The ’70s sometimes get a bad rap: Often these years are remembered as the musical era that brought us disco at its absolute gaudiest. But there was far more going on in the decade than polyester, sequins and cocaine; the 1970s saw the rise of the singer/songwriter, the birth of punk rock, reggae’s infiltration of the mainstream and the long, strange trip led by some of psychedelia’s finest.
In fact, it’s a decade so musically diverse, we had quite a time whittling it down to our top albums. When we polled our staff, interns and writers, over 250 albums received votes, but ultimately these 70 emerged as clear favorites.
Note: As with our best albums of the ‘80s, we’ve limited each artist to two albums. That means artists like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder and David Bowie all had some stellar work bumped from the list—but it also means you’ll have more to sound off on in the comments section, so have at it.
70. Various artists, The Harder They Come soundtrack (1973)
There was a lot more to the early years of reggae than Bob Marley & the Wailers, and the best of the rest is brilliantly summarized on this soundtrack album for one of the best fictional music films ever made. Once they realized they weren’t going to get any Wailers tracks, the filmmakers chose brilliantly. As the charismatic outlaw/singer/star of the movie, Jimmy Cliff sang half the songs, but there’s not a bad cut in the original soundtrack’s dozen. Included are reggae’s best-ever ballad (Cliff’s “Many Rivers To Cross”), best-ever pop hook (the Maytals’ “Sweet and Dandy”) and such one-hit wonders as the Slickers and Scotty. The 2003 “Deluxe Edition” reissue adds a second CD with 18 more songs, as smartly chosen as the first disc.—Geoffrey Himes
69. Blondie, Parallel Lines (1978)
The wondrous pop, rock and disco songs on Parallel Lines weren’t supposed to be on good albums, much less all on the same one. To imagine it is to put “The Loco-Motion,” “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “Staying Alive” on a mixtape and pronounce it a band. Whether pilfered directly from the Nerves (the breathless “Hanging on the Telephone” takes no prisoners) or stitched together, nursery rhyme-like from Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” (few melodies jangle so timelessly as “Sunday Girl” ), Debbie Harry and Chris Stein’s shrewd, sexy melodicism on these 12 classics clawed its way into the pantheon from the simple ambition to conquer any radio format they touched. One way or another, they sneered. We’re gonna please ya please ya please ya please ya.—Dan Weiss
68. Nick Drake, Pink Moon (1972)
Few albums on this list have aged as well as Nick Drake’s final album from 1972, recorded in a pair of post-midnight sessions with just Drake and producer John Wood. The simplicity of acoustic guitar, subtle piano and whispered vocals could have been recorded four decades later—and indeed Drake has sold many more copies of his albums since his death in 1974. And, of course, the heartbreak of which he sings will never become irrelevant. Beauty and melancholy have seldom meshed so completely as on songs that tackle longing, despair and the slimmest rays of hope.—Josh Jackson
67. Devo, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
I think I was 16 when I realized Devo wasn’t a jokey one-hit wonder but one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Not that “Whip It” isn’t an amazing song, but it was a little too goofy and ubiquitous for me to take seriously at that very serious age. If I had heard the spastic art rock of Are We Not Men? first I never would’ve doubted them. It’s not their best album, but it’s the best at convincing serious young rock nerds that Devo were more than a silly footnote.—Garrett Martin
66. Derek and the Dominos, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)
For a band that only released one studio album, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon sure made it count. The supergroup recorded both modernized interpretations of classic songs like “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “It’s Too Late,” as well as original compositions like “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” and the eponymous “Layla.” Though originally snubbed, Layla has continued to be recognized as an explosion of blues-infused rock ’n’ roll and a seminal work in Clapton’s career. —Hilary Saunders
65. T. Rex, Electric Warrior (1971)
T.Rex’s sixth record would be worth talking about even if it was a collection of bad Monkees covers, based solely on the sheer awesomeness of its cover art. If that doesn’t make you want to play the electric guitar, there is something wrong with you. Fortunately, Marc Bolan brought the tunes to back it up. “Bang A Gong” and “Jeepster” are the hits, and great ones at that, but spaced-out acoustic numbers like “Cosmic Dancer” and “Planet Queen” and the fuzzy blues riffs of “Lean Woman Blues” give the album its depth and diversity. Add in lyrics about flying saucers, girls and cars, and glam rock has never sounded so weird and wonderful.—Charlie Duerr
64. The Stooges, Fun House (1970)
Although The Stooges made their first sonic statement with 1969’s self-titled effort, they didn’t do it right until their sophomore album with the rowdy, Don Galluci-produced Fun House. With the band recording in a raw, live setting, they were almost able to capture their untamable live energy onto tape. The Stooges might have reached a much wider audience with Funhouse’s follow-up, Raw Power, but they never again were able to produce the gritty, warts-and-all intensity seen in staples like “Down on the Street” and “T.V. Eye.” And, maybe to tie in with the album’s title, closing track “L.A. Blues” sounds like Iggy and the boys crying out for help on the way to the loony bin—only this time, they’re using wailing guitars; harsh, stick-splintering drums; and Pop’s unmistakable wail.—Tyler Kane
63. Can, Ege Bamyasi (1972)
Drawing influences from Stockhausen to The Beatles, Can refined their wide range of influences on Tago Mago’s follow-up. The term “krautrock” never fully represented the Cologne collective’s musical breadth, but nevertheless Ege Bamyasi has become one of the sub-genre’s essential recordings. The seven-song record is tense and concise, requiring patience and understanding to fully embrace the group’s experimentalism. But once the allure of tracks like “One More Night,” “Vitamin C” and “Spoon” creeps in, there’s no turning back.—Max Blau
62. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti (1975)
After starting off their career with five studio albums (I, II, III, IV and Houses of the Holy) that ensured their legacy as one of the decade’s definitive rock acts, Led Zeppelin had no need to prove themselves further. That didn’t stop them from putting out their most ambitious record—a sprawling, 80+ minute double album that encapsulates their earlier blues rock and latter mystical psych-synth sound. On the first half of Physical Graffiti, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham crafted some of their most influential songs, including “In My Time of Dying,” “Houses of the Holy” and “Kashmir.” It’s the record’s latter part, however, that brings it all together with a deep-cutting run featuring the band’s most unheralded songs.—Max Blau
61. The Allman Brothers, Eat A Peach (1972)
The first Allman Brothers Band album released after Duane Allman’s death is a sprawling beast that highlights every one of the band’s strengths. Chief among those are Duane’s mastery of the slide guitar and Gregg Allman’s incomparable voice, but Eat A Peach also underscores the band’s multifaceted songwriting proficiency, from the half-hour “Mountain Jam” to the plaintive pop of “Melissa” to the upbeat guitar calisthenics of Dickey Betts’ “Blue Sky.”—Garrett Martin