Ask almost anyone about music in the '70s, and you're likely to get a one-word reply — disco. And sure, "Saturday Night Fever" and The Bee Gees definitely had their moment. OK, a few years of chart dominance, but disco certainly wasn't the only music that mattered during the decade. In fact, this genre fanned out as quickly as it seemed to take over the airwaves, fading almost to obscurity by the early '80s.
Yet, even as disco has failed to find any real mainstream success since its late-'70s peak, other genres from the decade continue to find new fans even half a century later. Take, for instance, the singer-songwriters who competed for shelf space with disco albums at the local record store. Many, like Carole King, James Taylor and Paul Simon, have gone to produce countless hits and become some of the most revered names in music.
Seventies singer-songwriters are particularly captivating in retrospect when you consider how much music has changed since then, with many chart-topping pop acts of the 21st century relying on mass-produced tunes churned out by "hit factories" a la Max Martin and similar songwriting specialists. While these tunes certainly are successful in many cases, they don't always have the emotion and authenticity of the singers delivering songs they've written themselves, based on their own lives and experiences.
Think you can name the biggest singer-songwriters of the '70s? Prove it by acing this quiz!
Jackson Browne got his start in the late '60s writing songs for other artists, notably "These Days" for Nico's "Chelsea Girl" album. His self-titled '72 album produced "Doctor My Eyes," while releases later in the decade included hits like "The Pretender" and "Running on Empty." After it was featured in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," his tune "Somebody's Baby" became a major success.
Harry Nilsson wrote songs for The Monkees and The Beatles before launching his own recording career in the '70s. His 1971 album "Nilsson Schmilsson" featured the classic song "Coconut." He spent the next few years hanging around with John Lennon during what the former Beatle called his Lost Weekend, with Lennon eventually producing Nilsson's 1974 release "Pussy Cats."
Kris Kristofferson got noticed when he landed a helicopter in Johnny Cash's yard in the '60s. He wrote hits like "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" and "Me and Bobby McGee," which became big hits for other artists before "Help Me Make It Through the Night" earned him his first Grammy in 1972. In addition to making successful records, Kristofferson starred in "A Star is Born" and later formed The Highwaymen with Waylon, Willie and Johnny Cash.
Cat Stephens recorded a whopping nine studio albums in the '70s, including "Tea for the Tillerman," which featured the single "Wild World," and "Teaser and the Firecat," which produced the hits "Moonshadow" and "Peace Train." One of his best-known songs might be "Here Comes My Baby," which was a hit for The Tremeloes in 1967.
Believe it or not, the release of "Fire and Rain" wasn't enough to help James Taylor find mainstream success in 1970. It took his cover of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend" the next year to capture the world's attention, and earn a Grammy for each of them. Taylor released eight studio albums throughout the '70s, introducing the world to songs like "Sweet Baby James" and "You're Smiling Face."
Before she became a major music star, Joni Mitchell had success writing songs like "Chelsea Morning" and "Both Sides Now" for other singers in the '60s. Her third album "Ladies of the Canyon" produced the hits "Woodstock" and "Big Yellow Taxi," but it was her fourth album "Blue" that is often named as one of the greatest records of the '70s.
Paul Simon wrote many of Simon and Garfunkel's biggest songs, including "Sound of Silence" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." When he went solo in the '70s, he kept the hits coming with songs like "Mother and Child Reunion" and "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard." His biggest success as a solo artist came in 1986 with the classic album "Graceland."
Carole King and hubby Gerry Goffin wrote '60s chart-toppers like "Pleasant Valley Sunday," "Locomotion" and "One Fine Day." As a solo artist, this legendary singer-songwriter found tremendous success with the 1971 album "Tapestry," which included such beloved tunes as "So Far Away," "You've Got a Friend" and "Natural Woman."
After playing with Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young joined Crosby, Stills and Nash at the end of the '60s. His most famous songwriting credits came with the title track on his 1970 solo album "After the Gold Rush" and with "Heart of Gold" and "Old Man" off his "Harvest" album in 1972.
Bob Seger formed Silver Bullet Band in 1973 and had huge success with the release of "Night Moves" in 1976, largely thanks to the title track and the song "Mainstreet." Two years later the release "Stranger in Town" brought the tunes "Still the Same" and "We've Got Tonight," while "Running on Empty" was released at the end of the decade.
Jim Croce released five studio albums between 1966 and 1973 when he was killed in a plane crash. His biggest hits include "Time in a Bottle" off his third album, "Big, Bad Leroy Brown" off of "Life and Times" and "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song," which came out after his death.
George Ivan Morrison was ahead of his time with his 1968 album "Astral Weeks," which was overlooked at the time, but has since become a favorite of critics. The 1970 album "Moondance" brought him commercial success, which continued in 1971 with "Tupelo Honey." The song "Wild Night" off of this release got major airplay in the '90s thanks to a John Mellencamp cover.
Leonard Cohen was in his 30s when he switched from writing to music in an attempt to pay the bills. He wrote the song "Bird on a Wire" for his second album in 1969, while "Famous Blue Raincoat" was his biggest release in the '70s. Cohen's greatest songwriting success came in 1984 with the song "Hallelujah" from the album "Various Positions."
Bob Dylan was a folk music hero in the '60s with songs like "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" and "Like a Rolling Stone." A 1966 motorcycle accident took him off the music scene for a bit, but he came back strong with "Blood on the Tracks" in the '70s, which featured the songs "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Shelter from the Storm."
Gordon Lightfoot is such a great songwriter that even Bob Dylan once said in an interview, "I can't think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don't like." Lightfoot made a splash in 1971 with "If You Could Read My Mind," but his biggest hit by far was the 1976 tune "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
Elton John and Bernie Taupin became songwriting partners when both responded to an add seeking songwriters — and what a partnership it's been. With Elton at the piano, the pair's songs have topped the charts for decades, and include such hits as "Your Song," "Tiny Dancer," "Crocodile Rock" and "Daniel." Who would have guessed that a guy born Reginald Kenneth Dwight could be this cool?
Tom Waits had hits with "The Heart of Saturday Night" and the Bette Midler duet "I Never Talk to Strangers" back in the '70s. Since then, he's released "Downtown Train," which was famously covered by Rod Stewart, as well as "Way Down in the Hole," which was used as the theme song to HBO's "The Wire."
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers found mainstream success in the '70s with "You're Gonna Get It!," which featured "Listen to her Heart" and "I Need to Know." Since then, Petty has become a legend for songs like "Don't Do Me Like That," "You Don't Know How It Feels" and of course, "Free Fallin'."
No matter how much success Don McLean has, he will always be best remembered for his 1971 song "American Pie," which mourned the day the music died. McLean also penned the song "Vincent," which came out in 1972 and started with the familiar lyrics "Starry, starry night ... "
Bruce Springsteen bought his first guitar after watching The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964. He found modest success in the early '70s with the E Street Band thanks to "Blinded by the Light," but it was the 1975 album "Born to Run" and the 1984 classic "Born in the U.S.A." that made him a household name. This artist now known as The Boss gave us such beloved tunes as "Thunder Road," "The River" and the chart-topping "Hungry Heart."
Townes Van Zandt released six solo albums between 1968 and 1973, then spent the time until 1980 living in a small rustic cabin without electricity. While his albums were moderately successful, Van Zandt's real legacy lies in the songs he wrote for others, including the Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard hit "Pancho and Lefty," as well as "If I Needed You," which Emmylou Harris found success with in 1983.
Dolly Parton found major success with tunes like "Coat of Many Colors" and "Jolene" in the early '70s, but it was her 1974 song "I Will Always Love You" that lived on the longest. Whitney Houston covered the song for "The Bodyguard" soundtrack in 1992, unleashing a recording that would top the charts — and make Dolly lots of royalties.
Dan Fogelberg enjoyed plenty of mainstream success throughout the '70s, but his biggest hit of the decade came in 1979 with the song "Phoenix." His 1981 release "The Innocent Age" would add even more hits to his repertoire, including "Hard to Say" and "Run for the Roses."
Warren Zevon found success with the 1978 Jackson Browne-produced album "Excitable Boy," which featured the memorable songs "Werewolves of London" and "Lawyers, Guns and Money." In addition to his own music, Zevon earned fans writing songs for other artists, including Linda Ronstadt's "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me" from her "Hasten Down the Wind" album.
Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975. The band's self-titled album was a huge success, thanks in part to Nicks' songs "Landslide" and "Rhiannon." After writing "Dreams" and "Gold Dust Woman" for "Rumours," Nicks found stardom as a solo act, beginning with her 1981 album "Bella Donna."
Neil Diamond was a songwriter in the '60s, before performing some of his own songs over the next decade, including "Sweet Caroline, "Cracklin' Rose" and "Song Sung Blue." He had a Vegas residency in '76, then wrote "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" for his 1977 release "I'm Glad You're Here with Me Tonight." Barbra Streisand later covered the song.
Bill Withers found success with his very first album, "Just As I Am," which produced the songs "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Grandma's Hands." In addition to penning songs for Gladys Knight, Withers co-wrote the classic "Just the Two of Us," which charted for Grover Washington Jr. in the early '80s.
Loretta Lynn came from humble beginnings to '70s music success, particularly with the 1970 number one album "Coal Miner's Daughter." She broke all the rules with songs like "Dear Uncle Sam" and "The Pill," and formed a successful songwriting and singing partnership with Conway Twitty between 1971 and 1975. Her '76 autobiography was turned into a hit Hollywood movie that won Sissy Spacek an Oscar in 1980.
Jimmy Buffett got his start in Nashville before moving to Key West in the early '70s, where he adapted his laid-back island style. His nine 1970s albums included "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes," which included his signature song "Margaritaville." He found a brand new audience in 2003 thanks to "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," a duet with country star Alan Jackson.
Nick Drake wrote and sang on three studio albums between 1969 and 1972 before dying of a drug overdose in 1974. While his music was overlooked during his lifetime, his songs garnered a fresh look after his death, particularly with the "Fruit Tree" compilation set released in 1979.
Starting in the late '60s, Danny O'Keefe wrote such beloved songs as "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues," and "The Road," the latter of which was famously covered by Jackson Browne on "Running on Empty." O'Keefe teamed up with Bob Dylan to write "Well, Well, Well," which appeared on Dylan's 2000 album "Running from the Devil."
Jim Krueger wrote songs for Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan and David Cassidy, but his biggest contribution to songwriting came with "We Just Disagree," which was a hit for Dave Mason in 1977. Krueger also had some success as a solo artist, beginning with his 1978 album "Sweet Salvation."
Phoebe Snow released her self-titled album in 1974, and drew fans in with her jazzy-acoustic song "Poetry Man." She struggled to maintain a music career while raising a severely disabled daughter but managed to release a total of five albums by the end of the '70s.
Stephen Stills helped Buffalo Springfield find chart success with "For What It's Worth" before joining up with a few other '70s singer-songwriters to form Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. His self-titled 1970 album, one of eight solo albums he released during the decade, featured songs like "Love the One You're With" and "Sit Yourself Down."
In addition to writing songs for Wynonna Judd, Bonnie Raitt and Linda Ronstadt, Karla Bonoff released three studio albums of her own between 1977 and 1988. Her greatest success came with the 1982 song "Personally," off her "Wild Heart of the Young" album.
Todd Rundgren was busy during the '70s, releasing eight solo albums and another five with the bands Nazz and Utopia. His most famous songs are the '70s hits "I Saw the Light" and "Hello, It's Me," as well as the 1983 anthem "Bang the Drum All Day."
Randy Newman wrote songs for acts like Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Pat Boone in the '60s before releasing five albums of his own over the next decade. His tune "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" has been covered by everyone from Neil Diamond to Nina Simone, and for the past few decades, he has scored Disney-Pixar films like "Toy Story" and its sequels.
Paul Davis produced a series of solo hits during the '70s and '80s, including "I Go Crazy" and "65 Love Affair." He later wrote and sang with Marie Osmond on "You're Still New to Me," which went to number one on the charts in 1986.
Linda Ronstadt sang with the Stone Poneys in the '60s before becoming a pop-rock superstar in the '70s. Her songwriting credits include "Try Me Again" and "Lo Siento Mi Vida" from 1976, but her biggest hits, including "You're No Good" and "Heart Like a Wheel," were written by others.
Boz Scaggs got his start as part of The Steve Miller Band before launching a solo career in the '70s. His seventh album "Silk Degrees," released in 1976, gave him his greatest commercial success thanks to "Lowdown," "Lido Shuffle" and "What Can I Say?"