Songwriter Albums 1970s: 11 Timeless Record Masterpieces

While the 1960s are often hailed as the pinnacle of popular music, the ’70s quietly established its own esteemed position in the musical tapestry. 

Icons like Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones may have led the ’60s countercultural movement, but the ’70s unfolded as a decade of unparalleled musical diversity.

From the rebellious beats of punk and the dancefloor allure of disco to the roots of proto-hip-hop and the thunderous riffs of heavy metal, the ’70s captivated audiences with an array of genres.

With that in mind, this article celebrates the fantastic songwriter albums that the 1970s gifted us. Let’s peek into the past and look at the timeless collection of hits you should add to your playlist!

1. Sweet Baby James – James Taylor (1970)

Sweet Baby James, James Taylor’s second record following a flopped debut album, became a musical landmark of his career. While some initially dismissed Taylor, Sweet Baby James captivates with its simple beauty, grace, and tenderness.

Taylor’s vocals, marked by their sheer simplicity, weave seamlessly with gentle guitar melodies, crafting a folksy ambiance that resonates with authenticity. Each track, a testament to Taylor’s songwriting prowess, emanates sincerity and personal experience.

The album opens with the title song, “Sweet Baby James,” evoking a wistful yearning for the simplicity of farm life. Following is “Lo and Behold,” almost a satire of extreme religious zealotry, delivered with James’ easy singing and acoustic finesse.

“Sunny Skies” and “Country Road” add uplifting notes, unabashedly sentimental yet avoiding excess mushiness. The crown jewel, “Fire and Rain,” serves as a poignant eulogy for a departed friend. Taylor’s vocals reach unparalleled beauty, weaving a tragic yet strangely hopeful narrative.

Owed to his soulful work, Taylor earned his first GRAMMY nominations for 1970. He also won the Song Of The Year (“Fire And Rain”) and Album Of The Year for Sweet Baby James.

2. Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)

Before the duo’s eventual breakup, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released Bridge Over Troubled Water in 1970. Interestingly, although serving as their final studio album, the track became one of their greatest success.

The album’s poignant songs delve into heartbreak, desire, and sadness. But not of the romantic or sexual kind. Instead, the pieces draw from the loss of Artie’s friendship and the dissolution of over a dozen years of musical magic.

Bridge Over Troubled Water reigned at the #1 spot for ten weeks and left an enduring presence on the charts for 85 weeks, speaking volumes about its lasting impact. Since its release, it secured not one or two, but eight platinum certifications.

Despite the duo’s impending separation, Bridge Over Troubled Water won an unprecedented five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. While the pair was wading literal “troubled waters,” their collaboration birthed an enduring work of art that transcends generations. 

3. Tapestry – Carole King (1971)

Carole King’s 1971 masterpiece, Tapestry, is a testament to her talent as a true American master of melody. Shifting away from bubblegum music, she became a cultural phenomenon in the singer-songwriter movement in the ‘70s.

At 29, having spent much of the 1960s crafting hits for other artists, Carole King ventured into a solo career in the early ’70s. Tapestry became her breakout work, achieving phenomenal commercial and critical success.

The multiple Grammy Award-winning album features a dozen tunes, both new compositions and classics from Carole King’s hit-making days in the ’60s. Notably, two singles from the album soared to the top of the pop charts, ensuring King’s enduring legacy.

Set of retro vinyl records on table

King, already a superior pop composer, reached greater heights as a performer. Hits like “It’s Too Late” and “I Feel the Earth Move” stood alongside past gems. Classics such as “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” gained added resonance in King’s warm, compelling voice.

With a reliance on pianos and gentle drumming, Tapestry exudes a light and airy quality, occasionally flirting with the boundaries of jazz. Yet, beneath its surface, it unfolds as an intensely emotional record, with confessional and direct songs that connect with listeners like few before it.

4. Madman Across the Water – Elton John (1971)

Elton John’s 1971 release, Madman Across The Water, is arguably the pinnacle of his classic era. It marks a creative zenith for both the legendary musician and his long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin. 

While many releases from John’s classic era can be thought of as defining works, Madman Across The Water offers a cohesive album experience that knows no peer. The sweeping string arrangements by Paul Buckmaster, reminiscent of its predecessors, infuse the songs with a richly dark and haunting edge.

Producer Gus Dudgeon, while embracing the album’s grand orchestration, masterfully carves out space for Elton John’s melodic genius to shine. Tracks like “Tiny Dancer” showcase the delicate balance between elaborate arrangements and John’s captivating delivery.

The album, nestled in a compelling blend of rock and pop with an orchestral musical style, solidifies Elton John’s status as a consummate musician.

5. Paul Simon – Paul Simon (1972)

The self-titled Paul Simon, released in January 1972, marked a significant chapter in the solo career of the American singer-songwriter. This album emerged nearly two years after Paul Simon’s split from his longtime musical partner, Art Garfunkel.

Paul Simon’s solo record embraced a low-key and relaxed atmosphere, showcasing a notable departure from the grandiosity of Bridge Over Troubled Water. 

While openly autobiographical at times, it featured Simon’s guitar at its core, with occasional ventures into world music, such as the Peruvian sounds in “Duncan.” 

Notable tracks like “Mother and Child Reunion” revealed Simon’s exploration of reggae, infusing the song with a terrific chorus and infectious backing vocals.

The album may be less ambitious and wide-reaching compared to Bridge Over Troubled Water. But it laid the foundation for Simon’s fruitful solo career, hoisting the iconic artist on the same stage as James Taylor and Carole King.

6. Innervisions – Stevie Wonder (1973)

In 1973, at the tender age of 23, Stevie Wonder, already a Tamla/Motown luminary with 15 albums to his credit, unleashed the musical masterpiece that is “Innervisions.” 

Following the triumphs of Superstition and You Are the Sunshine of My Life, both chart-toppers in 1972, Wonder stood as an unrivaled force in the music world.

Beyond its musical brilliance, the album takes a poignant aim to protest against the time’s systemic issues. Tracks like “Higher Ground,” “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing,” and “Living for the City” tackles everything from love, drug addiction, and racial inequality.

A recipient of the Album of the Year honor at the 1974 Grammy Awards, “Innervisions” is a testament to Wonder’s songwriting talent.

Nestled between a remarkable quintet including Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Songs in the Key of Life, and Hotter than July, the record secured Wonder’s title as a funk and soul titan.

7. Court and Spark – Joni Mitchell (1974)

Released in 1974, Joni Mitchell’s sixth album, Court and Spark, bridges two popular genres of her time: folk-rock and neo-jazz.

Following the success of Blue and For the Roses, Mitchell dedicated much of 1973 to crafting this musical gem, wedding exquisite musicality with a confessional and spontaneous aura.

Court and Spark revolve around themes of love and fleeting relationships. The new musical approach struck a chord with audiences, propelling the record to become her best-selling and only chart-topping album.

Her pure yet sensuous voice, paired with the wit of her lyrics and the guileful arrangements ensure the enduring sincerity of the album. 

8. Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan (1975)

Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, released in 1975, was a remarkable artistic leap forward while also harking back to his former glories. 

Widely acclaimed, it finds its place at the summit of numerous critical “Best Of” lists—from the Best of the ’70s to the Best Rock Album of the Last 50 Years, Best Breakup Album, Best Singer-Songwriter Album, and even the Best Bob Dylan Album.

This moody epic is more than a collection of songs; it’s an emotional odyssey. Filled with open-ended pronouns, the album invites listeners to immerse themselves in its narrative, creating a space for personal emotional connections.

Vinyl Records and Turntable Vinyl Player

Whether bitter, sorrowful, regretful, or peaceful, the album lays bare Dylan’s emotions in a way that feels remarkably close to wearing his heart on his sleeve.

Dylan himself expressed his confusion about the album’s popularity. “It’s hard for me to relate to that [people enjoying painful songs],” he said the year Blood on the Tracks came out. 

But as many of his fans pointed out, the Nobel for Literature laureate’s music goes far beyond the lyrics. Transcending emotional wreckage, Blood on the Tracks radiates an undeniable warmth, becoming one of Dylan’s most inviting works.

9. The Stranger – Billy Joel (1977)

Billy Joel’s musical persona solidified with The Stranger, his fourth album for Columbia and fifth as a solo artist. Before this, Joel had only two Top 40 songs – the iconic “Piano Man” and “The Entertainer.”

The surprise success of The Stranger reshaped his career, boasting ballads like the sweet and slick “Just the Way You Are” and the infectious rocker “Only the Good Die Young.”

The Stranger is, in many ways, a conceptual ode to Joel’s native New York, echoing Springsteen’s working-class fables. 

It explores his stubborn resistance to change, evident in tracks like “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” challenging the ’70s notion that suburban life equates to a better existence.

In essence, while Joel’s music embodies the quintessential “American” spirit, The Stranger becomes a rejection of the traditional American dream.

Linda Ronstadt’s acclaim for one of the tracks, calling it one of the greatest songs she’s ever heard, foreshadowed the album’s widespread recognition. Echoing her sentiment, The Recording Academy bestowed the Grammys for Record and Song of the Year upon Joel.

10. Comes a Time – Neil Young (1978)

Reprise Records unveiled Neil Young’s mostly acoustic masterpiece, Comes a Time, in October 1978, marking his ninth studio album.

Following a split with partner Carrie Snodgress three years prior, the tracks unfold as a deeply personal journey through the highs of new love to the melancholy of reflection.

The leadoff song, “Goin’ Back,” sets the album’s retrospective theme, enriched with orchestral backing and a deliberate beat reminiscent of Young’s iconic hit “Heart of Gold.” 

Captivating melodies, love-filled lyrics, rich arrangements, and steel guitar solos steal the spotlight in the album. Neil Young’s vocals, harmonized with the enchanting Nicolette Larson, add an extra layer of charm.

The authenticity, coupled with simplicity, lyrical balladeering, and a return to basics with acoustic guitar, banjo, and pedal steel, distinguish Comes a Time as a classic American album

11. Ricky Lee Jones – Ricky Lee Jones (1979)

If you’re a devotee of legendary singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones, her self-titled album from 1979 is a delightful immersion into her distinctive voice, introspective lyrics, and genre-defying sound.

Rickie Lee Jones comes forth as a musical blend, akin to the love child of Laura Nyro and Tom Waits, with an expressive soprano voice characterized by sudden shifts in volume and force. Her lyrical focus on the vibrant street life of Los Angeles adds to her distinctive charm.

Within the songs is a cast of colorful characters, including Chuck E., Bragger, and Kid Sinister, reminiscent of the narrative richness found in the works of Bruce Springsteen.

Making a promising debut, the self-titled album brought together a stellar team of musicians, featuring talents like Dr. John, Victor Feldman, Willie Weeks, and Red Callender.

In its entirety, Rickie Lee Jones is an astonishing debut, a synthesis of familiar styles interwoven with Jones’s musical individuality.

Final Thoughts

The 1970s witnessed profound global and musical transformations. But amidst the era’s upheavals, a tapestry of unique and exquisite musical creations emerged.

Artists like Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John, Carole King, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, and Neil Young crafted timeless albums, leaving an indelible mark on musical history.

That ends our tour of the greatest albums of the 1970s. It’s time to plug in your earphones and enjoy the timeless masterworks that shaped a generation!