Early education is very important, even when it comes to music. When your kids go to school, English teachers make sure they read the classics, so when they are home, it is important that you expose them to the best music of a generation.
Like a list of must-read books, meant to be read cover to cover, we’ve compiled a list of albums from the 1970s that your kids should listen to, front to back, track by track.
We’ve also put together a list of albums from the 1960s that your kids should listen to, front to back. It’s a good idea to look through this one, too.
Before we begin, there are a few omissions you might be curious about.
One album, or band for that matter, you won’t see is The Beatles. The Fab Four released just one album, Let It Be, during the decade, mostly recorded in 1969, while the band was on the brink of imploding.
The band’s twelfth and final album was good, but not great; it’s title track is one of their most popular in their entire catalogue. But to include Let It Be on a shortlist of albums for mandatory listening from the 1970s would merely be a tip of the hat to a band that so clearly defined the 1960s. If we’re honest with ourselves, Let It Be was the first time The Beatles stopped being the leaders of innovation. They were no longer cutting edge; merely a hodgepodge of their previous work.
A genre of music you won’t see is disco. We’ll walk off stage while you hurl tomatoes in this direction.
Now that that is out of the way, we can proceed. Let’s begin with an honest question: can you name one disco musician or band that has an ENTIRE album worth listening to? An album that had a significant impact that can be seen and felt today? The closest you get is Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Sound Track, and that’s an album consisting of several artists, though notably the Bee Gees. You loved disco and it was fun, but it was a flash in the pan. Sure, there are hints of it in today’s music (e.g., Daft Punk‘s Random Access Memories), but those instances are rare. We can’t argue the impact any disco album — or even artist, for that matter — has had compared to anything released by Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, or The Rolling Stones.
Of course, we welcome your opinion and, if it’s convincing enough, we might consider revising this list.
Now, on to 10 Important Albums From The 1970s Your Kids Need To Listen To Front To Back…
Blood on the Tracks
Like he did on our list from the 1960s, Bob Dylan finds a home on this list as well, but this time on different merits.
Previously, Dylan made his mark with stripped-down, politically-charged anthems that perfectly suited the change taking place during the 1960s. But in 1975, Dylan made possibly his most impressive album to date, both musically and lyrically, and it has less to do with social change than with love lost.
Dylan wrote a gut-wrenching break-up album with Blood on the Tracks, denying to this day it had anything to do with his own personal strife — despite troubles with his wife, Sara Dylan — and attributed inspiration to Russian writer Anton Chekhov. Whether that is true or not, it would be fitting for Dylan to pen songs like “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Shelter From The Storm” about a writer who considered literature to be his mistress.
What’s Going On
Marvin Gaye‘s What’s Going On came during a time when music was being saturated with war and social injustice. His concept album, from the title to it’s nine unforgettable tracks, didn’t raise a fist in anger, but merely asked a question.
Finding inspiration from his brother Frankie, who witnessed violence in Vietnam and at home, Gaye was able to create an album unlike anything released by Motown before, which — even with its most politically-charged releases — was made famous by radio-friendly pop music produced with the efficiency of a Ford automotive assembly line.
The impact of What’s Going On resonated in the following years, especially after Gaye’s untimely death at the age of 45 in 1984 at the hands of his father, Marvin Sr., who used a gun gifted to him by his son to protect himself in his home.
Exile On Main St.
We reached peak rock ‘n’ roll when The Rolling Stones released Exile On Main St. in 1972. Everything the genre was considered to be and what the band contributed to it up until that point — raw energy, blues-driven guitar, the soulful songwriting from one of music’s top duos — fused together on 18 tracks.
Born to Run
Rock ‘n’ roll was, and always will be, music for working class people. No matter how great the fortunes those musicians amassed became and how pricey those hotels they trashed were, the music was for those with a blue collar and dirt under their nails. Countless musicians told the stories of people like this, but none other than Bruce Springsteen could personify their lives and troubles like he did.
Springsteen was on the rise and beloved by critics, but neither Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. or The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle were big sellers. Springsteen had a bigger budget at his disposal when he began recording Born to Run in 1974 and it paid off in spades. Having constructed a near perfect album, the comparisons to Bob Dylan would begin to disappear. His songwriting matured — seamlessly navigating a spectrum between despair and redemption — and the E Street Band shined.
“When you listen to Bruce’s music, you aren’t a loser,” said Jon Stewart, recognizing Springsteen during the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors. “You are a character in an epic poem… about losers.”
An intrinsic part of rock ‘n’ roll is rebellion and nothing said it more than the surge in popularity that punk rock saw in the late 1970s. The Clash were at the forefront of that rush with their first two albums, most notably their eponymous debut in 1977.
The Clash released London Calling at the tail end of 1979 and it would instantly become one of the most complete rock albums of the decade, merging the band’s high energy, punk rock aesthetic with greater influences from various genres like reggae, ska, R&B, and jazz.
London Calling made it very clear: The Clash were “The Only Band That Matters.”
There’s no denying how talented Stevie Wonder is, but to put it in perspective, the man played nearly every note from every instrument on almost every track from 1973’s Innervisions. His songwriting on the album new no bounds, covering social inequality, love, and drug abuse. Wonder also closes the album with a shot at President Richard Nixon with his song “He’s Misstra Know It All.”
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
There’s no discussing the music from the 1970s without including the greatest album from the best selling artist of the decade, Elton John. Not surprisingly, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is Elton’s best selling album to date, certified 8X Platinum in 2014.
Led Zeppelin IV
There should be no doubt that Led Zeppelin would appear on this list. But which of their six albums released during the 1970s is a legitimate question to ask. The answer, after much deliberation, is Led Zeppelin IV.
The album is sprinkled with greatest hits: “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” and the equally loved/maligned “Stairway To Heaven” standout on the eight-song tracklist. But the rest of the album is more than the hard rock reputation for greatness the mighty Zeppelin built for itself over a 12-year career, branching into folk (“The Battle of Evermore”), blues (“When the Levee Breaks”), and lovelorn balladry (“Going to California”).
Led Zeppelin IV had it all.
Pink Floyd already succeeded in the concept album business when it released The Dark Side of the Moon in 1973. The band upped the ante by producing The Wall in 1979; a concept album/rock opera that related to a mass audience.
The Wall addresses Roger Waters’s real-life experiences (along with the band’s original leader, Syd Barrett) told from the perspective of Pink, a young man troubled by loss, pain, isolation, abuse, an overprotective mother, and a failed marriage.
The 26 tracks on The Wall went aggressively farther than anything Pink Floyd had produced before, and, with the addition of the theatrical live show, was more than just music; it was a life-changing experience.
For the Who, following up their rock opera Tommy would be a tall order. They would return to the rock opera with Quadrophenia in 1973, but not before reminding us about the pure, raw, and powerful rock ‘n’ roll they were capable of with Who’s Next in 1971.
Some of the band’s most well-known tracks appear on Who’s Next: “Baba O’Riley”; “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (you’ll also recognize a portion of it as the opening theme to CSI: Miami); and one of their most covered songs, “Behind Blue Eyes.”
Is there an album you think should have made this list? Maybe you can convince us a disco record belongs here! Let us know in the comments below.
~ E.J. Judge, CBS Local
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