In the 1970s, punk and New Wave began to shift the emphasis away from long-haired, heavy-rock acts. And while there were still plenty of stadium rockers and glam bands around, a new breed of singer-songwriter was beginning to take center stage. Acts such as Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, John Denver and Carole King all had huge hits in the early '70s. But it wasn't until the end of that decade that their influence really began to be felt. In 1979, for example, only one rock act (the Cars) made it into Billboard’s top 20 sellers list. But as punk and New Wave continued to gain momentum during the next few years, things changed rapidly. By 1983 only three rock acts (Billy Joel, The Police and Michael Jackson) managed to crack Billboard’s top 30, Country and dance music also grew in popularity throughout this period but it was those singer-songwriters who came to dominate sales charts, almost all of them performing stripped down versions of classic pop songs, just listen to records by Carole King or James Taylor for proof! Here are some of the biggest selling acts in the 70s.
The British pianist-singer’s record sales have always been impressive but they really shot up during the '70s (particularly after his collaboration with lyricist Bernie Taupin led to a long list of hit albums). In 1972, his soundtrack to the movie "Friends", featuring his hit song "Crocodile Rock," became his first number one hit and remained in the top ten for 20 weeks. In 1973, his "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" album sold over 30 million copies. In total, Elton John has sold more than 300 million records worldwide.
Led by flamboyant front man Freddie Mercury (who died of AIDS in 1991), the British band Queen achieved phenomenal success during the late '70s and early '80s with albums such as "A Night at the Opera" (which featured the hit songs "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "You're My Best Friend"), "A Day at the Races" and "News of the World". Queen’s record sales reached an estimated 200 million copies worldwide by the end of the decade.
The pianist-singer Billy Joel’s most successful period began with his 1977 album "The Stranger". It featured the classic songs "Just the Way You Are", "New York State of Mind" and "Movin’ Out". His other albums from the '70s, "52nd Street" (which included the hit ballad "My Life") and "The Bridge" also sold well. Although he hadn’t received any formal musical training as a kid and didn’t even own a piano until he was 18, Billy Joel has sold more than 100 million records worldwide.
A former pop-rock singer and arranger, Barry Manilow’s gradual shift towards a softer, more melodic style led to phenomenal success in the late '70s. His 1976 album "Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again" was a huge hit, with the title song reaching number one in the charts. He followed it up with three more number one albums ("Even Now", "This One’s for You" and "Greatest Songs of the '50s and '60s"). By the end of the decade, Manilow’s record sales had reached an estimated 100 million copies worldwide.
The folk-rock singer-songwriter Bob Dylan achieved huge success in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s with albums such as "Blonde on Blonde" (which contained the classic songs "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35" and "I Want You", and "Blood on the Tracks". His record sales reached an estimated 100 million copies worldwide by the end of the decade.
The British singer-songwriter’s popularity began to soar during the early ‘70s. His albums "Tea for the Tillerman" (which contained the hit "Wild World"), "Teaser and the Firecat" (featuring the classic songs "Morning Has Broken" and "Peace Train") and "Catch Bull at Four" all sold very well. In total, Cat Stevens’ record sales have come to exceed 100 million copies worldwide.
The British guitarist-singer’s first two albums, "Billy Idol" and "Rebel Yell", were released in the late ‘70s and sold extremely well. They spawned a string of hit singles, including "Mony Mony", "Hotter Than Hell", "White Wedding", "Rebel Yell" and " Eyes Without a Face". By the end of the decade, Billy Idol had sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide.
The American singer-songwriter’s classic hits from the ‘70s included "I Am, I Said", "Longfellow Socks", "Save Your Love", "Cracklin’ Rosie" and "Love on the Rocks". He released the hugely successful "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" album in ‘73 (the title track was later used as the theme music for the television series "The Voyage of the Mimi"). By the end of the decade, Neil Diamond’s record sales had reached an estimated 100 million copies worldwide.
Carole King and James Taylor
The singer-songwriters Carole King and James Taylor formed a close friendship while they were both living in California during the ‘60s and ‘70s. They released their first duo album, "Tapestry", in ‘71 and it sold phenomenally well, spawning a number of classic pop songs, including "You’ve Got a Friend" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?"