. America Today’s theme song served as Stewart’s inspiration for the tune which went to top the Canada and US Billboard Hot 100 charts.

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"How Deep Is Your Love" - The Bee Gees - Hot 100 Peak Position: #1 - Peak Date: December 24, 1977

This pop ballad was written and recorded by The Bee Gees in 1977. It was famously used as part of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. For the band, the sound of the piano is what makes up the essence of the song.

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"Le Freak" - Chic - Hot 100 Peak Position: #1 - Peak Date: December 9, 1978

The song pays tribute to the Studio 54, a former nightclub in New York City known for its unbelievably long lines, elite clientele, and rude bouncers. The song is said to have been inspired by the band’s guitarist and bassist’s own experience of being refused entry to the nightclub. The lyrics were initially meant to say “fuck off” instead of “freak out.” They were changed so it could be played on the radio.

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"I Just Want To Be Your Everything" - Andy Gibb - Hot 100 Peak Position: #1 - Peak Date: July 30, 1977

This song delves into the drama of love, with the singer showing his unending adoration for a woman without whom he would die. Andy Gibb was the younger brother of The Bee Gees (Robin, Barry, and Maurice Gibb). Barry helped Andy write the song which stayed in the #1 spot of the Hot 100 chart for four weeks.





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