Music of the 1970s


In the 1970s, even though there were still protests, things in the United States began settling down from the way things were during previous decade. Although the scandal of Watergate further disillusioned the country, people found solace in music which continued to evolve with new music genres becoming popular during these years.

The United States during the 1970s

The 1970s is considered as the continuation of the 1960s in some ways – the 1970s was still very much a tumultuous era. African-Americans, women, Native Americans, and members of the so-called “third sex” continued in their fight for equality. Many Americans still joined protests against the continuing war in Vietnam.

However, in some ways the 1970s was a repudiation of the 1960s. A “New Right” movement was ushered in defense of political conservatism and traditional family roles. In addition to those, President Nixon’s behavior and abuse of power exposed by the Watergate scandal crippled people’s faith in the good intentions of the government. By the decade’s end, these frustrations and divisions would set the tone for public life that many would dispute remains with us today.

People turned to several different diversions as a way to cope with these turbulent times. With the counterculture having long gone but the fights still ongoing, people might have grown tired of them. Many sought a refuge in avenues of pop culture in such a decade known for so many trends and fads.

The fashion of the 1970s is very much similar to the styles of the 1960s, only more flamboyant and a bit more exaggerated. Polyester was the material of choice and so many people, male and female alike, liked to wear bright colors. People of both genders also wore tight-fitting pants and women in particular started wearing platform shoes, but you may have seen men wear them, as well.

How can you remember 1970s without mentioning bell-bottom pants? Apart from the bell-bottom pants, the fashion trends that pervaded throughout the decade included hot pants, open shirts showing chest hair, metallic eye shadow, medallions, t-shirts, sandals, leisure suits, dress shirts with floral prints, sideburns, and tennis headbands. Tunics, culottes, and robes were also popular – sometimes, it was hard to tell whether these outfits were meant to wear inside the house or meant for a night on the town.

US television in the 1970s was marked by the upswing of family sitcom trends. These sitcoms notably included All in the Family, Happy Days, The Partridge Family, and others. Of course, there are series that made a significant mark in the 1970s television such as the successful M*A*S*H and other programs such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Sesame Street, Little House on the Prairie, and so many others. Several game shows also occupied much of daytime television and were often aired alongside soap operas. These game shows included The Hollywood Squares, The Match Game, The $20,000 Pyramid, The Gong Show, and so many others.

Music of the 1970s

The decade is especially unique in terms of musical styles and trends. Many people might have grown tired of them and so many of them turned to dance clubs and other places to have a good time. This formed the idea of the disco genre, which filled the airwaves especially towards the mid- to late 1970s. Disco became one of the biggest musical genres during that decade and many of the disco artists achieved mainstream commercial success. Apart from disco, there were also other genres including funk, soul, rock, and reggae, among others. People were able to enjoy more types of music than ever before.

Although the rebellious ideals somewhat subsided after Woodstock, there were still many people who expressed dissatisfaction towards the establishment and the way their country was being run. There were still artists who continued to speak about the miseries of the society. Punk rock was created by artists as a way for them to relay their dissatisfaction towards the government and the whole establishment, and that explains their often political lyrics.

Speaking of rock music, this genre obviously thrived in this decade despite the wild popularity of disco. In fact, the 1970s witnessed the birth and development of the sub-genres that included glam rock, hard rock, progressive rock, and heavy metal apart from punk rock. Many of the best rock recordings of all time were released during this decade.

The 1970s also saw the birth of hip-hop, but the development of this genre was slow and it didn’t become popular until the late 1980s. Reggae saw its rise and developed a considerable following during this decade, while synthpop (or technopop) and electronic music emerged towards the late 1970s. Electronic music gave rise to the new wave genre which became popular in the US and UK in the 1980s.

The 1970s also saw the demise of two of the greatest music legends: The Beatles who broke up in 1970 and Elvis Presley who died in 1977. Each of the ex-Beatles launched his own solo career, the most successful being Paul McCartney. Together with his band Wings (which is included in the list of the top 70s artists here in this article), McCartney’s songs such as “My Love,” “Band on the Run,” and “Silly Love Songs” topped the Billboard pop charts.

Presley, whose health declined mainly due to drugs, died on August 16, 1977. His death sent shockwaves across the world. Huge crowds began flocking to his home in Memphis, popularly known as Graceland.

Best-selling artists of the 1970s

1. Elton John

Born: Reginald Dwight on March 25, 1947 in Middlesex, England

Elton John is considered the top artist during the 1970s. Starting his career during the early 1960s, John shot to fame during the 1970s with his songs, most of which he composed with his long-time musical partner Bernie Taupin. These songs included “Your Song,” “Rocket Man,” “Daniel,” “Crocodile Rock,” among others. In his over five-decade career, John has sold over 300 million records worldwide, making him one of the biggest-selling artists ever. The English singer also enjoyed more than fifty US Billboard Top 40 hits, and seven straight number 1 albums on the Billboard 200. John’s song “Candle in the Wind” (the re-written version) was a tribute to Princess Diana who died in 1997. The single (together with “Something About the Way You Look Tonight”) sold over 33 million copies worldwide, and was the first single to be certified diamond in the United States.

Highest-charting singles (Top 10 hits on the US Billboard Hot 100):

  • Your Song
  • Rocket Man
  • Honky Cat
  • Crocodile Rock
  • Daniel
  • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  • Bernie and the Jets
  • Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
  • The Bitch Is Back
  • Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
  • Philadelphia Freedom
  • Someone Saved My Life Tonight
  • Island Girl
  • Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
  • Mama Can’t Buy You Love
  • Little Jeannie
  • I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
  • Sad Songs (Say So Much)
  • Nikita
  • Candle in the Wind
  • I Don’t Wanna Go on with You Like That
  • The One
  • Can You Feel the Love Tonight
  • Candle in the Wind
  • Something About the Way You Look Tonight

2. The Rolling Stones

Founded: 1962 in London, England

The 1960s had waned and most of their contemporaries (including the Beatles) had disbanded. But the Rolling Stones continued to go strong in the 1970s, continuing to release commercially successful albums and singles during that decade. In fact many consider the early part of the 1970s to be the Stones’ “Golden Age.” Their albums: Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, and It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll occupied Top 10 positions on the US Billboard 200 album charts and are now considered rock classics. Their singles during that decade included songs such as “Tumbling Dice,” “Angie,” “Fool to Cry,” “Miss You,” and “Beast of Burden” which all received notches on the Billboard Top 10 pop charts. These achievements could only foretell of the band’s remarkable endurance in the music business.

Highest-charting singles (overall, US Billboard Hot 100; bold letters indicating hits in the 1970s):

  • Time Is on My Side
  • The Last Time
  • (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
  • Get Off of My Cloud
  • As Tears Go By
  • 19th Nervous Breakdown
  • Mother’s Little Helper
  • Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?
  • Ruby Tuesday
  • Jumpin’ Jack Flash
  • Honky Tonk Women
  • Brown Sugar
  • Tumbling Dice
  • Angie
  • Fool to Cry
  • Miss You
  • Beast of Burden
  • Emotional Rescue
  • Start Me Up
  • Undercover of the Night
  • Harlem Shuffle
  • Mixed Emotions

3. Pink Floyd

Formed: 1965 in London, England

Disbanded: 2014

Founding members: Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright

Classic line-up: David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Mason, and Richard Wright.

The English rock band Pink Floyd was one of the bands that truly defined progressive rock during the 1970s. During the band’s early years they were led by Syd Barrett until mental illness (which was exacerbated by drugs) made him to leave the band. Since Barrett’s departure, Waters had slowly taken over the songwriting duties. From then on the band went on to achieve international fame due to their profound lyrics, sonic experimentation, very long compositions, as well as elaborate and extravagant live shows. During the 1970s and the early 1980s the band created many of their most critically and commercially successful concept albums: The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall, and The Final Cut. Pink Floyd has sold over 250 million records worldwide, including 75 million sales in the United States.

Pink Floyd reunited in 2005 for the Live 8 performance; however, Gilmour and Waters had stated that they had no future plans to reunite as a band again. Barrett and Wright had died in 2006 and 2008, respectively. The band’s final studio album, The Endless River, was released in 2014.

Significant songs:

  • See Emily Play
  • Money
  • Another Brick in the Wall
  • Take It Back
  • Comfortably Numb
  • Wish You Were Here
  • Time
  • Shine on You Crazy Diamond
  • Echoes (listen)
  • Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2
  • Hey You
  • High Hopes
  • Dogs


Formed: 1972 in Stockholm, Sweden

Disbanded: 1983

Members: Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Fryd Lyngstad

Like many other successful artists, ABBA had gone through hard times. When they finally won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 the rest, as they say, is history. The famous Swedish pop group became the first artists from a non-English-speaking country to enjoy stratospheric success worldwide, including English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and the United States, to name a few. With their effervescent, hook-laden brand of pop music, ABBA produced enduring hits such as “Waterloo,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “The Winner Takes It All,” and of course, “Dancing Queen.” ABBA has sold over 380 million records worldwide and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. They have remained the most successful Swedish artists ever, and one of best-selling musical groups in the world.

Most successful hits (US Billboard Hot 100):

  • Waterloo
  • Dancing Queen
  • Knowing Me, Knowing You
  • Take a Chance on Me
  • The Winner Takes It All

5. Led Zeppelin

Formed: 1968 in London, England

Disbanded: 1980

Members: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, John Bonham

Once unpopular with the critics, Led Zeppelin eventually achieved significant commercial and critical success through their albums Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin III, their untitled fourth album (but otherwise officially known as Led Zeppelin IV), Houses of Holy, and Physical Graffiti. Because of their contributions in the hard rock scene, they were often considered as founders of heavy metal music, although their music was derived from many influences that ranged from blues to folk music. Their song “Stairway to Heaven,” although not released as a single, became the band’s most successful and identifiable song. It also became one of the most influential works in rock music which helped secure the band’s rock legend status.

Led Zeppelin disbanded after the death of their drummer John Bonham and since then the members have reunited sporadically. The band has sold nearly 300 million records worldwide, and is also known for their record-breaking tours.

Most successful and popular songs:

  • Stairway to Heaven
  • Whole Lotta Love
  • Immigrant Song
  • Black Dog
  • D’yer Maker
  • Fool in the Rain
  • Dazed and Confused
  • Kashmir

6. Bee Gees

Formed: 1958 in Australia

Disbanded: 2012

Members: Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, and Maurice Gibb

When you think of the 1970s music, you will undoubtedly remember the Bee Gees. The British-Australian trio of musically talented brothers actually started as a pop group who attained initial success in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. During that era the Gibb brothers achieved hits such as “New York Mining Disaster,” “To Love Somebody,” “(The Lights Went Out in) Massachusetts,” “Holiday,” “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” “I Started a Joke,” “Lonely Days,” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”

But the Bee Gees attained stratospheric fame in the late 1970s when they made the transition from pop balladeers to being one of the most prominent performing acts in the disco era. Barry’s falsetto gave the Bee Gees their signature sound and graced their disco hits, notably “Jive Talkin’,” “You Should Be Dancing,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” “Too Much Heaven,” and “Tragedy.” To date, the Bee Gees have sold over 200 million records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling artists of all time.

Highest-charting hit singles:

  • I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You
  • I Started a Joke
  • Lonely Days
  • How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
  • Jive Talkin’
  • Nights on Broadway
  • You Should Be Dancing
  • Love So Right
  • How Deep Is Your Love
  • Stayin’ Alive
  • Night Fever
  • Too Much Heaven
  • Tragedy
  • Love You Inside Out
  • One

7. Paul McCartney and Wings

Founded: 1971 in England

Disbanded: 1981

Founding members: Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Denny Seiwell

Other members: Henry McCullough, Jimmy McCullough, Geoff Britton, Joe English, Steve Holley, and Laurence Juber

Even before the Beatles disbanded in 1970s, some of the members had already been pursuing solo careers. After the members finally parted, McCartney released a handful of records with wife Linda before forming Wings in 1971.

Paul McCartney and Wings spawned several hit singles during the decade, such as “My Love,” “Band on the Run,” “Live and Let Die,” (from the original motion picture soundtrack of a James Bond film of the same name) “Silly Love Songs,” and “Listen to What the Man Said.” The band attained a UK number one single with “Mull of Kintyre” which made history then as the best selling UK single at that time. According to some sources, the band has sold about 50 million albums and 65 million singles.

Hit singles (US):

  • Hi Hi Hi/C Moon
  • My Love
  • Live and Let Die
  • Helen Wheels
  • Jet
  • Band on the Run
  • Junior’s Farm
  • Listen to What the Man Said
  • Silly Love Songs
  • Let ‘Em In
  • Maybe I’m Amazed
  • With a Little Luck
  • Goodnight Tonight

8. David Bowie

Born: David Robert Jones on January 8, 1947 in London, England
Died: January 10, 2016 in Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA

Everybody’s favorite music chameleon, David Bowie, became a prominent figure in the 1970s music scene, where he was considered as an innovator. His baritone voice as well as intellectual and eclectic nature of his work, and his androgynous appearance made him a rock icon during that decade.

One of Bowie’s most recognized facets of his music career is his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, an ambiguous rock star from outer space. Ziggy, of course, was the main character of Bowie’s breakthrough album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars which was released in the midst of the vibrant glam rock scene.Ziggy Stardust made Bowie a superstar both in the UK and the US. Bowie then did away with his Ziggy Stardust persona so he could experiment with other musical styles with varying degrees of commercial and critical success. Throughout his career Bowie sold over 140 million albums worldwide.

Notable songs:

  • Changes
  • Space Oddity
  • Fame
  • Heroes
  • Let’s Dance
  • China Girl
  • Blue Jean

9. Bob Dylan

Born: Robert Zimmerman on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota

The 1960s was Dylan’s breakthrough decade where he wrote songs that chronicled the most pressing social issues then such as war and civil rights. He was considered as the artist at the forefront of this movement that spawned folk and protest songs – the artist of his generation – although Dylan himself has always denied that he was a spokesman for his generation.

Dylan had a rather checkered career in the 1970s, especially in the early part of the decade where his output became varied and unpredictable, according to some critics. He continued touring quite extensively around the world, and released albums such as Blood on Tracks that initially received mixed reviews but over the years came to be one of Dylan’s greatest achievements during that decade. Dylan, who was born Jewish, converted to Christianity in the late 1970s and this event had a profound effect on his later works. He issued several Christian gospel music records notably Slow Train Coming.

Hit charting singles overall (bold letters indicating a 1970s single):

  • Subterranean Homesick Blues
  • Like a Rolling Stone
  • Positively 4th Street
  • Rainy Day Women
  • Lay Lady Lay Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
  • Tangled Up in Blue

10. Rod Stewart

Born: January 10, 1945 in Highgate, North London, England

British singer Rod Stewart’s career started way back in the 1960s as being part of several groups, notably The Jeff Beck Group and Faces, while pursuing a career of his own. Stewart’s own fusion of different genres from pop, rock and folk to soul and R&B brought him hits in the 1970s and 1980s such as “Maggie May,” “Reason to Believe,” “Tonight’s the Night,” and “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” In the new millennium he shifted his style again, this time interpreting pop standards particularly from the Great American Songbook, with much success. Stewart is among the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold over 100 million records worldwide.

Hit singles:

  • Maggie May
  • Reason to Believe
  • Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)
  • You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim)
  • Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?
  • Passion
  • Infatuation
  • Some Guys Have All the Luck
  • Love Touch
  • My Heart Can’t Tell You No
  • Downtown Train
  • Rhythm of My Heart
  • The Motown Song
  • Have I Told You Lately

Musical movements of the 1970s

1. Disco and dance music

If ever a musical style defined the 1970s, then disco would be it. Although its popularity was short-lived, disco launched a number of songs and artists that people are still dancing to today. Disco was not only a music genre but it could also be defined as a fashion statement, too. Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” has often been referred to as the first-ever disco song. Gloria Gaynor also enjoyed enormous disco popularity with her hit “I Will Survive.” The Bee Gees also helped define the genre with their numerous big hits such as “Jive Talkin’,” “You Should Be Dancing,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” “Too Much Heaven,” and “Tragedy,” with “Stayin’ Alive” being most synonymous to the disco era. Disco became so popular that even non-disco artists such as The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, ABBA, Blondie, and Diana Ross released disco tracks which became hits as well.

Unfortunately, its popularity proved to be short-lived and its fall proved to be quite fast. People began to attack and ridicule disco and many radio stations held public events dedicated to the expulsion of the genre. It was not uncommon then that many people wore “Disco Sucks” T-shirts as a gesture of rebellion towards the genre. However, since in the beginning of the new millennium in particular, disco has been enjoying considerable popularity through popular songs that have disco influences.

2. Progressive rock

One of the popular genres during the 1970s is progressive rock, which is characterized by rock music combined with other elements particularly classical or opera. Songs of this kind of genre are often extended; bands tend to make spontaneous and external improvisations in their live shows. Many albums released in this genre follow the “concept album” trend – or albums that follow a particular theme. Pink Floyd was often considered as the progenitors of progressive rock. Other popular progressive rock bands during that era also include Jethro Tull, Rush, Queen, Grand Funk Railroad, Kansas, and Electric Light Orchestra.

3. Punk rock and new wave

Punk rock also originated in the 1970s, and is characterized by heavy guitar riffs and more decibels which helped motivate artists and other people who were disillusioned by the establishment. Punk rock (or simply punk) had its roots in garage rock in the 1960s but punk music is much harder, heavier, and edgier. Typical punk songs are fast-paced and running only in a few minutes, having hard-edged melodies and singing styles, stripped-down instrumentation and lyrics that often speak of political and anti-establishment sentiments. Punk rock originated in the United States and the United Kingdom. The New York-based Ramones are often considered as the founders of punk rock, and the UK’s the Sex Pistols were also one of the progenitors of punk rock.

4. New wave

New wave has been closely associated to the 1980s, but it actually originated in the late 1970s. New wave has its roots in punk music, but is more radio-friendly and has electronic leanings. This genre would become more predominant in the next decade. Several punk bands in the 1970s were also seen as new-wavers, and vice versa: The Clash, New York Dolls, Blondie, Talking Heads, David Bowie, and Patti Smith are among these artists. You can read more on new wave music on the “Music of the 1980s.”

5. Funk and soul music

Funk music has its roots in R&B, jazz, and soul music during the late 1960s after artists incorporated beats and psychedelic tones to their songs. James Brown is often referred to as the founder of funk music through his 1967 album Cold Sweat which featured some mainstream funk songs. Brown developed funk into the 1970s which broadened its scope and popularity. Funk music is typically characterized by danceable tempos, outrageous personalities, odd costumes, and often socially conscious lyrics. Funk music paved the way for popular artists such as George Clinton, Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, and Kool and the Gang. Funk music was often added with disco elements which even added a wider audience appeal.

Musical innovation of the 1970s
Walkman – Sony launched the world’s first low-cost portable stereo called the Walkman in 1979. In Japan, the Walkman went on sale on July 1 that year; it would also be on sale in the US and the UK a year later. The first Walkman consisted of stereo playback and two mini headphone jacks which allowed two persons to listen at the same time (although the unit came with only one pair of headphones). Sony designer Norio Ohga built the prototype (out of Sony’s Pressman cassette recorder) for the company’s founder Masaru Ibuka, who asked for something more portable to listen to his opera music during his frequent trans-Pacific plane trips.From the disappointing sales in the first month after its launch, the Walkman went on to become one of the most successful brands in Sony’s history. Over the years, the Walkman also helped transition formats in CD, Mini-Disc, MP3, and streaming music. Even when the Walkman fell into disuse as more sophisticated and digital portable audio players came, it is still one of the iconic figures in the history of musical innovations.

The 1970s was no less tumultuous than the 1960s, with all the protest for equality and civil rights as well as for ceasing of the ongoing Vietnam War. Many people had lost faith in the government especially after Nixon’s Watergate scandal. Amid the turmoil and people’s disillusion towards the establishment, many of them turned to diversions such as music as a solace. Fortunately, the 1970s is a decade that introduced several genres, styles, and movements that were so diverse and unique to each other. The additional musical styles left people with so many choices to listen to and enjoy.

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