100 Best Songs of the 1970s 20 – 11

100 Best Songs of the 1970s | NME.COM.

20 Led Zeppelin – ‘Stairway To Heaven’

Released: November 1971

If a classic rock radio station ever polls its listeners, this bananas blend of bustling hedgerows and head-caving guitar tends to tussle it out with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘ near the top. We all love a grand folly and if you can get through Robert Plant’s hey-nonnying about pipers and May Queens, Jimmy Page has reserved a screaming balls-out axefest just for you.

19 Joy Division – ‘Transmission’

Released: November 1979

This intense single stood alone from Joy Division’s albums and is perhaps the most New Ordery of their brief burst of releases with its pulsing beats and that low-slung bass. Its drive and thrash build to a delirious – some think epileptic – height before rattling away to silence. Covered rather more politely by Hot Chip for the 2009 War Child album.

18 Ian Dury – ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Released: August 1977

Released without a Blockheads credit – only sax player Davey Payne and guitarist Chas Jankel join Ian Dury on this one – this is still a typical slab of bar room funk from Dury and co. It’s the spidery riff that really makes the song, working its angular way through the track, although the story goes it was a lift from Ornette Coleman’s ‘Ramblin”. Dury apologised anyway.

17 The Rolling Stones – ‘Brown Sugar’

Released: April 1971

Possibly not the most politically correct song of the 1970s, ‘Brown Sugar’ was written for the singer Marsha Hunt, Mick Jagger‘s then-lover and mother of his first child, and flirts with sadism, smack, oral sex, and all manner of rock’n’roll fun. Above and beyond any suspect lyrical content, it’s all about a kinetic groove, dirty sax and an unfeasibly laid back Keith Richards riff.

16 Bruce Springsteen – ‘Thunder Road’

Released: August 1975

The opening track on Born To Run, ‘Thunder Road’ is one of the Great American Songs, the tale of a couple down on their luck, “praying in vain/For a saviour to rise from these streets. Springsteen later described it as “my big invitation to my audience”, and it remains one of The Boss’ most beloved moments, a staple in his live set to this day.

15 Stevie Wonder – ‘Superstition’

Released: October 1972

It’s just a matter of that bassline, isn’t it? The bassline that isn’t really a bassline, more a funky workout on Stevie Wonder’s fat-sounding Hohner clavinet. Whatever, ‘Superstition’, originally written for Jeff Beck, is no less toweringly cool with each passing year and it got its just desserts with a Billboard Hot 100 No.1. Whether it deserved the Olly Murs cover is open to conjecture.

14 Pink Floyd – ‘Comfortably Numb

Released: November 1979

From ‘The Wall’ album and movie soundtrack, ‘Comfortably Numb’ is a Roger Waters and David Gilmour co-composition supposedly inspired by Waters’ crazy sensations after being injected with tranquilisers before a Philadelphia show. It’s as dizzy and displaced as it should be, drifting through guitar solos and a pretty chorus before winding up in the Scissor Sisters‘ back pocket.

13 The Undertones – ‘Teenage Kicks’

Released: September 1978

Don’t know if you’re aware of this, but this was John Peel’s favourite record. Oh, you knew. Anyway, back when Feargal Sharkey wasn’t running all of UK music he was fronting this chaotic adrenaline rush of adolescent thrills that put his Derry band on the map. And it was played at John Peel’s funeral. Oh, you knew that too.

12 John Lennon – ‘Imagine’

Released: September 1971

Inspired by Yoko Ono‘s Grapefruit book, a collection of poetry, ‘Imagine’ is that old classic – simple but devastating. It wasn’t much of a hit first time out; in fact, it didn’t even get a UK single release for four years after the album came out, but in the wake of John Lennon’s death it became first an anthem for his life and later a universal call for peace that continues to resonate.

11 Talking Heads – ‘Psycho Killer’

Released: September 1977

A No.92 smash in the States, ‘Psycho Killer’ is vintage Talking Heads, sweating with paranoia, its limbs flying all over the shop. David Byrne scrapped his initial plans to include descriptions of the act of murder in the lyrics but it doesn’t take anything away from the song, as taut and just-about-funky as all the best ‘Heads and the starting point of a flood of new wave genius.


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