The 1970s are often thought of as a fertile period for classic music. This is an appraisal with which we would tend to agree; the 70s gave birth to some of the most celebrated and influential pop and rock albums in the canon. Whether focusing largely on spirituality or decrying the exploitative nature of the pop industry, the 70s were arguably when rock music grew up. Here are the 9 best albums of the 1970s.
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
While Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon is a celebrated masterpiece, it’s Wish You Were Here, two years later, which constitutes the true underrated work of genius. Lyricist Roger Waters’ ode to the band’s former lost frontman Syd Barrett resonates even to this day, while his evocations of the perils of fame (“Welcome to the Machine”, “Have a Cigar”) are as tragically relevant today as they were when the album first launched. If Wish You Were Here doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, give it another listen.
King Crimson – Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (1973)
On the other end of the prog spectrum is King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. While the band’s earlier albums’ focus on spirituality might inspire you to read more about numerology or figure out what your star sign is saying for you, Larks’ Tongues marked the beginning of a more lean, stripped-back period for the band, characterised by jazz improvisation and less whimsical song structures. King Crimson’s harder period begins here, and the band is all the better for it.
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (1971)
A plaintive cry for unity and introspection, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On stands as the troubled singer’s undisputed masterpiece. Classics such as “Mercy Mercy Me” and “Inner City Blues” run on undeniable grooves that will get even the most reticent non-mover dancing, while “Save the Children” and the title track are beautifully simple, well-observed paeans to peace. Every serious soul fan needs a copy of What’s Going On, as does anyone interested in man’s humanity to man.
Blondie – Parallel Lines (1978)
With Parallel Lines, Blondie didn’t exactly invent post-punk, but Debbie Harry’s effortlessly cool band certainly refined and perfected the template. Even if you’ve never listened to Parallel Lines all the way through, you certainly know some of its most iconic songs – “Heart of Glass”, “One Way or Another”, “Hanging on the Telephone”, and many other unimpeachably brilliant songs dot this album’s tracklist. In Debbie Harry, Blondie had – and still has – one of the truly great singers and front-people in music history.
Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)
Black Sabbath is one of the true originators of heavy metal as we know it today. Listening to Paranoid’s iron-clad riffs and grooves, it’s not hard to see why. The title track fizzes with proto-punk energy, and Ozzy Osbourne’s pained scream completes the portrait of disaffected Birmingham rage. Elsewhere, “War Pigs” is an unparalleled epic, and “Planet Caravan” shows an unexpected soft side to the band. Guitarist Tony Iommi’s factory accident may actually have cemented the band’s legacy instead of destroying his ability to play.
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (1971)
“Play like your momma had just died.” So goes the way impresario George Clinton told Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel to play on this album’s 10-minute title cut. That small, innocent-seeming direction resulted in one of the most impressively spectacular guitar wig-outs of the 1970s, all the more remarkable considering it’s couched in an incredibly solid – but not at all “prog” – set of funk songs. Maggot Brain is excellent for its title track, but the surrounding songs are all troopers, too.
Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life (1976)
Stevie Wonder’s 1976 genre-hopping masterwork didn’t declare the singer as a person of note; he’d already made that reputation for himself thanks to a stellar decade. What it did do was to cement one of the most impressive album runs of all time. From 1972’s Talking Book, Wonder released four stone-cold classic albums back-to-back, of which Songs in the Key of Life was the last. “I Wish”, “Sir Duke”, and “Pastime Paradise” are all unforgettable soul excursions, but Wonder lets his soft side show with “Knocks Me Off My Feet” and “Have A Talk With God”.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977)
Want to hear what marriages falling apart would sound like in musical form? You don’t have to speculate; we have Fleetwood Mac’s seminal 1977 classic Rumours. The partnership between principal songwriter Lindsay Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks, as well as keyboardist Christine McVie’s marriage to bassist John McVie, were falling apart, resulting in venomous songs like “The Chain” and “Never Going Back Again”. Though the members of Fleetwood Mac lavish their songs with high-quality production, Rumours is a vicious, brilliant album, albeit one with the occasional emotional bright spot (“You Make Loving Fun”).
Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks (1975)
In Blood on the Tracks, Dylan brings his characteristic sardonic wit and dry humour to his estrangement from his then-wife Sara. Opener “Tangled Up in Blue” is a typically Dylanesque portrait of a life lived with many regrets, while “You’re a Big Girl Now” and “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” are indicative of Dylan’s overall emotional mood on this album. Though Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde are perhaps more accessible, Blood on the Tracks is crushingly honest.