The biggest songs of the summer each year in the 1970s
The sound of sunshine gave way to the rhythms of the night. That's the short version of the musical trajectory of the 1970s, as disco eventually swept away the warm sounds of singer-songwriters. You hear that transition as you work through this playlist, the ten hottest songs of the hottest season.
Each of these tracks was the song of the summer the year it was released. Let's take a listen and tell us your favorite.
1970: The Carpenters - "(They Long to Be) Close to You"
If birds did not suddenly appear every time this song was played, imitators certainly did. The tragic-beautiful duo set the mold for the decade. You could argue that half of the songs on this list owe a debt to the sound and vibes of "Close to You." It topped the charts for four weeks that first summer of the 1970s, though its golden haze hung over the following ten years.
1971: Carole King - "It's Too Late / I Fell the Earth Move"
Funky and sad, "It's Too Late" wastes no time getting to the chorus. That's just one of the brilliant tricks employed by Carole King, finally turned her well-honed songwriting skills into personal fame. This double single sold by the sailboat-load (it's far too elegant and sleek for the kind of barge that the term "boatload" conjures) that summer, topping the charts for five weeks.
1972: Gilbert O'Sullivan - "Alone Again (Naturally)"
The Irish singer-songwriter lucked into one of the biggest songs of the decade — the fifth most-popular of the Seventies, technically — with this melancholy ballad. As bittersweet as lemonade mix, it was perfect for lazing about in a hammock. No wonder it topped the charts for four weeks in the dog days.
1973: Wings - "My Love"
It goes overlooked — or willfully ignored — but Paul McCartney was just as successful in the 1970s as he had been in the 1960s. With a new band in tow, including his wife, Linda, Macca sailed smoothly to the top of the charts repeatedly in Wings. "My Love," one of his mellowest ballads, sat at No. 1 for four weeks that summer.
1974: Ray Stevens - "The Streak"
It just wouldn't be the 1970s without a novelty song on this list. Country comedian Ray Stevens tapped into two trends of the era — truckin' and streakin' (i.e., running nude) with this goofy tune, a "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" without the seasonal peg. It was as if Hee-Haw had been boiled down into a pop song, and it sat at No. 1 for three weeks around Memorial Day.
1975: Captain & Tennille - "Love Will Keep Us Together"
No act was better suited for the trends of the Seventies. Adding a pinch of cruise-ship showmanship to the Carpenters' formula, Captain & Tennille seemed like a cross between Popeye and ABBA on The Love Boat. No wonder the whole family loved them. And no wonder that the duo earned their own variety show on TV. Alas, love did not keep them together.
1976: Wings - "Silly Love Song"
McCartney's most self-aware song, this massive smash (the best-selling single of the year, and No. 1 for the month leading up to the Fourth of July) also cheekily thumbed its nose at critics. "Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs," he sang. "What's wrong with that? I'd like to know. Because here I go… again!"
1977: The Emotions - "Best of My Love"
Andy Gibb has a claim to the title Song of Summer 1977 with his unavoidable cut "I Just Want to Be Your Everything." But you'll get enough of him below. Beside, the Emotions sat at No. 1 more weeks that summer — five weeks, compared to Gibbs' three — and dominated just about every chart as the sunny season came to a close. Written and produced by Maurice White and Al McKay of Earth, Wind and Fire, "Best of My Love" shot rays of sunshine from every "AAAAH!" and "Whoa-a-whoa!"
1978: Andy Gibb - "Shadow Dancing"
"In a world of people / There are only you and I." Indeed, in 1978 it seemed as if the entire pop industry consisted solely of the Bee Gees and Andy Gibb. The little brother got the full, lush disco touch of elder trio, who produced this puppy-love slow dance. "Shadow Dancing" dominated the charts for seven weeks that summer, and inevitably students had to hear it that fall at sock hops, too.
1979: Donna Summer - "Bad Girls"
Toot, toot! Beep, beep! The true sound of the hot city streets in summer. Disco queen Donna Summer wrapped up the decade with a boogie and a bang. "Bad Girls" topped the charts for five weeks at the peak of the heat. Late in the summer, as the leaves were turning and the kids started to shuffle back to school, "My Sharona" by the Knack blasted to the top of the charts, truly ushering in the next decade with its tight new-wave hooks.