The classic rock era began with Beatlemania and the British Invasion. The period lasted into the early seventies, hit a crescendo with Exile on Main Street, Quadrophenia, and “Stairway to Heaven”, and ended with disco. The rest of the decade’s music scene either reacted to or copied disco. The following are the top 10 songs of the seventies based on influence, popularity, and quality.
1. Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin: Stairway to Heaven was never a single. The song is generally considered the greatest song ever written by rock fans and ranks high in most magazine rankings. It is fascinating songwriting. Stairway to Heaven begins as a medieval folk tune and slowly builds to an outright rocker. Overall, the song lasts over eight minutes long, which speaks to its quality as well as the attention span of the seventies generation.
2. Imagine by John Lennon (1971): John Lennon challenges listeners to imagine a perfect world. The work envisions a world without borders, conflict, violence, jealousy, or material possessions. It was released while the planet suffered a series of wars and calamities that began with the First World War and culminated with Vietnam and the Cold War. The song became Lennon’s best-selling single.
3. What’s Going On? by Marvin Gaye (1971): "What's Going On?" was originally inspired by a police beating, but evolved into a commentary on society at large. The Watts Riots of 1965 changed Marvin Gaye's life and outlook dramatically. Additionally, Vietnam weighed heavily on his mind. Motown boss Barry Gordy opposed his artists recording protest songs, but relented. By 1970, Gaye had too much cache to deny. In the end, Marvin Gaye recorded one of the most important, thoughtful pieces of the 20th century.
4. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (1975): The record company had just about given up on Bruce Springsteen. He had one more shot at the big time and came up huge. "Born to Run" is not just a song, but an anthem. It encapsulates lost youth and Springsteen's own situation circa 1975.
5. Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen (1975): Freddy Mercury created an incredible fusion of rock and opera. "Bohemian Rhapsody" begins as a sad ballad then uses a guitar solo to transition to an opera before morphing into hard rock. The song is about six minutes long and became a smash hit twice. It charted in 1976 and then again in 1991.
6. Superstition by Stevie Wonder (1972): Jeff Beck thought up the initial drumbeat and Stevie Wonder ran with it. By this time, Wonder's music was transforming from classic Motown into something completely original. Soul, funk, and pop music changed dramatically with Wonder's own transformation. Quite frankly, modern R&B and Hip Hop might have taken a different form had Stevie Wonder not innovated.
7. Hotel California by the Eagles (1977): Don Henley said "Hotel California" explains the "journey from innocence to experience." At a more allegorical level, the song speaks of 1970s excess. Many interpretations have cropped up over the years. Some have argued "Hotel California" is a cult while others believed it a mental institution. Other interpretations have ranged from serial killers to just a bizarre destination.
8. Layla by Eric Clapton (1971): Eric Clapton wrote "Layla" and recorded it with the super group Derek and the Dominoes. The song was inspired by Nizami Ganjavi's The Story of Layla and Majnun as well as his own unrequited love for George Harrison's wife, Patti Boyd. In both the tale and reality a young man lusts for an unobtainable woman.
9. Let it Be by The Beatles (1970): John Lennon believed "Bridge Over Troubled Water" inspired Paul McCartney to pen "Let It Be". However, the McCartney composition predated the Simon and Garfunkel classic. On a side note, Mother Mary is not the mother of Jesus, but Paul's mom. As a result, the song does not possess any religious connotations. Instead, it pays homage to McCartney's mother.
10. Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who (1971): Pete Townshend did not write a revolutionary anthem. Rather, he advises people to expect the expected and not the extraordinary. So, when politicians and leftists promise utopia, do not believe them. Michael Moore wanted to use the song for Fahrenheit 911, but Townshend refused to allow it to be co-opted for propaganda purposes.