The Number One Singles of 1970

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One of the year’s biggest singles

Best Classic Bands readers can’t seem to get enough of our frequent takes at the classic rock era’s “year’s biggest” lists. So we’re introducing (yet) another way of looking at them. The topic, as you know by the headline is singles and while we have done stories on the biggest hits of the year, this series slices things a bit differently. Here, we look at the year’s #1 pop hits in the U.S.—in this case, 1970—according to Record World, a competitor of Billboard.

Earning a #1 single is an achievement that goes on an artist’s permanent biography. And in the classic rock era, Top 40 radio programmers were still playing rock music alongside pop, R&B, country, and other genres.

In 1970, only two songs stayed at the top for four weeks or more. And thus, no less than 29 singles reached #1 that year. While we’re not going to write about all of them, they’re all listed below. Our recap begins in reverse, and alphabetically by artist, starting with the 15 that grabbed the top spot for a single week. (Note: Many of the chart numbers will differ with those compiled by Billboard.)

1 Week

Bread – “Make it With You”

The soft rock group fronted by David Gates scored ten Top 15 singles during the 1970s, none bigger than this, their first to chart.

Eric Burdon & War – “Spill the Wine”

The brief collaboration between the British Invasion singer and the California funk band yielded this unusual song which features a flute solo and the voice of a woman occasionally speaking Spanish in the background.

Carpenters – “We’ve Only Just Begun”

Veteran songwriter and performer Paul Williams wrote the lyrics to this gem which features lead vocals by both Karen and Richard.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”

Purists will argue that this classic wasn’t a #1 hit because it topped out at #2 in Billboard. Purists be damned. Regardless, it was their seventh to reach the Top 5 in 1969-70.

Neil Diamond – “Cracklin’ Rosie”

The Guess Who – “American Woman”

The Canadian band were at the height of their popularity when this song exploded onto the airwaves in March and rose quickly to the top, reaching #1 in May. Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman reunited for a brief tour, though many shows were cancelled due to the pandemic.

The Jackson 5 – “ABC” and “The Love You Save”

Not enough can be said about the impact that the quintet from Gary, Ind. made that year. Their 1969 release, “I Want You Back,” reached #1 on Billboard on Jan. 31, 1970. It topped out at #2 on Record World.) Next up were these two singles, which reached #1 everywhere. (And there was one more to come, which you’ll read about below.)

Mungo Jerry – “In the Summertime”

The British rock group was fronted by Ray Dorset – there was no Jerry. The skiffle/jug band scored their only U.S. hit, which reached #1 in the days before summer ended, on Sept. 12.

Freda Payne – “Band of Gold”

Diana Ross – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

Ms. Ross was no stranger to this Ashford and Simpson composition which had recorded two years earlier with the Supremes in a duet with label mates the Temptations. The 1970 recording became the first of her many solo hits to reach #1.

Bobby Sherman – “Julie, Do Ya Love Me”

Simon & Garfunkel – “Cecilia”

One of four hits from the group’s farewell album, Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Edwin Starr – “War”

The Temptations released the Norman Whitfield – Barrett Strong composition earlier that year on their Psychedelic Shack album but it wasn’t released as a single. Their fellow Motown artist released it that summer and his powerful vocal took it to the top on Sept. 5.

Related: Our feature story on Starr’s recording

Stevie Wonder – “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”

If you hadn’t noticed it by now, there’s a distinct Motown flavor to this story. The then-independent label was one of the dominant fixtures on the music scene. Though Wonder was still only 22 when this topped the singles chart on Aug. 22, it was already his tenth Top 10 pop hit. Just listen to his production. Oh yeah, baby…

Related: Check out the #1 singles one year later, in 1971

2 Weeks

The Beatles – “The Long and Winding Road”

The group’s 20th and last #1 hit in the U.S.

Carpenters – “(They Long to Be) Close to You”

If you knew that this Burt Bacharach – Hal David composition was first recorded by actor Richard Chamberlain (in 1963), raise your hand.

Tyrone Davis – “Turn Back the Hands of Time”

Norman Greenbaum – “Spirit in the Sky”

Described as an “oddly compelling” mix of gospel and hard rock. It’s also a quintessential one-hit wonder.

George Harrison – “My Sweet Lord”

It ended the year with two weeks at the top and began ’71 with an additional week at #1. Decades later, it still gets listeners to chant “hare krishna.”

The Jaggerz – “The Rapper”

What a cool song! Its simple instrumentation with the occasional fuzz tone allows the party time vocals to stand out.

Sly and the Family Stone – “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”

Yup, that’s the actual title. One of the funk-rock band and their dynamic leader’s five Top 10 hits.

3 Weeks

The Beatles – “Let it Be”

Released on March 6, it quickly rose to the top on April 11. Their apt final single before Paul McCartney announced his departure.

Shocking Blue – “Venus”

This out-of-this-world song by the Dutch group topped the charts in nine countries.

Simon & Garfunkel – “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

The song won Grammys for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Contemporary Song of the Year and the Instrumental Arrangement of the Year. At the 3:18 mark, Simon joins his partner on the final verse. Garfunkel closes it out, with the full orchestration, the strings, and Hal Blaine’s drums. Listen to it again, for the first time.

Related: The #1 albums of this same year, 1970

B.J. Thomas – “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”

Another Bacharach – David song, written specifically for the 1969 film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (It won the Oscar for Best Original Song.) Thomas was just 27 when he recorded that lovely vocal.

Three Dog Night – “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)”

Their first of three career #1s came during one of the great chart runs of the ’70s. Between 1969 – 1974, the group scored an amazing 18 Top 20 singles. Randy Newman was just 22 years old when he wrote it for Eric Burdon a few years earlier.

4 Weeks

The Jackson 5 – “I’ll Be There”

As noted above, the singing group dominated the 1970 singles with four huge hits, none bigger than this ballad. While they continued to have plenty of success as a group, they never scored another #1 on the pop chart.

The Partridge Family – “I Think I Love You”

The group made quite a splash when they released this song in August, a month before their musical sitcom debuted on ABC’s Friday night lineup. David Cassidy, just 20 at the time, instantly became a teen idol.

Other notable 1971 hits that were blocked from the very top by these songs include James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown,” the Ides of March’s “Vehicle,” John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” and the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”

Greg Brodsky

2 Comments so far

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  1. Paul
    #1 Paul 13 April, 2021, 08:45

    What a great musical era. So diverse, melodic, thought-provoking, rocking and beautiful. A huge group of young, talented musicians. So far, never to be rivaled. So fortunate to be able to have a lived through that time musically. That whole era was led by the phenomenally talented band that called themselves The Beatles. And then the story goes on from there. So many talented bands. So many talented musicians, simply amazing.

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  2. Mack
    #2 Mack 12 July, 2021, 09:52

    Too bad commercial beat this all to a bloody pulp. There’s lots of stuff there I’m looking forward to never hearing again. I think the mid to late 60’s hold up better. I never subscribed to the “if one’s good, then 1000 is better” mentality. Someone made a ton of money though.

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