The 1970s saw the rise of funk, disco, and protest songs. ’70s Black music helped change popular music forever, with hits and artists still popular today.
This list covers some of the best and most influential sounds of the decade. Oldies stations worldwide still play these fantastic songs.
“I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5
Song Year: 1970
Michael Jackson was only nine years old when he became the lead singer of his family’s singing group in 1967. In June of that year, they won the amateur contest at the Apollo Theater six times in a row.
By November, they’d signed their first recording contract. The contract they later signed with Motown Records in 1970 led them to their biggest hits, like this song from their second album and “ABC.”
The group sold a million copies of their albums by the end of 1970.
Jackson’s pure singing voice made this song a hit for the Jackson 5. He went solo in 1972, and by the end of the decade, had won his first solo Grammy.
“Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
Song Year: 1973
This Grammy-winning track became a signature song for Gladys Knight & The Pips about leaving LA and going home to Georgia.
The group had a successful career with Motown Records in the 1960s, but this 70s Black music hit remains their most well-known song. It often comes up on lists covering the best music of all time.
“Lean on Me” by Bill Withers
Song Year: 1972
This song about friendship was a crossover hit for Bill Withers, charting on the R&B and mainstream Top 100 charts.
Many other artists have recorded this song over the years, but Wither’s original version still gets radio play today. He had several hits in the 1970s, including the still popular “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
Withers won Grammys for two other songs during his career but won his third for this song. He didn’t win for the recording but for writing it after it became a hit again in 1988 for Club Nouveau.
“Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack
Song Year: 1973
This beautiful song won Roberta Flack a Grammy Award for Best Record in 1974. The album that bears the same title was nominated but lost to Stevie Wonder.
This track became one of Roberta Flack’s most famous songs and one she’s most known for, along with “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”
“Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder
Song Year: 1976
Stevie Wonder was already a hit-maker with Grammy Awards under his belt when he released this jazzy, upbeat song he wrote about the birth of his daughter.
This song and his changing musical style grew his popularity and led him to become one of the most beloved musical artists of all time, producing hit after hit for the next several years.
To date, Wonder has sold over 100 million copies of his albums worldwide.
“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge
Song Year: 1979
This disco-era group of sisters had success as early as 1973 with a couple of chart-topping singles in the UK and Japan like “Mama Never Told Me.”
This song made them worldwide stars. Major League Baseball team the Pittsburgh Pirates used the song as their anthem in 1979 and invited Sister Sledge to sing their hit at the first game of the World Series. The team went on to win the championship.
“We Are Family ” became the group’s signature song and their biggest hit.
“Three Times a Lady” by The Commodores
Song Year: 1978
The Commodores, who still perform today, were one of the hottest funk bands in the 1970s and 80s. When Lionel Richie, who went on to solo superstardom in the 80s, sang lead, they enjoyed some of their biggest hits like this song.
The track is one of the most beautiful love songs ever recorded and is one of their biggest hits along with “Easy” and the funk favorite “Brick House.”
“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green
Song Year: 1972
This song about sticking it out in a relationship became a #1 hit for Al Green and his signature song. He won 11 Grammy Awards and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award during his long career.
Other 70s Black music hits by Green include “Love and Happiness” and “Take Me to the River.”
“What’s Goin’ On?” by Marvin Gaye
Song Year: 1971
This song is one of the most enduring war protest songs from the 1970s. Marvin Gaye was a top-selling musical artist from the 1960s, with hits like “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” He remained a strong voice in 70s Black music with hits like this one.
The song comes from the album of the same name, which was one of the first concept albums ever made. This track is from the point of view of a soldier returning home from the Vietnam War.
The song and its album regularly appear on lists of the best albums of all time.
“Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations
Song Year: 1972
The Undisputed Truth, another Motown group, released this song first in 1972, but this version became popular worldwide. It represented a funkier sound for The Temptations, a group that became famous in the 1960s.
The song about an absent father won a Grammy Award and became this popular group’s last #1 hit.
“Rock With You” by Michael Jackson
Song Year: 1979
From hits like “I’ll Be There” and “ABC” as the lead singer of the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson went solo in the early 70s and released the album “Off the Wall” in 1979.
This song and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” hit #1 on the charts. Though Jackson had top hits earlier in the decade, this album represented a high point for his solo recording career. He won his first of 13 Grammy Awards for this album.
This pop song has shades of the sweet melody and music that made the Jackson 5 a success. While it represents the foundation of Michael Jackson’s solo career, his next solo album was the one that catapulted him to superstardom.
In 1982, Jackson released “Thriller,” an album that produced seven top ten hits and became the best-selling album of all time, a record the album held in the US for 35 years.
The album won a record eight Grammys in one night and changed the face of popular music.
Top 70s Black Music, Final Thoughts
Some of the best music ever made is from the 1970s.
70s Black music changed music forever as it moved into the mainstream, with Black artists regularly charting beyond the top R&B chart.
Many Black artists from the 50s and 60s went on to even greater success in the 70s.
We hope you enjoyed this list of some of the best 70s Black music in history.