30 Al Green – ‘Let’s Stay Together’
Released: December 1971
Produced and written with legendary Memphis soul man Willie Mitchell, Al Green’s persuasive soul smoothie slinked to No.1 in the States – his only single to do so – and a dozen years later provided Tina Turner with her big return to the limelight. As with all Green’s tunes from a classic period, lazy horns offer the perfect bed for his keening falsetto, soaking the song with heat and lust.
Released: April 1978
The song that apparently pushed John Lennon back into the studio after half a decade’s househusbandry, ‘Rock Lobster’ is a ludicrous platter of fish-related silliness, surf guitar and horror movie ticks – like a wacky pop Cramps. Fred Schneider is the man talk-singing over the top, but it’s the inspired mix of spooky 50s rock and new wave that makes this more than a curiosity.
28 Kraftwerk – ‘The Model’
Released: May 1978
For such an unusually catchy tune ‘The Model’ took years to make an impact, starting life as a snappy pop interlude on 1978’s ‘The Man Machine‘ before becoming a single that was largely overlooked until the end of 1981 when it suddenly pelted up the UK charts right to No.1. Creating an actual song, Kraftwerk beat the pop stars at their own game.
27 ABBA – ‘Dancing Queen’
Released: August 1976
Separate it from the weddings, hen parties, endless party showings of Mamma Mia and screeching karaoke versions and – well – here you have one of the greatest pop songs ever. It’s difficult to shake the baggage, sure, but soon you’re swept up by the trilling piano, easy beats and elegant meld of Agnetha and Frida’s voices on the single that gave ABBA their only US No.1.
26 Lou Reed – ‘Walk On The Wild Side’
Released: November 1972
Lou Reed’s one real solo hit was written for the freaks and uniques who visited Andy Warhol’s Factory studio, a hymn to hedonism and shunning the flock. Produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson it’s also got a woozy sax solo from Bowie’s old teacher Ronnie Ross and that bassline from Herbie Flowers, later to give A Tribe Called Quest their one real hit.
25 David Bowie – ‘Life On Mars?‘
Released: December 1971
It was a couple of years before this was released as a single in the wake of Ziggymania, but it still had the resonance to make the Top 3 in the UK. Its weird origins bear repeating – Bowie first wrote it to the tune of Claude François’s ‘Comme D’Habitude’ which eventually became the hoary old Sinatra standard ‘My Way’. Prog rock wizard Rick Wakeman plays stately piano.
24 AC/DC – ‘Highway To Hell’
Released: July 1979
AC/DC’s cut-glass rocking terrahawk caused some consternation on release, what with that title and butter-wouldn’t-melt schoolboy Angus Young‘s devil horns and tail on the album cover, but really it was a coded moan about touring. Still, the riff is Keefy dynamite and singer Bon Scott – who would die just a few months later – has just the right Satanic squeal.
23 Tubeway Army – ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’
Released: April 1979
Pale-faced synth pioneer (from Slough) Gary Numan fashioned a high concept around his debut hit, a world where an isolated public communicates with cyber ‘friends’ – oh God, it’s happened. The powerful marching riff took it the top of the hit parade, and did the same for the Sugababes a couple of decades later when Richard X cunningly reworked his mash-up of Adina Howard’s ‘Freak Like Me’.
22 Sugarhill Gang – ‘Rapper’s Delight’
Released: November 1979
Hip hop’s first proper hit was mired in controversy. Sugar Hill label boss Sylvia Robinson had co-opted a trio of obscure rappers to make that pop crossover but they were accused of stealing their rhymes. Still, the track’s bed of Chic’s ‘Good Times’ was a fresh move – and repeated countless times over the years – and whatever their provenance, couplets about Holiday Inn are ludicrous and immortal.
21 Marvin Gaye – ‘Let’s Get It On’
Released: June 1973
After getting all that political conscience stuff out of the way on ‘What’s Going On’, Marvin Gaye went straight for the groin with ‘Let’s Get It On’, soundtracking a million and more trysts with tumbling funk and a begging vocal that would teeter on the edge of “Let it go, Marv” embarrassment if it wasn’t so downright persuasive. Bet it worked too.