The 1970s were defined by many things: economic change, politics, fashion, movies, drugs, and, most importantly, music. In addition to disco, this decade also saw the rise of funk, soul, jazz, heavy metal, and punk rock. When folks talk about their favorite albums of the decade, chances are high that there will probably be at least one soundtrack among them. Many soundtracks came out during the ’70s which have gone down in history as some of the best musical albums and collections of all time, and many are renowned for their cultural and historical significance.
Put on your dancin’ shoes and boogie with us as we take a look at the best soundtracks of the ’70s.
Across 110th Street (1972)
Across 110th Street incorporates the best aspects of a cop drama, a heist movie, and a mob movie. It’s a savage, yet wonderfully shot depiction of the racial divide in Harlem as well as an example of corruption on both the highest and lowest levels. The soundtrack and score by Bobby Womack and J.J. Johnson, respectively, make this one of the great soul records of this decade. The composition of the score is pure gritty funk, and the songs by Womack truly convey the imagery of the film: being held down by race and poverty and trying anything you can to break free. The title song was also used in the opening credits of the film Jackie Brown.
American Graffiti (1973)
Directed and co-written by George Lucas, American Graffiti is the seminal “graduation” movie, influencing many films all the way up to Can’t Hardly Wait, Superbad, and beyond. The story follows recent high school grads who spend their final night cruising around town in the summer of 1962 before they all go off to college. This soundtrack went triple platinum upon release, and might be the absolute best collection of rock and doo-wop hits from the ’50s and ’60s. At 41 tracks long, it’s one of the longest soundtracks ever released. The artists include Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, The Beach Boys, and many more.
The Harder They Come is a fantastic film is about a young singer with dreams of musical stardom who sadly gets involved with drugs and corruption along the way. This soundtrack is not only a great collection of reggae hits, but helped popularize the genre in America. It features many classic singles which were already hits in Jamaica, but the stand-out songs are performed by the film’s star, Jimmy Cliff. The beautiful and melodic “Many Rivers to Cross” was recently featured in Netflix’sDaredevil, and the upbeat and catchy “You Can Get It If You Really Want” has been heard in some recent tacky beer commercials (a shame, because this music deserves much better than that).
Mean Streets (1973)
Mean Streets is an early work of Martin Scorsese which, like many of his films, shows us the dynamics of crime from an insider’s point of view. It is a realistic depiction of New York wiseguy life and the trials and tribulations one debt collector must face in his criminal community. Scorsese has proven time and again that he knows how to use music in his films, and this is no exception, even if this soundtrack has never officially been released. It’s a great collection of Italian, rock, and doo-wop hits. Of course, a Scorsese movie wouldn’t be complete without a couple Rolling Stones songs, too. Check out this handmade list and build your own soundtrack to relive the moments. Catch the film on Amazon.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Tony Manero (John Travolta) is a young man with dreams of the future, but the only way to escape his terrible home life is to go to the only place he’s king: the club. Saturday Night Fever is the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time! It was added to the Library of Congress for its cultural significance and won six Grammys. Once you’ve heard it, you’ll understand. It completely encapsulates disco culture in less than 20 tracks. Every song is a hit, including jams from KC and the Sunshine Band, Kool and the Gang, The Trammps, and Yvonne Elliman. The stand-out is brothers Gibb band The Bee Gees, performing what would become their most recognizable songs of all time.
Directed by Gordon Parks, the bad-ass movie Shaft concerns suave detective John Shaft, who gets hired by a local mob boss to help retrieve the boss’ kidnapped daughter only to realize there’s a lot more going on. Originally hired to write a few songs for the movie, Isaac Hayes eventually composed the entire score. This was another soundtrack added to the Library of Congress for cultural significance. While mostly composed of instrumental tracks with just three vocal songs, it’s still Isaac Hayes’ best-known work and the best-selling LP ever released under the Stax label. It’s available on Amazon. Can you dig it?
Super Fly (1972)
Directed by Gordon Parks Jr., Super Fly is an often-times silly portrayal of a cocaine dealer, Youngblood Priest, who wants to make a final score and get out of the pusher life once and for all. The film speaks of the socio-political climate of the times and part of that is due to musician Curtis Mayfield. This soundtrack is so good, it made more money than the actual film. Mayfield’s album is one of the greatest soul records of all time. The outstandingly beautiful music mixed with the socially aware lyrics created an album of pioneering significance. This soundtrack stands on its own and is, in many ways, more important than the movie.
Tommy is a surreal, psychedelic rock opera starring The Who (among many others). It’s about a boy with psychosomatic disabilities who becomes a master pinball player and starts a new religious movement. While the film itself is based on the concept album of the same name, the soundtrack features many more artists along with The Who. The re-recorded music for the film was apparently closer to Pete Townshend’s original intent of the album. Elton John’s version of “Pinball Wizard” was a huge hit when it was released as a single.
Up In Smoke (1978)
Up In Smoke, the first cinematic outing of Cheech and Chong, is a goofy adventure about two stoners who unknowingly smuggle an entire van made of marijuana from Mexico to L.A. This soundtrack is one for the comedy album enthusiasts. It features the best quotes from the film, including the best screaming father of all time, Strother Martin. It also includes the classic hit, “Low Rider” by War, along with every goofy song performed by Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong. It’s a shame it doesn’t have the other songs from the Battle of the Bands scenes, but that is forgivable.
The Warriors (1979)
In the slick neo-noir film The Warriors, a tough New York gang is caught on the streets and framed for murder while every other gang in the city is after them. This soundtrack is a quick, fun collection of music from the film featuring Barry De Vorzon, Arnold McCuller, Mandrill, Desmond Child, and Joe Walsh. Many tracks were also re-used for the 2005 Rockstar video game based on the film. Director Walter Hill was always one for using great music in his movies, including his cult ’80s gem, Streets of Fire, which centers around a kidnapped singer.