The 70s was a golden decade for music.
It brought to us a heap of great rock (e.g. The Stones, Queen), singer-songwriters (e.g. Neil Young, Kate Bush), prog-rock (e.g. Pink Floyd, Genesis), not to mention the rise of reggae (Bob Marley), funk (James Brown, Funkadelic), disco (Chic), and punk rock (The Clash). What a period!
So, let’s take a deep dive into the best ’70s songs. It’s a long one!
- Starman – David Bowie
- Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush
- Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine – James Brown
- One Nation Under a Groove – Funkadelic
- The Eton Rifles – The Jam
- A Message to You Rudy – The Specials
- Virginia Plain – Roxy Music
- Chelsea Hotel No. 2 – Leonard Cohen
- Le Freak – Chic
- Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell
- Personality Crisis – New York Dolls
- Heart of Gold – Neil Young
- Fire on the Mountain – Grateful Dead
- I Wanna Be Your Lover – Prince
- My Sweet Lord – George Harrison
- Pink Moon – Nick Drake
- Rock & Roll – The Velvet Underground
- Move on Up – Curtis Mayfield
- The Boys are Back in Town – Thin Lizzy
- Tangled Up in Blue – Bob Dylan
- Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
- Lust for Life – Iggy Pop
- Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
- Bang a Gong (Get It On) – T. Rex
- Brown Sugar – The Rolling Stones
- Dreams – Fleetwood Mac
- Anarchy in the UK – Sex Pistols
- What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
- Let’s Stay Together – Al Green
- Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
- Rapper’s Delight – Sugarhill Gang
- Superstition – Stevie Wonder
- Teenage Kicks – The Undertones
- Heroes – David Bowie
- Oliver’s Army – Elvis Costello
- Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
- Stayin’ Alive – Bee Gees
- Search and Destroy – Iggy And The Stooges
- Family Affair – Sly And The Family Stone
- Maggie May – Rod Stewart
- Paranoid – Black Sabbath
- Marquee Moon – Television
- Walk on the Wild Side – Lou Reed
- Psycho Killer – Talking Heads
- London Calling – The Clash
- Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson
- Lola – The Kinks
- Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin
- Layla – Derek & The Dominos
- Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
- Let It Be – The Beatles
- American Girl – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- Mr. Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra
- Zombie – Fela Kuti & Africa 70
- Hotel California – Eagles
- American Pie – Don McLean
- Brass in Pocket – The Pretenders
- Moondance – Van Morrison
- Fire and Rain – James Taylor
- Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’veShouldn’t’ve) – Buzzcocks
- I’m Not in Love – 10cc
- Boys Don’t Cry – The Cure
- Cars – Gary Numan
- Three Little Birds – Bob Marley & The Wailers
- The Harder They Come – Jimmy Cliff
- Up the Junction – Squeeze
- My Sharona – The Knack
- Autobahn – Kraftwerk
- Bridge Over Troubled Water – Bridge Over Troubled Water
- Tiny Dancer – Elton John
- It’s Too Late – Carole King
- Imagine – John Lennon
- Band on the Run – Wings
- Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Highway to Hell – AC/DC
- Baba O’Riley – The Who
- Oye Como Va – Santana
- Pedro Navaja – Willie Colon & Ruben Blades
- The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway – Genesis
- Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
- I’ll Be There – The Jackson 5
- Lean on Me – Bill Withers
- Bobby Brown Goes Down – Frank Zappa
- Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – Ian Dury
- I Feel Love – Donna Summer
- Blitzkrieg Bop – The Ramones
- Fisherman – The Congos
- Chameleon – Herbie Hancock
- Jolene – Dolly Parton
- One Step Beyond – Madness
Starman – David Bowie
David Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust takes over in 1972 for ‘Starman,’ a story about the end of the world being near and Stardust telling listeners about salvation “waiting in the sky.”
Related: Is the sky falling!? Listen to these songs about the world ending playlist.
Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush
Emily Bronte’s famous classic novel is retold in Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights.’ The story follows Catherine and Heathcliff, two young lovers who struggle to stay together due to opposing families and societal classes. This was Bush’s first number one hit single.
Related: Listen to more good piano music.
Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine – James Brown
Soul legend James Brown pushed the envelope with ‘Get Up (I Feeling Like Being A) Sex Machine’ in the ’70s. But he knew his fans were used to his candor, so he boldly released it. Radio stations followed suit and played the braggadocious song constantly. The tune is about working hard to stay “on the scene.”
Related: Turn up the volume for this good bass songs playlist.
One Nation Under a Groove – Funkadelic
Funkadelic’s music features elements from many different backgrounds due to its diverse members. Band leader George Clinton had this in mind when he wrote ‘One Nation Under a Groove.’ The song speaks to music’s ability to build bridges and demolish walls between cultures.
The Eton Rifles – The Jam
This British hit deals with class struggle as The Jam pits high-class Eton College against the neighborhood boys in ‘The Eton Rifles.’ The revolution-driven tune talks about protests, a workers’ strike, and difficulties transcending one’s childhood economic class.
Related: Find this song on our playlist of best songs about being poor.
A Message to You Rudy – The Specials
Immigrants who made their way from Jamaica to England during WWII made a significant musical impact in Europe. Bands like The Specials and The Clash were heavily influenced by Caribbean music. “Rudy” is a Jamaican slang term for a young criminal.
Virginia Plain – Roxy Music
Giving the band their first number one hit, ‘Virginia Plain’ is based on a painting lead singer Bryan Ferry painted while he was in art school. His ‘Virginia Plain’ artwork is in the mode of Andy Warhol, featuring a huge box of cigarettes and artist Baby Jane Holzer standing in the middle of a field.
Related: Get inspired by these songs about art.
Chelsea Hotel No. 2 – Leonard Cohen
Songwriting icon Leonard Cohen spent much time at New York’s Chelsea Hotel. Speculation has always been that ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2’ is about his short-lived romantic relationship with Janis Joplin. She went to the hotel looking for Kris Kristofferson but found Cohen instead.
Related: Spend the night with these songs about one night stands.
Le Freak – Chic
Made up of songwriters Bernard Edwards and Nile Rogers, duo Chic wrote ‘Le Freak’ after being denied entry to Studio 54 even though their writing credits included working with artists such as Diana Ross and The Rolling Stones. After the single’s massively successful release, they never had trouble getting into the club again.
Related: Dance along to our playlist of fun dancing music.
Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell
Folk songwriter Joni Mitchell often wrote her songs based on her everyday experiences. After taking a trip to Hawaii, she wrote ‘Big Yellow Taxi.’ It’s about taking things for granted, then losing them and realizing their importance.
Related: Hear this song on our nature music playlist.
Personality Crisis – New York Dolls
This “glitter rock anthem” was a music critic’s favorite after the New York Dolls released it on their self-titled debut album. Other artists who went on to cover the popular tune include Sonic Youth, Teenage Fanclub, and Scott Weiland.
Heart of Gold – Neil Young
Appearing on one of his most popular albums, Harvest, Neil Young wrote ‘Heart of Gold’ after switching from electric guitar to acoustic due to a back injury. Though critics weren’t crazy about the song due to its simplicity, fans loved it, and the tune became his biggest hit.
Related: Check out the best songs about gold.
Fire on the Mountain – Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead had the most loyal band of followers of any band (I know, that’s a big statement.) Known as ‘deadheads’, fans would follow the Dead around the world and wig out to long, sumptuous jams with the genius Jerry Garcia at the helm on guitar. Fire on the Mountain was always a deadhead favorite for good reason – it’s totally epic.
I Wanna Be Your Lover – Prince
Showing his more vulnerable side with ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover,’ Prince wrote the song for musician Patrice Rushen with whom he worked for a time. He offered to give her both this song and another one he wrote, ‘I Feel For You,’ but she turned them down. Much to Prince’s dismay, nothing ever happened between them.
Related: Want to profess your love? Here are some songs to send to your crush.
My Sweet Lord – George Harrison
Featuring Hindu mantras and Christian terminology, George Harrison’s first single as a solo act became a huge hit. ‘My Sweet Lord’ focuses on all the religions, especially Eastern religions, Harrison was studying at the time.
Pink Moon – Nick Drake
Nick Drake sadly passed away shortly after the release of ‘Pink Moon.’ Battling longtime mental health issues, a lot of his music, like ‘Pink Moon,’ was melancholy and full of quiet angst. However, his songs also contain a dream-like quality that gives listeners a snapshot into his wandering mind.
Related: Here are the best songs about moonlight.
Rock & Roll – The Velvet Underground
Frontman Lou Reed wrote ‘Rock & Roll’ as a tribute to the music he discovered growing up as an outcast in society. Rock music represented life to him and gave his own life new meaning. Though he wasn’t interested in TV or movies, he sought refuge in the radio, waiting for his favorite rock tunes to play.
Move on Up – Curtis Mayfield
Before achieving significant success as a solo artist, Curtis Mayfield was a part of The Impressions. ‘Move on Up’ appears on the first solo album he released. It’s rooted in gospel music and reminds listeners to live life to the fullest no matter what obstacles are in their way.
Related: Feel hopeful with our playlist of optimistic music.
The Boys are Back in Town – Thin Lizzy
Rock group Thin Lizzy was known for their wild ways. Band leader Phil Lynott recognized kindred spirits in their fans and wrote ‘The Boys are Back in Town,’ a raucous single about partying, to further connect with their working-class audience.
Related: Keep the energy up with these party songs.
Tangled Up in Blue – Bob Dylan
Though Bob Dylan wrote ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ in about two years, it’s based on a decade of personal heartache and hardship. He wrote the emotional single after a rough divorce and wishing he could change the past.
Related: Listen to more great songs with a color.
Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
Because of the wild lyrics and instrumentation of ‘Bohemian Rapsody,’ fans of Queen may never know what the era-defining song is about. Fans speculate his family’s Zoroastrian religion is often referenced, as well as Freddy Mercury’s struggle with his sexuality. Mercury always remained vague when asked about the tune in interviews.
Related: Hear this song on our list of best songs with figurative language.
Lust for Life – Iggy Pop
Co-written with glam rock pioneer David Bowie, they wrote the tune while trying to get clean, which is evident in the song’s story. Classic cultural references to Van Gough and the literary character Johnny Yen are used to shape the overall message.
Related: Find this song on our list of Trainspotting album songs.
Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
Band member Roger Waters wrote ‘Comfortably Numb’ about when he was young and delirious from a high fever. The tune appears on the band’s famous The Wall album, which has an overall theme focusing on Pink Floyd feeling alienated from their audience and society.
Bang a Gong (Get It On) – T. Rex
Sexually charged and full of bravado, T. Rex wrote ‘Bang a Gong (Get It On)’ while touring America in 1971. Though he was famous in the UK, he had trouble creating a following in the states. He wrote this tune to better connect with American audiences.
Related: Clap along with our hand clapping songs playlist.
Brown Sugar – The Rolling Stones
Known for pushing societal limits, The Rolling Stones weren’t afraid to tackle tough issues with their songs. ‘Brown Sugar’ directly references the days of slavery in America. The song also stands as a metaphor for interracial romantic relationships.
Related: Want some more sugar? Check out the best sweet tooth songs.
Dreams – Fleetwood Mac
When they were recording their famous Rumours album in the mid-’70s, the couples in the band were going through several breakups—this included band leaders Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham. ‘Dreams’ is about the emotional turmoil of long-term relationships coming to an end.
Related: Head over to our playlist of songs about dreaming.
Anarchy in the UK – Sex Pistols
Lead singer Johnny Rotten wrote their most famous hit with freedom in mind, rather than advocating violence of any kind. Though the anti-establishment movement focused on breaking free of societal pressures, many in the music industry refused to play the song or ship the album because they feared government backlash.
Related: Feel free with these songs of freedom.
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Though Marvin Gaye didn’t often write the lyrics for his music, for ‘What’s Going On,’ he was very involved in the creative process. He used the stories his brother told him about his time fighting in Vietnam as inspiration for the tune.
Related: Stand up for what’s right with these protest songs.
Let’s Stay Together – Al Green
Due to the romantic nature of ‘Let’s Stay Together,’ Al Green’s hit song is often still used at weddings. It’s about unconditional love for your partner through hard times and good times.
Related: Love is hard. Find encouragement with the best songs about being together.
Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
One of the most played rock songs of all time, Led Zeppelin’s eight-minute hit ‘Stairway to Heaven’ has caused controversy since its release. The band Spirit claimed the infamous guitar riff was stolen from one of their songs, but they ultimately lost their lawsuit.
Related: Fly over to our playlist of the best heaven music.
Rapper’s Delight – Sugarhill Gang
An early rap song by the Sugarhill Gang, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ was the first rap tune to achieve mainstream success on the Hot 100 music chart. The powerful lyrics layered over a beat sample became a go-to formula for modern rap artists.
Related: Sing along with the best karaoke music.
Superstition – Stevie Wonder
Originally intended for guitarist Jeff Beck, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ details the bad effects of believing in eccentric myths. Wonder released his own version of the song because Beck took too long in the studio. This resulted in a bit of short-lived beef between the two.
Related: This song made it to our list of top songs of all time.
Teenage Kicks – The Undertones
Arguably the most famous song by punk rock band The Undertones, radio DJs were particularly fond of ‘Teenage Kicks,’ sometimes even playing the song twice in a row.
Related: Listen to our playlist of teenager music.
Heroes – David Bowie
Burned out from touring in the mid- 1970s, David Bowie moved to Germany to reconnect with songwriting. East and West Germany were still separated by the Berlin Wall at the time. He wrote ‘Heroes’ about a real-life couple, his producer Tony Visconti and a German woman, who would meet by the bridge to see each other.
Related: Our list of the best superhero songs will save the day.
Oliver’s Army – Elvis Costello
After visiting Belfast, Elvis Costello was horrified at what was going on at the time in Ireland (known as “the troubles”). On a flight back home, he wrote ‘Oliver’s Army’ after witnessing very young soldiers walking around Belfast loaded down with weaponry.
Related: See more of the best anti war songs.
Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
Inspiration for Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke On The Water’ came while attending a Frank Zappa concert in Switzerland at a popular music venue. The band was recording at the same spot Zappa was performing, and someone fired flare guns that started a fire during the show. The smoke seen on Lake Geneva inspired their hit song.
Related: Float away with these songs with water in the title.
Stayin’ Alive – Bee Gees
The Bee Gees wrote several songs for the ’70s classic film Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta. The funky soul tune is an anthem for making it in this world despite being pushed around.
Related: Check out more songs from the Saturday Night Fever album.
Search and Destroy – Iggy And The Stooges
Iggy Pop was both a successful solo artist and frontman of the band The Stooges. Their tune ‘Search and Destroy’ focuses on the military tactics of the Vietnam War and the trauma civilians faced.
Related: Find more songs about searching for something.
Family Affair – Sly And The Family Stone
This was Sly and The Family Stone’s last hit in America due to a few key band members leaving the group after the single’s release. In the song, Sly tackles personal obligations of all kinds, including his racial and familial expectations.
Related: Is anyone’s family really “normal?” Find out on our playlist of songs about crazy families.
Maggie May – Rod Stewart
In 1961 Rod Stewart attended a popular Jazz festival when he was 16. While there, he met an older woman to whom he lost his virginity at the concert. He wrote ‘Maggie May’ as a tribute to both the woman and the experience.
Related: Look ahead with the best songs about moving forward.
Paranoid – Black Sabbath
The early Black Sabbath song ‘Paranoid’ was written as a filler tune but became a single due to its short length. The fan-favorite tackles feelings of paranoia and depression with heavy instrumentation and Ozzy’s desperation-filled vocals.
Related: What was that? Listen to these songs about paranoia.
Marquee Moon – Television
What started as a simple acoustic ballad became what is now referred to as Television’s “magnum opus.” The song’s genre-defying complexity contains open-ended lyrics meant to mean different things to different listeners.
Walk on the Wild Side – Lou Reed
When Lou Reed traveled to New York, he discovered a new world he didn’t even know existed. ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ refers to male sex workers who use that line when propositioning customers to signify the services they offer.
Related: Hear more great saxophone songs.
Psycho Killer – Talking Heads
Inspired by Alice Cooper’s new subgenre “shock rock” that was becoming popular in the ’70s, Talking Heads lead singer David Byrne wanted to write something similar. ‘Psycho Killer’ follows the story of a crazy serial killer.
Related: Here are some more songs about stalking.
London Calling – The Clash
Though The Clash’s most recognizable hit ‘London Calling’ is often used in reference to the city with a rich musical history, punk rockers had the end of the world in mind when they wrote it. The song chronicles all the ways the world could see its last days.
Related: This song features on our playlist of London songs.
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson
Containing one of the most misquoted vocal lines ever from a song, Jackson actually says, “Keep up with the force. Don’t stop ’til you get enough.” People who worked with him said he was inspired by Star Wars’ use of “the force.” One of George Lucas’ production crew members even filmed the music video.
Lola – The Kinks
The Kinks’ ‘Lola’ contains a surprising plot twist. It starts out as the classic tale of a guy meeting a girl at a bar and taking her home. The catch is that he realizes later in the night at home that she’s not actually a girl.
Related: See our playlist of songs about women.
Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin
One of the most loved songs of all time, Janis Joplin’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ was originally written by Kris Kristofferson. She took his acoustic country tune and electrified it, giving one of her career’s most dynamic vocal deliveries.
Layla – Derek & The Dominos
Written at a time when Eric Clapton was having a not-so-secret affair, ‘Layla’ was written about his mistress, who he based on a character from a poem by Persian writer Nizami.
Related: Go to our playlist of Goodfellas songs.
Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
The song’s simple title ‘Ohio’ encompasses the story of the Kent State tragedy that took place in May 1970, when national guard members shot unarmed student protestors. The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde was studying there at the time when she witnessed the events unfold.
Related: Life is hard. Here are the best songs about tragedy.
Let It Be – The Beatles
Though many Beatles fans viewed the song’s reference to “Mother Mary” as biblical, Paul McCartney’s ‘Let It Be’ was actually about his mother, Mary, who passed away when he was a young teenager.
Related: This song is on our list of popular songs in C Major.
American Girl – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
This classic rock song is full of legend and lore as Tom Petty retells a popular ghost story at the University of Florida about an innocent girl who tries hallucinogens for the first time and jumps out of her dorm room window to her untimely death.
Related: See our list of the best songs with girl in the title.
Mr. Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra
Frontman Jeff Lynne wrote this Electric Light Orchestra hit released in 1977 after spending several days in Switzerland with nothing but cold, rainy weather. When the sun finally came out, he was inspired to write ‘Mr. Blue Sky.’
Related: Soar over to the best sky songs.
Zombie – Fela Kuti & Africa 70
In 1977 African artist Fela Kuti and his family were brutally attacked by soldiers who raided his house. He released ‘Zombie’ in response to the injustice. Later, when he performed it in Ghana, he was deported.
Related: Find encouragement with the best songs about social injustice.
Hotel California – Eagles
One of the Eagles’ most popular hits of their career, ‘Hotel California’ is a commentary on excess in American culture. When the band wrote it, they were also grappling with the realities of balancing their art with business.
Related: See the other songs on The Big Lebowski soundtrack.
American Pie – Don McLean
The 1971 single ‘American Pie’ is about the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. When it happened, Don McLean was only 13 and working as a paper boy. When he picked up his delivery on February 3rd, 1959, he saw the tragic headline on the front page.
Related: Get lost in another world with these storytelling songs.
Brass in Pocket – The Pretenders
Formed in 1973 and headed up by guitarist and songwriter Chrissie Hynde, The Pretenders’ ‘Brass in Pocket’ is full of some of Hynde’s favorite British slang she picked up while living there. The song is about trying to be accepted by society.
Moondance – Van Morrison
The Northern Irish songwriter’s tune ‘Moondance’ originated as a jazz solo Van Morrison would play over and over again. The sexy tune was featured in the popular movie An American Werewolf in London.
Fire and Rain – James Taylor
James Taylor took about two years to finish writing and release ‘Fire and Rain’ in 1970. The song details his battle with depression and the highs and lows he endured throughout his life.
Related: Grab your umbrella and enjoy the best rain music.
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’veShouldn’t’ve) – Buzzcocks
A punk classic among fans of the genre, frontman Pete Shelley wrote the single after being inspired by a line from the ’55 film Guys and Dolls. He wrote the lyrics while waiting in the band’s van at a post office.
I’m Not in Love – 10cc
10cc’s track ‘I’m Not in Love’ features a backing choir with heavily overdubbed harmonies. Vocalist Eric Stewart wrote the tune after his wife told him he never says, “I love you.” The song became a response to that as he tried to figure out how to be more romantically demonstrative.
Related: Trying to avoid falling in love? Here are some resisting love songs.
Boys Don’t Cry – The Cure
Members of The Cure grew up in a rough-and-tumble London neighborhood. They wrote ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ as a way to express themselves emotionally. It took a bit for the punk community to accept the sensitive song, but they came around when fans embraced the tune quickly.
Related: Need to shed a few tears? Listen to our playlist of crying music.
Cars – Gary Numan
A pioneer for electronic music in the ’70s, Gary Numan wrote ‘Cars’ as a commentary on modern society and feeling like an outcast. He’s gone on to influence rock musicians like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.
Related: Drive over to our playlist of songs about driving.
Three Little Birds – Bob Marley & The Wailers
One of reggae’s most popular songs, Bob Marley’s uplifting single ‘Three Little Birds,’ was inspired by a group of birds visiting his porch every morning at his home in Kingston, Jamaica.
Related: Check out these songs with birds in the title.
The Harder They Come – Jimmy Cliff
Reggae artist Jimmy Cliff released ‘The Harder They Come’ as a single and a movie by the same name. The message of the single is no matter how many times people try to take you down, you must keep fighting for the good in life.
Related: You can hear this song on The Harder They Come soundtrack.
Up the Junction – Squeeze
A rare popular tune with a unique song structure featuring no chorus and the title in only the last few lines, ‘Up the Junction’ is about a guy whose girl takes their child and leaves him because of his alcohol addiction.
My Sharona – The Knack
Touted as 1979’s most sold single, ‘My Sharona’ was written by frontman Doug Feiger about a real-life young girl he was in love with. He met Sharona while visiting a clothing store she worked at, and eventually, they dated for four years.
Related: Find this song on the Reality Bites soundtrack.
Autobahn – Kraftwerk
The Germanic word for “highway,” Kraftwerk’s ‘Autoban’ was an early pop success featuring electronic elements. The song was the first “electro-pop” single to make it on both US and UK charts.
Related: Get out of town with the best road songs.
Bridge Over Troubled Water – Bridge Over Troubled Water
Beginning as a gospel hymn, songwriter Paul Simon wrote ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ while trying to comfort a grieving friend. Though Simon wrote it, Art Garfunkel sang it solo. Later in his career, Simon began singing it as well.
Tiny Dancer – Elton John
“Blue jean baby, L.A. Lady, seamstress for the band.” Elton John’s right-hand man Bernie Taupin wrote ‘Tiny Dancer’ for his then-wife Maxine Feibelmann while taking his first trip to America.
Related: Here are the best songs about America.
It’s Too Late – Carole King
Appearing on her most famous album, Tapestry, in 1971, folk songwriter Carole King’s moody ‘It’s Too Late’ finds her reflecting on a serious relationship that’s come to an end.
Related: See more songs about broken hearts.
Imagine – John Lennon
Written after The Beatles had unofficially called it quits, John Lennon wrote ‘Imagine’ with his wife, Yoko Ono. In the song, he gently tells listeners to imagine a world without barriers where we can love freely.
Related: Stand together with the best songs about community.
Band on the Run – Wings
Formed in 1971 with his wife Linda McCartney and several others, Paul McCartney wrote ‘Band on the Run’ in response to laws that often got him and his fellow musician friends in trouble as they tried to stay away from alcohol and chose marijuana instead.
Related: Enjoy our playlist of breaking the law songs.
Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Though the southern rockers hail from Florida, Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ in honor of the Muscle Shoals studio they recorded in the southern state. The studio recorded other greats, such as Aretha Franklin and Bo Diddley.
Related: Head over to our playlist of songs from The Girl Next Door.
Highway to Hell – AC/DC
The nickname for a popular long highway in Australia without any speed limit, the ‘Highway to Hell’ was frequented by the band because of a bar they’d visit nightly at the end of the highway.
Related: Is it spooky season yet? Here is our playlist of Halloween songs.
Baba O’Riley – The Who
Because the song’s title isn’t mentioned anywhere in the lyrics, The Who’s ‘Baba O’ Riley’ is often referred to as ‘Teenage Wasteland.’ Pete Townsend wrote the song as a tribute to his guru and one of his favorite composers.
Oye Como Va – Santana
Originally written in the 1950s by Tito Puente, Santana released ‘Oye Como Va’ on his second album and reignited interest in Puente due to the single’s success. Founding Santana member Gregg Rolie sang vocals on the track.
This popular salsa song by Ruben Blades features him collaborating with the legendary Willie Colon. ‘Pedro Navaja’ deals with the heavy parts of life with cheeky, dark humor, and is based on the standard, Mack the Knife.
Related: Want more salsa? We don’t blame you. Check out our epic playlist of best salsa songs.
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway – Genesis
In 1974 Genesis released ‘The Lamb Died Down on Broadway,’ an epic tale that received an intricate live performance by the band. The story involves Rael, a young boy residing in New York.
Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
As a child, Smokey Robinson was intrigued by the story of Pagliacci, an Italian opera about a sad clown whose job is to make people laugh. Robinson turned his fascination with the opera into a song, ‘Tears of a Clown.’
Related: Break is over! Listen to these songs with work in the title.
I’ll Be There – The Jackson 5
Pop icon Michael Jackson recorded ‘I’ll Be There’ with his brothers at the tender age of eleven. The song encompasses the meaning of unconditional love for significant others even if the relationship doesn’t work out.
Lean on Me – Bill Withers
Written for his album Still Bill in 1972, Wither’s hit song ‘Lean on Me’ was featured in the movie by the same name starring Morgan Freeman, a basketball coach for a struggling inner-city team.
Related: Elders and kids alike will enjoy these old songs everyone knows.
Bobby Brown Goes Down – Frank Zappa
Musician Frank Zappa did something few artists can accomplish through their work: he birthed a new genre of music all his own. The meaning behind ‘Bobby Brown’ remains hidden, though some think it’s about Whitney Houston’s husband and women’s liberation.
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – Ian Dury
In 1977, Ian Dury coined a term commonly recited by fans and musicians alike when referencing the music industry, “Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” This tune was Dury’s first single, and it went on to become his career-defining anthem.
I Feel Love – Donna Summer
A follow-up to her sexually charged single ‘Love to Love You Baby,’ though some thought ‘I Feel Love’ was sexual in nature, Donna Summer actually had spirituality in mind when she recorded the track.
Related: Listen to more songs from the House of Gucci soundtrack.
Blitzkrieg Bop – The Ramones
Originally called ‘Animal Hop,’ the band changed the name to ‘Blitzkrieg Bop.’ The WWII reference meaning “lightning war,” represented that band’s wild ways.
Fisherman – The Congos
Reggae group The Congos introduced listeners to their own interpretation of the genre with ‘Fisherman.’ The tune features Cedric Myton and Ashanti Roy singing about being on a remote beachy island and heading out to the water to catch food.
Chameleon – Herbie Hancock
Now considered a defining “jazz-funk” song, most ensembles include ‘Chameleon’ in their performances. The standard contains two different solos, one featuring saxophone and the other featuring bass guitar.
Jolene – Dolly Parton
Country legend Dolly Parton wrote ‘Jolene’ after being inspired by a fan’s beauty and promising the real-life Jolene she’d write a song for her. The single coincided with her leaving her partner and manager, Porter Wagoner, so the song took on a darker meaning.
Related: See more of the best classic country songs.
One Step Beyond – Madness
Jamaican artist Prince Buster originally wrote ‘One Step Beyond,’ which was mainly an instrumental tune. When Madness released it in 1979, they added a few key lines to the recording and improvised lines for live performances.