50 songs you won’t believe are turning 50 this year

The 1970s was a tumultuous time, full of upheaval on many fronts, from the end of the Vietnam War to the dawn of personal computers. It makes sense that its music had a similar helter-skelter feel.

The early ’70s were a musical melting pot where rock, reggae, funk, and pop could coexist. Ingenuity was essential, and as artists were wary of the mainstream music industry, they began doing things unconventionally and bolder than ever. Punk and funk rose to popularity after the age of psychedelia essentially died at the end of the ’60s and became the quintessential sound of the early ’70s.

As the decade moved along, disco was on the rise with instrumental tracks like MFSB’s “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” and Eddie Kendricks’ “Boogie Down” gaining prominence. Love ballads such as Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and Mac Davis’ “One Hell of a Woman” also hits on the radio.

1974 was the aftermath of the explosion that was the 1960s, giving way to a groovy new sound called disco, which would make its mark later in the decade. It was a year when experimentation was key, and these songs are proof of that.

To display this diverse year of music-making, Stacker surveyed Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1974 to highlight the top 50 songs, collected on Jan. 19, 2024. The original Billboard Top 100 of 1974 was published on Dec. 28, 1974, and is based on the performance of songs on the Hot 100 charts between the Nov. 24, 1973, and Oct. 26, 1974 issues. Though some songs on this list were released in 1973, they all charted in 1974. In the ’70s, this performance was based on each single’s physical sales and airplay on American radio stations.

Keep reading to discover 50 songs celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2024.

The Hollies performing on TV.
David Warner Ellis // Getty Images

#50. ‘The Air That I Breathe’ by The Hollies

The English rock band Radiohead reused the chord progression and melody of this track nearly two decades later for their 1992 hit “Creep.”

Pop group Abba posing after winning the Swedish branch of the Eurovision Song Contest.
OLLE LINDEBORG/AFP via Getty Images

#49. ‘Waterloo’ by ABBA

This song won the Eurovision Song Contest 1974 for Sweden, which pushed ABBA into international stardom.

Marvin Hamlish accepts the first of a series of Oscars April 2 at the 46th Annual Academy Awards.
Bettmann // Getty Images

#48. ‘The Entertainer’ by Marvin Hamlisch

This song was originally a 1902 classic piano ragtime track written by Black American composer Scott Joplin.

Paper Lace group performing on tv show.
David Warner Ellis // Getty Images

#47. ‘The Night Chicago Died’ by Paper Lace

After a near-miss at reaching #1 on the Hot 100 with “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero,” Paper Lace followed it up with this successful attempt at the top spot, which lasted only a week.

Dionne Warwick performs live on stage at the Wollman Rink.
David Redfern // Getty Images

#46. ‘Then Came You’ by Dionne Warwick and The Spinners

This song became Dionne Warwick’s first single to reach #1 on the Hot 100 and was subsequently nominated for a Grammy.

Stevie Wonder performing in Detroit, MI, circa 1974.
Icon and Image // Getty Images

#45. ‘Living for the City’ by Stevie Wonder

This song won two Grammys in two separate years: one at the 1974 Grammys for Best Rhythm & Blues Song and the second for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance at the 1975 Grammys for Ray Charles’ version.

Brownsville Station posed for a studio shot.
Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

#44. ‘Smokin’ in the Boys Room’ by Brownsville Station

This song was covered by heavy metal band Mötley Crüe in 1985, where it also found success.

Hues Corporation, performing on stage, July 1974.
Michael Putland // Getty Images

#43. ‘Rock the Boat’ by The Hues Corporation

Arranger Tom Sellers was going for a sound he heard while in the Carribean in making this accidental disco hit.

Three Dog Night posed for a group shot in Pasadena.
Jim McCrary // Getty Images

#42. ‘The Show Must Go On’ by Three Dog Night

Singer Leo Sayer sometimes stuck close to the circus theme of the show by dressing up as a pierrot clown while performing this Hot 100 hit.

Gladys Knight and the Pips performing on stage in 1974.
Bettmann // Getty Images

#41. ‘I’ve Got to Use My Imagination’ by Gladys Knight & the Pips

This song appeared on an episode of the American sitcom series “A Different World” that featured Gladys Knight in a special guest appearance.

Steve Miller performing with the Steve Miller Band at the Knebworth Festival.
Michael Putland // Getty Images

#40. ‘The Joker’ by Steve Miller Band

While it was successful in its original release, this song hit #1 on the UK Singles Chart in 1990 after being used in a Levi’s television advertisement.

The Carpenters with awards for sales of their album 'Now & Then' and their compilation 'The Singles: 1969-1973'.
Michael Putland // Getty Images

#39. ‘Top of the World’ by The Carpenters

After country singer Lynn Anderson’s successful cover of this song released, the brother-sister duo rereleased it as a single, which shot to #1 on the Hot 100.

George McCrae performing on stage.
Peter Bischoff // Getty Images

#38. ‘Rock Your Baby’ by George McCrae

Made with the success of club-friendly “Rock the Boat” and others in mind, this #1 Billboard track may very well be the first intentional disco hit on the books.

Billy Preston plays a variety of keyboards on stage circa 1974.
Michael Putland // Getty Images

#37. ‘Nothing from Nothing’ by Billy Preston

This song was performed live by Billy Preston on “Saturday Night Live” and was the first musical performance to air on the show.

Posed, studio group shot of Main Ingredient.
GAB Archive // Getty Images

#36. ‘Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely’ by The Main Ingredient

While Ronnie Dyson’s original version did well on the charts, the cover by The Main Ingredient’s cover eventually went gold.

Roberta Flack performs onstage at the Park West Auditorium, Chicago.
Paul Natkin // Getty Images

#35. ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’ by Roberta Flack

This song was extremely successful and went on to receive Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

Gladys Knight performing on stage with the Pips.
David Redfern // Getty Images

#34. ‘Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me’ by Gladys Knight & the Pips

The lyrics portray a tumultuous relationship, but despite facing various struggles and hardships, the presence of this special person has changed the singer’s life in many positive ways.

Cher performing on stage.
David Redfern // Getty Images

#33. ‘Dark Lady’ by Cher

This song was Cher’s last #1 single in the U.S. until her hit “Believe,” released 25 years later.

Olivia Newton-John performing on the BBC TV music show 'Top Of The Pops'.
Michael Putland // Getty Images

#32. ‘If You Love Me (Let Me Know)’ by Olivia Newton-John

Tina Turner covered this song for her album “Tina Turns the Country On!” the same year Olivia Newton-John released her version.

Ringo Starr sitting in a studio.
WATFORD // Getty Images

#31. ‘You’re Sixteen’ by Ringo Starr

This performance reunited Ringo Starr with his former Beatles bandmate Paul McCartney, whose singing in the track is often mistaken for a kazoo.

Eddie Kendricks smiling on black background.
Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

#30. ‘Boogie Down’ by Eddie Kendricks

After his departure from the Temptations, Eddie Kendricks found a hot streak that started with “Keep on Truckin'” and followed up with “Boogie Down.”

Posed portrait of Andy Kim.
Gems // Getty Images

#29. ‘Rock Me Gently’ by Andy Kim

So strongly did Andy Kim believe in this song that he recorded and produced this Billboard #1 hit, even paying for the sessions himself.

Paul Anka singing in concert.
Express // Getty Images

#28. ‘(You’re) Having My Baby’ by Paul Anka

This song became Paul Anka’s first #1 hit on the Hot 100 in 15 years since the 1959 track “Lonely Boy.”

Gordon Lightfoot performs live in Los Angeles.
Gijsbert Hanekroot // Getty Images

#27. ‘Sundown’ by Gordon Lightfoot

This song about a man fixated on a certain woman remains Gordon Lightfoot’s only single to reach #1 on the Hot 100.

Olivia Newton-John performs on stage, London, 1974.
Michael Putland // Getty Images

#26. ‘Let Me Be There’ by Olivia Newton-John

This hit song won Olivia Newton-John a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance the same year.

John Denver performing on stage with guitar.
David Warner Ellis // Getty Images

#25. ‘Annie’s Song’ by John Denver

This love song was written as an ode to John Denver’s wife at the time, Annie Martell.

Jim Croce with guitar on stage.
Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

#24. ‘Time in a Bottle’ by Jim Croce

This track became Jim Croce’s second and final song to reach #1 on the Hot 100. A few months before, he was killed in a plane crash during a concert tour.

Charlie Rich in recording studio.
Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

#23. ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’ by Charlie Rich

A Charlie Rich cover of Joe Stampley’s original, “The Most Beautiful Girl” went on to be covered many more times by the likes of Perry Como and Julio Iglesias.

Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney with Denny Laine of Wings at a recording studio.
Michael Putland // Getty Images

#22. ‘Band on the Run’ by Paul McCartney and Wings

The success of “Band on the Run’ gave Paul McCartney a much-needed boost in his career after the breakup of the Beatles and drug offenses.

Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods performs onstage.
Scott Dudelson // Getty Images

#21. ‘Billy, Don’t Be a Hero’ by Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods

This song tells the tale of a young woman pleading for her fiancée not to enlist, though he does anyway and is eventually killed in action.

Blue Swede performing for TV.
Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

#20. ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ by Blue Swede

Originally released in 1968 by B. J. Thomas, Blue Swede’s cover quickly reached #1 on the Hot 100 and proved the catchy power of Swedish pop music.

R&B group Blue Magic poses for a photo with a copy of Right On! Magazine.
Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

#19. ‘Sideshow’ by Blue Magic

Yet another circus-themed song, this song by Blue Magic urges listeners to step up and see what becomes of a man with a broken heart.

John Denver poses for a portrait in his hotel room.
Gijsbert Hanekroot // Getty Images

#18. ‘Sunshine on My Shoulders’ by John Denver

John Denver wrote this song sometime between winter and spring, when the snow finally clears and the sun’s warmth feels better than anything else.

David Essex holding a gold record awarded to him for 100,000 sales of his album 'Rock On', 1974.
Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

#17. ‘Rock On’ by David Essex

This song has been recorded and covered many times, but one of its most modern renditions was by the rock group Def Leppard.

Posed portrait of Jim Stafford.
Gems // Getty Images

#16. ‘Spiders and Snakes’ by Jim Stafford

While at the swimming hole with a romantic partner, the narrator of this song catches a frog, causing the girl to tell him that she dislikes spiders and snakes and that they may not be a perfect match.

Al Wilson in a meeting with his manager Marc Gordon.
Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

#15. ‘Show and Tell’ by Al Wilson

Al Wilson made it to the #1 spot on the Hot 100 with this song, but never again. Wilson kept playing shows and performing nevertheless.

The Stylistics performing on tv show.
David Redfern // Getty Images

#14. ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’ by The Stylistics

Found on their fourth studio album, this song was later released as a single and reached #2 on the Hot 100.

Maria Muldaur performs during the Bread & Roses Festival.
Ed Perlstein // Getty Images

#13. ‘Midnight at the Oasis’ by Maria Muldaur

This love epic was nominated for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the 17th Grammys.

Kool & the Gang performing for TV.
Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

#12. ‘Jungle Boogie’ by Kool & the Gang

‘Jungle Boogie’ was featured on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film “Pulp Fiction.”

Aretha Franklin performs on stage during the 'Duke Ellington...We Love You Madly' tribute show.
David Redfern // Getty Images

#11. ‘Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)’ by Aretha Franklin

This track peaked at #3 on the Hot 100, followed up by “I’m in Love,” which peaked at #19 that same year.

Mac Davis in a posed portrait.
GAB Archive // Getty Images

#10. ‘One Hell of a Woman’ by Mac Davis

This song was written by Mac Davis and songwriter Mark James, who wrote Elvis Presley’s final #1 hit single, “Suspicious Minds.”

Elton John performs on stage at Shibuya-Kokaido, Tokyo.
Koh Hasebe // Getty Images

#9. ‘Bennie and the Jets’ by Elton John

In the U.K., “Bennie and the Jets” appears on the B-side, while Elton John’s funereal hit “Candle in the Wind” would appear on the A-side.

Ray Stevens singing for a TV show.
Tony Russell // Getty Images

#8. ‘The Streak’ by Ray Stevens

This track—about the act of streaking—spent three weeks atop the Hot 100 and was inspired by a spate of incidents featuring the indecent act.

MFSB performing at Sigma Sound Studios.
Michael Putland // Getty Images

#7. ‘TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)’ by MFSB

This track is the theme for the musical variety television show program “Soul Train” and is mostly instrumental.

Grand Funk Railroad posing for a group shot.
Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

#6. ‘The Loco-Motion’ by Grand Funk Railroad

Originally sung by Little Eva, this song has been covered not only by Grand Funk Railroad in 1974 but by Kylie Minogue in 1987 as well.

Jackson 5 Performing on a TV show.
Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

#5. ‘Dancing Machine’ by The Jackson 5

This dance track was responsible for the Jackson 5 receiving their second (and last) Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus.

Redbone on a bench in Germany, around 1974.
United Archives // Getty Images

#4. ‘Come and Get Your Love’ by Redbone

This song peaked at #5 on the Hot 100, making the group the first Native American band to reach the top five on the chart.

Love Unlimited, performing with Barry White and The Love Unlimited Orchestra.
Michael Putland // Getty Images

#3. ‘Love’s Theme’ by Love Unlimited Orchestra

Barry White’s first #1 hit doesn’t feature any of his vocals at all, but a lushly orchestrated song with a 40-piece ensemble.

Terry Jacks sitting wit guitar.
Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

#2. ‘Seasons in the Sun’ by Terry Jacks

Before it became this classic bittersweet track by Terry Jacks, this song was first a 1961 death song by poet and composer Jacques Brel.

Barbra Streisand performing on stage in the 1970s.
Screen Archives // Getty Images

#1. ‘The Way We Were’ by Barbra Streisand

Written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch, Barbra Streisand’s first #1 Hot 100 hit won the Grammy for Song of the Year in 1975.

Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.

Provided by Stacker

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