The Number One Albums of 1970: Hello and Goodbye

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We said “hello” to a new decade where much of the news would be dominated by student deaths at Kent State.

Such cultural touchstones as Monday Night Football and The Odd Couple had their television premieres on ABC.

In music, several groups said their goodbyes and the last few months were dominated with the passing of both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

Popular music was evolving from the two-and-a-half minute singles that dominated AM radio playlists in the ’60s to the lengthier free form tracks on FM. And every one of the 16 albums that reached #1 on Record World‘s sales chart reflected that change.

The Beatles had three albums reach the top. Two of its members also accomplished the feat with solo releases. Such worthy titles as The Doors’ Morrison Hotel, The Who’s Live at Leeds and the Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, came close but never reached #1.

Here’s a recap of that unusual year; listings are in reverse order, saving the longest-running titles for the end. [Chart nerds might note that several of the albums failed to reach #1 on fellow trade magazine, Billboard.]

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass (1 week)

The ambitious triple album, released on Nov. 27, was an artistic and commercial success. It topped the final chart of the year, on Dec. 26 (where it would remain for much of the winter of ’71). It also delivered the first #1 single, by an ex-Beatle, “My Sweet Lord.” Other standouts include “What is Life,” “Isn’t It a Pity,” “Beware of Darkness,” and on and on. And the personnel is top shelf.

Related: Our feature on 13 classic triple albums

Sly and the Family Stone – Greatest Hits (1)

The funk-rock-soul band was riding even higher thanks to their performance at Woodstock. This Nov. 21 collection was perfectly timed for the holiday selling season, reaching #1 on Dec. 5.

Woodstock: music from the original soundtrack and more (1)

Nine months after the legendary 1969 festival, and roughly six weeks after the documentary film was released, this 3-LP set arrived on May 11, offering just a glimpse of what was performed at Yasgur’s farm. Most of the acoustic music is relegated to the first two discs before the electric rock, soul and blues take over. Most, but not all, of the real heavyweights are represented—the Who, the Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. It topped RW on July 18.

Joe Cocker – Mad Dogs & Englishmen (2)

It was the traveling road show to end all traveling road shows when Joe Cocker released this live double set in August that personified the rock ’n’ soul party. The singer, just 25 when it was recorded, was joined by musical director Leon Russell and a “cast of thousands” that included Chris Stainton, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and Rita Coolidge. It quickly rose to the top on Sept. 19-26.

Bob Dylan – Self Portrait (2)

This June 8 two-LP set ascended the sales chart quickly, topping it on July 25 and Aug. 1. The critics weren’t kind, and unlike “Lay Lady Lay” a year earlier, it contained no hit singles. Several months later, it fell off the chart.

The Beatles – Abbey Road (3)

Their studio masterpiece was released in the U.S. on Oct. 1, 1969, and once it reached the top that Nov. 1, it ran the table for the rest of that year. Though its run was interrupted at the dawn of a new decade, it returned to its familiar perch on Jan. 17 for three weeks.

The Beatles – Hey Jude (3)

If there’s such a thing as a forgotten Beatles album, this is it. The Feb. 26 release is a collection of non-album singles and B-sides, oddly timed in that it followed Abbey Road by just five months and preceded Let It Be by just 2 1/2 months. The hodgepodge track list thus includes such early sides as “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Should Have Known Better,” through more recent sides like “Lady Madonna” and the title track. On Mar. 28, it reached #1 for three weeks.

Blood, Sweat and Tears 3 (3)

How do you top an album with three #2 singles? You don’t. In the case of BS&T’s June release, it paled in comparison to their 1968 self-titled album and all those hits. Thanks to the momentum of its predecessor, it enjoyed a quick rise to the top on Aug. 8. But other than the modest success of “Hi-De-Ho,” there were to be no more big hits.

Related: The #1 albums of 1973

Led Zeppelin III (3)

With the very first notes of “Immigrant Song,” the first song on side one, the quartet signaled that they were back but with a different sound than its two predecessors. The Oct. 5 release of III grabbed the top spot on Nov. 14 but stayed there for just two more.

Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water (3)

If you knew that the duo released only five studio albums raise your hand. And what a way to go out! Two of its tracks deserve to be singled out. “The Boxer” was issued as a single in March 1969, well before the album’s Jan. 26, 1970, release. It begins as a ballad with the pair singing its verses together. Later on, the oft-repeated “lie-la-lie” is punctuated by Hal Blaine’s thunderous drums. The instrumental portion, midway, is highlighted by the lovely piccolo trumpet.

The album’s title track was released on Jan. 20, a week before the LP. The song’s chilling instrumentation was recorded in Los Angeles with members of the studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. That’s Larry Knechtel on the beautiful, gospel-like piano that accompanies Art Garfunkel’s vocal. At the 3:18 mark, Simon joins his partner on the final verse. Garfunkel closes it out, with the full orchestration, the strings, and Blaine’s drums. Listen to it again, for the first time.

The album would go on to dominate the year’s Grammy Awards with seven wins including Album of the Year, and Record of the Year and Song of the year for its title track. A triumph.

Related: The biggest radio hits of 1970

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Déjà Vu (4)

The quartet were absolutely the coolest band around and the public embraced this March 11 release. Two weeks later, the Woodstock documentary arrived in theaters. Hearing these new songs on the radio and seeing their idols (minus Young, who wouldn’t allow the filmmakers to show him) on the screen proved to be a winning combination, as the album reached #1 on April 18 for the first of its four consecutive weeks. Déjà Vu is chock full of memorable songs, three of which became hit singles.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Déjà Vu

Paul McCartney – McCartney (4)

A terrific LP, but what a messy situation! McCartney recorded much of this D.I.Y. album in secrecy at his home studio in London. Its April 17 release came just three weeks before the Beatles’ own Let It Be album and signaled the end of the Fab Four. The album, which first reached #1 on May 23, includes such memorable songs as “Every Night,” “That Would Be Something” and “Maybe I’m Amazed.” No singles were released. The gatefold cover, with photos taken by Linda McCartney, counterintuitively features an iconic image of the grinning Paul (and their baby, Mary) on the back.

Related: Our recap of 1970 in rock music

The Beatles – Let It Be (5)

Oof… the band were D-U-N… done. With all the tracks recorded amidst infighting, the album was ultimately assembled by producer Phil Spector and released on May 8, in tandem with the Let It Be documentary film, just seven months after Abbey Road. It hit #1 on June 13 and stayed there for an additional four weeks. Director Peter Jackson was given full access to 55 hours of never-released footage from the recording sessions and the Beatles’ Jan. 1969 rooftop concert. A new docu-series and accompanying 50th anniversary edition of the album [available here] arrived in 2021.

Santana – Abraxas (5)

Following their big success at Woodstock and their hit with “Evil Ways,” the band needed another popular song to break the group through. “Black Magic Woman” was the tune that did that from the band’s second album, released on Sept. 23. “Black Magic Woman,” again sung by Gregg Rolie, went to #4, helping to power the LP to #1 for five non-consecutive weeks beginning Oct. 24, and eventual sales of five million copies in the U.S. alone.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory (6)

It’s easy to forget just how prolific and popular CCR were in their brief history. They followed their three (!) 1969 studio albums – each a tremendous success – with this July 25 release. And three more Top 5 singles, “Travelin’ Band,” “Up Around the Bend” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” were added to their canon. As was their 11-minute cover of “I Hoid it Through the Grapevine.” The LP topped the sales chart for three weeks beginning on Aug. 29, and returned for another three on Oct. 10.

Led Zeppelin II (6)

Of course, “Whole Lotta Love” wasn’t the only great song on this Oct. 22, 1969 classic. But with such blockbusters as “What Is and What Should Never Be,” “Ramble On” and, of course, the mighty “Moby Dick,” here was the blueprint for all of the best hard rock of the coming decade. It opened the year with two weeks at the top and returned for the entire month of February.

Related: Our inside story on how “Whole Lotta Love” became a game-changer

Best Classic Bands Staff

4 Comments so far

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  1. O W L ()
    #1 O W L () 27 February, 2020, 09:38

    WW!! G R E A T article with no put-downs, acidic criticisms or straight out “dissin”…..
    I am happy to hear ONLY THE POSITIVES of these albums from this great year…a most transitional year in song length, song play….and, of course, the intro to the singer-songwriter genre! This was the year that I graduated..a year to be archived so sincerely in my life, with ALL THE POSSIBILITIES lying just ahead of me….and these FINE ALBUMS bring the thread that held everything together for me as well!! These were FINE TIMES!! THESE ALBUMS WERE THE SOUNDTRACK OF THESE FINE TIMES, my extended “formative years”, as this music just caused me to press on for MORE OF THE SAME!! Just as a good novel, these albums will be in people’s hearts and minds F O R E V E R !! Such fine testaments of time..and eternally righteous bands and music!!
    And just for the hell of it, I’d like to thank and compliment the writer/writers of this article!! I am grateful for your open attitude and MST PSITIVE reviews of this classic music! I will continue reading your prose, as I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN IN LOVE WITH MUSIC..and will always love to hear its praises!! This article is M O S T

    Thanks You kindly!! ☮️

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  2. bobbyb
    #2 bobbyb 25 May, 2020, 01:34

    it makes you sick to compare today’s albums to the albums of 50 years ago. just one of these albums alone would be earth-shattering if it came out today, but to think that there were about 20 or 30 of these a year would just be just unimaginable today. My generation really sucks. Entire years go by nowadays without a single good album.

    Reply this comment
  3. 313RTE
    #3 313RTE 3 January, 2021, 15:19

    Purchased and played heavily practically every one of the classic albums listed above. I saved my record collection and thankfully my son and daughter-in-law developed an interest in vinyl and asked for my turntable and LP’s which I gladly passed on to them. Often they inform me of a classic they have discovered and grown to enjoy.

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  4. Joe
    #4 Joe 20 March, 2023, 11:11

    I feel blessed to have been a junior in high school and bought every one of these albums upon their release.

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