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The 70 Best Albums of the 1970s

May 14, 2012  |  12:55pm
The 70 Best Albums of the 1970s
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.

220px-Let's_Get_It_On.jpg50. Marvin Gaye, Let’s Get it On (1973)
Aside from earning its spot as the timeless soundtrack for making out (and more), Let’s Get It On symbolized a provocative, profound evolution for Marvin Gaye. More commercialized than his previous themed album, What’s Going On, Gaye’s 12th studio album took to Motown, soul, R&B, funk and the blues to understand the disparities and connections between sex and love. Songs like the heartbreaking, falsetto-laden “If I Should Die Tonight” balance the titular track, resulting in a complex record of human nature and emotion. —Hilary Saunders

220px-AllmanBrothersBandAtFillmoreEast.jpg49. The Allman Brothers Band, At Fillmore East (1971)
One year for my birthday, one of my best friends bought me two very different live albums. One was Ben Folds Live! and the other was At Fillmore East. Up until then, I had never really been a fan of live recordings. I mistakenly thought that all live songs should sound just like their studio-recorded counterparts. I also hadn’t been to many concerts at that point in my life, so I didn’t understand there is a certain energy that is trying to be captured with live albums. But I was willing to give At Fillmore East a try at the recommendation of my friend, especially because I had recently gained interest in blues music, and I was relatively unfamiliar with The Allman Brothers. My mind was blown. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend Duane Allman’s gut-wrenching slide-guitar work, and songs like the near 20-minute jams “You Don’t Love Me” and the album closer, “Whipping Post,” begged for repeated listens, despite their length. This can be heard near the end of the former track when the band slows down, gliding into the “Joy to the World” section, and someone in the audience emphatically yells out, “Play all night!” At Fillmore East captures the talent of a band in its heyday that not only played well, but played well together, showcasing the group’s vigor, exquisite timing and precision in what may be the greatest live album of all time.—Wyndham Wyeth

220px-BobDylan&theBandTheBasementTapes.jpg48. Bob Dylan and The Band, The Basement Tapes (1975)
After Dylan’s infamous motorcycle accident in 1967, the singer went into seclusion in the Woodstock area of New York. The members of his recent touring band, The Hawks (later to become better known as The Band), joined him shortly thereafter, and the group of musicians began writing and recording the music that would eventually become The Basement Tapes. Bob Dylan & The Band recorded over 100 tracks during this time, and while most of them circulated for years on bootleg recordings, it wasn’t until 1975 that they were officially released. The album is notable for its sound, which was a distinct turn away from the type of songwriting Dylan had been exploring on Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. The music on The Basement Tapes is characterized by its roots or Americana feel—a stark contrast to the trends of rock music at the time. When everyone else was infusing rock music with psychedelia or using every nook and cranny of the recording studio to create complex production work, Dylan & The Band sent the music world for a loop by going down into the basement and embracing traditional American stylings. You can always count on Dylan to do the exact opposite of what is expected of him.—Wyndham Wyeth

220px-Trans-Europe_Express.jpg47. Kraftwerk, Trans-Europe Express (1977)
Trans-Europe Express is the most consistent album by one of the most important bands of all time. Kraftwerk found the perfect muse for their minimal electronic pop with this concept album about an old European railway system. The album’s influence reached beyond electronic music or traditional pop, and somehow this cold, mechanical, Gemanic art helped birth hip-hop, with the title track memorably incorporated into Afrika Bambaataa’s seminal “Planet Rock.”—Garrett Martin

Crosby,_Stills,<em>Nash</em>&<em>Young</em></del>_Déjà_Vu.jpg46. Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Déjà Vu (1970)
With the follow-up to Crosby, Stills & Nash’s critically acclaimed debut, the group decided to enlist the talents of Canadian singer/songwriter Neil Young. All of the group’s members, including Young, had already established themselves as musical powerhouses through their work with previous bands Buffalo Springfield (Stills and Young), The Byrds (Crosby), and The Hollies (Nash), and all were on the verge of launching successful solo careers as well. With the addition of Young, CSN gained an extra voice to add to their already complex tidal waves of harmony as well as another unique songwriter. The result turned the band that is often cited as one of the first supergroups into something even better. Despite the tensions within the band that stunted their potential over the following years, the fusion of country/folk songwriting with psychedelic/hippie flair and pop sensibility caused Déjà Vu to become a standout record of its time and the diamond of the group’s catalog.—Wyndham Wyeth

220px-SomeGirls78.jpg45. The Rolling Stones, Some Girls (1978)
The Stones’ decision to make a New York City record in the late 1970s should have gone drastically wrong. Instead, the veteran rock stars, who most thought were on the final legs of their victory lap (one they appear to still be on), turned in a glorious mishmash of punk, disco, blues and country that silenced their detractors and woke up former fans. From the groove-heavy “Miss You” to the campy country of “Far Away Eyes” and Keith’s rollicking “Before They Make Me Run,” Some Girls is a dirty, sexy mess, much like the city that was its muse.—Charlie Duerr

Loadedalbum.jpg44. The Velvet Underground, Loaded (1970)
Loaded was the final album recorded with Lou Reed, and the band’s clearest attempt at making radio-friendly music. In the time after it came out, Reed distanced himself from the final product, but the trifecta of “Who Loves the Sun,” “Sweet Jane” and “Rock & Roll” is among the best three-song openings on any rock and roll record. It’s as good a soundtrack for the first few minutes of a summer day as there is, and guaranteed by doctors to erase a hangover instantly.*
*Maybe.—Jeff Gonick

220px-Tom_Waits_-_Small_change_(1976).jpg43. Tom Waits, Small Change (1976)
Tom Waits’ third studio album, Small Change, had everybody wondering, “Does Tom Waits need a hug?” Waits had become a little too comfortable with life on the road and admitted later on that he had been drinking too much. The jazz influence present in his previous albums did not waiver with this album, but the lyrics became much more dark and depressing. “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)” is a disheartening, speech-slurred bar tune describing what seems to be wrong with the world but blaming it all on everything that isn’t the cause of the problem. Nothing seems to be going right for Waits in this album. If Waits’ first albums were the upbeat side of jazz, Small Change proved that he understood that it can also express heartbreak and pain.—Clint Alwahab

Elton_John_</del>_Madman_Across_the_Water.jpg42. Elton John, Madman Across the Water (1971)
A year after Madman Across The Water was released, Elton John made Honky Château, which is considered one of his greatest works, has a stronger foothold in the canon, was better loved by critics and is ultimately probably the better album. “Honky Cat,” “I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself” and “Rocket Man” are classics, indeed, but there’s something special about Madman. It’s a wonderful display of the partnership between Elton John and songwriter Bernie Taupin—Taupin’s ability to tell a compelling story and John using his keys, his voice and his presence to make you care about the characters. There’s the weirdness and sadness of “Levon”—a song full of quirky names and scenarios but a feeling of longing and familial dysfunction all too common, backed with that punch of a chorus. There’s “Tiny Dancer,” which was and will always be great regardless of what sentimental movie scenes soundtrack it, and the powerhouse title track, of course. And even the deep cuts have their moments, most notably the mournful, mandolin-tinged “Holiday Inn.”—Lindsay Eanet

last waltz 2003 cd.jpg41. The Band, The Last Waltz (1978)
A historic event, such as The Band’s “farewell” concert at Bill Graham’s Winterland Ballroom on Thanksgiving Day, 1976, filmed for posterity by Martin Scorsese, can either inspire musicians to greater-than-normal heights or distract them into bombastic overplaying. The Band rose to the occasion on this album as their best-known songs were bolstered by adrenaline, by Allen Toussaint’s horn arrangements and by the presence of so many friends and heroes. Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris, Dr. John. Neil Young, Eric Clapton and the Staples Singers all sang with the headliners, each benefiting from as good a backing band as they’d ever had. The album even included a studio session: three new songs, “The Weight” and two instrumentals combined into “The Last Waltz Suite.” An expanded version was released in 2002.—Geoffrey Himes

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