Okay I've thought long and hard about this - for at least the last 24 hours, minus sleep hours, eating, playing with my kids, doing house chores - okay let's call it the last couple of hours, long and hard.
One thing I've come up with definitively; the 70s was a dacade of great albums, not great songs. The 50s & 60s had great songs, the decades of Jukeboxes and 45s. By the end of the 60s, thanks in large part to the Beatles, albums emerged as the primary popular musical artform. I could name dozens of great albums of the 70s, from Led Zeppelin's "Houses of the Holy," to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" to The Rolling Stone's "Goat's Head Soup" to Joni Mitchell's "Blue" to Neil Young's "Harvest" to Supertramp's "Crime of the Century" to Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run" to Steely Dan's "Aja" to Elvis Costello's "My Aim Is True" to the Clash's "London Calling" and on and on. Great songs are much harder to decide on. One looks for something else. And actually, with the exception of Springsteen I don't think any of those great albums has one particular song that would make my best list.
And one more point before I unveil my list; it seems that the new instant downloadable technologies are leading us back to the era of the song as opposed to the album. This should make the next decade very interesting from the standpoint of the type of songs that will be produced.
In chronological order:
1. Ball of Confusion (1970) - The Temptations (Really a sixties number but released in 1970 and there is no better song to capture the tumultuous transition from one decade to the next.)
2. Levon (1971) - Elton John (The line "the New York Times said 'God is dead' and the war's begun" did it for me.)
3. Won't Get Fooled Again (1971) - The Who (Originally written for Pete Townhend's failed Lifehouse project, his overly ambitious multi-media follow up to Tommy.)
4. Stuck in the Middle With You (1973) - Stealers Wheel (Produced by the Baltimore Jewish writing duo of Leiber and Stoller who wrote "Hound Dog.")
5. Takin' Care of Business (1973) - Bachman-Turner Overdrive (According to Randy Bachman the opening riff was originally a rip-off of The Beatle's 'Paperback Writer' but I don't hear it.
6. Midnight Train to Georgia (1973) - Gladys Knight and the Pips (The greatest background vocal arrangement ever in pop music.)
7. Born To Run (1975) - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (The only track on the album in which Max Weinberg did not play the drums. They were played by Ernest "Boom" Carter.)
8. Get Down Tonight (1975) - KC and the Sunshine Band (Had to throw one disco tune in and it was a toss up between this one, ABBA's "Dancing Queen" and The Bee Gee's "You Should be Dancing" but since I like KC's song better and he won't ever appear on any other list... ever...)
9. Heroes (1977) - David Bowie (Robert Fripp of King Crimson played the guitar.)
10. I'm The Man (1979) - Joe Jackson (I was thinking of Elvis Costello's "What's So Funny 'bout Peace, Love and Understanding, but it was written by Nick Lowe and didn't quite capture the spirit of the end of the decade the way Joe Jackson's song does. Also Joe Jackson always wrote more catchy tunes than Elvis.)
11. Yes, a number 11 of the top ten because "Hotel California" (1976) should probably make my list but I prefer the discoish "One of These Nights" for an Eagles song to capture the zeitgeist of the decade. Also you can add Don McLean's "American Pie" (1971).
Okay, discuss amongst yourselves, criticize and write me.