Music had never been more mainstream by the end of the 1960s, and the next decade promised to be just as big. The 1970s saw the rise of many new artists and the continued success of several ‘60s mainstays.
More artists began to explore new avenues of music, and several genres and sounds were born in the 1970s.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at 21 of the greatest and most famous singers of the 1970s and discuss the impact they made both artistically and commercially in this pivotal decade of music. Let’s get started.
1. Elton John
What hasn’t already been said about Elton John? He is one of the most famous singers in popular music history, and his stage performances have become famous for his showmanship.
Though John had been making music in the late 1960s, he became a household name in the 1970s with his hit song “Rocket Man.”
His fame only grew through the decade, and his 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road remains one of the best-selling albums ever recorded.
He has remained a constant force in music for many years and has been a staunch activist for many causes.
2. David Bowie
Perhaps no musician on this list went through as big of a change in the 1970s as David Bowie. This singer had made waves at the end of the previous decade but emerged as a face of the ‘70s with his Ziggy Stardust persona and his glam rock albums.
He developed a sound he called plastic soul in the middle of the decade with his album Young Americans. However, by the end of the decade, his image had entirely changed. The Ziggy Stardust character disappeared and, with it, the glam rock sound.
The later part of the decade saw him adopt an innovative electronic sound with his critically acclaimed Berlin trilogy of albums, Low, Heroes, and Lodger.
3. Donna Summer
One genre that saw its entire rise and fall happen in the 1970s was disco. And no singer defined that genre quite like Donna Summer.
Summer spent much of the late 1960s living in Germany, eventually meeting acclaimed producer Giorgio Moroder. Working with producers like Moroder, she sang in several disco smash hits such as “Love to Love You Baby” and “I Feel Love.”
Songs like these helped her earn the title Queen of Disco by the end of the decade. Summer’s songs constantly sat near the top of the charts, with 12 top-ten hits between 1976 and 1982.
4. Diana Ross
By the time 1970 rolled around, Diana Ross was already one of music’s biggest acts as the lead singer of the Supremes.
She left the band to begin the decade, and some wondered if her solo career could match her time with the band. But those fears were quickly quashed, as she recorded two #1 hits in the US from her debut solo album.
Ross continued to set records through the decade, both through record sales and concert attendance. Her songs like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Love Hangover” continue to be played to this day, and she remains one of the most famous black women in music.
5. Marvin Gaye
Also called Prince of Soul, Marvin Gaye was already breaking out of the Motown system by the beginning of the decade, and the young musician was poised to take the 1970s by storm.
He was still with the production company when he created his opus, the album What’s Going On. Instead of allowing the studio to handle production, Gaye produced the album himself.
The album is arguably the greatest of the decade and one of the greatest collections of music ever made. Gaye instantly became the face of soul following its release, and Rolling Stone named it the greatest album of all time in 2020.
6. Stevie Wonder
Stevland Hardaway Morris—though we all know him as Stevie Wonder—was only 13 years old when he topped the charts in 1963, the youngest person ever to accomplish the feat.
But it was not until the 1970s that the musician reached his peak abilities. Beginning in 1972, Wonder released a string of albums that are still adored to this day by critics and fans alike.
Wonder set a record never accomplished since by winning the Album of the Year Grammy Award for three consecutive album releases.
Those albums were Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale, and Songs in the Key of Life. The final album produced one of his most loved songs, “Isn’t She Lovely?”
Related: Did you know Stevie Wonder is vegan? Read about other vegan singers here.
7. Olivia Newton-John
“Hopelessly Devoted to You” singer Olivia Newton-John has had a long and storied career, but the 1970s saw her breakout in the music scene in a big way.
She topped the charts with two of her albums in the middle of the decade, If You Love Me, Let Me Know, and Have You Never Been Mellow. Her star only shined brighter by the end of the decade when she co-starred in the musical Grease in 1978 with John Travolta.
The film was incredibly successful and made the two cast members household names. The duet from the film “You’re the One That I Want” remains one of the best-selling singles ever recorded.
8. Willie Nelson
No one was bigger in the country music scene during the 1970s than Willie Nelson. This singer defined the decade’s outlaw country music, and he remains one of country music’s most recognizable faces.
In the early ‘70s, Nelson set out to carve his path and break away from the Nashville music scene he saw as too sterile and corporate.
From there, he joined the burgeoning outlaw country movement and had a string of critically acclaimed albums such as Shotgun Willie and Red Headed Stranger.
Nelson is still active today, though he has ventured outside of music to star in film, like Lost in London and The American Epic Sessions. He is also an activist for marijuana legalization and the use of biofuel.
9. Stevie Nicks
While her solo career did not begin until the 1980s, it is unquestionable that Stevie Nicks began to rise in pop culture by the 1970s.
She and her boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham joined the band Fleetwood Mac in 1975 and helped shape it into a commercial powerhouse.
Nicks made a splash with her song “Landslide” on the band’s self-titled album from 1975. In 1977, Fleetwood Mac released Rumors, one of the best-selling albums ever recorded. Nicks wrote lyrics and sang on several songs from the album, including “Dreams” and “Gold Dust Woman.”
She ended the decade singing on the album Tusk, which polarized critics at the time but now stands as one of the band’s most loved albums.
10. Bruce Springsteen
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bruce Springsteen remains one of the most accomplished singer-songwriters in musical history.
Known by many as the Boss, he was instrumental in creating the heartland rock genre of music and brought to it his brand of music about working-class heroes. Together with the E Street Band, his concerts became the thing of legends.
Though his debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., failed to make waves, he became an overnight hit with his 1975 album Born to Run. This and its title track remain one of the most played albums of the decade, and its cover is one of rock’s most instantly recognizable.
11. Dolly Parton
Few country musicians became as big a mainstream success as Dolly Parton. From her beginnings in the 1960s, Parton was one of the biggest players in country music.
By the end of the 1970s, she cemented herself as one of the most popular acts in the world regardless of genre.
Two of her biggest songs of the decade were “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene.” She dedicated the former song to her frequent collaborator whom she was splitting ways to pursue a solo career.
From there, Parton continued to produce mainstream hits and raise her stock. She remains one of the biggest selling female artists of all time.
12. Ann Wilson
As the lead vocalist of rock band Heart, Ann Wilson cemented herself as a trailblazer along with her sister Nancy.
Wilson became the first woman to front a hard rock band, and Heart’s success proved she was just as capable as any man at producing beloved hard rock tunes.
The band and Wilson had their largest success in the 1970s, putting out two commercially successful albums in Dreamboat Annie and Little Queen. Singles from those albums like “Crazy On You” and “Barracuda” were successful on the charts and have remained classic rock standards.
In 2013, Wilson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Today, the singer is still considered one of the best heavy metal vocalists during the genre’s heyday.
13. Freddie Mercury
One of the most recognizable singers of the decade, Freddie Mercury is held up by many critics as one of the greatest vocalists of all time.
Together with Brian May, Mercury formed the band Queen in 1970, and the band soon became one of the defining acts of the decade. The band released several hits at that time, such as “Killer Queen,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “We Are the Champions.”
Mercury was a driving force of the band, with his impressive vocal range and exciting live performances. Few singers have ever had the energy he brought to both studio recordings and concerts, and he remains one of rock’s most beloved figures.
14. Al Green
Our next singer, Al Green, is often called the last great soul singer, and he earned that title due to of several hit releases throughout the 1970s.
Green saw his first big hit in 1971 with the song “Tired of Being Alone.” This song began a string of mainstream songs for the fledgling singer that made him one of the biggest names in soul music.
Through the rest of the decade, Green was responsible for several chart-toppers, such as “Let’s Stay Together” and “Take Me to the River.”
By the end of the ‘70s, Green’s popularity began to wane, and his albums failed to produce many sales. He turned his attention to becoming a pastor and recorded gospel music.
15. Glenn Frey
The Eagles remain one of the most enjoyed easy-listening bands, and frontman Glenn Frey was a substantial reason for the band’s success.
Throughout the ‘70s, Frey was responsible for singing and writing some of the group’s biggest hits before he embarked on a solo career in the 1980s.
The Eagles made waves with their debut album in 1972, but they did not establish their place until their compilation album in 1976 titled Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975).
This 1976 album remains one of the best-selling albums in America and set the stage for the Eagles to smash the charts with the album Hotel California and its title track later the same year.
16. Tina Turner
The Ike and Tina Turner Revue was already an incredibly popular act by the time the 1970s came around, and the duo continued to produce hits in the first half of the decade.
Songs like “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” “Sexy Ida,” and “Proud Mary” received plenty of play after their release. The last song winning them a Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group Grammy Award.
But even with the duo remaining popular, the two went their separate ways in 1976. Tina Turner began to carve out a solo career following the breakup, though her solo success was not prominent until the 1980s. Regardless, Turner remains one of the ‘70s most popular musicians.
17. Aretha Franklin
If anyone wondered if Aretha Franklin could maintain her 1960s success in the new decade, their fears were quickly quashed. Franklin had already established herself as the Queen of Soul and continued producing chart-topping hits throughout the 1970s.
From the start of the decade, she had a string of four albums that critics acclaimed and were commercially successful. These include Spirit in the Dark, Young, Gifted and Black, Amazing Grace, and Sparkle.
She left Atlantic Records at the end of the decade and continued her success through the 1980s. Franklin was eventually inducted into three halls of fame: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the UK Music Hall of Fame, and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
18. Robert Plant
Rock band Led Zeppelin is a favorite of many to this day, and frontman Robert Plant was a vital part of the group’s success.
Led Zeppelin was already a big deal following their debut album in 1969, and the 1970s was when the group achieved their greatest success with their fourth album, known to fans as Led Zeppelin IV.
It featured iconic songs such as “Black Dog” and “Stairway to Heaven.” The album remains one of the best-selling pieces of music ever and has influenced countless artists.
After the group separated in 1980, Plant continued performing as a solo musician, and he is still active today.
19. Gloria Gaynor
Perhaps second only to Donna Summer in terms of disco popularity, Gloria Gaynor remains one of the most recognizable stars of her era.
No disco song is as instantly recognizable as her 1978 smash hit “I Will Survive.” The song receives airplay on oldies stations to this day, and Gaynor has remained a popular figure since the 1970s.
“I Will Survive” was unique amongst disco songs in its lack of production. Where many tracks of that era had too much production, Gaynor turned in a simple song that is easy to dance to.
Aside from “I Will Survive,” she also had hits with “Let Me Know (I Have a Right)” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.”
20. Patti Smith
Poet and singer-songwriter Patti Smith, along with Lou Reed, is a progenitor of the American punk rock movement of the 1970s. She took the underground world by storm with her debut album in 1975, Horses.
The album demonstrated her ability to combine poetry and rock music, and Smith became known as the punk poet laureate.
While she did not have much mainstream success, she had a hit on the charts with the song “Because the Night,” which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen. Outside of music, Smith wrote a memoir called Just Kids.
21. Paul McCartney
After the breakup of The Beatles, it would have been simple enough for Paul McCartney to disappear from music. He was already one of the most popular musicians, and his accolades spoke for themselves. Instead, he decided to launch a successful solo career.
While few would claim McCartney’s solo work is comparable with his time as part of the Fab Four, he and his band Wings placed highly on the charts throughout the 1970s. The most popular song of his solo career is “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.”
Outside of Wings, McCartney also dropped a few charting works, which includes “Another Day,” “Oh Woman, Oh Why,” and “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.”
Summing Up Our List Of Famous 1970s Singers
The 1970s were a time of great change in many facets of the world, including music. New genres, like disco, lived and died in the decade, and many classic rock and soul artists made their name during the era.
Who is your favorite artist of the 1970s? Did we miss any you think should be here? Let us know and we’ll add them in.