The 1970s was an incredibly diverse decade for recorded music: from hippie folk at the start to disco, punk, the rise of reggae and the very first stirrings of hip-hop. At the beginning of the decade, Frank Sinatra had a song on the charts for 122 weeks. There was soft rock, metal and country. Album sales and progressive radio were huge.
All this is true. That's why it is so fascinating to look at the songs that ended up at the very top of Billboard's pop chart for each year of the decade — they certainly don't always represent all the change that was going on.
The list starts with Simon & Garfunkel's anthem "Bridge Over Troubled Water." It was released in January 1970 and was such a powerful statement that it ended up No. 1 for the year. Paul Simon has said that he wished he had kept it to sing himself, but the rest of us can revel in Art Garfunkel's soaring performance.
The next year, 1971, was a completely different story: The No. 1 song was Three Dog Night's uber-catchy version of songwriter Hoyt Axton's goofy song about a bullfrog, "Joy To The World." Two-thirds of the band didn't want to cut it. They were wrong!
There were hits for middle-of-the-road artists like Tony Orlando and Dawn and Captain & Tennille in '73 and '75, respectively, but in 1972 and 1974 films propelled songs to No. 1. Roberta Flack's '72 rendition of what started out as a Scottish folk song, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," was featured in Clint Eastwood's directorial debut, Play Misty For Me, and that helped it become the best-selling song of the year. In '74, Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford's on-screen heat in The Way We Were took the title song to the top of the charts.
Critics who loved John Lennon's solo work had long taken Paul McCartney to task for writing what they called "silly love songs." So he did just that; Wings' "Silly Love Songs" was No. 1 for 1976. The next year, Rod Stewart, the heartthrob with the raspy voice, promised romance with "Tonight's The Night." Even though its sensual lyrics caused it to be banned from some radio stations, it was the top song of 1977.
The youngest Gibb brother, Andy Gibb, took three songs to the top in the '70s. But it was "Shadow Dancing," which isn't available on Spotify, that ended up No. 1 for the year in 1978, at disco's height. And did you know "My Sharona" was a real girl that The Knack's Doug Fieger was infatuated with? The song ruled in 1979 and brought rock back to the top.
What does it all mean? Mostly, that one song does not define a year, nor do 10 songs define a decade. But they sure give you a lot to argue about!