Wednesday, October 25, 2006

the top 5 recording artists from the 1970s

In the 80’s I had little love for the music of the previous decade. I associated it with corporate rock bands with travel-themed names (Boston, Kansas, Journey, Chicago and Foreigner), concerts where a contact high was unavoidable (The Grateful Dead) and the disco backlash.

I didn’t see the creativity as (talented) holdovers from the 60’s (The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Paul McCartney) dominated the airwaves during the decade. And, I liked but never loved the groups followed suit by rocking hard and partying harder: AC/DC, Aerosmith, Van Halen… I did enjoy pop artists like Rod Stewart, Elton John, Billy Joel, and The Carpenters, but you knew that from this post.

In retrospect, the 70’s were a time of tremendous creativity and diversity. There were the singer/songwriters in their prime: Paul Simon, James Taylor, Van Morrison and John Denver to name a few. And, the 70’s also provided fuel for an explosion of R&B, funk and soul: James Brown, Parliament, The Commodores, Earth Wind & Fire, Barry White, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, the Jacksons, Sly and the Family Stone and many, many others.

The 70’s incubated the more avante guard like: David Bowie, Lou Reed/Velvet Underground, Brian Eno/Roxy Music and Nick Drake. And, the end of the decade developed into the most interesting period as bands beginning with “The” in their names (The Cars, The Police, The Talking Heads, and, most influentially, The Clash and The Sex Pistols) were creating punk and new wave. Elvis Costello, Blondie, Kraftwerk, Devo and Joy Division helped out too.

Last week at Guy’s Night Out we were discussing this and we attempted to identify the top 5 artists of the 1970s. The only rule was that the individual or band had to have recorded the bulk of their best known work from 1970 to 1980. Even after many margaritas, no consensus was possible.

There were Who fans, Rush fans and some votes for Skynard, Frampton and Kiss. After all, who doesn’t want to Rock & Roll all night and party every day. I’m sympathetic to arguments for each of these, but in a list sure to generate comments and controversy, here are my Top 5 Artists of the 70s with some suggested purchases, starting with 5 that just missed the cut:

Just outside the top 5

Bruce Springsteen – 5 studio albums 1973-1980 including 1975’s amazing Born to Run. Classic songs such as Blinded By The Light, Rosalita, Thunder Road, Jungleand, Badlands, the River and Born to Run. If only Nebraska had been released earlier, Bruce would have been a lock.

Born To Run (1975, re-issued 2005)

Willie Nelson – a dozen studio albums in the decade, countless hits penned for other artists and classic recordings of his own with Whiskey River, Funny How Time Slips Away, Crazy, Me and Paul and On the Road Again. The more I listed to Willie, the more I like him.

Red Headed Stranger (1975, remastered 2000)
Willie and Family Live (recorded 1978, remastered 2003)

Bee-Gees – 3 brothers, 13 albums before 1980 and 11 US/UK #1 hits: Massachusetts, I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You, How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, Jive Talkin’, You Should Be Dancing, How Deep is Your Love, Stayin’ Alive, Night Fever, Too Much Heaven, Tragedy, Love You Inside Out.

Number Ones (remastered 2004)

Queen – 9 studio albums 1973-1980 and big singles with Bohemian Rhapsody, Somebody to Love, We Are the Champions, We Will Rock You, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Fat Bottomed Girls, Another One Bites the Dust and Love of My Life. Was there ever a band with a better lead singer?

Queen – the Platinum Collection (3 CD set, released 2002)

Pink Floyd – 741 weeks on the Billboard Chart with Dark Side of the Moon. Other great albums in the 70’s included Wish You Were Here and The Wall. Hits: Money, Wish You Were Here, Comfortably Numb, Is There Anybody Out There and Another Brick in the Wall. We were too young in the 70’s to appreciate Floyd and we are too sober now; still it hurts to leave them out.

The Wall (1979, remastered 2000)

Now, the Top 5 (unordered)

Led Zeppelin – 9 studio albums 1969-1979 and tracks like You Shook Me, Whole Lotta Love, Immigrant Song, Tangerine, Heartbreaker, Rock and Roll, Black Dog, When the Levee Breaks, Stairway to Heaven and Kashmir make them it impossible to leave them off the list. I don’t love guitar-driven stadium rock (as you might have guessed from the omissions from this list) but Zeppelin is the sound of the 1970s.

Led Zeppelin Remasters (2 CD set, released 2003)

Abba – 7 studio albums and 2 greatest hits compilations 1973-1980. Songs we all know the words to include: Waterloo, I Do, SOS, Mama Mia, Fernando, Dancing Queen, Money, Knowing Me, The Name of the Game, Take a Chance on Me, Chiquita, Gimmie! Gimmie! Gimmie! and The Winner Takes It All. You have to give the Swedes props.

Gold: Greatest Hits (remastered 1993)
Oro: Grandes Exitos (all the hits in Spanish)

The Eagles – 6 studio albums and smash hits with Take It Easy, Witchy Woman, Already Gone, Best of My Love, One of These Nights, Lyin’ Eyes, Take It to the Limit, Life in the Fast Lane, Hotel California, Ole ’55, Heartache Tonight and The Long Run proved that Americans could sell records too.

The Very Best of The Eagles (2 CD set, remastered 2003)

Fleetwood Mac – the best VH1 Behind the Music group ever. Drugs, sex, scandal, 11 studio albums with 2 different lineups, and enduring hits with Over My Head, Rhiannon, Say You Love Me, Landslide, Go Your Own Way, Dreams, Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun, Tusk and Sara.

Rumors (1977, remastered 2004)
The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac (2 CD set, released 2003)

Bob Marley 14 albums 1970-1980, countless hits including every track on Legend: Is This Love, No Woman No Cry, Could You Be Loved, Three Little Birds, Buffalo Soldier, Get Up Stand Up, Stir It Up, One Love, People Get Ready, I Shot the Sherriff, Waiting in Vain, Redemption Song, Exodus and Jamming.

Legend (remastered 2002)

Bonus link1: Need some ammunition for your own list? Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums of all time
Bonus link 2: Just watch this video of classic album covers fighting it out. The artist is man vs. magnetand it is incredible. If I can learn more about the animation technique it may become its own cool thing.


At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Jeff Loomans said...


This was at Guy's Night Out? Hopefully at this point in the debate someone was maimed?

At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

genius album cover video. i need to watch in slo-mo next time

as for the list, it's a little too soft for my taste. just in sheer terms of influence and ability, mine has to be: zeppelin, floyd, queen, eagles and kiss.

not my favorite five groups, for sure, but hey, it's the 70s, you don't expect much. apologies for the narrow genre selection, but that's unfortunately what i heard in the decade.


At 5:26 PM, Blogger James Mills said...

Nice job, but I was vexed that Parliament-Funkadelic did not make the "Just outside the top 5," getting only a passing mention in the third paragraph of the blog--a little more flavor, please! Wikepedia has a nice page on P-Funk, whose music continues to live on through the sampled "borrowings" of rappers and hip-hoppers:

At 6:00 PM, Blogger paul said...


Thanks for the link. This is embarrassing but I am more familiar with with P-Funk samples than the originals. I will correct this.


At 7:01 PM, Blogger James Mills said...

Indeed. I've uploaded my Parliament collection to my shared drive. Take a listen and enjoy. Funkadelic to follow.

At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Brad said...

zeppelin, marley, bowie, who, and springsteen. I cut any band whose music I would tune away from if I heard it on the radio today.


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