The 1970s were when icons were born. With the groundwork for a new sense of aesthetic and personal freedom laid in the swinging 60s, people experimented with their sound, look and entire persona in more and more extreme ways. In London there was punk, with The Sex Pistols and The Clash leading a tribe of pierced, leather-clad young upstarts that stuck two fingers up to the establishment. In New York there was the CBGBs scene of unattainable, insouciant cool. From somewhere in space landed David Bowie and Marc Bolan – two otherworldly angels at the forefront of glam rock. The 70s didn’t do things by halves; relive the magic with the decade’s 100 key tracks. Words: Dan Martin, Matthew Horton, Priya Elan, Tim Chester.
100. Funkadelic – ‘One Nation Under a Groove’
“Here’s a way to dance my way out of my constriction,” croons the most famous song from George Clinton’s sci-fi funk collective. Quite literally, the act of dance used as a means of social change, a populace implored to boogie its way to freedom. A hell of a lot more fun than a worthy protest folk song, frankly.
99. The Pretenders – ‘Brass In Pocket’
Chrissie Hynde’s ultimate calling card, as she sidles up, leather jacket on, lips in a snarl – possibly with a tambourine in her hand to kill the mood, but still super cool. Rarely has a song so basic sounded so alluring, although the less said about the waitressy video, the better.
98. James Brown – ‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine’
Songs about sex are very rarely that sexy themselves, falling down either on the side of awkward or icky. But ‘Sex Machine’ positively throbs and thrusts, keeping you in the moment and in the mood, building to an eventual happy finish.
97. Bob Marley & The Wailers – ‘No Woman, No Cry’
Bob at his lilting best, looking back at his impoverished past in the ghettos of Trench Town in Jamaica. Imploring his girlfriend not to cry with the promise that things were going to get better, its hypnotic charm make it one of the best-loved of Bob’s catalogue.
96. Kate Bush – ‘Wuthering Heights’
Serene, pristine and deranged, nobody should underestimate quite how shocking it was when the teenaged Bush emerged to the world with this haunting piano melodrama of her own creation. Casting herself as tragic heroine Cathy from Emily Bronte’s gothic romance, perhaps the reason so few pop songs are based on classic novels is that they’d have to live up to this.
95 Siouxsie And The Banshees – ‘Hong Kong Garden’
Siouxsie Sioux proved herself as far more than a scenester from punk’s notorious ‘Bromley Contingent’. This oriental-flavoured day-glo riot proved she had the personality and musical muscle to forge a career that would outlast and outgrow the scene that she came from. It was very quickly acknowledged as a classic.
94 The Slits – ‘Typical Girls’
The zippy and infectious signature tune from the definitive female force of the punk rock scene. Ari Up makes a simple, direct, but biting attack on the perceived attitudes to femininity, at once offering up a delicious and mischievous alternative.
93 Can – ‘Oh Yeah’
As the 70s hit their stride, Cologne’s krautrock pioneers evolved into more expressive and extreme forms of jazz-inflected sound. Their third record ‘Tago Mago’ is described as their most extreme, but this has stood the test of time as one their most beloved. Although rather less catchy than the Ash track of the same name.
92 Public Image Ltd – ‘Public Image’
In which the former Johnny Rotten did the unthinkable at the time and reinvented himself in an outfit just as compelling as the Sex Pistols. Musically a more mature strain of post-punk, but not lacking in his signature bile, here was a lacerating attack on what he saw as his exploitation at the hands of Malcolm McLaren.
91 The Beatles – ‘The Long And Winding Road’
The Beatles nudge into the ’70s by the skin of their career, and we find McCartney at his most McCartneyish for the band’s swansong. Looking back on one the most thrilling journeys in music history, Macca sounds sentimental and weatherbeaten, a man finding peace, and the song is one of the warmest and fuzziest of the decade.
90 Madness – ‘One Step Beyond’
Originally a B-side from Jamaican artist Prince Buster, ‘One Step Beyond’ was turned into a hit by Madness, who as pioneers of the British ska scene, remade it as a giddy runaround jam. It remains an effervescent festival favourite to this day.
89 The Specials – ‘A Message To You Rudy’
It wasn’t all unemployed grimness in ghost towns round The Specials’ way. Their seminal cover of Dandy Livingstone’s 1967 rocksteady track showed they could skank along gaily with the most light-hearted of them, and as one of the key tracks on their 1979 debut album, this was a turning point for the blooming 2Tone label.
88 The Kinks – ‘Lola’
Spending the night flirting with and romancing a lady who turned out to be a man in a dress might be something that most men would try to sweep under the carpet. No such luck for The Kinks manager Robert Wace, who had his unfortunate encounter immortalised in what would become one of the band’s most iconic songs.
87 Roxy Music – ‘Virginia Plain’
The ’70s can get tarred with being the decade of glam rock by people who think glam rock must always be naff. But this opening salvo from Bryan Ferry’s crew showed how it should be done; swaggering and stylish, suave and incredibly sexy.
86 Leonard Cohen – ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2’
In which the folkster recounts a sexual encounter at one of the most famous Bohemian hostelries. Rather ungallantly, Cohen revealed that the lady in question had been Janis Joplin, which he lived to regret, saying later, “an indiscretion for which I’m very sorry, and if there is some way of apologising to the ghost, I want to apologise now, for having committed that indiscretion.”
85 Buzzcocks – ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’
The sound of caffeine itself, as Manchester’s princes of punk wind themselves up so tightly with panic and sexual frustration that when they finally let it all out, it explodes into one of the most thrilling and anarchic singles in all of punk rock. Just awesome.
84 Joni Mitchell – ‘Big Yellow Taxi’
The decade’s ultimate hippie song, as Joni looks out across the landscapes of Hawaii and just sees just concrete, and her heart sinks. Yet for all the bleakness and doom of the song’s subject matter, the song sounds warm and optimistic. Which was probably misplaced really. Goodness knows how Joni must be feeling now.
83 Althea & Donna – ‘Uptown Top Ranking’
Being a one-hit wonder isn’t all that bad when your hit is at classy as this. Jamaican teenagers Althea and Donna, thanks to the championship of John Peel, caused a chart surprise by scoring a number one with this sweet and catchy reggae jam. After which time, their work here was done.
82. Giorgio Moroder – ‘Chase’
The pioneer of the synthesiser was wildly ahead of his time when he composed this sleek and pulsating throbber. As the classically-influenced theme from Alan Parker’s Midnight Express, the soundtrack would go on to win an Oscar.
81. Chic – ‘Le Freak’
The signature tune of disco’s premiere outfit – so, therefore, the ultimate signature tune of disco itself. It is not physically possible to be in the presence of ‘Le Freak’ without dancing on command, which is ironic considering the song is actually about not being able to get into Studio 54 – so having your own party on the street anyway.
80. Blondie – ‘One Way Or Another’
One of Blondie’s finest, down to its nursery rhyme simplicity, skipping along on with giddy new wave swagger. Like most of ‘Parallel Lines’, its pure pop rush is addictive, so much so that it quite disguises the fact that Debbie Harry is actually behaving like a nightmare stalker. And one that it would be foolish to try and resist.
79. The Jam – ‘The Eton Rifles’
In which Paul Weller declares holy class war through the medium of awesome Moddish new wave. As the 70s juddered to a close, the divisions in society were becoming more prominent, and The Jam’s fiery broadside tells a bitter tale of coming off worst after a brawl with some poshos, because indeed, “all that rugby puts hair on your chest.” David Cameron, missing the point, professed to love it.
78 New York Dolls – ‘Personality Crisis’
One of the seeds from which all of punk rock would grow thereafter. The opening shot from the Dolls’ awesome debut, here was all the nihilism and noise that would make the genre great distilled into three and a half minutes, and delivered with ultimate sex appeal.
77 John Lennon – ‘Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)’
Lennon’s third solo single saw his overarching message and peace and goodness shine through more profoundly than anywhere else. And this giddy, bouncing anthem is uplifting enough for you not to bother questioning what karma hitting you on the head actually feel like? Up there with the best songs Lennon ever wrote.
76. The Only Ones – ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’
The best pure pop song to emerge from the punk movement, period. And very possibly the most uplifting song about heroin addiction ever, if you’re into that kind of thing (which clearly is not a good idea). After the euphoric highs of this song, Peter Perrett did the cold turkey so you didn’t have to, while fellow drug enthusiasts The Libertines also did a notable cover of the track several decades later.
75. Neil Young – ‘Heart Of Gold’
Criticised by Dylan for sounding too much like him and later by Young himself for putting him slap-bang in the middle of the road, ‘Heart Of Gold’ nontheless glimmers like a diamond. A towering anthem for the singer/songwriter genre (James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt did the backing vocals), this was country-rock loveliness incarnate, Young’s quivering vocals atop lilting pedal steel guitar.
74. Brian Eno – ‘Needles In The Camel’s Eye’
He’d soon depart this singer/songwriter terrain for more ambient territory, but the opener from ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ was an exuberant slice of post-Roxy Music solo power. A clanging, multi-layered, Velvet Underground-aping thumper which would influence his Berlin experiments with Bowie and a decade of synth/sonic exploration.
73 XTC – ‘Making Plans For Nigel’
Of course there was no “Nigel”. Instead, bassist Colin Moulding wrote of his dad attempting to make his son get his “hair cut and stay on at school”. This theme of parental domination fits perfectly with the urgency of the music – part new wave muscle, part very British ska-ish funk workout. Beneath XTC’s wonky pop exterior lay one of the most experimental groups of the decade.
72 The Who – ‘Who Are You’
To a generation of young pups it’s known as the ‘the song from CSI’ but to those blissfully unaware of the cop franchise, this track found Pete Townshend contemplating life as a ’60s counterculture legend in the face of punk. Referencing a meeting with the Sex Pistols, Townshend had a key moment of self reflection all the while his band busted out a madcap mix of funk and honest-to-god rock’n’roll.
71 Suicide – ‘Ghost Rider’
A floating slice of No Wave from Alan Vega and Martin Rev. The mix of ecstatic, ebbing industrial noise and noose-like keyboard sounds that vibrated forth from the legendary New York scuzz rock duo would go on to influence a generation of dark and brooding gunslingers including The Horrors and MIA (who would sample the track on her ‘Born Free’ single).
70 Wire – ‘I Am The Fly’
A prime slice of arch, amphetamine-driven art rock from Wire. Their ever-evolving sound meshed with a Floydian level of the surreal in the lyrics to create this one-note stomper where Colin Newman twisted his voice into unlikeable shapes to create a sonic earworm that you’d never forget.
69 Sparks – ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’
The Mael brothers’ most majestic, rabbit-out-a-hat single suggested magic realism via The Wild West. Imbued with a cartoonish drama, Russell and Ron’s compulsive stomp demands your attention like the musical equivalent of a quickly unraveling disaster film.
68 The Clash – ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’
A brilliant piece of songwriting that managed to address social unrest and racial tension via the prism of the state of punk rock in 1979. The drifting Ska of the track showed the stylistic range of band unafraid of crossing genre lines which made them an more authentic representation of young Britain than some of their contemporaries.
67 Carly Simon – ‘You’re So Vain’
Perhaps we’ll never know who it was about, but the reflected narcissism Simon showed in the lyrics had an uncharacteristic bite to it. The sting was matched by the sloping tease of the music, highlighted by a sleazy guitar solo, hazy cowbell and Jagger’s (surely ironic) backing vocals.
66 Prince – ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’
Prince’s first real hit, ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ also showed the first flourishes of his musical trademarks that would define his megastardom in the decade which followed. The falsetto vocals and lascivious lyrics were laid over a disco guitar figure which nodded to both the Bee Gees and Chic. A joyful taste of what was to come.
65 George Harrison – ‘My Sweet Lord’
Post Beatles, Harrison’s hymn to the Hare Krishna religion was filled with a sunny spirituality which reflected not just a hope for a post Fab Four world, but also for the new decade, despite the hippy dream being over.
64 Big Star – ‘September Gurls’
Alex Chilton’s track goes straight for the heart with its chiming power chords, poignant lyrics and the feeling of a chance romance now all but a memory. It was later covered by the Bangles in a Paisley Underground style, which prompted Chilton to get the biggest royalty cheque of his career.
63 Nick Drake – ‘Pink Moon’
It’s easy to project posthumous meaning onto a track, but ‘Pink Moon’ sounds like a warning about what’s to come. Stripped of all his past production crutches, here Drake is stripped to the elemental basics, purring about the ominous moon that’s “on its way”. The result is unforgettably sad.
62 Gary Numan – ‘Cars’
‘Cars’ was significant in that it married Numan’s Tubeway Army experiments with a more conventional, rock song structure. With a knowing nod to JG Ballard, Numan retained his high art credentials to create an trailblazing pop single which sounded like the future.
61 Patti Smith – ‘Because The Night’
Penned for ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ by Springsteen, the Patti Smith Group re-tooled it to give it a more poetic nuance. The marriage of The Boss’ broad rock sensibilities and Smith’s yearning delivery yielded a rarity – a love song with a real, visceral heart.
60 Elvis Costello – ‘Oliver’s Army’
Lyrically it couldn’t have been more timely. With political unrest in Ireland, Palestine and further field, Costello’s track about working class army proles exploited by the government seemed right on the money. Steve Nieve’s ABBA inspired keyboard work was the cherry on the top.
59 Curtis Mayfield – ‘Move On Up’
Free from The Impressions, Mayfield’s solo debut ‘Curtis’ featured many shining moments – but ‘Move On Up’ was perhaps the finest. The uplifting horns and vocals were the heart of a track that empowered for a generation going hopefully and nervously into a brand new decade.
58 The Modern Lovers – ‘Roadrunner’
Written after multiple exposures to The Velvet Underground’s splatter-rock epic ‘Sister Ray’, Jonathan Richman’s laconic drawl perfectly reflected the arid, suburban boredom reflected in the track’s lyrics and repetitive riff. A precursor to the slacker rock phenomenon almost 20 years later.
57 Squeeze – ‘Up The Junction’
Inspired by a TV play by Ken Loach, Chris Difford’s lyrics were brilliant street poetry, a kitchen sink drama that zipped along with soap opera like speed via bawdy colloquialisms. The grand keyboard line was just as important as the words in making this a new wave classic.
56 The Velvet Underground – ‘Rock & Roll’
Lou Reed could have been singing about himself when he said Ginny’s life was “saved by rock’n’roll.” The guitars and bass sound jangling and groovy, whilst the usually dour Reed sounds positively born again as he intones lines about radio hits making everything “alright” again. From ‘Heroin’ to this in four years? Wow.
55 Junior Murvin – ‘Police & Thieves’
Junior’s falsetto vocal and the gentle swish of the instrumental track (produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry) belied the lyrics which spoke of civil unrest and societal tension. Little wonder it was covered by The Clash on their debut album.
54 Elton John – ‘Tiny Dancer’
A beautiful lyric from Bernie Taupin about navigating love on the road with future wife Maxine Feibelman was met by an instrumental that caught John at his singer/songwriter peak, creating a soft rock gem that would resonate with generations to come.
53 Thin Lizzy – ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’
With lyrics tense with a Springsteen-ish drama and multiple hooks – the legendary riff, the fist-punching chorus, the twin guitar solo from Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham to the chorus – this track is rife with the smell of summer lawns and the memories of beach parties. No wonder the track was co-opted by Irish rugby teams, jeans companies and Bon Jovi.
52 Queen – ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
In a career of classic rock moments, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ still stands out as Queen’s campest and most outlandish. A piano chanson (complete with Brian May’s jaw dropping guitar solo) leaps gleefully into a full blown operatic parody, and the results are legendary.
51 Iggy Pop – ‘Lust For Life’
‘Lust For Life’ hums with skid row defiance, wrapped up with a seductive jangle pop bow. Little wonder it was later co-opted by Trainspotting – Bowie and Iggy reference heroin stalwart William Burroughs and dead dealers – but aside from the rattling hedonism of the track’s percussive backbone, the song is as life-affirming as a gospel track.
50 The Cramps – ‘Human Fly’
Produced by Big Star’s Alex Chilton, this was a grotty slice of swamp rock, featuring Poison Ivy’s vine-creeping guitar and Lux Interior’s guzzling vocals uniting to create a two-minute goth-rock diamond.
49 The Clash – ‘Train In Vain’
‘London Calling”s catchy, wheezing closer was hardly meant to be there. In fact, it was destined for an NME flexidisc but never arrived – instead it was tacked onto The Clash’s meisterwerk after the sleeve had gone to the printer, making it an unintentional hidden track. Your CD cover lists it now, as do the credits for Garbage’s 1996 hit ‘Stupid Girl’.
48 Bob Dylan – ‘Tangled Up In Blue’
The chiming first track on Dylan’s marriage-dissecting ‘Blood On The Tracks’ is a surreal, jump-cutting tale of a relationship from soup to nuts. Crammed with detail – “Working for a while on a fishing boat/Right outside of Delacroix” – none of it directly referencing the failure of his marriage to Sara Lowndes, it nevertheless has a personal quality. And his Bobness sings pretty nicely too.
47 Fleetwood Mac – ‘Dreams’
Simple, pretty and aimed like a laser at Lindsey Buckingham’s guilty conscience, ‘Dreams’ was written by Stevie Nicks as everyone’s marriages and relationships fell to rack and ruin around the recording of AOR phenomenon ‘Rumours’. It doesn’t do a great deal but is mesmeric as it needles away, persuading its target to have a damn good think about “what you lost“.
46 Gang Of Four – ‘Damaged Goods’
The lead track from Gang Of Four’s debut EP boasts a riff that could slice through a particularly strong girder, the coldest funk this side of Prince & The Refrigeration and a seedy little lyric about ending an affair that’s become a bit wearing on the physical side. Jon King and Andy Gill trade vocals with all the soul of George Osborne. Brilliant.
45 Blondie – ‘Hanging On The Telephone’
One hell of an album opener. Blondie’s 1978 classic ‘Parallel Lines’ blams into life with ‘Hanging On The Telephone’, a pummeling war horse of a track written in 1973 by Jack Lee but first surfacing on his band The Nerves’ debut EP in 1976. Blondie’s version is strung-out, pleading and strident, and it’s impossible to ignore Debbie Harry’ siren call.
44 Deep Purple – ‘Smoke On The Water’
A story as legendary as the song’s four-note riff, ‘Smoke On The Water’ was inspired by the, er, smoke floating over Lake Geneva while Deep Purple were recording in their mobile studio. It came from a Frank Zappa gig at the Montreux Casino that caught fire when some chump fired a flare gun, the blaze now forever commemorated by inept guitarists trying to ape Ritchie Blackmore’s axework.
43 Dolly Parton – ‘Jolene’
Dolly Parton’s signature smash actually limped to a mere No.60 in the States but it endures as an oddly jaunty plea to the titular stunner to leave Dolly’s man alone, even though she could take him any time she likes. There’s no artifice here – which is Parton’s main strength. However brassy and unreal she can be, she’s never less than pure-hearted. Later covered by the White Stripes.
42 T. Rex – ‘Get It On’
There’s a rice paper’s difference between each T. Rex riff, isn’t there? But who gives a hoot when Marc Bolan can clip them as funky as his work on ‘Get It On’, a chart-chomping monster of an effort that helped form the foundations of T. Rex’s annexation of Britain’s No.1 spot. Covered to lumpen effect by Robert Palmer/Duran Duran/Chic supergroup Power Station in 1985.
41 The Rolling Stones – ‘Tumbling Dice’
All ‘Exile On Main Street”s grubby cool is scrunched up into this UK Top 5 hit as Keith Richards plays a riff so loose its trousers are around its ankles and Mick Jagger drawls nonsense about “gambling love“. In actual fact, ‘Tumbling Dice’ had been kicking around for years before its ‘Exile’ completion, only worked into shape once Mick Taylor had been booted off lead.
40 The Knack – ‘My Sharona’
Well, it deserves its place if only for – allegedly – inspiring Girls Aloud’s second single ‘No Good Advice’. Otherwise LA band The Knack’s debut single is the one memorable note of an on-off 30-year career, a Mike Chapman (of Blondie fame) production with a spiky riff that punkifies the power pop and pushed the track all the way to a Billboard No.1.
39 Bee Gees – ‘Stayin’ Alive’
It’s unlikely you can listen to this without seeing the brothers Gibb swinging fearlessly around a building site or John Travolta strutting down the urban catwalk, but at a few decades’ remove ‘Stayin’ Alive’ is an astonishing record even without the iconography. A peerless piece of disco drama that almost sent a career into parody – but hey, they sure got rich.
38 Sex Pistols – ‘Anarchy In The UK’
The Sex Pistols’ first single was bundled out within weeks of their signing by an EMI keen to strike while the phlegm was flying. ‘Anarchy In The UK’ was – and is – an incendiary blast of noise, spite and fury, a suitable overture and a sneering threat to a quaking establishment. It wasn’t long before they were drafted onto Thames Television’s Today show, just in time to swear at Bill Grundy.
37 Iggy And The Stooges – ‘Search And Destroy’
In which we learned Iggy Pop was “a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm“. To be honest, we had a hunch. The Bowie-sponsored Stooges were on a hiding to nothing as far as cold hard cash was concerned but with sweaty, steely rawk like ‘Search And Destroy’ they would reveal their hand as dodgy uncles of punk.
36 Sly And The Family Stone – ‘Family Affair’
A supergroup on the (ahem) sly, this, as Stone ditched the Family and drafted in soul legends Bobby Womack and Billy Preston on guitar and Rhodes piano respectively. Sly’s sister Rose sticks around for some counterpoint vocals but this is the great man’s own show – most memorable for his purring lead, least memorable for being sampled on Deacon Blue’s 1991 single ‘Closing Time’.
35 Gladys Knight And The Pips – ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’
“Woo-woo!” The Pips’ deathless contribution to one of Gladys Knight’s best loved tunes is an impression of a steam train. All the rest of the song’s swinging soul power is down to Knight’s convincing devotion to a man whose dreams of LA stardom have gone tits up, and Jim Weatherly’s less-is-more lyric: “I’d rather live in his world than live without him in mine“. Devastating.
34 Rod Stewart – ‘Maggie May’
Rod the Mod’s first solo No.1 wasn’t even supposed to be an A-side but it only took a fortnight for it to elbow ‘Reason To Believe’ off the front of the disc. The mandolin – played by Ray Jackson, not John Peel who mimed on Top Of The Pops – was a big factor, but it’s Rod’s throaty rasp and bawdy tale of a young chap mixed up with an older woman that give the song its lasting character.
33 Marvin Gaye – ‘What’s Going On’
The title track to Marvin Gaye’s conscious-soul masterpiece was nothing less than a gamechanger. Marking a shocking desertion of his more trad Motown work, it gave label boss Berry Gordy the heebee-geebees, but commercially speaking, worked a treat. The single went to No.2 in the States, the album to the top of NME’s all-time albums list in 1985.
32 Black Sabbath – ‘Paranoid’
Back when heavy metal could make the Top 5 in the UK, Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ cemented itself in the national psyche and became an anthem Ozzy Osbourne’s never quite been able to shake off. With good reason: Ozzy’s on fine – albeit incomprehensible – form, Tony Iommi sets the riff to ‘bludgeon’ and Geezer Butler and Bill Ward keep that rhythm section galloping. Heads down, everyone.
31 Television – ‘Marquee Moon’
Television didn’t quite have the punk knack. A 10-minute single? That’s the short sharp shock defined. Still, they brought something new the table with their muso chops and – specifically – the spellbinding guitar interplay between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. First they fire off taut licks at each other, later they solo all over the joint, and ‘Marquee Moon’ never gets boring.
30 Al Green – ‘Let’s Stay Together’
Produced and written with legendary Memphis soul man Willie Mitchell, Al Green’s persuasive soul smoothie slinked to No.1 in the States – his only single to do so – and a dozen years later provided Tina Turner with her big return to the limelight. As with all Green’s tunes from a classic period, lazy horns offer the perfect bed for his keening falsetto, soaking the song with heat and lust.
29 The B52’s – ‘Rock Lobster’
The song that apparently pushed John Lennon back into the studio after half a decade’s househusbandry, ‘Rock Lobster’ is a ludicrous platter of fish-related silliness, surf guitar and horror movie ticks – like a wacky pop Cramps. Fred Schneider is the man talk-singing over the top, but it’s the inspired mix of spooky 50s rock and new wave that makes this more than a curiosity.
28 Kraftwerk – ‘The Model’
For such an unusually catchy tune ‘The Model’ took years to make an impact, starting life as a snappy pop interlude on 1978’s ‘The Man Machine’ before becoming a single that was largely overlooked until the end of 1981 when it suddenly pelted up the UK charts right to No.1. Creating an actual song, Kraftwerk beat the pop stars at their own game.
27 ABBA – ‘Dancing Queen’
Separate it from the weddings, hen parties, endless party showings of Mamma Mia and screeching karaoke versions and – well – here you have one of the greatest pop songs ever. It’s difficult to shake the baggage, sure, but soon you’re swept up by the trilling piano, easy beats and elegant meld of Agnetha and Frida’s voices on the single that gave ABBA their only US No.1.
26 Lou Reed – ‘Walk On The Wild Side’
Lou Reed’s one real solo hit was written for the freaks and uniques who visited Andy Warhol’s Factory studio, a hymn to hedonism and shunning the flock. Produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson it’s also got a woozy sax solo from Bowie’s old teacher Ronnie Ross and that bassline from Herbie Flowers, later to give A Tribe Called Quest their one real hit.
25 David Bowie – ‘Life On Mars?’
It was a couple of years before this was released as a single in the wake of Ziggymania, but it still had the resonance to make the Top 3 in the UK. Its weird origins bear repeating – Bowie first wrote it to the tune of Claude François’s ‘Comme D’Habitude’ which eventually became the hoary old Sinatra standard ‘My Way’. Prog rock wizard Rick Wakeman plays stately piano.
24 AC/DC – ‘Highway To Hell’
AC/DC’s cut-glass rocking terrahawk caused some consternation on release, what with that title and butter-wouldn’t-melt schoolboy Angus Young’s devil horns and tail on the album cover, but really it was a coded moan about touring. Still, the riff is Keefy dynamite and singer Bon Scott – who would die just a few months later – has just the right Satanic squeal.
23 Tubeway Army – ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’
Pale-faced synth pioneer (from Slough) Gary Numan fashioned a high concept around his debut hit, a world where an isolated public communicates with cyber ‘friends’ – oh God, it’s happened. The powerful marching riff took it the top of the hit parade, and did the same for the Sugababes a couple of decades later when Richard X cunningly reworked his mash-up of Adina Howard’s ‘Freak Like Me’.
22 Sugarhill Gang – ‘Rapper’s Delight’
Hip hop’s first proper hit was mired in controversy. Sugar Hill label boss Sylvia Robinson had co-opted a trio of obscure rappers to make that pop crossover but they were accused of stealing their rhymes. Still, the track’s bed of Chic’s ‘Good Times’ was a fresh move – and repeated countless times over the years – and whatever their provenance, couplets about Holiday Inn are ludicrous and immortal.
21 Marvin Gaye – ‘Let’s Get It On’
After getting all that political conscience stuff out of the way on ‘What’s Going On’, Marvin Gaye went straight for the groin with ‘Let’s Get It On’, soundtracking a million and more trysts with tumbling funk and a begging vocal that would teeter on the edge of “Let it go, Marv” embarrassment if it wasn’t so downright persuasive. Bet it worked too.
20 Led Zeppelin – ‘Stairway To Heaven’
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’
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 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. The greatest anthem from pub rock’s greatest exponents, it’s the spidery riff that really makes the song, although the story goes it was a lift from Ornette Coleman’s ‘Ramblin”. Dury apologised, but the world couldn’t be that mad at a song this brilliantly ballsy.
17 The Rolling Stones – ‘Brown Sugar’
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’
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’
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’
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’
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’
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’
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.
10 Wings – ‘Band On The Run’
Widely thought of as the highlight of McCartney’s post-Beatles career, ‘Band On The Run’s title track shows up Macca’s skill for elaborate but still-catchy songcraft. Written and recorded in Lagos, Nigeria, it’s the whimsical tale of a beat combo escaping incarceration, building from a dreamy beginning into a funked-up strut layered with horns and sunny melodies.
9 Michael Jackson – ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’
The real Jacko was born here, plotting the future course of soul, pop, R&B, you name it, with visionary producer Quincy Jones. Quite what all the stuff about “the force” is about is anyone’s guess – well, Star Wars, probably – but the ecstatic swirling strings and Jackson’s trademark hiccups and “wooo“s are too exciting to give a fig about anything else.
8 Bruce Springsteen – ‘Born To Run’
The Boss was going for the “greatest rock’n’roll record ever” and who’s to say he didn’t pull it off? A blend of innuendo – “strap your hands across my engines” – runaway sax from Clarence Clemons and full Wall Of Sound cacophony from the E Street Band, ‘Born To Run’ is a chest-bursting tour de force that even survived a Frankie Goes To Hollywood cover.
7 Blondie – ‘Heart Of Glass’
‘Heart Of Glass’ had been kicking around since it was a demo called ‘Once I Had A Love’ in 1975 but Blondie found the courage to release their disco record once they were established on the chart scene. For a new wave band playing with dance, it’s a first-time winner. The pulse is spot-on, although apparently a nightmare to record, and Debbie Harry is a natural disco siren.
6 Donna Summer – ‘I Feel Love’
Donna Summer’s second collaboration with Giorgio Moroder – after the interminable disco lustfest ‘Love To Love You Baby’ in 1975 – is a record with the sort of insignificance that cannot be understated. So let’s not understate it. ‘I Feel Love’ is one of the earliest purely synthetic recordings, the very first house record and the future in an orgasmic space-age nutshell.
5. The Ramones – ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’
On one side of New York you had Television recording 10-minute new wave opuses, on the other The Ramones getting their pop thrash over in a couple of minutes. ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ is a strip of bubblegum in punk clothing, its churning guitars rolling around Joey Ramone’s slurring vocals as the band set a template for punk’s rock’n’roll revival.
4. David Bowie – ‘Heroes’
Written by Bowie with Brian Eno, ‘”Heroes”‘ is a gorgeous, howling tribute to love in all its proud defiance – and specifically to the snog between producer Tony Visconti and his new, secret girlfriend. Bowie reportedly stood at the back of the room to get that distant shout just right in the song’s final third as he battles for space with Robert Fripp’s wonderful distorted guitar.
3. The Clash – ‘London Calling’
The Clash always had a message to impart and what better than a bug-eyed apocalyptic warning? The “nuclear error” at Three Mile Island in the States could happen here too and Joe Strummer wanted us to know, driving the point home with those choppy guitars and vulpine howls. Finishing with a radio signal, this is the World Service in a time of terror.
2. Fleetwood Mac – ‘Go Your Own Way’
Written by Lindsey Buckingham about his disintegrating relationship with bandmate and girlfriend Stevie Nicks, ‘Go Your Own Way’ channels desperation and heartbreak into one of rock’s most memorable choruses. The group’s first Top 10 in the US, it propelled their album ‘Rumours’ into the charts, and has since been covered by everyone from Boy George to NOFX.
1. Sex Pistols – ‘God Save The Queen’
Glen Matlock’s last appearance on a Sex Pistols record is, funnily enough, a bit overshadowed by all the other hoo-ha circling about. This searing, sneering shot of snot-nosed rebellion would’ve made a perfect No.1 for the Queen’s silver jubilee, but was conveniently pipped by Rod Stewart’s ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’. Or was it? Over to the conspiracy theorists. No. 1 or nay, however, it was a testament to an increasingly disaffected Britain that this band of miscreants was pushing up from the back alleys and into the charts: authorities, beware,…