Popular Songs of 1970

Close to You album cover, the Carpenters August 1970

1. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel
2. Let It Be – Beatles
3.  Your Song – Elton John
4. Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head – B.J. Thomas
5. I Think I Love You – The Partridge Family
6. I Want You Back – The Jackson Five
7. We’ve Only Just Begun – The Carpenters
8. The Wonder of You – Elvis Presley
9. The Long and Winding Road – The Beatles
10. I’ll Never Fall In Love Again – Dionne Warwick
11. I’ll Be There – The Jackson Five
12. Close To You – The Carpenters
13. ABC – The Jackson Five
14. Cecilia – Simon & Garfunkel
15. The Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson
16. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Diana Ross
17. Signed, Sealed, Delivered – Stevie Wonder
18. He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother – The Hollies
19. Everything Is Beautiful – Ray Stevens
20. Spirit In the Sky – Norman Greenbaum
21. One Less Bell to Answer – Fifth Dimension
22. Cracklin’ Rosie – Neil Diamond
23. Rainy Night In Georgia – Brook Benton
24. In the Summertime – Mungo Jerry
25. Kentucky Rain – Elvis Presley
26. For the Good Times – Ray Price
27. 25 or 6 to 4 – Chicago
28. War – Edwin Starr
29. It’s Impossible – Perry Como
30. Snowbird – Anne Murray
31. Teach Your Children – Crosby, Stills, Nash
32. Lonely Days – Bee Gees
33. El Condor Pasa – Simon & Garfunkel
34. Fire & Rain – James Taylor
35. Arizona – Mark Lindsay
36. Lookin’ Out My Back Door – Creedence Clearwater Revival
37. Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours – Stevie Wonder
38. I Just Can’t Help Believing – B. J. Thomas
39. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me – Elvis Presley
40. Domino – Van Morrison
41. Solitary Man – Neil Diamond
42. Indiana Wants Me – R. Dean Taylor
43. Make It With You – Bread
44. Love the One You’re With – Stephen Stills
45. Ooh Child – The Five Stairsteps
46. Candida – Tony Orlando and Dawn
47. Come Saturday Morning – The Sandpipers
48. I Don’t Believe In If Anymore – Roger Whittaker
49. Honey Come Back – Glen Campbell
50. Daughter of Darkness – Tom Jones
51. New World in the Morning – Roger Whittaker
52. Shilo – Neil Diamond
53. For the Love of Him – Bobbi Martin
54. Without Love (There Is Nothing) – Tom Jones

If this is your first look at a PopularSong.org top hits list, be advised that this is not a list based on sales, radio play, or original popularity. It is a list of the songs from 1970 that have shown the greatest longevity, and are most familiar to today’s fans of American Pop. Songs that are considered purely “rock and roll” or “country” are not included on this list. The songs must be considered “pop” and potentially “pop standards.” The order and ranking change from time to time as songs become revitalized in movie soundtracks, cover versions, etc.

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1970 is unquestionably one of the most interesting “recent” years in the history of American Pop. It marks the peak of diversity; a coming together of various sounds and influences that truly mark the end of the rock and roll era. Pop, folk, rock, blues, R & B, soul music, country, jazz, traditional pop — and even bubblegum music — are represented on this list.

It’s also a geographical melting pot. Domestically, the northeast is well represented by the likes of Simon and Garfunkel and Neil Diamond. The Carpenters, 5th Dimension and Dionne Warwick offer the southern California influence, while Creedence Clearwater Revival manages to blend a San Francisco vibe with the Bakersfield sound. Stevie Wonder, The Jacksons, Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross give Motown six spots in the top twenty. Elvis Presley, Ray Stevens and a few others bring the Memphis/Nashville sound to the party in a big way.

Four of the top twenty songs hail from England. When you factor in the entire list, we see representation from Canada, Australia, Kenya, Ireland and Wales. While purists may discount that these entries may not belong in the “Great American Songbook,” there is no question that they are hallmarks of “American Pop.”

A quick glance at the list reveals a short roster of key players in 1970 pop. Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles, The Carpenters, The Jackson 5, and — surprise — Elvis Presley were the biggest names in music that year. The first four dominated the pop charts; Elvis and The Carpenters dominated the easy listening charts. Elvis of the 1970s has become more or less a caricature, but the fact is that in 1970 he was the biggest attraction in Las Vegas and his recordings were everywhere. You might also be surprised to know that Presley dominated the tabloids; his whereabouts and love life garnered so many covers that Brad Pitt would be envious.

Some songs that were massive pop hits in 1970 have been diminished over time. The most obvious are “Snowbird” by Anne Murray, “Everything Is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens, “For The Good Times” by Ray Price, and “Knock Three Times” by Tony Orlando and Dawn. These songs were unavoidable in 1970, but receive little airplay or recognition today. Had this list been comprised in 1972, each of these would vie for a place in the top ten.

Other songs were not such huge sellers, but were instant pop standards that have unexpectedly dimmed over time. Perhaps the most glaring is “Come Saturday Morning,” which was covered by everybody from Tony Bennett to Mark Lindsay. Others that were comparable in original success, cover versions and widespread popularity that have since dwindled include “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and “(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story.” All can be considered “standards” or on their way, but not quite to the extent listeners originally expected.

Some songs were expected to become standards, but seem to have been lost in the shuffle of an artist’s career. Streisand fans will cry foul, but “Stoney End” just doesn’t have the profile of other recordings by Babs, both before and since. “El Condor Pasa” was one of the most critically acclaimed songs on Simon & Garfunkel’s landmark Bridge Over Troubled Water album, but is little remembered by the masses. Glen Campbell’s “Honey Come Back” had all the earmarks of a signature song for the popular country crossover singer, but even his fans are hard pressed to mention it when asked to name his biggest hits.

On the other hand, some top 1970 songs were largely forgotten within a year or two, but have enjoyed a resurgence thanks to recent pop culture. The most obvious of these is “I Think I Love You” with vocals by David Cassidy and Shirley Jones, recording as The Partridge Family. Although this bubblegum number hardly seemed destined for pop standard status, it actually passed the litmus test soon after it was released. This measure, which we describe elsewhere on this website, is that a song can’t really be considered “American Popular Song” unless it passes “The Perry Como Test.” In other words, if Mr. C could’ve conceivably performed it, it could potentially fit in the pop standard category.

The interesting thing about “I Think I Love You” is that before it disappeared into hibernation, Como recorded it for a December 1970 live album that sprang from the popularity of “It’s Impossible.” It sounds just like you’d imagine it would. In any case, “I Think I Love You” began a resurgence some two decades later when it was used in a television commercial, and has since wound its way into TV and movies, and been covered by all sorts of contemporary artists. So while it certainly isn’t one of the “best” songs of 1970, it’s easily one of the most identifiable by the current population.

One song that possibly shouldn’t be on the list is Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In the Sky,” which has an unavoidable rock guitar lead. But like The Partridge Family effort, the tune has become so recognizable as a part of pop culture, it must be given its due.

Let’s address a couple more before we wrap it up…

“Your Song” is the earliest entry for Elton John on any of these annual rosters. At the time it peaked at #8, so it was not as overwhelmingly popular as any of the others in this top ten, and actually didn’t chart as high as any of the songs in the top 20 and even some of those as far down as the top 50 at left. What is interesting about it is that Andy Williams, who was very much one of the top names in American pop, booked Elton John on his television show before this tune was released. Williams loved the song, and made a cover recording for one of his Columbia albums. John Lennon also loved the song, calling it the best new thing since the Beatles. The performance on The Andy Williams Show exposed Elton to a wider U.S. audience, and his career took off. As Eltonmania peaked in the late 1970s, purists would’ve left “Your Song” off this list, but its lasting popularity and influence have easily eclipsed dozens of songs that outsold it at the time.

Last but not least we’ll address Neil Diamond’s numerous entries here. The fact is that with the exception of “Cracklin’ Rosie” — which peaked at #1 on the Hot 100 — the other two songs had only modest chart success in 1970. And because they were originally recorded in 1966, the point could be made that they don’t belong on this list at all. With the sudden surge in his career from “Sweet Caroline” in 1969, Diamond re-recorded a few of his older songs to give them a richer sound. “Solitary Man” was completely re-done, and outsold the 1966 version. But “Shilo” was a different story; it was merely re-worked by Diamond’s previous record company, and re-released. It wouldn’t be included here except for the fact that Diamond has toured and supported his older material for forty years since, and the songs he likes to perform have become “standards” almost by sheer willpower. In any case, these are songs that everybody knows thanks to his 1970 success, so they are included here.

And what of the songs that are not on this list? “American Woman” by The Guess Who, “Spill The Wine” by Eric Burdon, “Instant Karma” by John Lennon, “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin are songs that are distinctly classic rock rather than classic pop. Others, like “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations and “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” by Edison Lighthouse are not really pop standards, and have dropped from popularity enough that we don’t have to wrestle with them. Still others, like “Julie Do You Love Me” by Bobby Sherman and “Hitching a Ride” by Vanity Fair are forgettable bubblegum ditties that are waiting for a Partridge-esque resurgence.

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