The 20 greatest love songs of the 1970s, ranked
9 February 2021, 17:14 | Updated: 10 February 2021, 12:29
The 1970s was a treasure trove when it came to romantic ballads.
Whether it was singer-songwriters, folk artists or soul icons, they certainly knew how to write a love song back then.
Here are our favourite love songs from the decade...
Billy Paul - 'Me and Mrs Jones'
Written by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Cary Gilbert, 'Me and Mrs. Jones' describes an affair between a man and his lover, Mrs Jones.
In the song, the two meet in secret "every day at the same cafe", where they hold hands and talk. The two are in a tricky situation: "We both know that it's wrong/But it's much too strong/To let it go now". Yeesh.
Commodores - 'Three Times a Lady'
Written by Lionel Richie, this was one of the Commodores' biggest hits in 1978.
Lionel said he was inspired to write the song because of a comment his father made about his mother. His father said to his mother: "I love you. I want you. I need you. Forever", hence the three times a lady.
Fleetwood Mac - 'Songbird'
The song came to writer Christine McVie at 3am. She composed and wrote the whole song in half an hour, and played it continuously until she could record it the same morning. Nowadays, you'd just use your smartphone!
Eva Cassidy recorded a famous cover version, which was released on her posthumous 1998 compilation of the same name.
Carpenters - 'We've Only Just Begun'
A popular wedding song, 'We've Only Just Begun' actually began life as the theme tune for an advertisement for a bank!
After watching the commercial, Richard Carpenter ran into co-writer Paul Williams at his record company's office and asked if a full-length version was available. Although at that point it had only two verses and no bridge, Williams said that there was a bridge and an additional verse, forming a complete song. He and Nichols quickly went off to write them, and it became a huge hit.
The Hollies - 'The Air That I Breathe'
Co-writer Albert Hammond first recorded this in 1972, but The Hollies scored a big hit with it two years later, and it was also a hit for Simply Red two decades later.
Interestingly, Radiohead’s 1992 song ‘Creep’ uses a similar chord progression and shares some melodic content with the song, and as a result, Hammond and Hazlewood sued Radiohead for plagiarism and won.
Hammond said: “Because they were honest they weren’t sued to the point of saying ‘we want the whole thing’. So we ended up getting a little piece”.
Chicago - 'If You Leave Me Now'
This was the song that brought Chicago to a truly mainstream audience, reaching the top spot in the UK and US in 1976.
It remains one of the best break-up ballads of all time, and surprisingly doesn't actually contain a traditional chorus.
John Denver - 'Annie's Song'
This was John Denver’s only hit in the UK, as most of his other famous tracks had been covered by other artists.
It was written as an ode to Denver’s wife at the time, Annie Martell Denver, and he wrote it in in about ten-and-a-half minutes on a ski lift to the top of Ajax Mountain in Aspen, Colorado.
Marvin Gaye - 'Let's Get it On'
Taken from the album of the same name, it became Gaye's most successful single for Motown and one of his most well-known songs.
Originally conceived as a religious and then a political song, Gaye transformed it into a sensual anthem.
Barry White - 'You're the First, the Last, My Everything'
Released in 1974, 'You're the First, the Last, My Everything' spent two weeks at the top of the UK Singles Chart.
This song was originally written over 21 years previously by Peter Radcliffe as a country song, before Barry totally reworked it.
Billy Joel - 'Just the Way You Are'
Billy Joel wrote this song for his first wife Elizabeth Weber, but it was not liked by either Joel or his band. It was only released at the request of both Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow.
Barry White later recorded a disco-fied version, and both are classic love songs of the era.
Bread - 'Make It With You'
Bread's breakthrough hit was written by singer David Gates, who also performed acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, and strings on the record, with only drummer Mike Botts also featuring.
When the song was released, Gates' mother was asked by a local interviewer how her son's music career was going. Misunderstanding the song's title, she replied that his group had just recorded a song called 'Naked with You'.
Roberta Flack - 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face'
Roberta Flack took the original version of 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' by Ewan MacColl and slowed it down, turning it into the soaring ballad.
Her version was used in the movie Play Misty for Me and reached number one in the US.
Bee Gees - 'How Deep is Your Love'
This great ballad was written by the Gibb brothers for the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, offering a slice of love in a disco-heavy movie.
Already a big hit in 1977, Take That later took it to number one in 1996, as their final song for 10 years.
Eric Clapton - 'Wonderful Tonight'
Clapton wrote this song for his then-girlfriend Pattie Boyd (who divorced George Harrison in the same year). He penned it while waiting for her to get ready to go to Paul and Linda McCartney's annual Buddy Holly party.
Boyd later said: "For years it tore at me. To have inspired Eric, and George before him, to write such music was so flattering. 'Wonderful Tonight' was the most poignant reminder of all that was good in our relationship, and when things went wrong it was torture to hear it."
The couple married two years later, but were divorced by 1989. Still, pretty song, right?
Harry Nilsson - 'Without You'
Originally by Badfinger, Harry Nilsson took it to another level with his number one version.
Described by Paul McCartney as "the killer song of all time", Harry can't quite believe he's lost his beloved, and doesn't quite know what to do next. Heartbreaker.
Al Green - 'Let's Stay Together'
Taken from his 1972 album of the same name, this is perhaps Al's most famous tune and signature song.
It reached number one in the States, and it has been covered by countless artists ever since. Even US President Barack Obama gave it a go, performing a brief line of the song during an appearance at the Apollo Theater in New York in 2012, where Al was also performing.
Bill Withers - 'Ain't No Sunshine'
Produced by Booker T Jones and featuring Stephen Stills on guitar, Bill was inspired to write this song after watching the 1962 movie Days of Wine and Roses. He said of the two main characters: “They were both alcoholics who were alternately weak and strong. Sometimes you miss things that weren’t particularly good for you.
Read more: The Story of... 'Ain't No Sunshine'
”For the third verse, Bill intended to write more lyrics instead of repeating the phrase ‘I know’ 26 times, but followed the advice of the other musicians to leave it that way.
10cc - 'I'm Not in Love'
This UK number one is notable for its innovative and distinctive backing track, composed mostly of the band’s multitracked vocals.
Read more: The Story of... 'I'm Not in Love'
Written mostly by Eric Stewart as a riposte to his wife’s declaration that he did not tell her often enough that he loved her, it was originally conceived as a bossa nova song but colleagues Kevin Godley and Lol Creme disliked it at first, and it was radically changed.
Elvis Presley - 'Always On My Mind'
Originally a soul ballad by Gwen McCrae, this song tells the story of someone who admits that they didn't always do the things they should have to show appreciation for their partner, but wants them to know they was always thinking about them.
The song was passed to Elvis by one of his bodyguards, and he recorded it soon after his split from Priscilla. It received great acclaim, and it became one of his most successful songs ever.
Elton John - 'Your Song'
Taken from Elton's second, self-titled album, this ballad was actually recorded by Three Dog Night first, after he allowed them to record it.
Bernie Taupin wrote the song's lyrics after breakfast on the roof of 20 Denmark Street, London, where Elton worked for a music publishing firm as an office boy, inspiring the line: "I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss".