In this article, we will explore the best 70s soul songs that have left a lasting impact on the music industry. Originating in the late 50s and early 60s, soul music had firmly established itself by the 70s. We will delve into the chart success, social relevance, and general groove-ability of these iconic songs that defined the decade.
20. ‘Hercules’ – Aaron Neville (1973)
Aaron Neville's 'Hercules' opens with a fantastic juicy bass, accompanied by drums, a soulful piano, and a saxophone joining in at the chorus. The track tells the story of a kid who is doing his best to be aware of his surroundings and steer clear of trouble. Neville's soft vocals make him appear vulnerable, adding depth to the song.
19. ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ – The Jackson 5 (1971)
The Jackson 5's rendition of 'Never Can Say Goodbye' showcases Michael Jackson's vocal ability even at a young age. The track has a smooth rhythm that makes you sway your shoulders. It reached No. 1 on the US Billboard R&B chart and has been covered by various artists over the years .
18. ‘Let’s Stay Together’ – Al Green (1972)
Al Green's 'Let's Stay Together' is an iconic soul song that captivates listeners from the moment it starts. The brass section plays a simple riff over suspended chords while the backing singers speak the title words in a sensual whisper. Green's gentle, easy-going vocals add to the song's relaxed nature. It reached No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and is considered one of the greatest soul songs of the 70s.
17. ‘Family Affair’ – Sly & The Family Stone (1971)
'Family Affair' by Sly & The Family Stone features vocal juxtaposition between the members, with one belting the higher notes and the other tackling the deep notes. The track became the group's final No. 1 single and has been covered by artists like John Legend. It won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
16. ‘Mr. Big Stuff’ – Jean Knight (1971)
Jean Knight's 'Mr. Big Stuff' tells the story of a woman sarcastically calling out a man for flashing his cash and claiming he'll never get her love. The track features female backing singers who add depth to the song. It was certified double platinum and became the No. 1 Soul Single of the year.
15. ‘Now That We Found Love’ – The O’Jays (1973)
The O'Jays' 'Now That We Found Love' is a love song expressing the singer's excitement to embark on a romantic journey with their lover. The track is found on the group's album 'Ship Ahoy,' which reached No. 1 on Billboard's 'Black Albums' chart and sold over 1 million copies.
14. ‘It’s a Shame’ – The Spinners (1970)
Co-written and produced by Stevie Wonder, 'It's a Shame' became The Spinners' biggest hit since signing with Motown Records. The track pairs upbeat, cheerful music with lyrics that tell a different story, making it a classic 70s soul song .
13. ‘Rock the Boat’ – Hues Corporation (1973)
Hues Corporation's 'Rock the Boat' is a nautical-themed song that metaphorically describes a love that has sailed through every storm. Initially overlooked, the track became a disco favorite in New York and gained popularity over time.
12. ‘Lovely Day’ – Bill Withers (1977)
'Lovely Day' by Bill Withers is a sweet love song written for his friend and co-writer Skip Scarborough. Withers' sustained note at the end of the song is one of the longest-ever recorded in an American pop song. The track reached platinum certification in the UK and is considered one of the best 70s soul songs.
11. ‘Best of My Love’ – The Emotions (1977)
'Best of My Love' by The Emotions was written by members of Earth, Wind & Fire. It remained on top of the US Billboard Hot 100 for five non-consecutive weeks and received platinum certification. The track won a Grammy and an American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Single.
10. ‘Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City’ – Bobby “Blue” Bland (1974)
'Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City' by Bobby "Blue" Bland became a classic 70s soul song, despite not achieving high chart success. The track has been covered and sampled by various artists, including Jay-Z [].
9. ‘Move on Up’ – Curtis Mayfield (1970)
Curtis Mayfield's 'Move on Up' is an upbeat song that encourages listeners to make the most out of their lives and overcome obstacles. Inspired by The Staple Singers, Mayfield wanted to write more upbeat songs and break away from his R&B group The Impressions [].
8. ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ – Stevie Wonder (1970)
'Signed, Sealed, Delivered' by Stevie Wonder is a foot-tapping track that showcases Wonder's prowess as a singer-songwriter. It spent six weeks at No. 1 on the US R&B chart and has remained popular over the years [].
7. ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ – Bill Withers (1971)
'Ain't No Sunshine' by Bill Withers is a timeless track that has resonated with listeners across generations. Withers' repeated "I know" adds a unique characteristic to the song. It reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and has become an enduring earworm [].
6. ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ – Gladys Knight & The Pips (1973)
'Midnight Train to Georgia' by Gladys Knight & The Pips tells a sweet story of love and devotion. Originally intended to be a country song, it became a soul classic. The track topped the Billboard Hot 100 and won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance [].
5. ‘Let’s Get It On’ – Marvin Gaye (1973)
'Let's Get It On' by Marvin Gaye is one of his most famous songs and a landmark track of 70s soul. The passionate vocal performance and sensual lyrics make it a standout hit. It reached No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and achieved platinum certification [].
4. ‘Tired of Being Alone’ – Al Green (1971)
'Tired of Being Alone' is a personal favorite Al Green song. The track's upbeat music and Green's adlibs during the bridge make the final chorus even more powerful. It is considered one of the most iconic 70s soul songs [].
3. ‘Love Train’ – The O’Jays (1972)
'Love Train' by The O'Jays spreads a message of unity and peace during a time of social unrest. The lyrics mention multiple countries, making the song feel inclusive and hopeful. It became a No. 1 single and resonated with listeners around the world [].
2. ‘What’s Going On’ – Marvin Gaye (1971)
'What's Going On' by Marvin Gaye is a social commentary song inspired by a police brutality incident. It asks the question "what's going on?" and serves as a love song about trying to understand the world we live in. The track topped the charts and is considered one of Gaye's greatest hits [].
1. ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ – The Temptations (1972)
'Papa Was a Rollin' Stone' by The Temptations tells a tragic story from the perspective of a mother to her children. The track's instrumental introduction sets the stage for the powerful vocals of The Temptations. It reached No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and became a soul classic [].
These 70s soul songs have stood the test of time and continue to be celebrated for their musicality, lyrics, and impact on the genre. Each track brings its own unique flavor to the soul music landscape, contributing to the rich tapestry of 70s soul.
Note: This article is a comprehensive exploration of the best 70s soul songs and their significance. It aims to provide readers with a detailed overview of these iconic tracks and their impact on the music industry.