27 Best 70s Rock Songs

Best 70s Rock Songs

Rock and roll took a giant leap in the '70s. From heavy metal to punk rock, the subgenres of rock that formed during the decade are still heard in heavy music today.

Witness the birth of modern heavy music with our list of the best '70s rock songs. Dig it!

1. “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos

Song year: 1971

After his '60s tenures with the Yardbirds and Cream, Eric Clapton formed the one-off recording project Derek and the Dominos. The band's single “Layla” was met with great acclaim and is considered one of the best rock songs ever.

Clapton wrote the track as a ballad for his future wife, Pattie Boyd, George Harrison's then-wife. Guitarist Duan Allman's riff transformed the song into a rock composition.

2. “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

Song year: 1975

“Born to Run” is the first single off its eponymous album and the first Bruce Springsteen song to hit the Billboard charts. The song is one of the most celebrated in rock history, cementing the singer's place as a vital voice of the era.

The single took six months to record while Springsteen searched for the sound he envisioned in his head. The resulting Phil Spector-esque wall of sound accentuated the song's tale of blazing your own trail.

3. “Let It Be” by The Beatles

Song year: 1970

The final single released by The Beatles before their break-up was the fittingly titled “Let it Be.” Paul McCartney composed the life-affirming power ballad during a stressful recording session with the Fab Four, inspired by the advice he received from his mother in a dream.

The song topped the charts and is considered one of the best songs by the band.

4. “More Than a Feeling” by Boston

Song year: 1976

Boston's Tom Scholz took five years to complete the band's iconic first single, “More Than a Feeling.” The guitarist wrote and fine-tuned the song before scoring his record contract.

Part of the writing process for Scholz was the perfectionism he displayed for guitar effects and recording techniques. Scholz is an MIT graduate that employs his engineering prowess to obtain the signature sounds of his band.

5. “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” by T. Rex

Song year: 1971

While Marc Bolan's T. Rex never reached the massive heights of fame in the US that they experienced in the UK, their influence on American rock is profound. Their biggest hit in the States, “Bang a Gong (Get it On),” is the blueprint for boogie-oriented rock that would come into fashion.

With their classic, Chuck Berry-inspired rock and roll riffs cranked to eleven, the band's theatrics and aesthetic would become the norm as the decade wore on.

6. “London Calling” by The Clash

Song year: 1979

Nearing the end of the '70s, as the first wave of punk rock began to fizzle out, The Clash recorded one of the most vital testaments to the genre ever, “London Calling.” The song's blistering mix of punk, reggae, and rock shows the genre's maturation without sacrificing its youthful energy.

With the Cold War looming, the band's nod to nuclear war paranoia and a distrust of authority rang loud and clear. Fittingly, the song ends with morse code for SOS.

7. “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed

Song year: 1972

With the song “Walk on the Wild Side,” former Velvet Underground singer Lou Reed became the poet laureate of the underbelly of urban life. His transgender tale of sex, drugs, and prostitution was incredibly taboo for the era.

Despite its subject matter, the song became a hit and the signature single of Reed's career. Thanks to its iconic bassline and production from David Bowie, the single is synonymous with '70s New York City cool.

8. “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC

Song year: 1979

“Highway to Hell” is AC/DC's contribution to the rock and roll canon of songs about touring. But while singles like “Turn the Page” and “Running on Empty” are generally cautionary tales of the trappings of the road, AC/DC's hard-rocking track celebrates the excesses of the journey.

With a simple but effective opening riff that explodes into an anthemic chorus, the band took their exploration of rock and roll's id to the next level.

9. “Instant Karma!” by John Lennon

Song year: 1970

John Lennon wrote, recorded, and released his classic single “Instant Karma!” in just ten days. The quick turnaround is fitting for a song that takes the Buddhist concept of karma and imagines it as an instant consequence.

Phil Spector produced the single, his first work since Ike & Tina Turner's “River Deep — Mountain High.” His wall of sound technique transforms the pop-rock song into a bombastic update of '50s rock and roll.

10. “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin

Song year: 1971

Led Zeppelin's instantly recognizable single “Black Dog” is based on a riff written by bassist John Paul Jones. Like the bulk of Zeppelin's music, it was inspired by the blues — this time the electric blues of Muddy Waters.

The song employs unique time signatures and stilted start/stop rhythms that make it as dynamic as it is loud. The song remains a favorite on classic rock radio to this day.

11. “Tumbling Dice” by The Rolling Stones

Song year: 1972

The lead single from the Rolling Stones' album Exile on Main St., “Tumbling Dice,” manages to exude rock and roll swagger while maintaining a laid-back groove. The song's ability to rock while keeping a mellow tempo is a hallmark of the blues songs that inspired the band.

While the single is not the most successful of the band's career, it is widely considered the best of their career. The track captures the Stones' dirty brand of blues-rock at the peak of their artistic powers.

12. “Hotel California” by The Eagles

Song year: 1977

The Eagles' topped the Billboard charts with their mystique ode to the Golden State, “Hotel California.” The single was a surprise hit for the band, as it clocks in at over six minutes in length. But thanks to its unique rhythmic elements and dueling guitar outro, the song was a hit and became the band's signature song.

The song earned a Grammy Award for Record of the Year and has sold millions of copies. Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the 500 best songs ever.

13. “Reelin’ in the Years” by Steely Dan

“Reelin’ in the Years” by Steely Dan

Song year: 1973

Steely Dan made a career out of literate but detached character studies bolstered by jazz-influenced rock instrumentation. Their single “Reelin' in the Years” best represents the intersection of their commercial appeal and artistry.

The single was a top 20 hit for the band and continues to live on through new generations of guitar players discovering the amazing guitar work of Elliott Randall. His virtuosic solo frequently tops lists as one of the best in rock history.

14. “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac

Song year: 1977

Fleetwood Mac spent most of the '60s performing as a blues-rock band. After multiple lineup changes, the group finally found their classic pop-rock lineup with Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. This lineup's pop and rock influences led to the recording of the classic song, “The Chain.”

The song was spliced together from several songs the band had rejected, giving the composition its unique sound and structure. Though never released as a single, the track became a live staple and helped Rumours sell millions of copies.

15. “The Boys are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy

Song year: 1976

Irish rockers Thin Lizzy scored their first hit in the US with the spirited, duel guitar attack of “The Boys Are Back in Town.” The song is a distillation of everything the band does well, with its vignette of troublemakers sung over a canopy of guitar harmonies.

The single is Thin Lizzy's signature track, and over four decades since its release continues to play at Irish sporting events and in films and television.

16. “The Joker” by Steve Miller Band

Song year: 1973

The Steve Miller band's chart-topping single, “The Joker,” might seem lyrically obtuse, but fans of Miller's career will recognize that many of the quotes from this classic rock mainstay are references to the band's earlier career. These include references to his songs “Space Cowboy,” “Gangster of Love,” and “Enter Maurice.”

With its groovy bassline and iconic guitar slides, the song is a funky and fun rock number that incorporates the boogie rock trend of the '70s while playing down its harder edges.

17. “All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople

Song year: 1972

With Mott the Hoople on the verge of breaking up after a string of commercially unsuccessful albums, David Bowie offered to write a single for the group. Bowie's song, “All the Young Dudes,” would be the defining song of the band's career and become an anthem of the glam-rock genre.

With oblique lyrics that explode into a sing-along chorus, the band references youth culture, famous rock bands, and sexuality in an enticing and uniquely '70s mix. Like Bowie's work with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, the track is another example of his outsized influence on the decade.

18. “In the Street” by Big Star

Song year: 1972

While casual listeners may recognize “In the Street” as the Cheap Trick sung the theme to television's That '70s Show, the song was initially Memphis band Big Star's first single. Though met with praise, Big Star toiled in obscurity through the '70s.

In retrospect, the band's classic pop songcraft and their importance in developing power pop and alternative music have led to a renaissance of their work.

19. “Long Cool Woman” by The Hollies

Song year: 1972

While The Hollies started their career in the '60s as a British pop group, member turnover and changing trends in music led the group to record one of their biggest hits, the Creedence Clearwater Revival-esque “Long Cool Woman.”

The song's decidedly American approach was a departure from the band's usual three-part harmony pop, and while the single wasn't a hit in the UK, the rock and roll tone helped it reach the second spot on the Billboard charts.

20. “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith

Song year: 1975

Aerosmith scored their first Top 40 hit with the psychedelically tinged hard rock single “Sweet Emotion.” The song juxtaposes funk and rock elements to create a unique tension.

Whereas most tracks would relieve this tension with a soaring chorus, the band turns their refrain into an effect-laden, laid-back mantra. Once the final solo hits, the listener is finally allowed a cathartic victory of their emotions.

21. “Just What I Needed” by The Cars

Song year: 1978

The Cars' brand of hard-rocking guitars and spacey synthesizers in their single “Just What I Needed” was a forebearer to the coming new wave explosion of the '80s.

By combining elements of protopunk and funk, the band created a sound that was at once forward-looking and steeped in classic structures. They would go on to even greater chart success in the '80s after building upon the themes exhibited in their '70s work.

22. “Heroes” by David Bowie

Song year: 1977

David Bowie's cold war anthem “Heroes” was not a hit upon its initial release. However, the song received credit from the German government for helping to bring down the Berlin Wall and is now considered one of his signature songs.

The song's construction is simple, though producer Brian Eno employed feedback, keyboard drones, and pitch manipulation to give the track its otherworldly feeling.

23. “American Girl” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Song year: 1977

Fittingly, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers recorded their single “American Girl” on the 4th of July in 1976.

Though it was not a huge success when first released, the song's anthemic chorus and anxious-sounding lead guitar lines are iconic and considered some of the best of the band's storied career.

24. “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult

Song year: 1976

While often seen as a dark song about suicide and the occult, Blue Oyster Cult wrote their hit single “(Don't Fear) The Reaper” as an homage to everlasting love.

The track's psychedelic guitar swells and iconic cowbell stayed on the Billboard charts for nearly three months. Its lasting impact on culture can be seen through the classic Will Ferrell Saturday Night Live sketch regarding its recording.

25. “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon

Song year: 1977

While initially written as a lark, Jackson Brown convinced Warren Zevon  to record the single “Werewolves of London.” The song became a surprise hit in the US and became the singer-songwriter's signature song.

Though some dismiss the song as a novelty, the wry storytelling and absurdist imagery are hallmarks of Zevon's writing style. Coupled with Fleetwood Mac's Mick Fleetwood and John McVie's contributions to the rhythm section, it stands as a classic of '70s pop-rock.

26. “Surrender” by Cheap Trick

Song year: 1978

Cheap Trick's high-octane brand of power pop spawned hundreds of imitators across the midwest, but none were ever as skilled at musicianship and songcraft as the quartet from Rockford, Illinois.

The band's first Billboard chart entry, “Surrender,” is a kitschy tale of a generational divide ironically bridged by rock and roll. The song was a major hit in Japan and led to the group recording their classic live album Cheap Trick at Budokan.

27. “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath

Song year: 1970

Black Sabbath created the framework for heavy metal with their classic single “Paranoid.” The rhythm section's relentless pounding and the chugging guitar lines were incredibly heavy for their time, even making their British peers Led Zeppelin sound light by comparison.

The song is a career highlight of the band, one that helped usher in a new era of heavy metal that is still influential half a century later.

Top 70s Rock Songs, Final Thoughts

While the glitz and glamour of disco raged on in the mainstream, rock and roll took exciting twists and turns during the '70s.

Whether it's the bombastic sounds of blues-driven hard rock, the artistically minded punk and new wave scenes, or the Americana-tinged sincerity of heartland rock, the decade was brimming with innovation.

We hope you had a far-out time listening to our list of the best '70s rock songs.

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