It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the 60s changed everything. And, not only musically. Bob Dylan and his “The Times They Are a Changin” was the prophet of the age. But, one could also argue that it was the beginning of the 70s, which also saw momentous changes in music.
Not only in how we played it but the sounds we made while we were doing it. That decade produced a whole new breed of singers and some new previously unexplored genres. So, who were some of the most famous singers of the 1970s?
The Rise of the New
The 70s saw the continued successes of some artists and the emergence of new ones. The Beatles left us at the beginning of the decade. Torn apart by issues we don’t need to go into here.
They were never replaced; that was just not possible. But their music inspired a whole new generation of musicians, writers, and singers. New genres were born in the 70s, and existing ones moved in different directions.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
That applied to some genres. Bubblegum and Sunshine Pop both had their chance but didn’t last. Disco arrived and probably would have lasted a bit longer, but for reasons that weren’t about music.
Concept albums, and Psychedelic and Progressive Rock became enormous and generated spin-off genres. And, of course, the Rock of the 60s became the Rock of the 70s, which was much harder.
So let’s take a look at some of the best singers of the 1970s, both as solo artists and at the front of bands, who made major contributions to the decade.
Top 19 Most Famous Singers Of The 1970s
Let’s start this list of the most famous singers of the 1970s with everybody’s sweetheart. Born in Cambridge in the UK, her family moved to Australia. She started her singing career in 1966 but really made her appearance in 1971 with the Bob Dylan song “If Not For You.” It was taken from her album of the same name, If Not For You.
Her wholesome, girl-next-door appearance made her instantly popular, and was the exact opposite of some female singers at the time. Some saw her as a refreshing change. That single was followed by more success with “Banks Of The Ohio.”
By then, she was firmly established, and records with decent success followed, including George Harrison’s “What Is Life.”
Over the next few years…
ONJ had a succession of good songs that were always popular and reasonably successful. She also had two #1 albums – If You Love Me, Let Me Know (1974) and Have You Never Been Mellow (1975).
Her status in the 1970s was already established when she took on the role of Sandy in Grease in 1978. It could have been viewed as a risk. She wouldn’t be the character her fans perceived for part of the film and didn’t have any acting experience.
You could say the rest is history…
The Grease soundtrack became one of the biggest-selling albums from a musical ever. She also had three smash hit singles from the film:[bl]
- “You’re The One That I Want.”
- “Hopelessly Devoted To You.”
- “Summer Nights.”
Her career carried on through later decades, and she was recording great music while in a battle with cancer. It got her in the end in 2023, and a light went out in the music world.
A Personal Note
I met her once. She arrived early in the morning at the private David Lloyd Tennis Club in Heston, West London, to play with Cliff Richard and a few others. She stood at the bar getting some water, and well, you only get one chance.
I walked up and asked if she wouldn’t mind signing a notebook I was carrying. She did and asked, “Is it for your son?” I said, “No, it isn’t, it’s for me.” She giggled, gave me that smile and signed it, and went off to play.
What was she like? Just like you might imagine, sweet, with a beautiful smile and a simple innocence about her. And no pretentiousness, unlike some.
Canadian Joni was a heroine of the 70s. A memorable songwriter and singer from the 1970s. She started in the late 60s and wrote some great songs for others. “Both Sides Now,” recorded by Judy Collins, was one.
Settling in amongst the “love and peace crowd” in Southern California, she came to prominence in the early 1970s with songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock.” In 1971, she produced what was possibly her greatest album, Blue.
It was a period of incredible creativity for her as she used jazz-influenced ideas on albums like Court and Spark, which in time became her best-selling album.
Joni began her most ambitious project – working and recording with jazz bass player and pianist Charlie Mingus. He had asked her to collaborate on what was his last album before he died. It was simply called Mingus in dedication to him.
She released eight albums during the 70s but still saw herself as something else. She designed all of her album covers and saw herself as “a painter derailed by circumstance.” Often at odds with the music industry and its behavior, she quit recording and touring in 2007.
Although she is not in the best of health these days, she is still around and makes appearances to remind us of those heady days. “They took all the trees – Put ‘em in a tree museum – Then they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em.” A genius songwriter.
There isn’t much I can say about the boy just down the road from me in Pinner, West London. As Reggie Dwight, his stepfather, got him a gig at a nearby pub, the Northwood Hills Hotel, playing at weekends. He was about 16. I was younger, so I couldn’t go in, but I went along with my older sister and sat outside sometimes.
Elton was pretty wild in those days…
His first recordings lit up the 70s. “Your Song,” still one of his best, was in 1970. In 1972, came the song that made him an international artist, “Rocket Man.”
In the same year, his tongue-in-cheek tribute to his early days at the Northwood Hills Hotel with “Crocodile Rock.” And Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the album some call his best, came in 1973.
And so the decade went on, one great song after another. He had collaborations with John Lennon and Kiki Dee, producing more great stuff. It isn’t possible to list them all. He is still going, now in his mid-70s, on a worldwide farewell tour.
He Did It With Quite A Bit Of Help
The 70s was the decade that made him, but there is something else that must be acknowledged. Bernie Taupin’s input on the lyrics and often the inspiration is immeasurable in his success.
Where would he have been without him? Probably not still playing at the Northwood Hills Hotel on a Friday night, but also maybe not where he is today. Writing the songs was one thing. Performing them is quite another. And he did that all by himself. No doubt one of the greatest singers from the 70s.
If you say 70s music, you cannot help but think of Disco. It dominated for many years and introduced a range of new singers – some good, some not so good. But, at the head of the queue was Donna Summer.
The arrival of Disco affected some established artists, and they didn’t like it much. There were some new kids on the block.
From Europe With Love
Donna Summer had been living in Germany and working in Europe. She was already known there but on a limited basis. Her breakthrough came with her first album, Lady of the Night. Her first single, “The Hostage,” was taken from that album.
But, in 1976, she made the musical world sit up and take notice. That was when she released the album Love To Love You Baby. And, from that album, the single of the same name, “Love To Love You Baby.”
It was released in Holland first…
But, it soon became apparent this was going to be a huge hit. At first, it was banned from the radio in the UK. But that didn’t stop it from getting to #4. The song did even better in America, where it reached #2. “Love To Love You Baby” became the Disco song.
She followed up that success with another album, A Love Trilogy. An overtly sexual image of her was created to go along with the song, which caused plenty of problems. However, the power of the song continued through those hedonistic 70s days.
She continued to record and perform, and in 1979, released what most consider her best album, Bad Girls. Despite the opinions of certain 70s folk, Disco made a huge contribution to 70s music. And it became its own genre with films and clothing to go with it.
Staying with Disco, Gloria Gaynor was in some ways the opposite of the highly-charged Donna Summer. Her songs were simple and easy to listen to and to sing along with. They were fine-tuned essentially for the disco world, but they were accepted elsewhere.
She had seen modest success until 1974 when she released “Never Can Say Goodbye.” It was taken from the album of the same name. It reached #2 in the UK and #9 in America and was another disco favorite.
Trying to ensure she wasn’t just a “Disco Diva,” she also released some covers. The Four Tops’ song “I’ll Be There” was one. As was Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By.”
However, it will always be 1978 that she will be remembered for…
That was the year that she released “I Will Survive.” It cemented her place in the disco world, but it did far more than that. The song became an anthem for women all over the world and still is. It is still one of the Top 10 requested songs at karaoke.
She Survived, Disco Didn’t
Disco was already struggling a bit and had almost run its course the night that 5000 anti-disco rioters descended on Comiskey park in 1979. They broke into the stadium at an event burning records, tapes, and anything else disco they could find.
The demonization of disco, brewing for a while, was complete, and it never recovered. And, with it went the artists most associated with Disco. I suppose a more intelligent answer might have been, if you don’t like disco, then don’t listen to it.
Gloria Gaynor continued to record and, until recently, still did. She did survive, after all. There are still so many to mention, so let’s abbreviate a few to make sure they get their place among the most famous singers of the 1970s.
The man who reinvented himself more times than I can remember. Ziggy Stardust arrived from somewhere in space and gave us some great music. The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & Spiders From Mars came in 1972. Other albums followed, including Aladdin Sane in 1973.
If he needed to establish himself, which most people thought he already did, those albums did it. By the end of the 70s, Ziggy had gone, but that was another story.
Few singers get the respect that Dolly gets. Starting in Country music, she became a worldwide musical phenomenon. Dolly never forgot her country roots, however, and released plenty of songs from that genre.
She recorded an excellent song in “Coat of Many Colors” in 1971. But, for most fans, it had started with “Jolene” in 1973. She then followed up the next year by writing a song that went around the world, “I Will Always Love You.” Hers is still the best version, in my opinion.
Since then, she has continued to record and produce great music. Although, she is just as well-known for her charitable and philanthropic pursuits. Something she gained my respect for. Well done, Dolly.
Known as the “Prince of Motown,” many of the songs he was famous for came in the 60s. At the start of the 70s, he recorded one more with Tammi Terrell before her tragic death, “The Onion Song.” But, the 70s saw a change in his style with the album, What’s Going On in 1971.
Throughout the 70s, his songs often took a more political stance. The success of the 60s and huge record sales were gone. However, he was still a major force in Motown music. And he remains one of the most popular 1970s singers.
Ann Wilson was the first woman to be at the front of a Hard Rock band, in this case, the band Heart. As the front-woman of Heart, she arrived in the mid-70s and had two successful albums, Dreamboat Annie and Little Queen.
Most of the songs that Heart was famous for came in the 80s, but the band with Ann Wilson at the front started in the 70s.
Along with Glenn Frey, Henley was one of the lead singers of The Eagles. Endless hits over four decades, they arrived in 1972 with Glenn singing “Take It Easy,” one of their great early tracks.
But, it was the 1977 release of “Hotel California” that shot them out of a cannon. That iconic rock song was sung by Henley and cemented their place as one of the greatest bands ever. A great voice then and still is.
Not maybe one of the greatest singers, but one of the greatest frontmen of all time. In the 70s, Led Zeppelin was on fire, and he was at the front of it. Great tracks on every album, but most agree it was Led Zeppelin IV that is revered as their best.
I preferred Led Zeppelin II, but that was in 1969, so I can’t include it. Plant is still occasionally strutting his stuff, only if it is at half the pace these days.
It was all action when The Who let rip, and there has still been nothing like them. In the 70s, they came of age with albums like the great Who’s Next in 1971. That included a song that became an anthem, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Daltrey’s voice had matured even if the mics and equipment were still getting trashed. He is one of the few who got better with age. He is still fronting what many, including myself, would say is the greatest rock band ever. And surprisingly, the equipment is still at risk.
Amazingly, they are still at it today, complete with Daltrey’s trademark “rodeo mic.” Even though we have lost two of the original members, the band still rocks. And Daltrey continues to prove why he is one of the most well-known singers from the 1970s.
There were very few frontmen that could compete with Freddie when he was on his game. The 70s were when Queen arrived and achieved most of their success.
Pick one song from him? Difficult, to say the least. But, contrary to what most people would choose, I am going for 1976’s, ‘”Tie Your Mother Down,” but recorded here live a decade later.
One of the all-time most successful singers of the 70s. Maybe not a singer at all, more a poet with a message. A man who has given us 60 years of magic, and still, he goes on. He has been the “Prophet of a Generation” since the 60s, even though he never wanted the title.
Pick one song from the 70s? “The Hurricane” is his take on the Reuben Carter false imprisonment story. And a stunning reminder of why Dylan is one of the most famous singers of the 1970s.
Another iconic songwriter and performer who started in the 60s and is still working and producing great music today. His lyrics and melodies have meant a lot to more than one generation of fans.
The 70s saw some magic from him after his final split from Art Garfunkel. But, if I were to pick one song and album from this decade, it would be “Still Crazy After All These Years.” Just pure magic.
One of the great songwriters of the period, and another of the songwriters who also enjoyed exposing injustice. His song “Ohio” did that.
That song tells of the murder of four unarmed students at an anti-Vietnam rally at Kent State University in 1970 by the US National Guard. Young continues to perform and record, but the 70s were a time when he produced some of his best work.
Here is a man that changed music in the 70s with songs that made a huge impact. The 60s is when “Little” Stevie Wonder first appeared with songs like “Uptight” and “I Was Made To Love Her.”
By the start of the 70s, the “Little” had gone, and we had an accomplished songwriter and performer. He started the decade with a Pop/Soul record, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” released in 1970.
But that was just the start…
As I said, he changed music with “Superstition” in 1972, with the Hohner Clavinet sound laying down a marker for some to try and follow. As well as the political writing he would later expand upon, possibly starting in 1973 with “Living For The City.”
He also wrote and recorded great songs in other styles. “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” was one, and another was “Isn’t She Lovely.” And let’s not forget the memorable albums. Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973), and Songs In The Key Of Life (1976). We sat back in admiration at the songs, the musicianship, and the content.
But, then, he surpassed it all with his tribute to Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald with “Sir Duke” in 1977. A man who effectively made his name in the 70s and gave us a legacy of great music. Easily one of the most influential singers of the 70s.
Carole King had been writing songs for others through the 60s with then-husband Gerry Goffin. By the end of that decade, she had split with him and moved to Los Angeles. There she met Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.
Her first album, Writer, was received without much enthusiasm. That was surprising because of her already established track record of writing great songs. But, in 1971, she released Tapestry with most of the songs written by her, some backing vocals by Joni Mitchell and guitar by James Taylor.
It was a watershed moment…
Not only for her but for music in general. Possibly the finest album of the 70s, it is one of the best albums ever, in my view. Full of emotion and great songs and not overdone with the production. It produced #1 hits such as “It’s Too Late.”
She released twelve albums during the 70s. And her collaboration with James Taylor saw him benefit with his recording of “You’ve Got a Friend.” She wrote that for him when he needed an emotional lift.
An artist in every sense of the word. No histrionics, just pure talent. Her career still goes on after 50 years, but the 70s may well have been the high point. Let’s just choose one track from Tapestry – “So Far Away.” Another 70s writer that became a political activist later in life.
I have said before that Linda Ronstadt was one of my favorite singers of the 70s. Whilst others were excellent in their genre, Ronstadt was excellent in so many. From Country to Pop, to Rock, to gentle ballads, and even Light Opera, she could sing them all.
She released eight 70s studio albums which brought her 27 hit songs and a #1 hit with the Clint Ballard song “You’re No Good.” One of those albums, Heart Like A Wheel, gave her the recognition she deserved.
She was lucky in many respects to have some great musicians as her backing band. In later years, it was guitarist Waddy Wachtel, but earlier, it was The Eagles. She later became a prominent political activist, for which she drew praise and criticism.
But the 70s were her era…
And, whilst she recorded through to 2004, it was the 70s when she produced some great material. Willie Nelson made a great comment about her when he said, “There are two types of men in the world, those that love Linda Ronstadt and those that have never heard of her.” Quite right.
Do You Want to Hear More Famous Singers?
Well, have a look at our detailed articles on the Most Famous Blues Singers, the Most Famous British Singers, the Most Famous American Singers Of All Time, the Most Famous Gospel Singers Of All Time, and the Best Female Singers for loads of superb song selections.
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Most Famous Singers Of The 1970s – Final Thoughts
A decade packed with greatness across a range of genres. You will notice that some names are missing. I decided not to include some who had, shall we say, got wrapped up in their own imagined self-importance.
And there were too many others to include who just got on with the job of making great music. Hopefully, this short list of famous 70s singers includes some of your favorites.
Until next time, happy listening.