A significant year in music is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020. Best-selling 1970 album releases illustrated changing times, with heavy metallers sharing the charts with hippies, R&B crossing over to pop charts, and female artists earning positions in the Top 10.
The albums listed below are some of the chart-toppers from 1970. They not only will bring you back to that transformative year, but they still hold up today as great listens.
After the Gold Rush — Neil Young
Mostly recorded in his Laurel Canyon basement studio, Neil Young enlisted Crazy Horse and CSN&Y musicians as well as the young musical genius, Nil Lofgren to create some edge around Young’s poetic lyrics.
American Beauty — Grateful Dead
One of the Dead’s most beloved albums, American Beauty exemplified the Americana genre with its blend of country, folk, and rock. It also included songs written by Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and Ron McKernan and not just Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter.
Bridge Over Troubled Water — Simon & Garfunkel
The final studio album from one of folk’s greatest duos also provided its two most famous songs, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Cecilia.” It won six Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year.
Chicago — Chicago
While this was the band’s second record, it was the first to use the recognizable cursive logo. A double album with highlights “25 or 6 to 4” and “Make Me Smile,” Chicago was quickly certified Gold.
Curtis — Curtis Mayfield
Soul singer Curtis Mayfield debuted in 1970 with this self-titled album. Unlike his work with the Impressions, this collection delivered some funk and tackled socio-political issues of the day.
Desertshore — Nico
German avant-garde artist Nico added more fans to her cult following with the release of Desertshore. Produced by The Velvet Underground’s John Cale, the album included “Janitor of Lunacy,” a tribute to the late Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones).
Diana Ross — Diana Ross
In 1970, Diana Ross started her solo career with the release of her self-titled debut. It was a best-seller and chart-topper with the songs “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Fun House — The Stooges
While folk and R&B were having their moment, heavy metal and punk rock were just getting started. Iggy Pop and The Stooges’ second album was integral to creating a foundation in the U.S. for the latter with seven propulsive tracks.
Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! — The Rolling Stones
The Stones’ live album was recorded at Madison Square Garden (except for one track in Baltimore) and debuted Mick Taylor on guitar. The title was pulled from a Blind Boy Fuller song of the same name that was an invitation to get one’s butt out the door.
Ladies of the Canyon — Joni Mitchell
Laurel Canyon in Hollywood was the music epicenter of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Joni Mitchell was its leading lady. “Ladies of the Canyon” celebrated the female energy and intention of the folk movement with songs like “Big Yellow Taxi.”
Let it Be — the Beatles
In a year that also saw solo releases from John, Paul, and George, the Beatles released their final studio album. While critics were largely unimpressed at the time, the title track alone now stands as a legacy track.
The Man Who Sold the World — David Bowie
The third studio album from David Bowie, The Man Who Sold the World, is considered the beginning of his classic period. His lyrics explore faith, international conflict, and technology while the music moved into harder rock that in previous releases.
Moondance — Van Morrison
Considered one of the greatest albums of all time, Moondance blended Irish folk, jazz, and R&B (including a horn section) the sound that Morrison would ultimately become known for.
Morrison Hotel — The Doors
Reeling from Jim Morrison’s obscenity arrests, a flop last album, and long stays in the studio, the band went back to rock ‘n’ roll basics on Morrison Hotel. With a solid blues infusion and a deep dive into dark lyrics, the band had a much-needed hit record.
Paranoid — Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath’s second studio album includes the band’s most famous songs, like the title track and “Iron Man.” Paranoid is considered one of the most influential works in heavy metal.
Signed, Sealed & Delivered — Stevie Wonder
Topping both the pop and R&B charts, Stevie Wonder’s 12th studio album was the first on which he received producer credit. In addition to the hit title track, Stevie’s cover of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” earned a Grammy Award.
Spirit in the Dark — Aretha Franklin
With chart-topping hits “Don’t Play that Song (You Lied)” and “Spirit in the Dark,” Aretha’s 17th album is still considered one of her best. Supporting the Queen of Soul in the studio were two Kings: Carole and B.B.
Starsailor — Tim Buckley
Leaving his traditional folk sound way behind, Tim Buckley turned toward the experimental in “Starsailor,” which alienated some while exciting a whole new audience with its psychedelic, jazzy influences.
Sweet Baby James — James Taylor
Recorded with an all-star band featuring Carole King and Randy Meisner, James Taylor’s second album put his slow-building career as a singer-songwriter on the fast track with hits “Fire and Rain” and “Country Road.”
Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More
It took nearly a year to get a collection of highlights from the legendary Woodstock Music Festival to market. The triple album highlights include Jimi Hendrix performing “Star Spangled Banner” and Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers.”