The following page includes a year-by-year snapshot of what was happening in the world of Top 40 music in the 1970s. With the help of music industry professionals like Ed Osborne and the Top40Weekly staff, we have compiled a brief overview of some of the important events, songs, and artists influencing the music landscape and the Top 40 charts during each year in this decade. The artists and songs included in the Top 40 charts during these years impacted our lives in many ways. Top40weekly is simply looking back through a wide-angle lens to share with you our thoughts. We hope that you enjoy reading our year in music commentaries.
Table of Contents
A Year in Music – 1970
The Top 40 at the beginning of 1970 was a hodgepodge of genres and sounds; from the easy listening “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” (which was ultimately the #1 single of the year) to the hard rockin’ “Whole Lotta Love” and the soft rock of “Leaving On A Jet Plane.”
By far, the standout entry in the Top 10 was an explosive debut single by The Jackson 5. It roared out of an AM radio speaker, with an exciting piano glissando, guitar riff, and bass run intro that perfectly slid into the opening lead vocals of Michael and his backing brothers. It was the first of four chart-toppers for them in the first six months of 1970.
The first #1 of 1970 was the aforementioned “Raindrops.” sung by B.J. Thomas and written by hit song writers Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It had been featured in the top-grossing movie of 1969: Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Thomas was brought to the songwriters’ attention by their main singer Dionne Warwick, whose recording of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” was a 1970 Top 10. The songwriting duo also scored that year with “One Less Bell to Answer” (The 5th Dimension) and another #1 “(They Long To Be) Close To You” (Carpenters).”
These Bacharach and David songs were part of a developing wave of soft-rock records, many of which fit into the singer/songwriter movement, which included ones by Bread (with lead singer and chief composer David Gates) and James Taylor.
Another pop sub-genre was jazz-rock that started with Blood, Sweat & Tears the year before, and now had its most successful proponent in Chicago, which racked up its first two Top 10 singles and set them on the path to monstrous multi-platinum album sales throughout the decade.
Despite the influx of mellower music, 1970 did have its share of good ole rock ’n’ roll and edgier fare. Creedence Clearwater Revival continued its gold record run with three more double-sided Top 5 smashes, and a new, harder sound joined them on the charts, courtesy of Led Zeppelin, Free (“All Right Now”), and The Guess Who (“American Woman”).
Nineteen seventy saw a number of performers at Woodstock. The previous year reaped the benefits of their participation, thanks to the release of the documentary film in March and its soundtrack in May. Among them were Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (“Woodstock”), Santana (“Evil Ways”), and Joe Cocker (“Cry Me A River”).
On the soul side, Sly & The Family Stone and The Temptations continued to mine the funky groove, while other Motown label mates of The Tempts — including Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Rare Earth, and The Supremes — sold strongly, as well.
But Motown’s hottest 45 after “I Want You Back” was the incendiary protest anthem “War” by Edwin Starr.
“War” caught the mood of anti-war protesters who were stunned and angered by the ongoing escalation of America’s involvement in Vietnam and specifically the killing of four college students by US National Guardsmen at Kent State University on May 4. One month after the shooting, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young responded with their heartfelt “Ohio,” which quickly became a protest anthem.
In direct contrast to the turmoil roiling America, there came four pure pop hits from England. Three of the “groups” were session musicians backing up singer Tony Burrows: Edison Lighthouse’s “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes),” Brotherhood Of Man (“United We Stand”), and White Plains “My Baby Loves Lovin’”). The fourth — Vanity Fare — was a real working band who reached the Top 5 with “Hitchin’ A Ride.”
The biggest band in the world, of course, was still The Beatles, who had a #1 single in April: the month that Paul McCartney announced that the Fab Four were breaking up. John Lennon had already released his first solo single “Instant Karma,” which sat one
spot below “Let It Be” that month. George Harrison also struck out on his own later that year, becoming the first former Beatle to have a #1 on his own with “My Sweet Lord.”
Beatles fans around the world were shocked and shaken. In June John, Paul, George, and Ringo bowed out with a final majestic chart-topper: “The Long And Winding Road.”
Another consistent hit-making group — Simon & Garfunkel (who at four-and-a-half years of releasing smash singles and albums were ancient by Top 40 standards) — kicked off 1970 with their biggest 45 to date, the Grammy Award winning “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
On radio and on the album chart, the gap between AM and FM and singles and LPs that began in 1968 continued to widen. In 1970, the #1 LPs all fell into the rock category. In addition to the artists who delivered hit singles as well as best-selling albums — such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Creedence Clearwater Revival — others were most successful as LP acts that year. Among them were Grand Funk Railroad, The Moody Blues, The Band, The Who, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones (who didn’t ever release a single in 1970).
Nineteen seventy closed in much the same way as it began, with a little bit of this and a little bit of that in the Top 10. There was some Motown soul (“The Tears Of A Clown”), some Adult Contemporary (“One Less Bell To Answer”), some FM album cuts (“Black Magic Woman” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is”), and a pair of tunes for the teens and tweens (“Knock Three Times” and “I Think I Love You”). Most notable was how few of the tracks in the Top 40 rocked. At year’s end the beat was definitely not going on.
Record of the Year – Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon And Garfunkel
Album of the Year – Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon And Garfunkel
Song of the Year – Bridge Over Troubled Water by Paul Simon
Best New Artist – Carpenters
Top Songs of 1970 based on the Nolan Method
1. Raindrop Keep Fallin’ on My Head by B.J. Thomas
2. Let It Be by The Beatles
3. (They Long to Be) Close to You by The Carpenters
4. I Want You Back by The Jackson 5
5. Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon And Garfunkel
For the complete list of Top 100 songs for 1970, click here.