The year 1971 was another one that delivered some of the most iconic tracks in history, with many of them still being heavily used in other media today. In this article, we’ll use Billboard’s year-end rankings to try to determine the 41 best songs of 1971.
1. Joy to the World – Three Dog Night
Three Dog Night’s Joy To The World is a far cry from the Christmas hymn we all know, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an amazing song. It became famous for the opening line ‘Jeremiah was a bullfrog” and has been described by band members as being a silly track that they had fun with.
An edited version of the song was released as a single in 1971 and sold over one million copies in the first two months it was available. It’s no surprise that the track reached the top of the Hot 100 and would be named the biggest pop hit of the year.
2. Maggie May/Reason To Believe – Rod Stewart
Rod Stewart’s Maggie May describes the conflicting feelings of a boy that’s in a relationship with a much older woman. While it was released as the B-side to Reason To Believe, radio stations quickly started playing this one more often, and it became the more popular song of the two. It also became his first big hit as a solo artist, eventually rising to the top of the US Hot 100, Cash Box Top 100, and UK Singles Chart in 1971.
3. It’s Too Late/I Feel the Earth Move – Carole King
It’s Too Late delves into a loving relationship that ends without either party blaming the other one for any of their faults. It took a mature approach to breakups that was as respected as it was wished for and was inspired by writer Toni Stern’s own breakup story. For Carole King, it quickly became a major success, rising to the top of both the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts.
4. One Bad Apple – The Osmonds
One Bad Apple was a big hit for The Osmonds, but it had originally been intended for The Jackson 5. It rose to the top of the Hot 100 and held that spot for five weeks while also rising to the number six spot on the R&B chart. The song would later serve as the theme to The Osmonds cartoon television program as well.
5. How Can You Mend a Broken Heart – Bee Gees
How Can You Mend A Broken Heart was the first single released from the Bee Gees’ 1971 album Trafalgar and would eventually become their first number-one single by topping both the US Hot 100 and Cash Box Top 100, a spot it held for two weeks. You also might have heard it in the 2013 film American Hustle.
6. Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian) – The Raiders
Indian Reservation (The Lament Of The Cherokee Reservation Indian) was originally written and recorded as early as 1959, but its initial release made exactly zero waves. It wouldn’t be until a decade later that Don Fardon’s version became a hit single by reaching the top 20 of the US charts. The Raiders’ version of the song in 1971 was a much bigger success, rising to the top of the Hot 100 and eventually being certified as a platinum single by the RIAA despite being their one and only track to reach the top spot of the charts.
7. Go Away Little Girl – Donny Osmond
Bobby Vee first recorded Go Away Little Girl in 1962 and that version proved to be a modest hit. The song has the distinction of reaching the top 20 in the US on three separate occasions, in 1963, 1966, and 1971. It was also the first track to ever reach the top of the charts with two different artists’ recordings. Donny Osmonds’ version in 1971 was one of the biggest hits of the year, making it to the top of the Hot 100.
8. Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver
Yep, John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads turned 50 in 2021, which is probably one of the reasons it became such a viral hit on the internet in recent years. Its original release was met with incredible success, and it went on to become one of his most famous songs. The track would rise to the number two spot on the Hot 100 and even made it to the number three spot on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1971.
A symbol of the state of West Virginia, today, it’s one of the state’s official state songs. In 2023, it was even selected for preservation by the Library of Congress and was added to the National Recording Registry.
9. Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) – The Temptations
Just My Imagination was the third song by the Temptations to reach the number-one spot on the Hot 100, a spot it ended up holding on to for two weeks. Among their biggest hits, it remains one of their signature tracks to this day. The Rolling Stones would cover the song in 1978, and Rolling Stone Magazine included it on their 2010 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
10. Knock Three Times – Tony Orlando & Dawn
Knock Three Times was originally credited to Dawn, with Tony Orlando not even being credited on the first record. After being released as a single, the song eventually sold over six million copies and rose to number one on the Hot 100 and number two on the Easy Listening chart. It then became an international hit single by rising to the top of the UK Singles Chart before spawning several modern parody versions of the track.
11. Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin
Me And Bobby McGee was originally written by Kris Kristofferson, and Roger Miller was the first to perform the song. The Janis Joplin version of the track was a huge posthumous hit, rising to the top of the US Hot 100 and becoming the second posthumous single release to ever achieve that feat in 1971. Several later versions of the song by Jerry Lee Lewis and Gordon Lightfoot would eventually top the country charts as well.
12. Tired of Being Alone – Al Green
Tired Of Being Alone was released on the 1971 album Al Green Gets Next To You despite being intended as a single for his 1969 album. It would quickly rise up the charts, peaking at number 11 on the Hot 100 and number seven on the Soul Singles chart.
13. Want Ads – Honey Cone
Want Ads was originally released on Honey Cone’s second album Sweet Replies, but it would appear again on their third album Soulful Tapestry. The first single released on the album in 1971, the song held the top spot of the Hot 100 for one week and spent three weeks on top of the R&B Singles chart. It remains their only number-one ranking on the pop charts.
14. Smiling Faces Sometimes – The Undisputed Truth
Smiling Faces Sometimes ended up being the only top-40 hit released by The Undisputed Truth, and it appeared on their eponymous debut album. It would eventually rise to the number-three spot on the Hot 100 and the number-two spot on the R&B/Soul chart in 1971.
15. Treat Her Like a Lady – Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose
Treat Her Like A Lady is a song that a lot of modern listeners have heard thanks to its appearance in the opening credits of the film Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy. Its 1971 release was incredibly successful, spending 18 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaking at number three in the summer of that year.
16. Brown Sugar – The Rolling Stones
Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones was the lead single for their 1971 album Sticky Fingers. It wound up being a massive international hit, rising to the top of the charts in the US and Canada while placing at number two in the UK and Ireland. Rolling Stone ranked the track at number five on their list of the greatest guitar songs of all time, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you haven’t heard it before.
17. You’ve Got a Friend – James Taylor
Carole King was the writer of You’ve Got A Friend, and she was the first artist to record the song. James Taylor also recorded a version of it, with both of these being released in 1971 and his being the more popular one. His version reached number one on the Hot 100 and number four on the UK Singles Chart. Both artists won Grammy Awards with the track though, and numerous other artists have recorded covers of the song in the years since its initial release.
18. Mr. Big Stuff – Jean Knight
Mr. Big Stuff was the title track of Jean Knight’s debut album in 1971 and was one of the biggest soul hits of the year. It reached number two on the Hot 100 and was certified as the number-one soul single of the year by going double platinum.
19. Do You Know What I Mean – Lee Michaels
Do You Know What I Mean was written and recorded by Lee Michaels after he caught his ex-girlfriend having an affair with his best friend at the time. While he believes she was in the wrong, the situation made him see that he had not treated her well during their time together. It ended up reaching number six on the Hot 100 and number four on the Cash Box Top 100.
20. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down – Joan Baez
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down was originally recorded by The Band—a wild name for a band honestly—in 1969. That version has appeared on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, but it’s Joan Baez’s version we are interested in today. Hers reached the number three spot on the Hot 100 in 1971 and also made it to number one on the Record World Top Singles Chart that year.
21. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On was originally inspired by police brutality incidents, but its message is still as relevant today as it was in 1971. The song saw him turn away from the Motown sound to things that were closer to his heart, marking a career shift and a successful change of direction. It eventually rose to the top of the Hot Soul Singles chart before crossing over to the Hot 100 and reaching the number-two position. In 2004 and 2010, Rolling Stone ranked it at number four on their lists of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
22. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey – Paul And Linda McCartney
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey came from Paul and Linda McCartney’s album Ram, and it became the first of many singles written by the man in the post-Beatles era to reach the top of the pop charts. It soared to number one on the Hot 100 and became his first gold record after The Beatles broke up.
23. Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers
Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine is one of the most iconic songs to grace this list. Coming from his 1971 album Just As I Am, the track was his breakthrough hit and the painful ballad remains a popular choice to this day. It helped him reach number six on the R&B chart and number three on the Hot 100, though it would re-enter the top 40 in 2008 when Kris Allen sang it on the eighth season of American Idol.
24. Signs – Five Man Electrical Band
Signs was the song that helped Five Man Electrical Band find mainstream popularity. While it was originally a 1970 B-side release, its reissue in 1971 became a hit by reaching number three on the US Billboard Hot 100.
25. She’s a Lady – Tom Jones
Tom Jones is responsible for the most popular version of Paul Anka’s hit song She’s A Lady. Released in 1971, the song remains his highest-charting single to date, reaching number two on the Hot 100, number four on the Adult Contemporary, and number one on the Cash Box Top 100 charts.
26. I’ve Found Someone of My Own – The Free Movement
I’ve Found Someone Of My Own was the title track of The Free Movement’s 1972 album. In 1971, the single was able to reach number five on the Hot 100 and number seven on the Adult Contemporary chart, cementing its place just outside the top 25 in the year-end rankings.
27. Superstar – Murray Head, Andrew Lloyd Webber, And Team Rice Feat. The Trinidad Singers
Superstar was the title track of the 1970 album and 1971 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Sung by Judas Iscariot—or his ghost—the song rose to number fourteen on the Hot 100 and number eight on the Cash Box Top 100 chart.
28. Amos Moses – Jerry Reed
Amos Moses was the final single released from Jerry Reed’s 1970 album Georgia Sunshine. The song remains his highest-charting single to date, peaking at number eight on the Hot 100 and eventually serving as the track used in YMCAs to teach line dancing in later years.
29. Temptation Eyes – The Grass Roots
Temptation Eyes was recorded for The Grass Roots’ second compilation album and proved to be a solid hit for them. It spent 18 weeks on the charts, peaking at number 15 on the Hot 100 and turning into the group’s longest-charting single.
30. Superstar – The Carpenters
Superstar became a hit single for several artists in the years after Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell wrote it. The most notable version of the song is probably the one that was recorded by The Carpenters, which rose to number two on the Hot 100 and number one on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1971.
31. My Sweet Lord – George Harrison
My Sweet Lord appeared on George Harrison’s 1970 triple album, which was his first venture as a solo artist. It ended up being the best-selling single in the UK in 1971, rising to the top of the charts and becoming the first number-one single to be produced by an ex-member of The Beatles on their own.
32. Sweet and Innocent – Donny Osmond
Sweet And Innocent was first written by Rick Hall and Billy Sherill, with Roy Orbison recording the song in 1958. The Osmonds went on to record a reworked version of the track in 1971 that rose to number seven on the Hot 100 and earned the group a gold disc with over one million sales.
33. Put Your Hand in the Hand – Ocean
Put Your Hand In The Hand was a gospel pop hit for the Canadian band Ocean in 1971. The song was their debut single and the title track of their debut album, eventually rising to number two on the Hot 100 and remaining within the top 10 for a total of seven weeks.
34. Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It) – Daddy Dewdrop
Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It) was a featured song from Daddy Dewdrop’s 1971 eponymous album. Rather than singing, the lyrics of the track are spoken. It rose to number nine on the Hot 100 and reached number five on the Cash Box Top 100 chart, eventually finding a place on Billboard’s year-end charts as well.
35. For All We Know – The Carpenters
For We All Know was written for the 1970 film Lovers And Other Strangers, but The Carpenters’ version of the song became the most popular single release. Theirs peaked at number three on the Hot 100 and took the top spot of the Easy Listening chart in 1971.
36. If You Could Read My Mind – Gordon Lightfoot
If You Could Read My Mind was written by Gordon Lightfoot as he pondered over his own divorce. A deeply personal song for him, it wound up reaching number one on the Canadian Singles chart and peaked at number five on the US Hot 100.
37. Help Me Make It Through the Night – Sammi Smith
Sammi Smith’s Help Me Make It Through The Night was a country music ballad that first appeared on Kris Kristofferson’s 1970 album Kristofferson. Her cover of the song served as the title track of his 1970 album and became the most successful version of the track. It reached number eight on the US Hot 100 and took the top spot on the Hot Country Singles chart in 1971.
38. Rainy Days and Mondays – The Carpenters
Rainy Days And Mondays appeared on The Carpenters’ self-titled third album. It spent seven weeks in the top 10 of the Hot 100, peaking at number two, and was the duo’s fourth number-one single on the Adult Contemporary chart. A later reissue of the song in 1993 helped it find a place on the UK Singles Chart, peaking at number 63.
39. Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves – Cher
Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves appeared on Cher’s seventh and self-titled studio album. It served as the lead single and was mainly an attempt at reviving the artist’s career after her split with Sonny Bono. The mature themes of the song helped earn her a Grammy nomination, but it was the chart success that stood out. It became her first number-one single as a solo artist in both the US and Canada, making her the first solo artist to hold the top spot of both charts simultaneously.
40. Never Can Say Goodbye – The Jackson 5
The Jackson 5’s version of Never Say Goodbye was actually the original recording of the song. While it was initially meant for The Supremes, Motown decided The Jackson 5 was a better fit for it. Their version of the song appeared on their 1971 album Maybe Tomorrow and ended up being one of their most successful singles. It rose to the top of both the Cash Box Top 100 and US R&B chart while also peaking at number two on the Hot 100.
41. Rose Garden – Lynn Anderson
Rose Garden was a major pop-country hit for Lynn Anderson in 1971. Despite hers not being the original cut of the track and some pushback for it being a ‘man’s song’ during the recording process, it ended up reaching the top of both the Hot 100 and Hot Country Songs charts in the US.
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