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"The Pop 100: The Seventies"

Pop songs can be trivial and they can be awesome -- often at the same time. They 
can change the world, or they can make you change the radio dial. They make 
rules and they break them, they play with our emotions, they trigger memories 
and arguments, and just when you're sure they'll never go away, they disappear. 
Love them or hate them, they are instantly recognizable, which may be the only 
thing that Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue" (No. 13) and Gloria Gaynor's "I Will 
Survive" (No. 16) have in common. They are also universal -- that's the 
"popular" part -- but the way we feel about them is highly idiosyncratic, which 
is why God invented so many radio stations. So in the spirit of pop radio, if 
you get to a song you don't like, stick with it -- another one's coming up in a 
couple of minutes.

Below are the twenty-seven Seventies songs that made the "Pop 100," the greatest 
songs of the modern pop era (Feb. 1964 onward) as chosen by the editors of 
Rolling Stone and the crew at MTV in the winter of 2000.

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1. "Hotel California" - The Eagles
Release date: December 1976
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (nineteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Don Felder, Glenn Frey, Don Henley
Producer: Bill Szymczyk

"It was about our facing some of the harsh realities of fame and life in 
Hollywood," says Don Henley. "Back in those times, every day was Halloween. The 
spiritual experimentation and sexual experimentation all mingled at some 

Eagles guitarist Don Felder wrote the arrangement and submitted it to Henley on 
tape. "I put the thing on in my car and drove around Southern California," 
Henley recalls. "That song leaped out at me. It had the two things that are 
necessary for life: mystery and possibility." Henley says he loved the use of 
twelve-string guitar on the track, and its Latin and reggae influences, which he 
emphasizes in the version of "Hotel California" he's been playing on his 2000 

Henley attributes the song's lasting resonance to its "classic mythological 
form"; it's a quest where the hero grapples with dark forces he encounters 
during his odyssey. "It's all the stuff I learned in college," he says. "The 
difference is that it's set in the great American Southwest."

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2. "Brown Sugar" - The Rolling Stones
Release date: April 1971
Peak chart position: No. 1 for two weeks (twelve weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richard
Producer: Jimmy Miller

Mick Jagger came up with the indelible hook for "Brown Sugar" in 1969 while 
filming NED KELLY in the Australian outback. "I'd had a gunshot accident in the 
movie, and I had to go to the hospital," Jagger says. "Everyone was freaked out 
-- they were worried, one, that I would sue and, secondly, that I wouldn't be 
able to work. On one of my first days back, I got a guitar with a portable amp, 
and I was playing the riff to 'Brown Sugar' in the middle of this field outside 
my trailer. They were really pleased."

So was Keith Richards when he heard what Jagger had delivered. "I love it when 
Mick comes up with a good riff," he says. "It saves me having to sweat my guts 
out." The Stones recorded "Brown Sugar" -- which Jagger initially wanted to call 
"Black Pussy," apparently in honor of Claudia Lennear, one of his paramours -- 
in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in early December during the band's 1969 American 
tour. As for the lyrics, Jagger says, "They've got a lot of different levels. 
There are drug references that are sort of covered. The whole thing is double-
entendre. I didn't think about it at the time -- it was very much stream of 
consciousness." And, he adds, laughing, "I don't know quite what to think of it 

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3. "Imagine" - John Lennon
Release date: September 1971
Peak chart position: No. 3 (nine weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: John Lennon
Producers: John Lennon, Phil Spector, Yoko Ono

Though the emotional bloodletting of his 1970 PLASTIC ONO BAND album was met 
with relative indifference by the public, John Lennon still wasn't interested in 
compromising. But he was looking to reach a wider audience, to put his 
"political message across with a little honey," as he told a biographer. He drew 
inspiration from some lines that his wife, Yoko Ono, had written in 1963: 
"Imagine the clouds dripping. Dig a hole in your garden to put them in."

Ono herself recalls that her work was "a conceptual instruction piece suggesting 
an alternative method to create future reality. John got the message." Lennon 
began writing "Imagine" in the couple's bedroom in Ascot, outside London, and 
recorded the song at their home studio, playing a lovely folk melody on the 
grand piano. Phil Spector was enlisted to produce, though the backing 
orchestration he gave it was atypically understated. "Before getting into the 
studio, John and I discussed keeping it minimal," Ono says. The song struck a 
universal chord, despite what Lennon called its "anti-religious, anti-
nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic" stance. "It's not 
necessarily the best song written by John," Ono says, "but 'Imagine' is the most 
successful message song of all time."

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4. "Superstition" - Stevie Wonder
Release date: October 1971
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (sixteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Stevie Wonder
Producer: Stevie Wonder

"Play me something funky," Jeff Beck told Stevie Wonder at New York's legendary 
Electric Lady Studios, after the prolific artist offered to donate a song to 
Beck's latest project. "I wrote 'Superstition' that same night," said Wonder in 
a 1973 ROLLING STONE profile. Over time, that song has become one of the most 
famous, funkiest, fattest R&B grooves to hit wax.

TALKING BOOK's associate producer Robert Margouleff, who with partner Malcolm 
Cecil helped create Wonder's revolutionary keyboard sounds, remembers the 
session distinctly: "We started at 7 p.m.and finished when the sun came up. 
Steve worked better then, probably because as a child his performances were 
always at night. The studio was set up where the instruments were in a circle 
and hot at all times. That way, Stevie was able to go around them without so 
much as a breath."

"I started with the drums," says Wonder. "I was thinking about the beat and the 
groove. I would rush a little bit, but it's all part of the whole feel." Working 
his way around the circle, Wonder added the groove riff of the clavinet, then 
the bass line on Moog synthesizer. Swooping horns were suppled by Wonderlove, 
his touring group. "Stevie loved that song, and rightly so," says Margouleff.

Wonder loved it so much, in fact, that he reneged on his deal with Beck, much to 
Beck's chagrin. Motown's release of "Superstition" as the first single from 
TALKING BOOK, Wonder's second self-produced effort, brought considerable dismay 
and harsh words from Beck. "I did promise him the song," Wonder later 
acknowledged, "and I'm sorry it happened."

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5. "What's Going On" - Marvin Gaye
Release date: May 1971
Peak chart position: No. 2 (fifteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Renaldo Benson, Al Cleveland, Marvin Gaye
Producer: Marvin Gaye

A month after his thirty-second birthday, Marvin Gaye released WHAT'S GOING ON 
(the title notably formed a statement, not a question). Instantly recognized as 
a masterwork of progressive R&B and soul, WHAT'S GOING ON seemed to pulse with 
its own transcendent aspirations. It was a song cycle that depicted the rising 
consciousness of the late 1960s -- black power, ghetto turmoil, campus 
radicalism, ecological fears, Vietnam -- all woven through Gaye's sinuous, 
engaging melodies. The spiritual center was its title cut, an anti-war plea that 
opens the album with the now famous couplet: "Mother mother/There's too many of 
you crying/Brother, brother, brother/There's far too many of you dying." Gaye's 
inspiration was close to home: In 1965 and 1966, his younger brother Frankie did 
a tour of Vietnam.

"Marvin wanted to see it and feel what it was like," says Frankie. "So over 
three months we talked about my time there. We were in tears. I told him how I 
saw children killed and suffering, picking food out of GI garbage dumps. He was 
very attentive to that. But when he went to work, he was very secretive; he 
didn't want anyone to know what he was writing." Gaye retreated into an L.A. 
studio in late 1970 and produced the album himself, calling in Motown writer Al 
Cleveland and Four Tops veteran Renaldo "Obie" Benson to help on the title cut. 
"When he finished it, he played the song for me," says Frankie. "It gave me 
chills. It was what we had talked about."

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6. "Go Your Own Way" - Fleetwood Mac
Release date: February 1977
Peak chart position: No. 10 (fifteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Lindsey Buckingham
Producers: Richard Dashut, Ken Caillat, Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac's classic 1977 album, RUMOURS, was like one big BEHIND THE MUSIC 
-- a stunning song cycle that gained added resonance due to the real-life soap 
opera among the band members. While recording the album, both of the band's 
couples -- singer Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, and bassist 
John McVie and singer-keyboardist Christine McVie -- split up. "Go Your Own Way" 
was the first single, and rarely has a kiss-off sounded so gorgeous.

"We were out on the road doing colleges," remembers Buckingham, "opening for a 
lot of people, and I was paying my dues. The spark for the song was that Stevie 
and I were crumbling, and I'm sure I was at a Holiday Inn somewhere, sitting in 
the room with the guitar, addressing what was going on. It was totally 
autobiographical. I remember very clearly that when Stevie first heard the lyric 
she objected quite vehemently to the brutal honesty of it, or what she thought 
was exaggeration, but to my mind it wasn't."

Lines like "Packing up/Shacking up is all you wanna do" must have stung. Still, 
possibly easing the pain, RUMOURS went to Number One -- and stayed there for 
thirty-one weeks. Despite the harsh back story, Buckingham remains proud of the 
song, and says even Nicks has since acknowledged its power, however raw.

"It's funny how now we're able to backtrack a little more," says Buckingham, 
"and maybe acknowledge we accomplished something amid all that stuff."

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7. "Bohemian Rhapsody" - Queen
Release date: December 1975
Peak chart position: No. 9 (twenty-four weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Freddie Mercury
Producer: Roy Thomas Baker

One day Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the British rock group Queen, played the 
first section of what became "Bohemian Rhapsody" for his band mates. "When he 
got to the end of the ballady part," remembers producer Roy Thomas Baker, "he 
stopped playing and said, 'This is where the opera section comes in, dears.'"

In the end, the opera interlude's estimated 500 tracks of band vocals took three 
weeks to record and gained the song a reputation at the time as being the most 
expensive one on the most expensive album ever produced. "We were working with 
only twenty-four tracks and we kept running out [of them]," says Baker. "So as 
the tape would fall apart, we had to keep making copies and running different 
machines simultaneously." When they got to the rock section, Baker and his 
engineers mixed by hand, resulting in a sonic shift that magnified the 
thundering Brian May guitars embraced by several headbanger generations. The 
song's inclusion in WAYNE'S WORLD helped inspire a second chart run that, in 
1992, eclipsed its first.

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8. "Your Song" - Elton John
Release date: August 1970
Peach chart position: No. 8 (fourteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer: Gus Dudgeon

Elton John and Bernie Taupin's "Your Song," with its elegant lyricism anchored 
in quiet, piano-based rock, arrived with such force in the summer of 1970 that 
it quickly spawned its own rich legend -- that it was inspired by a mystery 
woman in the lives of both songwriters at the time. It was even said that Taupin 
conceived the lyrics while blissfully perched barefoot on the roof of a London 
recording studio.

In truth, "Your Song" sprang to life in London's Northwood Hills, at the kitchen 
table in the tiny apartment of Elton John's mother. Taupin, 20, and John, 23, 
spent months hunkered down there writing after first crossing paths at Dick 
James Studios three years earlier. One thing led to another, and there they were 
-- at the kitchen table.

"It was a very encapsulated existence," recalls Taupin. "It was not a big 
apartment. There was an upright piano in the living room and bunk beds in a room 
in the back. I'd sit on the bed, feverishly writing, and come out, give Elton an 
odd lyric or so, and he'd sit at the piano and work on them. That's how we wrote 
all he songs for the Black Album [entitled ELTON JOHN]."

One of the duo's earliest collaborations, "Your Song" came together lyrically 
over coffee and eggs (the manuscript, on lined notebook paper, still bears the 
evidence of breakfast) in early 1970. The song's inspiration, says Taupin, was 
not so much another person as a state of mind. "It was about a young man's 
optimism," he says. "It was a simpler time, and it is a simple song. The thing 
about it is it's so wonderfully naive." And perfectly dressed in John's 
contemplative piano, which gracefully expounds its note of youthful yearning.

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9. "Born To Run" - Bruce Springsteen
Release date: August 1975
Peak chart position: No. 23 (eleven weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen
Producers: Mike Appel, Bruce Springsteen

"When I did 'Born To Run,' I thought, 'I'm going to make the greatest rock & 
roll record ever made'" -- even if it nearly killed him, Bruce Springsteen once 
told ROLLING STONE. The sessions left Springsteen exhausted, "a total 
wipeout...a devastating thing." The four-and-a-half-minute title track alone 
took six months to write and another three and a half months to record, in the 
summer of 1974. But the effort was worth it, providing Springsteen with his 
signature song.

The goal was to make "a record where the singing sounded like Roy Orbison and 
the music sounded like Phil Spector," keyboardist Roy Bittan once said. The song 
had all the ingredients: a Wall of Sound so dense that it was almost impossible 
to distinguish individual instruments; a dynamic arrangement that rises, falls 
and then reaches a new crescendo with a midsong countdown; and a desperate but 
exuberant rebel-with-a-cause lyric. It was a more tightly bottled variation of 
the "Rosalita"-style escape odysseys he had written on previous albums. "This 
was a turning point, and it allowed me to open up my music to a far larger 
audience," Springsteen says in his book SONGS. The album elevated Springsteen 
from cult status to the covers of TIME and NEWSWEEK, the track put him in the 
Top Forty for the first time, and lyrics such as "I want to know if love is 
real" provided the framework for the rest of his career: "For me," he has said, 
"the primary questions I'd be writing about for the rest of my work life first 
took form in the songs on BORN TO RUN."

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10. "Changes" - David Bowie
Release date: December 1971
Peak chart positions: No. 66 (seven weeks on the chart); rereleased
  December 1974, No. 41 (eleven weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: David Bowie
Producer: Ken Scott

"Very neurotic" is how David Bowie described "Changes" in a 1972 interview with 
ROLLING STONE. "Changes was his first single for RCA, which had signed him on 
the merits of his six-track demo for the HUNKY DORY album. Bowie wanted "Life on 
Mars" as the single, but it was "Changes" -- with its undertones of English 
music-hall camp and lounge singing -- that would ultimately become his anthem.

Mick Rock, who first began his decades-long friendship with Bowie when he 
interviewed the singer for that 1972 ROLLING STONE feature, says lyrics like "I 
watch the ripples change their size" reflected Bowie's interest in Buddhism. But 
it was because the song so perfectly describes his mutable artistic persona 
("I've never caught a glimpse/Of how the others must see the faker") that it 
gave its name to Bowie's 1976 greatest-hits collection.

Rick Wakeman, who played piano on the HUNKY DORY sessions, remembers Bowie as 
precise and professional. He knew the sound he wanted, and he would scold the 
band for being under-rehearsed. "That piece was very much something he had 
envisioned from start to finish," Wakeman says, "which is probably why it was so 
successful. It didn't need mucking around with."

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11. "Miss You" - The Rolling Stones
Release date: June 1978
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (twenty weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards
Producer: The Glimmer Twins

"That song was basically Mick's," says Keith Richards. "He was very much into 
Studio 54 at the time -- in fact, I'm sure he wrote it on the floor of Studio 

One of the great summer singles of the late Seventies, the Rolling Stones' 
insinuating "Miss You" rose to Number One and stayed on the charts for twenty 
weeks, the longest run of any Stones song, with the exception of "Start Me Up." 
The Stones seemed unlikely candidates for a dance it at the height of disco 
fever. Jagger recalls coming up with the kernel of the song during the Stones' 
two-night stint to record tracks for LOVE YOU LIVE at the El Mocambo club in 
Toronto in March 1977.

"Keith got busted, so we couldn't do what we were supposed to do," Jagger says. 
"We had a lot of downtime and musicians hanging around. I had written this riff, 
and one night I was playing guitar and Billy Preston was playing drums. He 
started playing that four-on-the-floor beat, and that's when it took off."

While recording SOME GIRLS in Paris, in late 1977 and early 1978, the Stones 
grounded "Miss You" in the R&B, blues and funk sources that the band and disco 
share. Harmonica player Sugar Blue, whom the Stones found in the Paris Metro, 
eerily shadows the guitar line; the Faces' Ian McLagan adds texture on electric 
piano; and Mel Collins' tense sax solo mirrors the conversational phrasing of 
Jagger's gripping tale of obsessive love.

For all those elements, however, the performance remains hauntingly spare. "We 
could have added a lot more hoopla," Richards says. "I mean, we couldn't done it 
like Abba -- although I'd have probably shot myself."

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12. "Dancing Queen" - Abba
Release date: January 1977
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (twenty-two weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Stig Anderson
Producers: Benny Andersson, Bjourn Ulvaeus

The legend goes that Sweden's Abba created the biggest hit of their career to 
celebrate Silvia Sommerlath, the soon-to-be wife of their country's King Carl 
XVI Gustaf. And indeed, Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and 
Anni-Frid Lyngstad debuted "Dancing Queen" at a June 18th, 1976, gala -- the day 
before the royal wedding.

Although the quartet's sole U.S. chart-topping single wasn't released in America 
until November 1976, Abba created their first slice of disco nirvana during the 
same summer of '75 sessions that produced the quartet's previous smash, 

"Our aim was to make American records," recalls Michael Tretow, engineer and co-
creator of Abba's distinctive candy flavor, "because they sounded the best. I 
was the one who brought records to the studio and said, 'Here's a great way to 
do the drum part.' [Abba] were not as big pop fans as you would expect. They 
were sort of molded into their time by everything around."

Written by Ulvaeus, Andersson and manager Stig Anderson, who sometimes helped 
pen lyrics before Ulvaeus mastered English, "Dancing Queen" was almost sluggish 
by peak-era disco standards. Its excitement burst forth in hallucinatory 
harmonies, swirling strings and hazy verses that gave way to a surreal kitsch 
chorus -- rhyming "queen" with "seventeen" and "tambourine."

When Tretow pulled the song's master out of the archives to create the 
phenomenally successful ABBA GOLD collection, he rediscovered that the rhythmic 
inspiration behind "Dancing Queen" had been copied right onto the tape. "Before 
the actual recording was...'Rock Your Baby," by George McCrae," he recently 
revealed on Abba's Web site. "And we used that as a guide...just to have a few 
bars of it, ahead of the real song...and it actually worked."

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13. "Tangled Up in Blue" - Bob Dylan
Release date: January 1975
Peak chart position: No. 31 (seven weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Bob Dylan
Producers: Phil Ramone, Bob Dylan

You'd never know it scanning the liner notes for BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, one of Bob 
Dylan's most acclaimed albums, but five of its key songs, including "Tangled Up 
in Blue," weren't cut in New York in the fall of 1974. Instead, they were 
revised in Minneapolis with an ad hoc backing group when Dylan returned home for 
the Christmas holidays. Of "Tangled Up in Blue," Dylan once said, "I was never 
really happy with it. I guess I was just trying to make it like a painting where 
you can see the different parts but then you also see the whole." He came closer 
to that vision in Minneapolis with a jazz rhythm section (bassist Billy 
Patterson and drummer Bill Berg) and folk musicians Kevin Odegard and Chris 
Weber joining him on acoustic guitars.

The musicians found themselves "scrambling to stay with Bob," Odegard says. "We 
were used to verse-chorus, verse-chorus singer-songwriter structure, but Bob was 
throwing curveballs." Their first swipe at "Tangled" was "tame," but Odegard 
says he suggested kicking the tune up from the key of G to an A. "It gave the 
song more urgency, and Bob started reaching for the notes. It was like watching 
Charlie Chaplin as a ballet dancer."

The album was, in part, a chronicle of the dissolution of his marriage to Sara 
Lowndes, and "Tangled" stands out as one of its most emotionally raw tracks. In 
1978, according to author Clinton Heylin, Dylan introduced "Tangled Up in Blue" 
as a song that took him ten years to live and two years to write. BLOOD ON THE 
TRACKS would stand as Dylan's finest work in the Seventies, and he continues to 
musically and lyrically rework "Tangled Up in Blue" in live performances to this 

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14. "Just My Imagination" - The Temptations
Release date: April 1971
Peak chart position: No. 1 for two weeks (fifteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong
Producer: Norman Whitfield

The early Seventies found the Temptations dealing with personnel changes, 
personal problems and a stylistic shift from classic Motown to harder-edged 
psychedelic soul. From out of this ball of confusion came "Just My Imagination 
(Running Away With Me)," an angelic song featuring a velvety lead vocal from 
Eddie Kendricks. The return to roots was deliberate, according to founding 
member Otis Williams. "We wanted to get back to singing those sweet, sensitive 
ballads," Williams says, "like when we were recording 'My Girl,' 'Since I Lost 
My Baby,' -- those kinds of things."

Producer Norman Whitfield and songwriting partner Barrett Strong obliged with 
"Just My Imagination," a silky nod to the past. It was cut at a lengthy session 
in which Whitfield didn't turn Kendricks loose until daybreak. Kendricks' 
keening vocal -- his first in three years -- was as delicate as crystal, while 
Paul Williams brought earthier singing to the bridge. Both founding members, 
alas, were gone soon after. The song was the last that the solo-bound Kendricks 
recorded with the group until a 1982 reunion. Paul Williams, troubled by 
alcoholism, left the band in 1972 and killed himself a year later.

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15. "Maybe I'm Amazed" - Paul McCartney
Release date: April 1970
Peak chart position: No. 10 (thirteen weeks on the chart -- WINGS OVER AMERICA 
Songwriter: Paul McCartney
Producer: Paul McCartney

"The reason I like 'Maybe I'm Amazed' is because it summed up where I was at 
that time," Paul McCartney recently mused. "Newly married, a lot of amazement." 
Indeed, at the time he wrote and recorded the song, he was settling down to life 
on his farm in Scotland and finding domestic bliss with his new bride, Linda 
Eastman McCartney. An awestruck love ballad for Linda, "Maybe I'm Amazed" was 
the standout track on McCartney's first solo album, McCARTNEY, released in April 
1970. (It was not released as a single until seven years later, on WINGS OVER 
AMERICA.) In the press release distributed with the solo album, McCartney 
announced that the Beatles had indeed broken up. With only Linda for a 
collaborator, McCartney recorded the album at home, overdubbing most of the 
instruments himself. Since Linda's death in 1998, the song has taken on a new 
resonance: Paul's daughter, designer Stella McCartney, played it during the 
finale of a London fashion show in tribute to her mother, while McCartney 
himself cites it as his personal favorite of all his songs. In "Maybe I'm 
Amazed," McCartney views his newfound adult love -- and his life without the 
Beatles -- as the dawning of a new world.

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16. "I Will Survive" - Gloria Gaynor
Release date: January 1979
Peak chart position: No. 1 for three weeks (twenty-seven weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Dino FeKaris, Frederick J. Perren
Producers: Dino FeKaris, Frederick J. Perren

"That was originally supposed to be a B side," Gloria Gaynor says with a laugh. 
"When we were recording the A side, they came to us with the lyrics for the B 
side -- scribbled on a piece of brown paper, because the guy had left the lyrics 
at home. So my husband and I read the lyrics and we just looked at each other 
and said, 'Is he serious? Putting this on a B side? This is a hit.'"

"I started making 'I Will Survive' the last song in my show" says Gaynor, "so 
people would remember it. My husband took it to Richie Kaczor, the DJ at Studio 
54. He loved it, and DJs at other discos started playing it, too. And then the 
record company had to flip it." "I Will Survive" has been an inspirational disco 
hymn ever since. "Every age can dance to it," attests disco maven Ru Paul. "It's 
slow enough for you to move that fat ass around that dance floor without 
starting an earthquake."

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17. "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" - Stevie Wonder
Release date: October 1972
Peak chart position: No 1 for one week (seventeen weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Stevie Wonder
Producer: Stevie Wonder

"Stevie wanted to set up 'Sunshine of My Life' like a little movie," recalls 
Robert Margouleff, who worked as associate producer and engineer on the song. 
"Strangely, Stevie's songs are very visual." "Sunshine," with its sweeter-than-
sugar melody and dreamy-yet-solid groove, became Wonder's calling card and 
second consecutive BILLBOARD Number One single. It was written two years before 
it was recorded, but rumor was that Stevie held back the tune because at the 
time of its inception he was in the waning stages of his relationship with his 
first wife, Syreeta Wright, and "Sunshine" was written for his new love, Gloria 
Barley, who sang backup vocals on the track.

That's not Stevie's voice you hear in the opening lines of "Sunshine" but those 
of background vocalists Lani Groves and Jim Gilstrap. "Stevie wanted to give 
them some recognition," says Margouleff, "but he also wanted to have an intro 
piece, and it worked very dramatically for the song. It set Stevie up to narrate 
the story between two people, and as he's narrating the song, you're thinking 
about Lani and Jim singing to each other. It sets up the scene." Margouleff also 
brings up an important point: How did Stevie Wonder, without sight, remember the 
lyrics to his countless compositions? "If you listen very, very closely to the 
song, you can hear a British voice in the background singing. [Fellow associate 
producer] Malcolm Cecil would sing the words to Stevie a bar ahead.

"That was the cream of our inventive period," remembers Margouleff. David 
Sanborn, who played sax in Stevie's backing band Wonderlove when they opened for 
the Rolling Stones on their 1972 tour, describes things a little more bluntly: 
"At that time, Stevie was playing the baddest shit in the world."

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18. "Just the Way You Are" - Billy Joel
Release date: September 1977
Peak chart position: No. 3 (twenty-seven weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Billy Joel
Producer: Phil Ramone

"We knew it was a chick song," says Billy Joel. "We almost didn't put it on the 
album. We were listening back to what we had for THE STRANGER, looking at each 
other and going, 'Aah, I don't know, I can take or leave it.'"

Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow, however, were in the same recording studio that 
day. "They came by and heard this song," Joel says, and they started yelling, 
'You're crazy if you don't put this on your album! This is a huge hit!'"

"I had a paranormal experience with that song," Snow says today. "Billy said, 
'Here's this sappy ballad,' and I was hysterical crying, having this whole 
precognitive, out-of-body experience." Joel admits he had doubts: "The original 
arrangement had strings and I hated it -- it sounded like Englebert Humperdinck. 
I remember my drummer, Liberty DeVito, threw his sticks across the studio at me 
and said, 'I'm no goddamn cocktail lounge drummer.'"

If not for Ronstadt and Snow, one of Joel's most enduring classics might have 
gotten the ax. "I'd like to thank them very much," Joel says with a laugh.

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19. "Bennie and the Jets" - Elton John
Release date: October 1973
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (eighteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer: Gus Dudgeon

When the time came to record GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD, Elton John and Bernie 
Taupin flew to Kingston, Jamaica -- to the same studio where the Stones recorded 
GOAT'S HEAD SOUP. Once there, though, they found the vibe disagreeable. "We 
thought it would be a hip place, but basically it was a disaster from beginning 
to end," remembers Taupin. "There were cockroaches scurrying around inside the 
piano and there were armed guards outside the studio." After several days of 
work, including aborted attempts at a version of "Saturday Night's Alright for 
Fighting," the songwriters fled back to New York, and then on to the Chataeu 
d'Hierouville in the French countryside. That studio had already been the 
was such a burden lifting off us," says Taupin. "We wrote twenty songs in two 
weeks." Among those was "Bennie and the Jets," which Taupin remembers as an 
attempt at a "sci-fi futuristic world -- a BLADE RUNNER-type environment with 
robotized rock & roll bands. People never picked up on this, and that always 
surprised me because it was depicted on the cover." Bennie, in fact, is an 
androgynous girl backed by three android guitarists who all look exactly alike. 
"Elton did a melody that was very infectious, and it paid off," says Taupin. 
"But we never imagined for a minute that it was commercial."

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20. "Just What I Needed" - The Cars
Release date: June 1978
Peak chart position: No. 27  (seventeen weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Ric Ocasek
Producer: Roy Thomas Baker

"I remember writing 'Just What I Needed' in a basement at a commune where I 
lived, in Newton, Mass.," Rick Ocasek says. "I lived above a garage and worked 
in the basement below. I still have the cassette it was written on. I really 
didn't know what the song was until I played it for the band and everybody liked 
it right away."

The song was recorded on a live 2-track demo and, thanks to the support of 
Boston radio station WBCN, it soon became a local smash. "It's the song that got 
record companies interested," Ocasek recalls, "and it still holds up for me."

Ocasek credits Cars bassist and signer Benjamin Orr -- who recently passed away 
-- with adding the seductive vocal that helped garner the song's huge success. 
"Most certainly, Ben brought something special to it," Ocasek says. "I thought 
for sure he should sing it right away because he could scream and do that sort 
of stuff. A lot of times I'd write songs knowing that Ben would sing them. That 
was nice for me because I wasn't stifled by my own terrible voice."

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21. "I Wanna Be Sedated" - The Ramones
Release date: June 1978
(song never charted)
Songwriters: Douglas Colvin, Jeff Hyman, John Cummings
Producers: Tommy Erdelyi, Ed Stasium

These New York punk upstarts remain one of the most influential rock bands of 
the last twenty-five years. And one of the primary reasons is the song "I Wanna 
Be Sedated," which perfectly distills their strengths: a shout-along melody, a 
pogo-perfect tempo and darkly humorous lyrics. "I know it's been singled out as 
*the* Ramones song," says singer Joey Ramone. "I didn't write it as a party 
song, but that's how it's been taken: 'I want to get fucked up.' That's a 
universal theme, a bouncy, upbeat, fun song, but it was coming from a dark 
place." The opening line, "Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go," pays homage 
to the Ohio Express' 1968 bubblegum hit, "Chewy, Chewy," and Ramone says the 
chorus was in part inspired by Alice Cooper's "Elected." Bits of the song were 
written on the road while the band was stuck in a London hotel during Christmas 
with "nothing to do, nowhere to go," as the lyric says. But the song's initial 
inspiration is still difficult for Ramone to discuss. "While I was staying in 
the hospital for a couple of weeks, I was the one who wanted to be sedated -- 
which is where the title comes from," he says. "I had an injury, and it was a 
hellish place. But it was a real catharsis for me. Something fucked up turned 
into something good: I got a song out of it."

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22. "Tiny Dancer" - Elton John
Release date: November 1971
Peak chart position: No. 41 (seven weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer: Gus Dudgeon

It's always assumed that "Tiny Dancer" was about a groupie Bernie Taupin came 
across while on his and Elton John's first trip to the United States, That may 
help explain why the busload of rockers and their entourage in Cameron Crowe's 
latest film, ALMOST FAMOUS, erupts in song when one passenger begins to sing the 
tune. But lyricist Taupin tells a different story. "Tiny Dancer," he says, was 
inspired by California women in general.

"We were very much innocents abroad then," remembers Taupin, who was so smitten 
with L.A. that he moved there permanently from London in 1971, taking an 
apartment in Hollywood. "The women were different than what I was used to -- I 
was really blown away. The girls who worked in the stores up and down Sunset 
were like sprites to me. They were all like dancers -- wonderful, ethereal 
spirits." Elton John completed the piano part back in England, and the release 
of "Tiny Dancer" marked the duo's second big hit, after "Your Song." "It was my 
salute to the California girl," Taupin attests. "It was what I felt about the 
wonderful feminine quality that L.A. had at the time."

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23. "Let's Stay Together" - Al Green
Release date: February 1972
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (sixteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Al Green, Al Jackson Jr., Willie Mitchell
Producer: Willie Mitchell

"People come up to me talking about 'We got married to your song, man'" says Al 
Green. "It's encouraging." "Let's Stay Together" -- perhaps the greatest plea 
for romantic constancy ever -- hit Number One in February 1972, ending the four-
week reign of Don McLean's "American Pie." In the next year and a half, Green 
followed with five more Top Ten hits, but "Together" was his biggest hit and the 
pinnacle of his easy-grooving style.

Like many of his classic songs, "Let's Stay Together" was composed by vocalist 
Green, drummer Al Jackson Jr. and producer Willie Mitchell. "It really began to 
flow on 'Let's Stay Together,'" says Green. "The sound, the vocals and the band 
began to come together."

The session was at Mitchell's Royal Recording Studio in Memphis. "It was a 
raunchy place down on Lauderdal Street," he says. "It kind of put you in the 
groove when you go down there. There were wineheads hanging round, pretty girls 
wearing fancy clothes, everyday people coming home from work, kids getting out 
of school. Willie would invite people over, so there was a lot of comin' and 
goin'. It wasn't one of those closed sessions where you can't breathe. It was 
very loose." Mitchell recalls it being even looser. He says, "All the winos, 
we'd buy them wine and they'd sit down on the floor. We'd work all night -- 
they'd provide the laughter and we'd provide the wine.

"I wanted him not to sing so hard," Mitchell says about the sessions. "Al had 
come off 'Tired of Being Alone,' and I wanted to change his style, make him 
softer." Ever the gentleman, Green gives all the credit to Mitchell. "I think 
Willie Mitchell put some type of spell on these dadgum songs," he says, 
laughing. "Ain't no song supposed to last thirty years!"

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24. "Rock With You" - Michael Jackson
Release date: November 1979
Peak chart position: No. 1 for four weeks (twenty-four weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Rod Temperton
Producer: Quincy Jones

It was while playing the Scarecrow in the film THE WIZ that Michael Jackson 
bonded with Quincy Jones, who oversaw the movie's soundtrack. Jackson asked 
Jones to produce his solo debut, OFF THE WALL, which went on to sell more than 7 
million copies worldwide and yield for Top Ten singles.

The shimmering, seductive "Rock With You" was written by Rod Temperton, a 
British musician who played keyboards in Heatwave, a soul group best remembered 
for "Boogie Nights" and "Always and Forever." "Rock With You" is full of double-
entendres, but it's Jackson's soulful delivery that teasingly blurs the line 
between safe and suggestive. "Michael was maturing all the time," Jones says 
today. "But this was the first time he was singing about sex and intimate 

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25. "Surrender" - Cheap Trick
Release date: January 1978
Peak chart position: No. 62 (eight weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Rick Nielsen
Producer: Tom Werman

"'Surrender' was just me writing about parent-kid conflict," says Cheap Trick 
guitarist and main songwriter Rick Nielsen. "I was sending the message: Give in, 
but don't give up.

"In the last verse," he adds, "just when you thought there's no hope for your 
parent, you walk in the room and they're listening to your stuff -- 'Got my Kiss 
records out.'"

"Surrender first appeared on Cheap Trick's third album, HEAVEN TONIGHT, but a 
more intense version of the song became the centerpiece of the band's massive 
1979 album, CHEAP TRICK LIVE AT BUDOKAN. The song is power pop at its finest, 
with the joyful abandon of the "Mama's all right, Daddy's all right" chorus 
serving as both a nod back to early rock & roll and a raucous embrace of the 
present tense.

And it's a song that just won't quit: "This past Sunday, Cheap Trick played for 
Joe Perry's fiftieth birthday party," says Nielsen. "Here's Steven Tyler and 
Joe, and we're all up there singing it. And there are ten-year-olds singing it, 

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26. "Stayin' Alive" - The Bee Gees
Album: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (Soundtrack)
Release date: December 1977
Peak chart position: No. 1 for four weeks (twenty-seven weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Robin Gibb
Producers: Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Robin Gibb, Albhy Galuten, Karl Richardson

In the spring of 1977, Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb sequestered themselves in 
France's Chateau D'Herouville, the studio Elton John immortalized with HONKY 
CHATEAU. The Bee Gees were working on the follow-up to the 1976 smash CHILDREN 
OF THE WORLD album when they got a call from manager Robert Stigwood, who needed 
music for the soundtrack of a low-budget film about an Italian-American kid who 
lived for disco.

"Give me eight minutes, three moods," Barry characterized Stigwood's request in 
ROLLING STONE months before the soundtrack's release. "I want frenzy at the 
beginning. Then I want some passion. And then I want some *w-i-i-i-ld* frenzy!" 
The result, "Stayin' Alive," was written in two hours without the brothers 
seeing the film. With Barry nearly shrieking a lyric at the brink of 
incomprehensibility, the Gibbs' falsettos released the agitation that John 
Travolta's cool suppressed, while a nagging guitar lick rode a steady drum loop 
lifted from another new Bee Gees track, "Night Fever." Shortened to a 4:43 and 
synced to the film's opening shot of a platform-shoe-clad Travolta strutting 
down a Brooklyn street, "Stayin' Alive" helped the SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER 
soundtrack become the era's best-selling album.

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27. "Good Times" - Chic
Release date: June 1979
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (nineteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards
Producers: Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards

"Here's the secret," says Nile Rodgers, co-founder of Chic with the late Bernard 
Edwards, about his inspiration for "Good Times." "I started thinking about Al 
Jolson in blackface." Indeed, "Good Times" borrowed from the Jolson song "About 
a Quarter to Nine" -- strange inspiration for a tune that went on to be the 
basis of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" and the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's 
Delight." "I'd been out partying with John Deacon, the bass player from Queen," 
recalls Rodgers. "I came up with the chord progression, but Bernard was late to 
the studio. He ran in and started playing, but it wasn't the bass line. All the 
years we'd been working, I knew Bernard had wanted to 'walk' through a pattern, 
a jazzier style. I screamed over the music, *'Walk!'* and Bernard's screaming 
*'What?'* Then he heard me and started walking. In a nanosecond, the groove hit 
us like a spark."

Edwards died in 1996. "The last night of Bernard's life, we were performing in 
Tokyo," says Rodgers. "He was looking at the crowd and crying. He said, 'Nile, I 
can't believe it. This shit is bigger than us.' It shows me what we believed in 
was true -- the power of a groove. In a hundred years, they'll probably study 
grooves like they study quantum physics."

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Contributors: Anthony Bozza, Anthony DeCurtis, Matt Diehl, Jenny Eliscu, David 
Fricke, Matt Hendrickson, Greg Kot, Tom Moon, Ann Powers, Parke Puterbaugh, 
Austin Scaggs, Rob Sheffield, Richard Skanse, David Thigpen, Mim Udovitch, Barry 
Walters, David Wild

- ROLLING STONE, 12/07/00.

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