Top 20 Albums of the 1970s

Posted: September 4, 2012 in Uncategorized
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This is the second entry in a five-part series that will go through the 2000s. As with my 1960s list, I limited myself to no more than two albums from any one artist, and I didn’t include live albums. I won’t waste any more time on an introduction because the list itself is long enough.

Honorable Mentions
Carole King- Tapestry (1971)
David Bowie- Hunky Dory (1971)
The Grateful Dead- American Beauty (1970)
Led Zeppelin- Physical Graffiti (1975)
The Velvet Underground- Loaded (1970)

20. Neil Young- On the Beach (1974)
On the Beach just edges out Harvest, Tonight’s the Night and Comes a Time as my third favorite Neil Young studio album. It’s one of Young’s darker albums, but it still features all of Young’s usual styles (rock, country, folk), and it uses an all-star cast of backing musicians. “Walk On” and “Revolution Blues” are two great rockers, with the latter being my favorite song on the album. Slower country-influenced tracks like “See the Sky About to Rain,” “For the Turnstiles” and “Motion Pictures (For Carrie)” are all poignant. “Ambulance Blues” makes for a fitting nine-minute closer.

19. Pink Floyd- The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Wish You Were Here gives this a run for its money for my favorite Pink Floyd album, but ultimately Dark Side prevails. “Time” contains some of the greatest lyrics ever written, not to mention one of David Gilmour’s best guitar solos. “Money” is also an outstanding song, complete with another great Gilmour solo and some of Roger Waters’ best bass work. “Us and Them,” “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” are all great as well. The only song I don’t like is “On the Run” — it’s unbearable to be perfectly honest. I’ve seen “The Great Gig in the Sky” called weak, too, but I actually think Clare Torry’s vocals on it are a strength.

18. The Who- Quadrophenia (1973)
Quadrophenia wasn’t as groundbreaking or as influential of a rock opera as Tommy, but I think it’s a better album. The energy is closer to that of their live performances, particularly on harder songs like “The Real Me” and “The Punk and the Godfather.” Roger Daltrey’s voice never sounded better, especially on the epic closer “Love, Reign O’er Me.” “I’m One,” “5:15,” “Sea and Sand” and “Drowned” are all great songs as well. The story is also easier to relate to — it’s about a confused teenager struggling to find himself — even if it’s not always easy to follow.

17. Simon & Garfunkel- Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
Simon & Garfunkel’s last album together was also their best. It opens with the title track, which is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. “The Boxer” is the other big highlight, and it rivals “Bridge Over Troubled Water” for the title of best Simon & Garfunkel song. “Cecilia,” “Keep the Customer Satisfied,” “Baby Driver” and “The Only Living Boy in New York” are all great as well. While the cover of “El Condor Pasa” is excellent, I think the live cover of “Bye Bye Love” is the album’s only weak spot — not because it’s bad, but just because it’s unnecessary and can’t hold a candle to The Everly Brothers’ original.

16. Bob Dylan- Blood on the Tracks (1975)
This is Dylan’s most confessional album, and it’s also one of his best. Not all of the lyrics are about Dylan himself; it just feels that way because the stories are so vivid and so well told. The music is all acoustic folk-rock, and the relatively anonymous backing band makes it some of the smoothest of Dylan’s career. “Tangled Up in Blue” is my favorite Dylan song and contains arguably the best lyrics he ever wrote. “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,” “If You See Her, Say Hello” and “Shelter from the Storm” are other personal favorites, but every song here is very good.

15. Bruce Springsteen- The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973)
William Ruhlmann of Allmusic called this “one of the greatest albums in the history of rock & roll.” I might stop a little short of that, but it’s definitely a phenomenal album — Springsteen’s second best in my opinion. It opens with the funky “The E Street Shuffle,” then the beautiful “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” which perfectly captures the boardwalk life that influenced so much of Springsteen’s music. “Kitty’s Back” is one of the best displays of the E Street Band’s immense talent. “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” is a down moment, but then Springsteen finishes with “Incident on 57th Street,” “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” and “New York City Serenade,” all three of which are pretty much perfect. “Rosalita” is basically a seven-minute party.

14. Stevie Wonder- Innervisions (1973)
Stevie Wonder made several great albums in the ’70s, but Innervisions is my favorite. Most of the songs deal with urban life, social problems and spirituality, and they feature some of Wonder’s best songwriting. The centerpiece is the intense “Living for the City,” which for my money is the best song Wonder ever made. “Visions,” “Golden Lady,” “Higher Ground” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” are highlights as well. The immensely talented Wonder plays most of the instruments himself, and needless to say it all sounds great.

13. Elvis Costello- This Year’s Model (1978)
Costello’s first album, My Aim Is True, was great, but the addition of The Attractions made this the best of his career. Costello’s lyrics and singing are full of frustration, and here the music fits that mood perfectly. Costello did the angry 20-something guy better than perhaps anyone; he actually makes being whiny sound cool. “Pump It Up” is the best and most well-known song here, but “No Action,” “This Year’s Girl,” “Living in Paradise” and “Lipstick Vogue” are all great as well. The U.S. version replaces “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” and “Night Rally,” both fine songs, with “Radio, Radio,” one of Costello’s best songs.

12. Television- Marquee Moon (1977)
If you like awesome guitar rock, then I cannot recommend this album enough. Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s playing isn’t flashy, but they work together so well. Everything fits perfectly and sounds incredible. The nearly 11-minute title track is the centerpiece, and it includes a five-minute guitar solo that rules (and this coming from someone who isn’t usually a fan of extended solos). “See No Evil,” “Friction” and “Elevation” are other personal favorites, but there isn’t a bad song here. Verlaine’s voice is a little raw, but I think it only adds to the album’s sound.

11. Van Morrison- Moondance (1970)
Moondance has more of a pop sound than Astral Weeks, but it’s just as jazzy and beautiful. Led by acoustic guitar, piano and saxophone, the arrangements here sound amazing. The title track and “Into the Mystic” are my two favorite Van Morrison songs, with the former being one of my favorite songs period — you have to love Jef Labes’ piano solo and Jack Schroer’s saxophone solo. “And It Stoned Me,” “Caravan,” “Come Running” and “These Dreams of You” are all fantastic as well. Morrison’s singing is as soulful as ever.

10. The Rolling Stones- Sticky Fingers (1971)
It’s hard to comprehend an album starting with a song as raunchy and hard-rocking as “Brown Sugar” and ending with a ballad as pained and somber as “Moonlight Mile.” But that pretty much encapsulates the Stones perfectly, doesn’t it? Everything in between those two songs is great as well. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and “Bitch” bring more hard rock, while “Sway” adds some blues and “Dead Flowers” adds some country. It’s the slower songs that really stand out, though. “Wild Horses” is the best of that group, but “I Got the Blues” and “Sister Morphine” are great as well. This was the first Stones album to fully feature the best lineup of the band’s career, with Mick Taylor as second guitarist. His most notable contribution is the outro solo on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.”

9. Fleetwood Mac- Rumours (1977)
Rumours is perhaps best known for being one of the best-selling albums in history. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t care about popularity, though. Rumours is great not because of how well it sold, but because of how good the music is. It was made amid two intra-band breakups, and that is the theme of the whole album. The vocal melodies from Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie are fantastic. Buckingham’s electric guitar and Mick Fleetwood’s drum fills always feel perfectly placed. “Go Your Own Way” is the most obvious highlight, but “Dreams,” “Don’t Stop” and “The Chain” are excellent as well, and all the songs are good.

8. Derek and the Dominos- Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)
Speaking of great guitar albums, it’s hard to beat Eric Clapton and Duane Allman working together. The guitar work is outstanding on pretty much every song, but this is much more than just a guitar album. The entire record is inspired by Clapton’s unrequited love for George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd, and that pain is conveyed perfectly in Clapton’s singing, the best of his career. “Layla” is obviously the biggest highlight here, and rightly so, but there are plenty of other great songs as well. For Dominos originals, “I Looked Away,” “Bell Bottom Blues,” “Keep on Growing,” “Tell the Truth” and “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” stand out. The covers of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Little Wing” are great as well.

7. Led Zeppelin- Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
This is without question the definitive Led Zeppelin album. It brought back their signature hard rock from their first two albums, while also incorporating some of the folk they started experimenting with on their third album. That blend is perfected on “Stairway to Heaven,” which you can find near the top of pretty much any greatest songs list. You probably won’t find “When the Levee Breaks” on any of those lists, but in my opinion it is every bit as epic as “Stairway.” “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll” provide one hell of kick-ass opening, and “Misty Mountain Hop” rocks too. “The Battle of Evermore” and “Going to California” are both solid folk-rock numbers.

6. The Who- Who’s Next (1971)
Pete Townshend planned to follow up Tommy with another rock opera (called Lifehouse), but the idea was scrapped when no one else could understand the concept. Safe to say that no one’s complaining about getting Who’s Next instead. It turned out to be The Who’s best studio album (personally, I think the 14-song edition of Live at Leeds is their best album). Opener “Baba O’Riley” and closer “Won’t Get Fooled Again” are arguably The Who’s two best songs. “Love Ain’t for Keeping” is one of their most beautiful, “My Wife” is one of their funniest, and “Behind Blue Eyes” is one of their most chilling. The rest of the songs are very good as well, and it goes without saying that John Entwistle’s bass playing and Keith Moon’s drumming were off the charts.

5. The Clash- London Calling (1979)
The Clash’s first two albums were definitely punk, but London Calling is so much more. In fact, the title track might be the only one of the 19 songs here that I’d call a true punk song. Everything in between ranges from rock & roll to reggae, R&B and even pop. They branch out from being a four-piece band to include piano, organ and brass instruments as well. The subject matter is still typical Clash, though — most of the songs are about the working class and rebelling against the establishment. Personal favorites include “Hateful,” “Lost in the Supermarket,” “Clampdown,” “Death or Glory” and “The Card Cheat,” but I love every song here. Closer “Train in Vain” is probably the second most popular song here after the title track, and it’s right there as one of The Clash’s best songs.

4. Neil Young- After the Gold Rush (1970)
Whereas Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was a rock album with a little bit of country and folk, this is a country-folk album with only a little rock — protest song “Southern Man” and love song “When You Dance I Can Really Love” are the only tracks that feature electric guitar. As much as I love hard-rocking Neil, I think this is the best album he ever made. “Tell Me Why,” “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” feign simplicity with their catchy melodies, but Young’s lyrics tell deeper stories. The title track and “Birds” are both beautiful piano ballads. “Oh Lonesome Me” and “I Believe in You” are great as well. Despair is a prevalent theme here, and Young’s voice really drives it home.

3. Bruce Springsteen- Born to Run (1975)
Other artists have made albums about young Americans trying to escape their boring hometowns, but none have come anywhere close to matching Born to Run. Sure, my life and your life aren’t actually this dramatic, but Springsteen’s sincerity and emotion make us believe that someone else’s might be. The lyrics are Springsteen at his best, and the music is the E Street Band at their best. “Thunder Road” is my favorite song of all-time, and I still get goosebumps every time I hear it. “Born to Run” is the title track for a reason — it’s the centerpiece that perfectly summarizes the overarching theme of the entire album. “Backstreets” features one of Springsteen’s most passionate vocal performances and one of the greatest intros in rock history. Epic closer “Jungleland” tells a tale of love and gangs that ends in defeat, and it features Clarence Clemons’ best saxophone solo. Between those four masterpieces, there are other great songs like “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Night” and “She’s the One.” Also, if you like Bruce even a little bit, you have to check out Hammersmith Odeon London ’75. It’s the best live album I’ve ever heard.

2. David Bowie- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
Ziggy Stardust is a concept album about a rock star who is basically trying to bring hope to a dying Earth. The first five songs more or less follow that story, but the last six could be about any rock star who gets too big for his own good. It doesn’t matter if the concept and story actually hold up though; the music is so good from start to finish that it more than makes up for any plot holes. “Five Years” provides a dramatic and apocalyptic opening, and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” provides an even more dramatic end, leaving us wondering if Ziggy dies with his career. “Moonage Daydream,” “Starman” (which was the biggest hit from the album), “Lady Stardust” and “Ziggy Stardust” are other favorites, but really every song here is a standout. This album features the best vocals and best arrangements of Bowie’s career, and Mick Ronson’s guitar is stellar throughout.

1. The Rolling Stones- Exile on Main St. (1972)
Exile wasn’t the Stones’ most popular album when it was released, and it doesn’t feature any of their biggest hits, but it has come to be considered their magnum opus, and for good reason. Perhaps no other album in history has covered so many of rock’s roots. Over the course of 18 songs and 67 minutes, the Stones give us rock & roll, hard rock, blues, country, soul, R&B and gospel. Not only do they master all that, but they give all of it their own Stones spin. The songs are about sex and drugs and love and hate and rock & roll itself. In other words, it’s a melting pot of everything that came before them. Even though there were overdubs, the album is the rawest-sounding of the Stones’ career. Part of that stems from the fact that the recording sessions were fractured and marred by rampant drug use, not to mention that most of them took place in Keith Richards’ basement while the Stones were literally in exile thanks to tax problems. The grimy “Rocks Off” and energetic “Rip This Joint” make for an incredible open, and the album never really lets up. “Tumbling Dice,” “Happy,” “Soul Survivor” and especially “All Down the Line” are guitar-driven highlights as well, while Nicky Hopkins’ piano leads the way on the excellent “Loving Cup.” “Sweet Virginia” and “Torn and Frayed” are both great country-rock songs, and “Let It Loose” and “Shine a Light” showcase the soul and gospel influences.

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Comments
  1. […] This is the third entry in a five-part series that will take us through the 2000s. As with the previous lists, I limited myself to no more than two albums from any one artist (although that wouldn’t have been an issue here anyway), and I didn’t include live albums. If you missed the series’ first two installments, here is the 1960s list and the 1970s list. […]

  2. […] artists. If you missed any of the first three entries in this series, here they are: 1960s, 1970s, […]

  3. […] you missed any of the previous entries, check them out here: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, […]

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