Black Music Month: 10 Songs That Defined The 1970s

Patti, Tina, Marvin and more!

Black Music Month is a time to honor and celebrate the immense contributions of Black artists to the rich tapestry of music. Black musicians have shaped and transformed various genres throughout history, leaving an undeniable mark on the cultural landscape. 

As we reflect on the 1970s, a pivotal era in music history, we recognize ten iconic songs that emerged. These songs dominated the charts and transcended boundaries, resonated with audiences worldwide and became timeless classics.

  1. “What’s Going On” (1971)

    In 1971 Marvin Gaye captured American life with "What's Going On." The country was reeling after the 1960s, the Vietnam War was still raging and conservatism was back with President Richard Nixon. Motown president Berry Gordy famously rejected Gaye’s insistence on “protest” music. Fortunately, Gaye prevailed, and the rest is music history. The song sold two million copies.

  2. "Proud Mary" (1971)

    In 1971, Ike and Tina Turner covered Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary." Tina Turner would make the song iconic throughout her entire career. With one of the most memorable intros in music history and unforgettable choreography, this rock, dance and R&B track is immortal. 

  3. "Soul Makossa" (1972)

    While Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" is usually credited as the first disco song, most music historians say it was "Soul Makossa,"  by Cameroon saxophonist and songwriter Manu Dibango. Released in 1972, the song peaked peaked at No., 35 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1973 and was a worldwide hit. This track laid the foundation for disco and has been sampled over 70 times. If you don't think you know it, listen above and you'll remember the famous beat.

  4. “Lady Marmalade” (1974)

    “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle (Nona Hendryx, Patti LaBelle and the late-great Sarah Dash) is among the most memorable songs of the ‘70s due to that racy, yet catchy hook. Though the 2001 remake for Moulin Rouge, sung by Christina Aguilera, Maya, Pink, and Lil’ Kim won a Grammy, the Labelle version is the one that the Library of Congress added to the National Recording Registry in 2020.

  5. “Lovin’ You” (1974)

    Minnie Riperton and her husband, Richard Rudolph, not only collaborated on the song, which went #1 on the Hot 100 Billboard chart, as well as gold, but they collaborated on making their second child, actress Maya Rudolph, while working on it. Stevie Wonder co-produced the song, which Richard says reflects the couple’s loving relationship, anchored by Riperton’s otherworldly, ‘whistle register” vocals.

  6. “That’s The Way Of The World” (1975)

    Maurice White founded the band to uplift listeners with the spirituality he was exploring in his own life. Among the significant songs Earth, Wind & Fire recorded during their chart domination in the era, this particular one, written along with White’s brother Verdine and longtime collaborator Charles Stepney, stands out for its hopeful, expansive view of humanity.

  7. Bad Girls (1979)

    No other artist defined the 1970s like Donna Summer. Her 1979 double album Bad Girls was a monster hit and the title track charted at No. 1. Written by Summer, "Bad Girls" showcased Donna Summer's versatility as an artist. It blended elements of disco, funk, and rock, creating a unique sound that set it apart from other disco tracks By the 1980s, there was an attempt to kill disco but this song has remained a classic over the decades.

  8. “I Wish” (1976)

    The nostalgic song from Stevie Wonder’s nearly flawless Songs in the Key of Life album anchors the project with its yearning for times past and as the lead single, sets up one of the most extraordinary musical projects of all time. A number-one hit across the board (Wonder’s fifth), it won a Grammy in 1976 and remains a classic among classics today.

  9. "Best of My Love" (1977)

    Hands down, "Best of My Love"  by The Emotions is one of the best songs of the 1970s. Released in 1977, this infectious disco anthem captivated audiences with its energetic rhythms, soulful harmonies, and irresistible melodies. The song's remarkable success catapulted The Emotions to new heights and left an indelible mark on popular culture.

  10. "Close the Door" (1978)

    From Teddy Pendergrass's second solo album,  Life Is a Song Worth Singing, the song charted at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart. Written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, it is one of the greatest love songs of all time, reminding to not only to dance in the 1970s but to make love.

  11. “Rapper’s Delight” (1979)

    Although there remains some debate as to whether it’s hip-hop’s official first single, what’s obvious is its lasting influence and its position as one of the genre’s earliest recorded hits. “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang charted on both the mainstream and soul charts (now the R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart), going as high as No. 4. The song would pave the way for the explosion of hip-hop in the 1980s. In 2014, “Rapper’s Delight” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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