Hit Movie Songs from the 1970s

by | September 20, 2013 | Comments

Throw on your moth-eaten leather jacket, lace up your platform shoes, and join Rotten Tomatoes as we take a journey back to the hottest movie songs of the 1970s. Ah, yes, the 1970s: a time when blockbusters stormed theaters, disco and punk rocked the clubs, and hit soundtracks flew out of record store bins. We dug through the crates to present to you a mix of the essential cinematic singles of the “Me Decade,” so without further ado, it’s time to drop the needle on RT’s Hit Movie Songs from the 1970s!


The Bee Gees – “Stayin’ Alive,” Saturday Night Fever (1977)

In addition to providing an invitation to pack the dance floor , “Stayin’ Alive” also serves to articulate the conflicts raging within Tony Manero (John Travolta). Strutting down the street with his impeccably styled hair and top-of-the-line threads, Tony projects an air of cavalier bravado (“Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk…”) that masks a desperate yearning to escape his stifling home life and limited career prospects (“Life goin’ nowhere/ Somebody help me”). “Stayin’ Alive” offers further proof (if any were needed) that even the most despondent lyrics can go down easy if the music’s funky enough. Or, as the brothers Gibb might put it, “feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin.'”


Isaac Hayes – “Theme from Shaft,” Shaft (1971)

Pop quiz time! 1. Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks? 2. Who’s the cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about? 3. What’s the Isaac Hayes track with the funky wah-wah guitar and the stirring symphonic orchestration that topped the charts and won an Oscar for Best Original Song? Answers: 1. Shaft. 2. Shaft. 3. “Theme from Shaft.”


Elton John with the Who – “Pinball Wizard,” Tommy (1975)

The Who’s 1969 rock opera Tommy had a narrative sweep that put virtually every other concept album to shame; the tale of a “deaf, dumb, and blind kid” who “sure plays a mean pinball” must have seemed like a natural for the big screen. However, director Ken Russell wasn’t one to do things halfway; sure, the album had great songs, but the movie needed big stars. So he recruited noted thespians like Jack Nicholson, Oliver Reed, and Ann-Margret, along with rockers like Elton John, Eric Clapton, and Tina Turner, to join the Who in their working class fantasia. The Rocket Man was in particularly exuberant form as the Pinball Wizard, whose suspenders, jewel-encrusted glasses, and gigantic boots are of little use in the face of Tommy’s pinball skills.


James Brown – “The Payback,” Hell Up in Harlem (not used) (1973)

The Godfather of Soul recorded this funkdafied ode to vengeance for the Hell Up in Harlem soundtrack, but the film’s producers rejected it for being “the same old James Brown stuff.” Mr. Dynamite got the last laugh, however, as “The Payback” became one of the most sampled songs of all time and a staple of movie and TV soundtracks (including a remixed version featuring 2Pac that figured prominently in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.)


Johnny Mandel – “Suicide Is Painless,” M*A*S*H (1970)

Though MASH was a sizable box office hit and inspired a spinoff TV series that would become one of the most popular sitcom of all time, the individual who made the most money off the film was its director. His son, 14-year-old Mike Altman, wrote the lyrics to Johnny Mandel’s tune, and as co-writer, earned well north of $1 million, which dwarfed his dad’s $70,000 salary.”


Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, and Little Nell Campbell – “Time Warp,” The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

You have to wonder what people were thinking the first time they jumped to the left and stepped to the right; did the crowds that flocked to The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1975 know that subsequent generations would also be spaced out on sensation like they were under sedation? That the film would become such a cult favorite that folks would be doing the time-warp in perpetuity? Now that would really drive them insane.


Rose Royce – “Car Wash,” Car Wash (1976)

Nobody likes looking for a new career — especially in these uncertain economic times. Fortunately, the good folks of Rose Royce are here to provide a body-moving treatise on the perks of working at the car wash! Now, they’ll be the first to tell you that the pay is less than optimal, but the physical demands of the job are preferable to trench excavation. Plus, you might just make the acquaintance of a celebrated thespian or the leader of a Native American tribe, and your manager is unlikely to take exception to any horseplay that occurs during business hours.


Ramones – “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

The glue-sniffin’, brat beatin’, shock treatment-demadin’ Ramones seemed more likely to play hooky than hit the books. In the Roger Corman-produced Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, the band inspired a full-fledged rebellion among the student body. (It’s unconscionable that the Academy ignored Dee Dee Ramone’s stirring performance as Dee Dee Ramone, pizza enthusiast.) The theme song is a typically fine slice of the type of pop-punk the Ramones perfected, with a bouncy, sing-songy chorus that celebrates the joys of extra-curricular pursuits like having kicks and getting chicks.


Paul McCartney & Wings – “Live And Let Die,” Live And Let Die (1973)

The Beatles and James Bond were Britain’s two most important pop culture exports of the 1960s, but it took a transitional moment for the two to come together. Live and Let Die was the first 007 movie starring Roger Moore, and the title song was one of the first releases credited to Paul McCartney’s second band, Wings. And like a globe-trotting Bond movie, “Live and Let Die” covers a lot of musical territory: it opens as a piano ballad before segueing into some crunchy guitar licks, symphonic rock, and a bit of reggae skank — all in just a minute and a half!


Bette Midler – “The Rose,” The Rose (1979)

Is somebody chopping onions? In The Rose, Bette Midler plays a hard-luck rock belter loosely based upon Janis Joplin who succumbs to a fatal combination of bad relationships, substance abuse, and nonstop touring. Before playing the great gig in the sky, however, our heroine pulls a Dewey Cox and summarizes her whole life with this tear-stained ballad.


Jesus Christ Superstar Cast – “Superstar,” Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

In the early 1970s, it wasn’t unusual to hear stuff like “Spirit in the Sky” and “Jesus is Just Alright” blasting from longhairs’ transistor radios. Tapping into the tenor of the times, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice hit paydirt with Jesus Christ Superstar, a rock opera that took Broadway by storm; Norman Jewison’s big screen adaptation brought the groovy, psychedelic vibes of “Superstar” (with Carl Anderson, of ” Friends and Lovers ” fame, on lead vocals) to a wider audience — one that was receptive to a new spin on The Greatest Story Ever Told.


Bill Conti – “Gonna Fly Now,” Rocky (1976)

The perfect musical accompaniment for punching slabs of beef, ascending the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum, or jogging along the beach with an old pal, Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” is also a tune you might recognize if you’ve ever attended an NBA game in which the home team is down by a couple points with a minute left in the fourth quarter.


John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John – “You’re the One That I Want,” Grease (1978)

If Saturday Night Fever evoked the pain and confusion of young adulthood, Grease represented a sunnier, campier, smuttier flipside. Grease was a massive box-office smash that solidified John Travolta’s star status and elevated Olivia Newton-John from middle-of-the-road pop singer to A-lister; their duet on “You’re the One That I Want” is an irresistibly catchy bit of honky-tonk soul that’s toe-tapping enough to turn any soire into a dance party.


Steely Dan – “FM,” FM (1978)

As a film, FM is a forgettable rebels-against-the-Man comedy. However, as an audio portrait of the album-oriented rock era, it’s priceless, featuring hits from the Eagles, Tom Petty, Linda Ronstadt, Boston, and plenty of other mustached classic rockers you’re too cool to admit you like. On the title tune, the subversive yacht rock maestros of Steely Dan deliver a largely irony-free (and decidedly static-free) tribute to the joys of listening to the radio — a pleasure that the kids today, with their iPods and Pandoras and such — have largely been denied.


Jimmy Cliff – “The Harder They Come,” The Harder They Come (1972)

The Harder They Come is more than a great soundtrack — it’s one of the definitive reggae albums, period. In Perry Henzell’s drama, Jimmy Cliff stars as Ivan, an aspiring singer who suffers at the hands of shady record executives; when his life devolves into criminality and murder, his songs rocket up the charts, bringing new meaning to the term “number one with a bullet.” Cliff’s contributions to the soundtrack range from the optimistic (“You Can Get It If You Really Want”) to the heart stopping (“Many Rivers to Cross”), but it’s the title track that most fully embodies the movie’s tone of hope and desperation.


Cat Stevens – “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out,” Harold and Maude (1971)

It may be 40 years old, but Harold and Maude continues to be a cult favorite of angst-ridden teenagers, and it’s not hard to see why. Its influence can be felt all over the indie landscape: It’s a pitch-black comedy that tempers its cynicism with the touching, unconventional bond shared by the title characters, and it’s got a mellow, catchy soundtrack that subtly and melodically underscores the action without intruding upon it. Cat Stevens’ songs are alternately joyous and heartbreaking, particularly “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out,” which serves as a mantra for how one of the major characters tries to live and — spoiler alert! — die.


Curtis Mayfield – “Super Fly,” Super Fly (1972)

A so-so blaxploitation thriller about a reformed drug dealer, Super Fly has two very big things going for it: the fabulous fashions and Curtis Mayfield’s stone-cold classic soundtrack. Alternately cool, sinister, and impassioned, Mayfield’s falsetto is an instrument of immense power, and it merges seamlessly with a killer bassline and some hard-boiled percussion to make “Super Fly” one of the baddest songs of the decade.


Bob Dylan – “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)

With its echo-y drums, forlorn vocals, and elegaic themes, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” would sound like the aural equivalent of a Sam Peckinpah western even if it wasn’t actually featured in one. Dylan himself played a small role in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid as Alias — a fitting name for the perpetually elusive folksinger. Still, there’s nothing mysterious about the appeal of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” — it’s one of the most straightforward of Dylan’s classics, and perhaps not coincidentally, one of the most often covered.


Michael Jackson/Diana Ross – “Ease on Down the Road,” The Wiz (1978)

Regardless of its lack of critical acclaim, The Wiz‘s place in cinema history is assured by nature of being Michael Jackson’s only major film role. A year before taking the pop music world by storm with Off the Wall, the future King of Pop was both raggedy and graceful as the Scarecrow, easing down the yellow brick road with Dorothy (played by real life Jackson pal Diana Ross). Even if this revisionist take on The Wizard of Oz doesn’t fully hold together, it’s electrifying in spots –particularly Jackson’s high-spirited performance of “Ease on Down the Road.”


The Muppets – “Rainbow Connection,” The Muppet Movie (1979)

The Muppets are savvy performers with the skills and panache to turn even the hoariest material into something inspired (and let’s face it: Fozzie Bear’s jokes are about as hoary as they come). Case in point: “Rainbow Connection.” It’s a decent pop song that could come across as sappy or schmaltzy in the wrong hands. In the banjo-strumming hands of Kermit the Frog, however, it’s guaranteed — guaranteed — to put a lump in your throat.

Get the party started with RT’s Hit Movie Songs Fom the 1970s Spotify playlist!

Tag Cloud

australia Marvel nfl dexter Marathons Drama comic books Tomatazos video on demand Nickelodeon streamig kids true crime worst AMC Plus Reality Competition Box Office Ghostbusters spider-verse thriller children's TV Comics on TV toy story Premiere Dates Apple TV+ LGBT spanish Countdown ratings Sundance TV Showtime Instagram Live CMT Lifetime Black History Month new york Television Academy rom-coms Awards Tour hollywood TBS wonder woman suspense Tokyo Olympics 2017 Cosplay Musical Lucasfilm canceled TV shows Writers Guild of America Summer name the review book adaptation cars anime 20th Century Fox deadpool dramedy comic book movies romantic comedy 2021 slasher directors 79th Golden Globes Awards 73rd Emmy Awards Food Network aapi FXX psycho marvel comics child's play Pixar Paramount Network Esquire game show Best and Worst Comedy disaster Broadway Comic Book 21st Century Fox A24 Rock ghosts Certified Fresh heist movie festivals Action Fall TV spider-man Pride Month Holiday Marvel Television composers talk show new star wars movies Crunchyroll legend pirates of the caribbean high school rotten movies we love The CW natural history American Society of Cinematographers Fox Searchlight boxing game of thrones Calendar IFC marvel cinematic universe south america renewed TV shows Fox News singing competition Teen Hallmark stop motion target Ellie Kemper football Classic Film IFC Films VH1 Mary Poppins Returns cancelled Starz TNT franchise critics comic book movie Trailer slashers indiana jones strong female leads NBA ABC Signature asian-american Arrowverse Pet Sematary mission: impossible HBO Go Schedule BET royal family posters art house Spring TV scary Shondaland leaderboard TCA saw Mudbound Black Mirror Ovation 007 black comedy National Geographic FOX vs. best travel DGA laika christmas movies reviews Captain marvel green book Alien YA 99% obi wan documentary adaptation Best Actress Academy Awards Paramount blockbusters ABC Family streaming movies Holidays elevated horror Epix book vampires witnail South by Southwest Film Festival TV Land Best Picture comics BBC America period drama Columbia Pictures emmy awards boxoffice 90s ABC indie halloween Syfy animated what to watch HFPA TCM Super Bowl PaleyFest video foreign free movies Pop TV Elton John romance universal monsters Interview sitcom spanish language PlayStation a nightmare on elm street mutant Trophy Talk historical drama BBC One LGBTQ dragons Cartoon Network Lifetime Christmas movies Apple TV Plus cults Sneak Peek cartoon YouTube cops toronto HBO Max based on movie lord of the rings Disney SundanceTV monster movies VICE new zealand diversity tv talk Wes Anderson CBS All Access political drama Marvel Studios TLC james bond young adult dark medical drama halloween tv worst movies FX on Hulu GIFs First Reviews japanese Turner The Witch biopic king kong Kids & Family superhero Animation Photos OWN docudrama Amazon Prime Emmys parents Character Guide adenture Quiz SXSW 24 frames jurassic park Grammys USA Network TV movies 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards discovery Family robots Winter TV TV Film Festival Hulu telelvision scene in color remakes psychological thriller rotten rt labs venice Avengers Chilling Adventures of Sabrina rt archives crossover casting live event godzilla Nominations El Rey San Diego Comic-Con dreamworks Freeform AMC Television Critics Association jamie lee curtis Mary Tyler Moore Pirates cancelled TV series 2019 Spike Star Trek cats anthology festival Heroines cancelled TV shows hidden camera Amazon police drama GLAAD TCA Winter 2020 Comedy Central 2015 hispanic Reality series theme song cancelled television mockumentary sequels Fargo E3 Thanksgiving Disney Channel TCA 2017 news zombies Rom-Com dogs MCU MGM superman rt labs critics edition TV One RT21 french zero dark thirty Musicals zombie Tags: Comedy dceu blockbuster Rocky The Academy mcc The Walking Dead Lionsgate 1990s Sundance Now Western breaking bad IMDb TV Mindy Kaling First Look Masterpiece genre docuseries YouTube Red razzies Year in Review Christmas streaming Opinion 2018 Awards Chernobyl Tubi Netflix Christmas movies The Arrangement BAFTA all-time werewolf Toys WarnerMedia APB Acorn TV nbcuniversal Disney+ Disney Plus Brie Larson 45 DC Comics Exclusive Video Winners international adventure Extras Adult Swim spy thriller Britbox History Valentine's Day Star Wars screenings Vudu VOD social media richard e. Grant sag awards Disney Plus critic resources war 2020 twilight supernatural Paramount Plus politics TruTV documentaries golden globes basketball Creative Arts Emmys CNN Sony Pictures DC Universe crime drama kong Best Director X-Men king arthur criterion DirecTV Tarantino Neflix Amazon Prime Video Endgame E! Turner Classic Movies Emmy Nominations crime thriller gangster Superheroe TV renewals Universal quibi finale Shudder serial killer hist Horror Infographic Image Comics space Hallmark Christmas movies ID Best Actor Martial Arts Trivia screen actors guild television Universal Pictures CBS scorecard Travel Channel revenge versus award winner sequel SXSW 2022 fast and furious The Purge Pop TIFF ViacomCBS films HBO Amazon Studios kaiju doctor who cooking Peacock 72 Emmy Awards debate nature unscripted ESPN Binge Guide Bravo Crackle facebook Discovery Channel Oscar Cannes transformers harry potter Warner Bros. spain Logo olympics USA teaser chucky Rocketman aliens technology independent 71st Emmy Awards hispanic heritage month trophy Red Carpet Music canceled know your critic Watching Series Fantasy Biopics Pacific Islander italian stoner miniseries Spectrum Originals fresh Prime Video Set visit golden globe awards latino Baby Yoda Walt Disney Pictures The Walt Disney Company sopranos President scary movies YouTube Premium trailers women popular comedies TCA Awards dc NBC obituary Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Film archives batman BBC SDCC Sci-Fi Video Games joker Disney streaming service live action OneApp science fiction sports binge Hollywood Foreign Press Association Dark Horse Comics Mystery RT History japan feel good DC streaming service comiccon die hard stand-up comedy Women's History Month GoT biography spinoff mob 93rd Oscars Anna Paquin Song of Ice and Fire Election classics Hear Us Out FX A&E prank ITV Funimation NYCC black Podcast Comic-Con@Home 2021 comic reboot 4/20 satire Nat Geo Stephen King movie BET Awards crime Polls and Games Tumblr PBS Superheroes Apple Legendary movies Country 2016 Netflix CW Seed Sundance See It Skip It cinemax Mary poppins WGN action-comedy MTV blaxploitation 94th Oscars concert New York Comic Con Oscars justice league MSNBC