The Most Iconic Music Acts of the 70s
The 70s was a stunning decade for music. Many of the acts that excelled in the 70s first got their start in the counterculture 60s. Bands like the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead were each bringing their 60s success into a new decade with exciting results. Other famous musicians, like Bob Dylan, had a more playful time in the 70s, bewildering critics and fans. The 70s also saw the advancement of other genres of music, like punk, stadium rock, and metal. Names like Ozzy Osbourne, Gene Simmons, and Sid Vicious got their start in the 70s. For more about the bands and musicians who filled the 70s, read on.
Vicious and Rotten: Sex Pistols
This scalding and seething punk band came together in London in 1975. The band was like lightning. Its singer, Johnny Rotten, and guitarist, Sid Vicious, provoked all kinds of controversies and scandals.
The band lasted for just under three years. They made one studio album — Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols — and it was an epic one. NME called it the 13th greatest album ever and Kurt Cobain did not keep quiet about how the album impacted him,
Right Now: Van Halen
Before he attempted to replace the famous radio shock jock Howard Stern, David Lee Roth was providing the vocals in an American rock band named Van Halen.
Besides Roth, there was Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, and Michael Anthony. Their self-titled debut album came out in 1978. It included songs that went on to become classics, including “Runnin’ with the Devil.”
Shine a Light: The Rolling Stones
This legendary bluesy rock pop band first got together in 1962. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, and Brian Jones were tearing up the music scene long before the 70s.
But the 70s was a fine decade for the Stones. In 1972, the Stones released what many consider to be their most commendable album ever, Exile on Main St. That album features so many memorable singles, including “Shine a Light,” “Tumbling Dice,” and “Sweet Virginia.”
Bring on the Punk: New York Dolls
The New York Dolls were an edgy, punk band that came together in 1971 in, as their name suggests, New York City. They are often compared to the Velvet Underground and the Stooges. They are credited with helping brining punk to the forefront.
Fueled by drugs and alcohol, the initial composition of the group disintegrated quickly. But the first two albums they released — the self-titled New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon — are constantly cited as two of the most impactful cult records in rock. Guitarist Johnny Thunders is one of the best known members. He went on to have a creditable solo career.
Dead Heads in the 70s: The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead is an iconic band. They are basically synonymous with 60s counterculture, hippies, and Woodstock. The band first formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California. They have sold over 35 million albums across the world and are credited with leading the “jam band” movement.
In the 70s, the Grateful Dead released some of their most acclaimed albums, including Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. These albums featured songs that continue to delight listeners today, including “Uncle John’s Band” and “Casey Jones.”
Pro Rock: Jethro Tull
Arising out of Luton, Bedforshire, Jethro Tull officially got together in 1967. Their first genre was blues rock. Their first bluesy album, Stand Up, made it all the way to number 1 on the UK charts.
As the 60s turned into the 70s, Jethro Tull went from blues to progressive rock. All together, they have sold more than 60 million albums all across the world. Their influence can be seen in the work of Iron Maiden and The Decembrists.
Once In a Lifetime: Talking Heads
In 1975, the Talking Heads formed. The band was made up of David Bryne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, and Tina Weymouth. Their style is described as “new wave.” It brought together pop, rock, punk, funk, and the avant-garde. Despite the heady music, Talking Heads has lots of commercial success, especially with their single “Once in a Lifetime.”
In 2002, Talking Heads had the honor of being inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame. When Rolling Stone magazine published their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, four Talking Heads albums received spots. The band has gone on to influence many artists, including The Weekend, Vampire Weekend, and Radiohead.
The Wall: Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd officially came into this world in 1965. The band consisted of Syd Barret, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright. By hustling their way through London’s underground music scene, the band picked up devotees in the 60s.
In the 70s, Pink Floyd rook. Waters became the ringleader after Barrett left the band in 1968. Waters was the primary reason why The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979) are so epic.
Listen to the Music: The Doobie Brothers
The Doobie Brothers have sold more than 40 million records throughout their nearly five decades in existence. The band cemented their talents in the 70s.
Mixing together folk, country, and rock, the band begun by playing live in Northern California. The notorious biker gang, Hells Angels, developed a particular fondness for them. Their 1972 album, Toulouse Street, features the great song, “Listen to Music.”
The Brothers: The Allman Brothers Band
This band didn’t originate in London, New York, or California: they came from Jacksonville, Florida. It was started in 1969 by the brothers Duane Allman and Gregg Allman.
The band is often credited with helping shape the sound of southern rock. Their first two albums didn’t sell so well. But their 1971 live album, At Fillmore East, is often cited as one of the best live albums ever.
Ritchie Rich: Rainbow
VH1 named Rainbow the 90 best hard rock artist of all time. The UK band has sold over 28 record across the globe. Ritchie Blackmore was the vision behind Rainbow.
The first Rainbow album, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, came out in 1975. The first single from that album was “Man on the Silver Mountain.” It remains one of Rainbow’s most recognized tracks.
Ozzy: Black Sabbath
MTV brought Ozzy Osbourne into the spotlight with its reality show that focused on him and his family. But before Ozzy was screaming at his wife Sharon, he was screaming for the English rock band Black Sabbath.
Beginning as a blues rock band, Black Sabbath quickly moved to heavy metal. In 1970, they released two heavy metal classics: Black Sabbath and Paranoid.
Highway to Hell: AC/DC
In November 1973, two Australian brothers, Malcolm and Angus Young formed the hard rock band AC/DC.
The 70s saw the band release a series of impactful albums, including Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Highway to Hell. The latter was the last album to feature lead singer Bon Scott. A year after Highway to Hell was released, Scott died due to an incident related to alcohol.
Here Comes Phil Collins: Genesis
An English rock band, Genesis came together in 1967. Its founding members were Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford, Anthony Phillips, and Tony Banks. In the 70s, singer Phil Collins would join the band.
Though the band would not reach its peek until the 1980s, the 70s helped provide the foundation for Genesis and its ever-changing lineup. Their 70s albums, like A Trick of the Tail, remain required listening for music buffs.
More Than a Felling: Boston
Boston came from the city from which it is named after. Tom Scholz was the center of the group. He was their producer, songwriter, keyboardist, and guitarist.
The songs that Boston produced appear regularly on classic rock playlists. They’re the ones who made “More Than a Felling” and “Peace of Mind.”
Like a Rock: Bob Seger
Born in 1945, Bob Seger spent the working the Detroit music scene and playing in a variety of bands. One was called The Decibels. Another was called The Town Criers.
In 1974, Bob Seger formed The Silver Bullet Band. Their 1976 record, Night Moves, took off. Their follow-up, Stranger In Town, kept the momentum going.
Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder
Like Seger, Stevie Wonder hails from the Michigan area. Wonder was born May 13th, 1950. By 11, Wonder was signed to Motown’s Tamla label.
For Wonder, the 70s were wonderful. During this decade, Wonder would release such epic singles as “Superstition,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” and “Higher Ground.”
Shelter From the 60s: Bob Dylan
When Rolling Stone critic Greil Marcus first heard Bob Dylan’s 1970 album, Self Portrait, he asked, “What is this s**t?” In interviews, Dylan describes the album as a joke. For Dylan historians, the album set the tone for how the 70s would unfold for Dylan.
Described as unpredictable, Dylan’s 70s output featured many impactful albums nonetheless, including the exceptional 1975 album Blood on the Tracks. That album has many acclaimed songs, like “Shelter From the Storm” and “Idiot Wind.”
Santana gained new followers when it teamed up with Matchbox 20 singer Rob Thomas for the hit single “Smooth.” Long before that 1999 sensation, Santana was making great music.
Carlos Santana formed the Latin rock band during the late 1960s in San Francisco. At the 1969 Woodstock festival, the band captured the attention of millions with their performance of “Soul Sacrifice.” By the early 70s, Santana was reaching number one on the Billboard album charts.
Love Hurts: Nazareth
Nazareth came into the world in 1968. They are a Scottish rock band who blanketed the United Kingdom with many hit songs throughout the 1970s.
In 1975, Nazareth’s album Hair of the Dog got them attention from all over the world. Many are familiar with Nazareth due to their endearingly dramatic cover of “Love Hurts.”
Three Classics: Nick Drake
The songwriter and guitarist Nick Drake was born in Rangoon, Burma, on June 19th, 1948. On November 25th, 1974, Nick Drake died in England after intentionally overdosing on antidepressants.
The legacy Drake left behind has influenced bands such as The Cure and REM. All three of Drake’s albums — Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter , Pink Moon — are considered classics.
Number One on iTunes: Journey
Members of Santana and Frumious Bandersnatch got together to help form this American rock band. During the 70s, the band produced the hit single “Wheel in the Sky” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin.”
Of course, the band and the world would have to wait till 1981 to hear their biggest hit “Don’t Stop Believin.” This song is the most bought iTunes tracks among tracks released before the year 2000.
George Clinton brought this funky, glamorous, over the top, and soulful music group to life. The band has had many names and many members, including Bootsy Collins.
In May 1997, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame welcomed George Clinton and 15 more members from Parliament-Funkadelic. Five years later, Spin magazine said Parliament-Funkadelic was the sixth greatest band of all time.
Born in 1939 in Washington, D.C., Marvin Gaye had a huge impact on Motown Records. During the 60s, he was an in-house session player for them. By the 70s, he was a solo artist.
In 1971, Gaye got political by releasing What’s Going On on the Motown label Tamla, a concept album. It features songs told from the perspective of a Vietnam War veteran. According to Rolling Stone, it’s the sixth greatest album of all time.
Rock Star Activist: Jackson Browne
Born Clyde Jackson Browne, Browne is an American singer-songwriter who got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in in 2004. The 70s were ruled by Brown. During this decade, he put out hits like “Doctor My Eyes,” “Rock Me on the Water,” and “Here Come Those Tears Again.”
Besides practicing music, Browne has also taken a public stand on many social justice issues. He has spread awareness about the dangers of nuclear power and put out a live album that exposes the United State’s grave policies in Central America.
More Makeup: Kiss
In January in 1973, just as the year was beginning, two guys named Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons formed the band Kiss. Bringing makeup and theatrics to an entirely jaw-dropping level, Kiss acquired dramatic fame.
Their performances were as exciting as a crazy circus. They featured fire breathing, smoking guitars, shooting rockets, blood, and pyrotechnics galore.
Straight Shooters: Bad Company
Bad Company came together in Westminster, London, in 1972. According to singer Paul Rodgers, the name of the group came from a book about Victorian morals.
During the 70s, the band was on top of the music world. In 1974, they released Bad Company. In 1975, they put out Straight Shooter. In 1976, they launched Run with the Pack. All three albums made it into the top five in the albums chart in both the United States and England.
Singing in the Rain: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Creedence Clearwater Revival broke up after their album Mardi Gras was released in 1972. Before they broke up, the band managed to make their mark on rock music.
Their soulful and sometimes bleak lyrics captured the attention. In 1970, they released the hit song “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” One year later, they came out with the song “Someday Never Comes.”
All Aboard the Peace Train: Cat Stevens
Cat Stevens (aka Steven Demetre Georgiou, aka Yusef Islam) was born in 1948 in London. This folk singer and humanitarian reached astounding popularity in the 70s.
In 1970, his album, Tea for Tilerman, feature the hit “Wild World.” His 1971 album, Teaser and Firecat, brought out the single “Peace Train.” In 2007, the British Academy gave Stevens the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Song Collection.
Hotel California: The Eagles
Formed in 1971, The Eagles have their share of lovers and haters. In The Big Lebowski, The Dude loudly declares his dislike for the L.A. band. But millions more still love them.
The Eagles rose to great fame in the 70s. Their debut album was released in 1972. It featured the hit single “Take It Easy.” That was just the beginning. Over the decade, the band would drop “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Take It To the Limit,” and the legendary album Hotel California.
Walking on the Moon: The Police
The Police formed in 1977 in London. Band members Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers created a mix of new wave, reggae and pop. In the 80s, the band released its major hit “Every Breath You Take.” But the 70s were also important to the band.
In 1979, the band released Reggatta de Blanc. It was would be the first of many albums to reach number 1 on the UK album charts. That album also spawned the hit singles “Message in a Bottle” and “Walking on the Moon.”
One Love: Bob Marley
Bob Marley is an international icon. His visage adorns posters and T-shirts all over the world. Born in Jamaica in 1945, Marley began making the some of the first reggae record with The Wailers.
After The Wailers broke up in 1974, Marley went solo with Exodus. Released in 1977, the album featured several epic singles, including “One Love” and “Jamming.”
Piano Man: Billy Joel
This ultra successful songwriter and pianist got inducted into the Rock and Hall of Fame in 1999. Joel has had Top 40 Hits in the 90s, the 80, and, of course, the 70s.
In 1973, Joel released his second studio album called Piano Man. The album featured the single also called “Piano Man.” That song has became a staple of Western culture. In 2016, the Library of Congress chose “Piano Man” for preservation in the National Recording Registry due to its “cultural, historic, or artistic significance.”
Who’s Your Daddy?: Supertramp
This English rock band was first formed under the name Daddy in 1969. One year later, in 1970, they renamed themselves Supertramp. Their songs are written by founders Rick Davis and Roger Hodgson.
By the end of 70s, Davis and Hodgson would be writing songs that would give them much commercial success, including “Take the Long Way Home” and “Breakfast in America.”
The Thrills: Steely Dan
Steely Dan released six albums in the 1970s, including their debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill. That album featured the hit “Reelin’ in the Years,” which made it all the way to number 11 on the Billboard chart.
The core members of Steely Dan are Walter Becker and Donald Fegan. According to Rolling Stone, these two are the 70’s “perfect musical antiheroes.”
Go Your Own Way: Fleetwood Mac
Formed in 1967 London, Fleetwood Mac is a British-American rock group that sold more than 100 million records across the globe. The romantic entanglements of the band are as well known as their songs.
During the 70s, Fleetwood Mac was on top of the music world. The decade saw them launch such classic hits as “Don’t Stop,” “Go Your Own Way,” and “Say You Love Me.”
Walk on the Wild Side: Lou Reed
During the 60s, Lou Reed became well-known as the leader of the Velvet Underground. He was a prince of the New York City music and art world. He was also a member of Andy Warhol’s circle.
In the 70s, Reed embarked upon his solo career. In November of 1972, Reed dropped his second solo album Transformer. This album featured the hit “Walk on the Wild Side.” The next year, Reed would stun fans with the album Berlin.
Introducing Iggy Pop: The Stooges
The Stooges were lead by Iggy Pop from 1967 to 1974 and then again from 2003 to 2016. The band is cited as helping to develop a slew of musical genres, including alt rock, punk rock, metal, and rock music in general.
In 1970, The Stooges dropped their second album Fun House. One music reviewer, Mark Deming, called Fun House “the ideal document of The Stooges at their raw, sweaty, howling peak.”
39. London Calling: The Clash
Headed by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, the Clash made headlines with their own version of ska pop punk rock. Their self-titled debut album came out in 1977. Two years later they released the classic album, London Calling.
Rolling Stone said London Calling was the 8th best album ever recorded. The album featured many smash hits, including “Train in Vain,” “Rudie Can’t Fail,” and, of course, “London Calling.”
The Superstar: David Bowie
David Bowie was so many things — a musician, an actor, a performance artist, and a style icon. In the 70s, Bowie launched his alternate ego Ziggy Stardust — a rock superstar who serves as an ambassador for extraterrestrial creatures.
The 1972 album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, featured the hit song “Starman.” In 2017, the National Recording Registry singled it out for preservation.
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