The 70s was a great period for the rock genre as it saw several subgenres come up, some of which became very impactful in future music culture. Diverse variations of rock arose, including punk, jazz, southern, and country-rock, with high energy performances being the norm in this era. These are our 21 best 70s rock songs, considering lasting popularity and positive criticism.
1. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Simon and Garfunkel
This is the final, though only the duo’s fifth, studio album. Released at the beginning of 1970, Bridge Over Troubled Water won several awards, including Album of the Year (Grammy Awards – 1971), Best Engineered Album (Grammy Awards – 1971), and the International Album (Brit Award). It also made it to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. For six weeks, the song was a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. As the duos biggest hit single, it is popularly known as one of their signature tunes.
2. “Smoke on The Water” – Deep Purple
Initially released in 1972 on the band’s Machine Head album, the song won the RIAA Gold Record Award the same year. Deep Purple are particularly known for their progressive rock musical style. Smoke on The Water is about destruction; a song inspired by a casino and gambling house the band watched go up in flames during a Frank Zappa concert in Montreux, Switzerland. This compilation became their biggest hit single and featured in the Hot 100 Charts in 1973.
3. “Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits
The demo of Sultans of Swing was released in 1977 by the British rock band. It gained popularity after receiving massive airplay on BBC Radio London. Re-recorded a few months later, in 1978, it was featured in the Top 10 Charts in the UK, Ireland and Australia, reaching the Top 5 in the US, South Africa and Canada Charts. This saw the band receive numerous Grammy Award nominations (1980, 1986, and 1992) and winning Grammy Awards (1986 and 1987).
4. “Free Bird” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
From their debut album, named after the band, this song became quite a hit, reaching No. 19 on the charts – Billboard Hot 100 and receiving national airplay. After selling more than one million copies, Free Bird received the gold disc accolade from the Recording Industry Association of America® (RIAA). In 1996, a movie documentary was produced with the same title showing vintage footage, interviews, and live performances of the band.
5. “Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin
To encourage album sales, Zeppelin did not release the song as a single. Featuring in their 4th album, one of their best-selling ever, it went platinum over 23 times and is among the best 1970s rock songs. In 2003, Stairway to Heaven was inaugurated into the Grammy Hall of Fame. This is a song of hope that encourages one to look forward to a new dawn when everything turns into gold.
6. “Dream On” – Aerosmith
This powerful ballad, written by the band’s lead singer Steven Tyler, features on their first album titled Aerosmith. In the entire album, this is the only song Steven Tyler uses his real voice without trying to make it lower. Dream On was the band’s first major hit. Though recorded in October 1972, the band eventually released it at the end of June 1973. Starting at No. 59 in the US Billboard Hot 100 Charts in 1973, it made its way to No. 6 in 1976.
7. “Your Song” – Elton John
This 1970 song was such a great hit that renowned artists like Ellie Goulding and Rod Stewart later released their own renditions. “Your Song” made it to No. 8 on the US Billboards and No. 7 on the UK Singles Chart. It also featured in the Top 10 in several countries worldwide. In 1998, it was inaugurated into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
8. “We Will Rock You” – Queen
Released in 1977, this rock song had various other renditions produced over the years, including by Five in 1999 and Britney Spears in 2004 and over five other different artists. The song gave the band a huge financial boost, raking in $22.3 million from the West End sold-out musical tour.
9. “Dust in the Wind” – Kansas
Thirty-five years after its release in 1978, Dust in the Wind is still greatly spoken about. It was the group’s biggest hit. This came as a surprise to them as the song is majorly violin, voice and acoustic guitar. Written by guitarist Kerry, it is a wake-up call to detach from material things as we are all merely ‘dust in the wind.’
10. “Layla” – Derek and the Dominos
The blues rock band released Layla in November 1970. Singer and guitarist Eric Clapton formed Derek and the Dominos. Many often consider this song as his greatest musical accomplishment. It features in the band’s sole studio album. In 2000, it was inaugurated in the Grammy Hall of Fame and in 2012, it received a Grammy Award for the Best Immersive Audio Album.
11. “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen
This song, written by Freddie Mercury, was quite a hit and saw several other artists produce their renditions. These include Pentatonix (2017), Marc Martel (2018), and over ten other artists. Bohemian Rhapsody is among the best 1970s rock songs and has, over the years, received several accolades. These include Song of the Year (Brit Awards) in 1977 and Best Video from a Film (MTV Video Music Awards) in 1992. It was also featured on the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004.
12. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – Bob Dylan
In 1996, this 1973 rock song by Bob Dylan and Tom Petty was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. It has over ten other renditions by artists such as Selig (1997), Antony and the Johnsons (2007), and RAIGN (2015), among others. Dylan wrote the song for the soundtrack of a movie – Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.
13. “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Have You Ever Seen the Rain? was released as a single and taken from the group’s Pendulum album. It is among the best and most memorable 70s rock songs. Other recordings of this song were done by Rod Stewart (2006), Juan Gabriel (2016), Willie Nelson (2013), and over five other artists over the years. In an interview, songwriter John Fogerty states that the song was about the band’s imminent breakup, hence the expression of rain on a sunny day.
14. “American Pie” – Don McLean
Since 1972, Don McLean, the vocalist of the approximately nine-minute smash hit American Pie, has maintained the record for the longest continuous song to achieve No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts. So successful was this song that, decades later, it rakes in between $300k to $500k in annual royalties for the artist. You can hear it on the radio waves across the world hundreds of times.
15. “Maggot Brain” – Funkadelic
Released in 1971, this was Funkadelic’s 3rd studio album. It is a magnificent piece that indicates that the entire band was likely high on substances during the song’s creation. Mainly featuring Eddie Hazel, his guitar performance in this compilation was so amazing that it became the rock band’s signature tune. The artists’ creative juices were jolted by the bandleader Clinton when he told Eddie to play as if he had just received news of his mother’s death, which he later learned wasn’t a reality.
16. “Wish You Were Here” – Pink Floyd
Wish You Were Here was a 1975 track of self-scrutiny taken from the album with the same title. It was notably composed as an elegy for Syd Barrett, the group’s founding member, who suffered from issues with substances for many years. The song is among Pink Floyd’s Top 10 songs, in our opinion.
17. “Born to Run” – Bruce Springsteen
The song is from the album of a similar title and ranks as Springsteen’s best album. The song displays the artists’ prowess of his majestic sound and evocative lyrics. In 2003, it was nominated for the Grammy Hall of Fame. The album sold six million copies in the US and peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 Charts.
18. “The Boys Are Back in Town” – Thin Lizzy
This celebratory song over the years has seen almost ten other renditions by artists such as Bon Jovi (1988) and Everclear (1999) among others. Released in 1976, it features on the album Jailbreak. The same year, it made it to the Hot 100 Charts, and won the Best Single Awards (NME).
19. “Brown Sugar” – The Rolling Stones
Brown Sugar is the slang reference for an attractive black woman, which is likely what the song is about. Written largely by Mick Jagger, the track is the opening song on the Sticky Fingers album. In both Canada and the US, it was a No. 1 hit and attained a No. 2 position on Ireland and the UK charts. However, in 2021 during a US music tour, the band dropped the song from their performance due to public discomfort concerning the references of slavery in the track.
20. “Sweet Home Alabama” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
With almost ten other renditions of the song by artists such as The Outlaws (2008), Bonfire (1999), Leningrad Cowboys (1993), among others, this song was well-received upon its release in 1974. It is the band’s second single taken from their second album, Second Helping. It also ranks on their Top 10 most famous songs. Sweet Home Alabama is featured in the Grammy Hall of Fame, too.
21. “Superstition” – Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder’s Superstition has more than ten other renditions by various artists, following its release in 1972. In 1974, it won the Grammy Awards for the Best R&B Song and the Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, alongside the Favorite Soul/R&B Single (American Music Awards).