The 1970s was a transformative decade for music, marked by the rise of numerous genres like disco, funk, and punk rock. This era saw the emergence of several legendary artists who defined the decade's sound, such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Queen. From chart-topping hits to cult classics, the 70s produced some iconic songs that continue to influence music today. Here's our top 25.
1. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen (1975)
“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen is a six-minute operatic rock masterpiece that is known for its intricate harmonies and unconventional structure. It is considered one of the best songs of the 70s because of its uniqueness and powerful vocal performance by Freddie Mercury. Plus, if your song was iconic enough to get a movie made, you deserve a spot on this list.
2. Bennie and the Jets – Elton John (1974)
This classic track is instantly recognizable by its distinctive opening piano riff. The song's lyrics are an ode to a fictional band, “Bennie and the Jets,” and the fandom surrounding them. The song's catchy chorus and infectious beat make it an instant crowd-pleaser. Its popularity has endured over the years, with its use in movies and TV shows cementing its status as a classic.
3. Roxanne – The Police (1978)
This track is one of The Police's signature songs, featuring Sting's distinctive vocals and Andy Summers' iconic guitar riff. The song's lyrics tell the story of a man in love with a lady of the night, imploring her to leave her profession and start a new life with him. The song's blend of reggae and rock influences and its catchy melody make it an enduring classic.
4. Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd (1973)
This epic rock ballad is one of Lynyrd Skynyrd's most famous songs. Clocking in at nearly ten minutes long, the song features a haunting guitar intro and a soaring guitar solo that has become one of the most iconic in rock history. The song's lyrics are about a man's desire for freedom and the emotional journey that comes with it. The song's emotional depth and musical virtuosity have made it a staple of classic rock radio and an enduring favorite among rock fans. Personally, I think it should be the national anthem.
5. Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)
This classic Southern rock anthem is an ode to the band's home state of Alabama. The song's lyrics reference various landmarks and figures from the state's history, including George Wallace, the governor who famously tried to block the integration of schools. The song's infectious riff and catchy chorus have made it a favorite of sports arenas and a symbol of Southern pride. It's also aptly featured in the movie Sweet Home Alabama.
6. Dream On – Aerosmith (1973)
This power ballad is one of Aerosmith's most enduring songs. The song's lyrics are about the struggles of life and the importance of never giving up on one's dreams. The song's iconic opening piano riff and Steven Tyler's emotive vocals have made it a staple of classic rock radio. Though some edge-lords insist on pretending this is a bad song, I will die on the hill that Dream On is one of Aerosmith's best songs.
7. Life on Mars? – David Bowie (1971)
This iconic track is one of David Bowie's most beloved songs. The song's lyrics tell the story of a young girl's escape from her mundane life through the magic of television. The song's blend of rock and cabaret influences and Bowie's theatrical vocals make it a standout track in his extensive catalog.
8. Dancing Queen – ABBA (1976)
This disco classic is one of ABBA's most enduring songs. The song's lyrics are about the joy of dancing and the freedom it brings. The song's infectious beat and catchy chorus have made it a staple of dance floors and a symbol of the disco era. It's illegal to be sad while this song plays – it will instantly cheer you up.
9. We Are the Champions – Queen (1977)
This anthem is one of Queen's most famous songs. The song's lyrics celebrate the triumph of the human spirit and the importance of never giving up. The anthemic chorus and Freddie Mercury's powerful vocals have made it a staple of sports events and a symbol of perseverance.
10. Landslide – Fleetwood Mac (1975)
This haunting ballad is one of Fleetwood Mac's most beloved songs. The lyrics are about the passing of time and the inevitability of change. The song's emotional depth and Stevie Nicks' evocative vocals have made it a favorite of fans and a symbol of personal reflection.
11. Heart of Glass – Blondie (1979)
This new wave classic is one of Blondie's most iconic songs. The lyrics are about the fragility of love and the fear of getting hurt. The song's disco-inspired beat and Debbie Harry's sultry vocals have made it a staple of dance floors and a symbol of the late 70s New York City music scene.
12. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) – ABBA (1979)
This disco hit is one of ABBA's most popular songs. It's about a woman's search for love and the desperation that comes with it. The infectious beat and catchy chorus have made it a favorite of dance floors and a symbol of the late 70s disco era.
13. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin (1971)
This epic rock masterpiece is one of Led Zeppelin's most enduring songs. The song's lyrics are enigmatic and open to interpretation, with themes of spirituality, enlightenment, and the afterlife. The song's iconic guitar riff and Robert Plant's soaring vocals have made it a classic rock staple and a symbol of the genre's power and complexity.
14. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd (1975)
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd is a melancholic song that speaks about the feelings of emptiness and detachment that arise from the music industry's superficiality and the personal isolation of its members. The song is a tribute to former band member Syd Barrett, and it features a memorable acoustic guitar intro and a soulful saxophone solo.
15. Piano Man – Billy Joel (1973)
“Piano Man” by Billy Joel is a storytelling song with a singalong chorus that has become a classic of piano rock. It is considered one of the best songs of the 70s because of its catchy melody and Joel's vivid lyrics.
16. Ain't No Mountain High Enough – Diana Ross (1970)
“Ain't No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross is a soulful duet that celebrates the power of love and the overcoming of obstacles. The song's uplifting message combined with Ross' powerful vocals make the song infectious and one of the best soulful songs to come out of the 70s.
17. Time- Pink Floyd (1973)
“Time” by Pink Floyd is a progressive rock song with a haunting chorus and a searing guitar solo. It's considered one of the best songs of this decade because of its exploration of the concept of time and its dynamic musical arrangement.
18. War Pigs – Black Sabbath (1970)
“War Pigs” by Black Sabbath is a seminal heavy metal song that critiques the politicians who send young people to war, and the soldiers who blindly follow orders. The song's driving beat, power chords, and politically charged lyrics have made it an enduring classic in the heavy metal genre.
19. I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor (1978)
“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor is a timeless disco anthem of resilience that encourages self-empowerment and moving on from heartbreak. The song's upbeat tempo, catchy melody, and Gaynor's powerhouse vocals have made it an enduring classic and an anthem for people overcoming adversity. It also happens to be one of the best songs to dance to on Just Dance.
20. You're the One That I Want – John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John (1978)
This song was featured in the musical Grease, and it became an instant classic. The upbeat, catchy tune, with its simple lyrics and sing-along chorus, makes it an all-time favorite. The song is a perfect representation of the pop culture of the late 1970s and remains a staple at parties and events even today.
21. American Pie – Don McLean (1971)
A song that's about 8 minutes long has to count for something, and “American Pie” definitely counts as one of the best songs of the 1970s. Written after the death of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Richie Valen, this song ended up being at number one of the charts for weeks after its release. It's still a blast to play on a late Saturday night.
22. Layla – Eric Clapton (1970)
Fans will argue what version of “Layla” by Eric Clapton is better: The acoustic version or the upbeat, rock version. There's a lot of drama behind this song, and apparently, Clapton wrote this song for Pattie Boyd, who was married to his good friend, George Harrison, at the time of its release. Clapton went on to marry Boyd years later.
23. Hotel California – Eagles (1976)
“Hotel California” is often talked about as the Eagles' best song, if not its most popular. The song is known for its great guitar parts and for being in a lot of movies about California. The band won a Grammy for Record of the Year for “Hotel California” in 1978.
24. Imagine – John Lennon (1971)
When John Lennon wrote “Imagine,” people probably didn't realize how important this song would become, but the song is controversial. One reason is that Lennon himself claimed that his wife, Yoko Ono, wrote a lot of the song but didn't receive any writing credits on the song until 2017. The mentions of religion and the lack of it, makes the song a little taboo for some people as well. Even so, this song has held so much cultural significance for the world.
25. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel (1970)
This beautiful song from the songwriting duo Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel was the title single for the group's final studio album before they went on to their solo careers. The song won Record of the Year and Song of the Year in 1971. It's still one of their most popular songs of all time.
Jaimee Marshall is a writer who hails from the suburbs of Philadelphia but has spent the past few years living abroad in Australia. She considers herself a bit of a movie buff with a knack for horror and clever sci-fi flicks. When she isn't watching or writing about movies, she's probably either posting political memes, cooking vegan food, or being active. She covers entertainment news, and reviews films and television for Wealth of Geeks. You can also catch her deep dives on sociopolitical issues at Evie Magazine, Katie Couric Media, and Her Campus or watch her appearance on Popcorned Planet, where she discusses heated issues like due process in our current social climate.