Over the years, I have had many conversations about 70s disco music with friends or acquaintances. At some point during those types of musical discussions, I will ask the question: “What do you consider to be the best Top 40 disco hits of the 70s decade?”
Responses to my inquiries about the greatest disco hits will vary but many folks will choose multiple songs by the same artist, when selecting their favorite 70s disco tunes.
While there isn’t anything wrong with picking multiple songs from the same artist in a listing of the best disco songs from the 70s, I am choosing different methodology in coming up with my own compilation of superior disco singles.
For this music blog message, I will be counting down what I consider to be the 20 best disco singles by 20 different artists. Here are the rules and criteria that I have set forth for this musical exercise:
- Each artist, group, band or singer will have just one song listed on the top 20 countdown.
- All selections were hits on Top 40 radio and charted at number 20 or lower on the Billboard Hot 100.
- I deem each of my selections to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant.
- Song charted nationally on Billboard Hot 100 between 1975 and 1979.
The term “disco” is shorthand for the word discothèque, a French word for “library of phonograph records.”
Please note that I will not be giving a complete history of disco music with this message. For those who long for more information, there are multiple books, articles and links via the Internet on this topic.
Genesis of disco music wasn’t instantaneous but evolved during the first years of the 70s.
Below is a partial listing of Top 40 hits that were precursors to the formation of disco between 1971 and 1973.
- Theme from Shaft—Isaac Hayes
- Funky Nassau—The Beginning of the End
- Rock Steady—Aretha Franklin
- Jungle Fever—Chakachas
- Soul Makossa—Manu Dibango
- Superfly—Curtis Mayfield
- Papa Was a Rolling Stone—The Temptations
- Masterpiece—The Temptations
- Love Train—The O’Jays
- The Love I Lost—Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
During the first few months of 1974, a couple of proto-disco songs became hits on top 40 radio. Both tunes reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100:
- Love’s Theme—The Love Unlimited Orchestra (Barry White)
- TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)—MFSB and the Three Degrees
During April 1974, I landed my first job in radio, working for Top 40 WROV Roanoke (1240 AM). For the next 18 months, I witnessed firsthand the tremendous growth of disco music at Roanoke’s top rated Top 40 outlet.
One of the most popular songs that I played during the summer of 1974 on WROV is “Rock the Boat” by the Hues Corporation. This up-tempo classic R&B/Soul tune was number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is considered by some music historians as the earliest disco song to be a mainstream hit.
Another landmark recording of disco music from the summer of 1974 is “Rock Your Baby” by George McCrae. Co-written and produced by Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch of KC & the Sunshine Band, the song sold over 11 million copies worldwide.
Other Top 40 disco hits in 1974:
- Never Can Say Goodbye—Gloria Gaynor
- You’re the First, The Last, My Everything—Barry White
- When Will I See You Again—Three Degrees
- Kung Fu Fighting—Carl Douglas
It was during the summer of 1975 that I realized that disco music was going to be huge, when “The Hustle” by Van McCoy was the number 1 song in Roanoke and nationally on the Billboard Hot 100.
My radio station WROV had a remote broadcast at the Kings Inn, a nightclub on Salem Avenue in downtown Roanoke. I was engineer for this 3-hour remote and spun 45-rpm singles, which included all of the top 10 songs from the WROV playlist.
When I played Van McCoy’s number 1 hit during the first 15 minutes on the Kings Inn remote, just about every patron at the nightclub went on the dance floor to “do the hustle.” Because of the overwhelming positive response when I played the disco hit, Kings Inn management requested that I spin “The Hustle” a few more times before the remote was scheduled to end.
After I consulted with my fellow WROV staff members, I broke the station’s format and played “The Hustle” two other times that evening. Close to 100 percent of everyone in the building danced on my second and third plays of Van McCoy’s hit. Needless to say, disco music was alive and well in Roanoke that night at the Kings Inn.
The Royal Kings were the house band for Roanoke’s 70s premier nightclub, the Kings Inn. Photo is a scan from a Roanoke Times newspaper article, provided to me by band member Larry Wheeling, who is pictured above.
Other Top 40 disco hits in 1975:
- Pick Up the Pieces—Average White Band
- Lady Marmalade—LaBelle
- Express—BT Express
- That’s the Way (I Like It)—KC & the Sunshine Band
- Fly, Robin, Fly—Silver Convention
- Jive Talkin’—The Bees Gees
My time playing disco records ended in November 1975 as I accepted a full-time radio job with AM/FM combo WRIS 1410 and WJLM 93.5 Roanoke. However, I still tracked the genre of music listening to various Top 40 stations including WROV, WLS Chicago and WABC New York.
Before I reveal my countdown of supreme disco hits, I am sharing ten songs that I considered for the Top 20 but didn’t make the cut. These selections are listed in random order with no repeat artists:
- Disco Inferno—The Tramps
- Car Wash—Rose Royce
- Miss You—Rolling Stones
- Don’t Leave Me this Way—Thelma Houston
- I Love the Nightlife—Alicia Bridges
- Knock on Wood—Amii Stewart
- Who Loves You—The Four Seasons
- Turn the Beat Around—Vickie Sue Robinson
- Ain’t No Stopping Us Now—McFadden & Whitehead
- Ring My Bell—Anita Ward
All documentation of chart positions I share below, comes from The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitburn. I proudly own a hard copy of this excellent reference manual, which I consider to be the “bible” handbook for music history with Top 40 radio.
I now present what I consider to be the top 20 best disco songs from the 70s. As Casey Kasem used to say on his American Top 40 show, “Now on with the countdown.”
20. Best of My Love—The Emotions (1977)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 3rd Biggest Song of 1977
Written by Maurice White and Al McKay of Earth Wind & Fire. Won Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance. Billboard proclaims “Best of My Love” at number 1 on the “Top 40 Biggest Girl Group Songs of All Time” list.
19. More, More, More—Andrea True Connection (1976)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #4 Hot 100, 17th Biggest Song of 1976
Signature song for Andrea True. International hit. Excellent horn section on tune. Canadian alternative rock duo Len sampled “More, More, More” on their 1999 hit “Steal My Sunshine.”
18. Got to Give it Up—Marvin Gaye (1977)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 20th Biggest Song of 1977
Marvin Gaye’s first recording of disco. Falsetto vocals. Outstanding percussion instrumentation with R&B/Funk guitar riffs. Worldwide smash. Number 1 song on 3 Billboard charts.
17. Love Hangover—Diana Ross (1976)
Peak Positions on Billboard Hot 100: #1 Hot 100, 15th Biggest Song of 1976
Superb bass line. Tempo of song starts as ballad, changes to fast groove. Motown’s first disco hit. Fourth Billboard Hot 100 number 1 hit for Diana Ross as a solo artist.
16. Boogie Nights—Heat Wave (1977)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot 100, 93rd Biggest Song of 1977
Funk/Disco international band. Two members from United States, three from European Countries and one Jamaican. “Always and Forever” and “The Groove Line” were two other smash tunes by Heat Wave.
15. Dancing Queen—ABBA (1977)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 12th Biggest Song of 1977
ABBA’s most recognizable and popular song. Inducted into Grammy Hall of Fame in 2015. Melodic tune and excellent vocal harmonies by Swedish quartet. Reached number 1 in 14 countries around the world.
14. Lowdown—Boz Scaggs (1976)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #3 Hot 100, 49th Biggest Song of 1976
Co-written by Boz Scaggs and David Paich. Song is categorized in multiple musical genres. R&B, Disco, Jazz and Yacht Rock. Won a Grammy Award for best R&B song.
13. Got to Be Real—Cheryl Lynn (1979)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #12 Hot 100, 69th Biggest Song of 1979
Considered a one hit wonder. Cheryl Lynn was former gospel singer. Discovered on the Gong Show in 1976. Song inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005.
12. Ladies Night—Kool & the Gang (1979)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #8 Hot 100, 35th Biggest Song of 1979
American Funk/R&B band. First of 3 top 10 hits for group during 1979/1980. An anthem for disco bars and nightclubs. Promoting female patrons to venues all across America.
11. We Are Family—Sister Sledge (1979)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot 100, 53rd Biggest Song of 1979
Siblings Debbie, Joni, Kim and Kathy Sledge from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Lyrics express family solidarity. Signature song and biggest hit for Sister Sledge. Selected by the National Recording Registry/Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant” in 2017.
10. Shake Your Groove Thing—Peaches & Herb (1979)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #5 Hot 100, 31st Biggest Song of 1979
A reformed Peaches & Herb duo formed in the 70s with new singer Linda Greene joining founding member Herb Fame. “Shake Your Groove Thing” and “Reunited” were mega hits for the R&B/disco pair during 1979.
9. Shame—Evelyn “Champagne” King (1978)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #9 Hot 100, 64th Biggest Song of 1978
Singer born in The Bronx, New York City. Evelyn King had four Top 40 hits. None bigger than “Shame.” Song features excellent saxophone section and superb bass line. R&B/Funk smash single.
8. Get Down Tonight—KC & the Sunshine Band (1975)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 64th Biggest Song of 1975
The first of 5 number 1 hits on Billboard Hot 100 for South Florida band. Fast tempo. Excellent guitar solo. Superb mixture of R&B, funk and disco.
7. I Will Survive—Gloria Gaynor
Peak positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 6th Biggest Song of 1979
Lyrics have become an anthem for female empowerment. Inducted into Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2016. “I Will Survive” received a Grammy Award for “Best Disco Recording.”
6. Good Times—Chic (1979)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 20th Biggest Song of 1979
Written by Chic band members Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers. Song has legendary bass line riff and is one of the most sampled tunes in music history.
Backing track from “Good Times” was used on the first Top 40 hip-hop hit, “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang. Comes in at number 68 on Rolling Stone “Greatest Songs of All Time” list.
5. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough—Michael Jackson (1979)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 91st Biggest Song of 1979
Produced by Quincy Jones and written by Michael Jackson. It was the biggest solo hit of the 70s by the “King of Pop.” Musically, it features a six-piece horn ensemble of saxophones, trumpets and trombone. A sterling string section also adds to the rich sound on this tune.
“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” was a world-wide hit, and helped pave the way for Jackson’s superstar status during the 80s. The singer received a Grammy Award for “Male R&B Vocal Performance” with this popular disco smash.
4. Heart of Glass—Blondie (1979)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 18th Biggest Song of 1979
Brilliant “New Wave” meets “Disco” mix by New York rock band. Magnificent combination of synthesizers, drum machine and guitar. Blondie’s singer Debbie Harry shines on vocals.
“Heart of Glass” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2015. It was the first of 4 number 1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 for the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band.
3. September—Earth Wind & Fire (1979)
Peak Positions of Billboard Charts: #8 Hot 100, 78th Biggest Song of 1979
“September” is a quintessential song with multiple genres of music: R&B, Soul, Funk, Jazz, Disco and Yacht Rock. Upbeat, feel-good groove. Philip Bailey and Maurice White share lead vocals on this successful song.
Highlighted by transcendent saxophone, trumpet, trombone, guitar and keyboards. Earth Wind & Fire’s most beloved song, was added to Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry list of sound recordings in 2018.
2. Stayin’ Alive—The Bee Gees (1978)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 4th Biggest Song of 1978
Coming in second on the countdown is my selection by the Bee Gees. Written by brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, biggest song from the “Saturday Night Fever” motion picture soundtrack. Great guitar hook with a pulsating beat.
“Stayin’” Alive” is one of the most iconic disco songs from the 70s. Rolling Stone ranks it at number 99 on their “Greatest Songs of All Time” listing. Placed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. This signature song from the Bees Gees, is my second-best disco single of the 70s.
- I Feel Love—Donna Summer (1977)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #6 Hot 100, 96th Biggest Song of 1977
When I think of the greatest disco artist from the 70s, there is only one person who fits that bill: Donna Summer. The “Queen of Disco” was one of the leading female vocalists during the disco era of music and then extending into the early 80s.
“I Feel Love” is one of the most influential songs of the 20th century. Music historians believe that the 1977 disco hit, had a major impact in the development of electronic dance music (EDM). Many who chronicle music history, consider the Donna Summer single to be the first ever recorded EDM song.
Summer’s ground breaking song also had a significant impact with other genres of music, such as New Wave, Punk Rock, Synth-Pop, House, and Disco, during the late 70s, early 80s and beyond.
Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte produced and co-wrote “I Feel Love” along with Donna Summer. The use of a Moog synthesizer, with a repetitive beat, gives the tune a hypnotic, rhythmic feel, that was popular on disco dance floors all across America.
Without a doubt, I proclaim that “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer is the most supreme disco hit from the 70s.
After I finished compiling information for the 20 songs listed above, I realized an interesting fact. Over the past 5 years, I have regularly played many of these songs at wedding receptions, class reunions and other similar events where I am hired for DJ gigs. My 20 selected disco tunes are still popular with those who want to dance.
Now that I have humbly submitted my countdown of the top 20 supreme disco songs of the 70s, I am curious to find out your opinion on this topic. Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique on what I consider to be the best disco songs. The songs that you feel are the best may be completely different from my selections.
I am asking for your opinion: What do you consider to be the best disco songs from the 70s? There are no right or wrong answers. I welcome your thoughts.
If you are a fan of 70s disco music, I welcome your comments below. I leave you with these lyrics by Alicia Bridges and Susan Hutcheson: “I love the nightlife, I got to boogie on the disco ’round.” Disco on!
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