Sunday, May 18, 2008

1. John Lennon - Imagine

Found on: Imagine (1971)

If seculars and agnostics and atheists gathered once a week and had fellowship and sang songs, this would be the first one in the hymn book.

2. Don McLean - American Pie

Found on: American Pie (1971)

When I was a kid I had an edited 45 of American Pie and I always thought it was about the Dukes of Hazzard because of the "good old boys" part. I also loved the rhyming of "Chevy" and "levee". As an adult I have a slightly deeper appreciation. The song is actually an abbreviated, poetically-veiled history of rock up to that point. Everyone knows the reference to the deaths of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens, but look for references to Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, etc. Consider that it remains a great song despite attempts to ruin it by both Madonna and The Brady kids.

3. Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive

Found on: Love Tracks (1979)

Is it ironic that THE good-riddance-I-didn't-need-you-anyway anthem was originally on an album called Love Tracks? I think so. Play this in a room full of women and enjoy the show.

4. The Knack - My Sharona

Found on: Get The Knack (1979)

One of the horniest songs ever, and also more than slightly creepy because of the line, "I always get it up for the touch / of the younger kind." The fact that people still sing along is a credit to the jungle beat, chugging bass, surf guitar and all-around energetic performance.

5. Kermit the Frog - The Rainbow Connection

Found on: The Muppet Movie: Original Soundtrack Recording (1979)

As a three-year-old I had committed the soundtrack to memory before I ever saw The Muppet Movie, so when my mom took me to a showing at a rerun theater, I embarrassed her by singing along with every song in the loudest voice possible. Considering that it a) is sung by a puppet in a funny voice and b) features a banjo as the primary instrument, The Rainbow Connection has no right to be as affecting as it is.

6. Johnny Nash - I Can See Clearly Now

Found on: I Can See Clearly Now (1972)

I'm pessimistic about the prospects of you finding a more optimistic song than this one.

7. The Five Stairsteps - O-o-h Child

Found on: O-o-h Child (1970)

The aural equivalent of your mom sitting by your bed when you feel sick in the night.

8. Player - Baby Come Back

Found on: Player (1977)

A blue-eyed soul gem, with the message that every wronged lover longs to hear. Plus, a fun fact for all you daytime television fans. Ronn Moss, bassist for Player, went on to play Ridge on The Bold and the Beautiful.

9. Commodores - Easy

Found on: Commodores (1977)

It's time to recognize Lionel Richie as the king of bridges. His bridges are almost always like separate little songs, with distinct melodies. In this case it's the "I wanna be high / So high..." part. Anyway, this song is a little bit conflicted, because he's basically telling everyone to let him be, but why would a person who's as "easy as Sunday morning" be so stand-offish?

10. Seals and Crofts - Summer Breeze

Found on: Summer Breeze (1972)

Summer Breeze sounds like a sad song in the beginning. It always throws me off until it settles into its gentle pastoral message. Musically, it sounds like Cat Stevens jamming with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

11. ABBA - Dancing Queen

Found on: Arrival (1977)
Picked by: PA, WA, JG, RN, EV

I think Eliza summed this one up best: "What drunk doesn't like Dancing Queen? Especially on your birthday when everyone dances around you."

12. Todd Rundgren - Hello, It's Me

Found on: Something/Anything? (1972)

Todd Rundgren picked up right where The Beatles and Beach Boys left off with this ultra-melodic easy listening classic. This is another one of those songs the '70s seemed to specialize in, namely the fact that it sounds like a love song but is really a break-up tune. If you listen carefully, the singer is basically letting her down easy by pretending it's for her own good: "It's important to me / that you know you are free." Of course, he still wants to hook up occasionally.

13. The Cars - Just What I Needed

Found on: The Cars (1978)
Picked by: PA, WA, JG, RN

The Cars took a little bit of a '70s hard rock sensibility, some New Wave cool (especially in Ben Orr's detached vocals), the harmonies and production quality of a '60s pop group, and mixed it all together into a completely unique concoction. Just What I Needed is a perfect example of their appeal to both audiophiles and casual listeners.

14. Bob Dylan - Tangled Up In Blue

Found on: Blood On The Tracks (1976)
Picked by: PA, JG, RN, EV

Robert Zimmerman's pop breakthrough. There's nothing to complain about in this song; from the strong musicianship to the mesmerizing spell of the lyrics it's all solid. Even Bob's vocal performance is charming, making it one of the few Dylan songs that couldn't be improved by a cover version.

15. Al Green - Let's Stay Together

Found on: Let's Stay Together (1972)
Picked by: PA, WA, RN, EV

I'm betting not many girls (or boys) were looking at the album cover as they listened to this song and fantasized that the future Reverend was singing just to them. That cock-eyed, leering look on Al's face kind of ruins the whole sentiment.

Friday, May 16, 2008

16. Cheap Trick - I Want You To Want Me (live)

Found on: At Budokan (1979)
Picked by: PA, WA, RN, EV

Fun Fact: At least four Cheap Trick album covers feature only the pretty boy members of the band, Robin Zander and Tom Petersson. The nerdier Rick Neilsen and Bun E. Carlos were relegated to the back. Anyway, I Want You To Want Me is not only a great song, but it's one of the rare cases where a live version of a tune captures the public imagination. I think it's the thousands of Japanese boys and girls screaming "ah-ah-ah" that puts it over the top.

17. Paul McCartney - Maybe I'm Amazed

Found on: McCartney (1970)
Picked by: PA, WA, SB, RN

A great love song; too bad McCartney had to stab the other Beatles in the back when he released it (he had begged each of the other members to not quit the band and then announced their break-up and the release of his first solo album in one fell swoop). By the way, the cover is another "Paul is dead" clue. You know the saying "life is just a bowl of cherries"? Well, they've all spilled out, see?

18. Marvin Gaye - Let's Get It On

Found on: Let's Get It On (1973)
Picked by: PA, WA, RN, EV

If you couldn't tell, we've reached the baby-making section of the list. Paste magazine had some commentary about this song recently. I can't find the exact wording, but it was something to the effect of "Let's Get It On could get a polar bear and a toaster to mate." I used to wonder if the line "stop beating 'round the bush" was entendre, but dismissed that as too tawdry for Marvin. Then I found out he had a song (on this very album, in fact) called You Sure Love To Ball. No kidding.

19. Isaac Hayes - Theme from "Shaft"

Found on: Shaft (1971)

That layered groove alone is enough to place it among the best '70s songs, but add in the "damn right"s, "can you dig it"s and "shut your mouth"s and there's really no question.

20. The Delfonics - Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)

Found on: The Delfonics (1970)

Is that an album cover photo or a J.C.Penney ad? Either way, as Kyan says, "This is the jam!" It's the sexiest break-up song ever.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

21. Jackson Browne - The Pretender

Found on: The Pretender (1976)
Picked by: SB, JG, EV

To me The Pretender is about growing up. Specifically it's about those who abandoned the hippie dream of the '60s to answer the siren call of financial security. The name itself - The Pretender - almost seems to be a condemnation, inferring that the ideals of free love and anti-commercialism were never fully embraced by those who left them behind. The song conveys a definite sense of sadness and regret about this, but at the same time there's an affection for the more conventional life of job, home and family, as shown in the fine lyrical details of everyday life.

22. Pure Prairie League - Aime

Found on: Bustin' Out (1972)

Great acoustic country ditty with gorgeous harmonies. But, wow, could the narrator be more wishy-washy? As it starts, it seems he thinks his girl is too clingy, but then we learn she's seeing someone else, and then he says he thinks they should be together, but that it's up to her because he can't make a decision. And dammit, there's no resolution, either.

23. Ace - How Long?

Found on: Five-A-Side (1974)

Let's give it up for Paul Carrack! Most people don't know him, but he played for Roxy Music, The Pretenders, and The Smiths. He joined two other bands and gave them huge hits (Squeeze's Tempted and Mike + the Mechanics' Silent Running and The Living Years). Plus, he had his own smash hit in the late '80s with Don't Shed a Tear. It all started with Ace. How Long? is a heartsick ballad that appears to address a cheating lover, but is really about a bandmate who left to join a different band.

24. Ohio Players - Love Rollercoaster

Found on: Honey (1975)

Great funky track with an undeniable rhythm and horn hook. There's a persistent urban legend that the scream in the middle of the song is the girl on the cover. The tale says she was disfigured by the fake honey used in the photo, attacked the band members in a fit of rage and was killed in self defense. Never mind that recording probably would have been stopped had this grisly scene played out as rumored, and never mind that very few bands have cover art completed before they finish recording an album! Oh, plus, she's still alive.

25. The Carpenters - (They Long To Be) Close To You

Found on: Close To You (1970)
Picked by: WA, SB, KT

I don't think dating someone who could actually attract both birds and celestial bodies to their person would be all that fun, but that's just me. The best part of this song, besides Karen's hot-tea-with-honey voice, is by far the "waaaaah-ah-ah-ah-ah" ending.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

26. Bee Gees - Stayin' Alive

Found on: Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Picked by: WA, RN

Like several other artists on the list, The Bee Gees were absolute '70s champs, but Stayin' Alive is their best struttin' song. Bonus for including both strings and horns.

27. Carole King - It's Too Late

Found on: Tapestry (1971)
Picked by: PA, WA

All the songs on this amazing record make me feel like it's a spring Saturday morning with the windows open and a coolish breeze blowing through the house while your mom cleans. Is that just me?

28. Stevie Wonder - I Wish

Found on: Songs In the Key of Life (1976)
Picked by: PA, WA

It's impossible to pick one song to represent Stevie Wonder's prodigious and ridiculously high-quality '70s output. But we'll try anyway, with a bouncy, affectionate and enlightening remembrance of his childhood days hanging out with friends, playing doctor, using church offering money to buy candy, and tagging walls. Who knew little Stevie was such a rapscallion?

29. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons - December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)

Found on: Who Loves You (1975)
Picked by: WA, EV

I think many people are under the impression that this song is actually from 1963. Alas, it's not. Instead, it's a nostalgic reminiscence of the night our high-voiced narrator lost his virginity ("and as I recall it ended much too soon"). And seriously, what's up with that album cover?

30. Earth, Wind & Fire - September

Found on: The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol.1 (1978)
Picked by: PA, RN

One of the few bands to successfully incorporate the comma into their band name. Joy just radiates off this major chord tale of a fateful first meeting.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

31. The Clash - Train In Vain (Stand By Me)

Found on: London Calling (1979)
Picked by: PA, RN

Would you believe Train In Vain wasn't even listed on original pressings of London Calling? That pretty much makes it the best bonus track ever, even if that is kind of like being the sanest person in the asylum. Still, a great song with a classic pop melody.

32. Billy Joel - She's Always a Woman

Found on: The Stranger (1977)
Picked by: SB, EV

By rights, Billy Joel could have about 1/7 of this list to himself (6 songs alone from The Stranger are worthy), but She's Always a Woman won the most votes. The song comes on like a love ballad, but is really an unflattering portrait of a frustrating lady (she steals, lies, is never satisfied, etc.). Is the title phrase an indication of misogyny (i.e all women are like this), or is he saying he loves her despite her faults? You decide.

33. Led Zeppelin - Black Dog & Stairway To Heaven (tie)

Found on: Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Picked by: WA, EV, RN, JG

Black Dog is as earthbound and sexy as Stairway to Heaven is airy and mystical. My opinion on which is ultimately better depends on the day. But we all remember Damone's advice in Fast Times At Ridgemont High ("When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV") so I guess you need a little of both.

34. Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run

Found on: Born to Run (1975)
Picked by: PA, RN

Can you believe this was '75?! We've come to think of Springsteen as such an '80s phenomenon, but consider that disco and punk hadn't even come along yet when Born To Run was released! It's weird to me. Anyway, even though this is a song written to a Wendy (my soon-to-be wife), Born To Run is really all about the music, especially Clarance Clemons' sax and David Sancious' piano.

35. Joe Jackson - Is She Really Going Out With Him?

Found on: Look Sharp! (1979)
Picked by: PA, JG

Even when I was chronically single, I still felt like I was a pretty good catch. The girls I liked rarely agreed; instead it seems like they'd always be interested in total jackanapes. When confronted with these situations, without fail I'd sing this in my head and get my smile back.

Monday, May 12, 2008

36. John Denver - Thank God I'm A Country Boy (live)

Found on: An Evening with John Denver (1975)
Picked by: PA, WA

Have you always found John Denver a little bit strange? Did you know he was born in Roswell, New Mexico? Something to think about. Anyway, even though he didn't write it, the live version of Thank God I'm A Country Boy sums up Henry Deutschendorf's appeal better than any of his other tunes (save maybe Rocky Mountain High, which just isn't as fun).

37. America - Tin Man

Found on: Holiday (1974)
Picked by: WA, EV

There was a definite obsession with the Wizard of Oz mythos in the '70s, wasn't there? From The Wiz to Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road to the cover or Electric Light Orchestra's Eldorado album to Dark Side of the Moon. Anyway, can anyone tell me what this song is about? I'm serious, I have no idea.

38. Chicago - 25 or 6 to 4

Found on: Chicago (1970)
Picked by: PA, JG

Several Chicago songs were nominated, but after ending up in traffic behind a van with the license plates 25OR64, I decided this one deserved the nod. Anyway, this really is the best representative of the band as it started out, strangely ambitious and unclassifiable. It's also kind of a meta-listening experience since the song is about trying to write a song! I guess it worked.

39. Talking Heads - Psycho Killer

Found on: Talking Heads '77
Picked by: PA, JG

David, Jerry, Chris and Tina's nerd dance music appeal is summed up in Psycho Killer: strange French phrases, squeamish subject matter, yelped vocals, undeniable rhythm. If you didn't like this song, chances were you wouldn't like anything the band did in its next 11 years of existence.

40. Carly Simon - You're So Vain

Found on: No Secrets (1972)
Picked by: PA, SB

Carly was pretty clever on this one, making either a denial or admission of guilt incriminating. She also set off a decades-spanning guessing game that still hasn't been given a final answer. If it really is about Mick Jagger, then she deserves even more props for getting him to provide back-up vocals!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

41. Derek and the Dominoes - Layla

Found on: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)
Picked by: PA, JG

Eric Clapton's finest hour is a tortured ode to George Harrison's then-wife Pattie. Once again proving the power of rock, it actually worked and she left Harrison and ended up marrying Slowhand. It didn't last, but still...

42. George Harrison - What Is Life

Found on: All Things Must Pass (1970)
Picked by: PA, JG

Harrison wrote more than just his two or three song allotment on every Beatles album, so when the time came to make his first solo record, he had a treasure trove to choose from. What Is Life is an especially shiny and valuable bauble. It's driven by surprisingly muscular horns and a locked-in rhythm section. It also may have single-handedly inspired the Christian rock genre, with lyrics that could refer to a lover or Jesus himself.

43. Steely Dan - Reelin' In the Years

Found on: Can't Buy a Thrill (1972)
Picked by: WA, RN

Save the crisp production and instrumentation, Reelin' In the Years is not terribly representative of Chevy Chase's old band. They definitely got more obtuse and jazzy as they progressed, so this one stands as one of their few genuine rock numbers. Dig that solo!

44. Randy Newman - Political Science

Found on: Sail Away (1972)
Picked by: JG

Like many a protest song, Political Science is eerily and unfortunately applicable to our current times. In it, Randy suggests the U.S.A. drop the A-bomb on every other country so no one will disagree with us. If you can remove it from the fact that Dick Cheney probably listens to this without recognizing the satire, it's actually a very funny song, especially when Newman suggests we save Australia because of the kangaroos.

45. Marvin Gaye - Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)

Found on: What's Going On (1971)
Picked by: WA

Is it me, or does the '70s have an inordinate number of songs that are just as topical today as they were then? Here Marvin rues oil spills, air pollution, radiation and over-population taxing our natural resources. They were inconvenient truths back then too.

46. Fleetwood Mac - The Chain

Found on: Rumours (1977)

Sure, there are a lot of other worthy Fleetwood Mac songs that we could have chosen, but to my ear, none represents the band quite as well as The Chain. That's because every single player contributes their "A" game. Lindsey and Stevie sing the verses in harmony, Christine provides her trademark angelic background vocals, John gets the rare bass solo that isn't superfluous, and Mick is the MVP of the final minute, providing a breakneck tempo.

47. Jackson Browne - Doctor My Eyes

Found on: Saturate Before Using (1972)
Picked by: RN

A song about someone waking up from their self-imposed ambivalence and apathy. It's a striking message, but I prefer to concentrate on the pretty harmonies and the chugging bass.

48. Elton John - Your Song

Found on: Elton John (1970)

What's amazing is that Your Song represents only the beginning of the cavalcade of Elton John hits in the '70s, '80s and '90s. If I were in his sparkly platform shoes and had written a song this good, I would have never tried to write another.

49. Simon and Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water

Found on: Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
Picked by: EV

The best aspect of this secular hymn - besides the beautiful devotional lyrics - is the way it builds. Art's airy voice barely audible at first, but with each moment he gains confidence and volume, as if he believes his own words more and more as he says them. By the end, we're nearly overwhelmed.

50. The O'Jays - Back Stabbers

Found on: Back Stabbers (1972)

"What they do?" The finest Philly soul available takes the prospect of your girl cheating on you with one of your friends and makes it catchy and danceable.