David Wild is an Emmy-nominated TV writer, a New York Times best-selling author and contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He is also seen frequently as a commentator on CNN's "The Seventies" airing Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CNN.
(CNN)The '70s were the best of times. The '70s were the worst of times.
Yet from my musical perspective, the '70s were simply the best of times. The music of the decade was chic, like Chic, super like Supertramp, and electrifying like Electric Light Orchestra.
Why was the music of that time so good? Perhaps because the artistic freedom first won by musicians back in the '60s was now being pushed in any number of many interesting directions -- from sensitive singer-songwriters to punk to funk to disco and beyond.
Possibly the reason that I love the music of the '70s so much is slightly more personal than that.
For many of us, it's those warmly remembered pet sounds of our teenage years that never really leave our heads or our hearts. All I really know is whenever I'm driving in my car and feel like choosing a specific decade on my satellite radio, I almost always pick that one sandwiched conveniently between the '60s and the '80s.
This Thursday night CNN will broadcast the excellent final episode of "The Seventies," called "What's Going On," in which you can see me and many other much more impressive individuals reflect on this unforgettable decade in music.
In order to prove what an enduring Golden Age the '70s really were, I wanted to share a list with you. This is not a list of the "10 Greatest Albums of the '70s" -- or even my "10 Favorite Albums of the '70s" -- but rather 10 lasting gems that at least for me somehow retain their ability to hit the listener hard all these years later.
1. "Songs in the Key of Life" -- Steve Wonder
"Songs In The Key Of Life" is as good as popular music ever gets -- an amazingly expansive showcase for Stevie Wonder's singular ability to bring his profound musical inversions vividly to life.
When Stevie recently toured performing his "Songs In The Key of Life" album live, it was also possibly the single most impressive concert I have ever witnessed.
As Questlove, my insightful "co-star" in "The Seventies," wisely notes in the episode, Stevie artistically owned the '70s much in the way the Beatles did the previous decade. Stevie's early "Talking Book" and "Innervisions" album are nearly as essential listening, but if you want to dig deepest, start right here.
2. "Rocket to Russia" -- The Ramones
One of the first reviews I ever wrote for my middle school paper was a piece about punk rock that put forth the then-controversial opinion that the Ramones were much better than the Sex Pistols. I say that I was right then, and I am right now.
Whatever you think about punk rock, "Rocket To Russia" is simply one of the most vital, infectious and downright amusing rock albums of all time.
3. "What's Going On" -- Marvin Gaye
No, kids, Marvin Gaye was not just some name in a high-profile lawsuit about a Robin Thicke song. Way before that, he was one of the most gifted recording artists of all time.
Along with Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye pushed for and brilliantly used his creative freedom at Motown to powerfully redefine the changing sound of young America.
Seeing the footage of Marvin Gaye performing this album's timeless title track live on TV during the "What's Going On" episode of "The Seventies" is alone worth the price of admission.
4. "Blood on the Tracks" -- Bob Dylan
The album title really says it all. To me, Bob Dylan's "Blood On The Tracks" is the most deeply felt piece of work by the most profound and poetic singer-songwriter in rock history -- a masterpiece of deeply felt reflections on love and life songs that cuts very close to the bone.
Right from the album's opening track, "Tangled Up In Blue," there is real blood on these tracks, and somehow, 40 years later, you can still feel every bit of it in the grooves.
5. "Greatest Hits" -- The Jackson 5
When we previewed our "What's Going On" episode last week at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, the crowd broke into spontaneous applause just watching footage of a young Michael Jackson performing with his brothers.
By the end of the decade, Jackson was already becoming a global phenomenon in his own right, but this 1971 collection gathered one year into the group's early run of Motown hits is a wonderful reminder of the tremendous impact the Jackson 5 had right at the start of the decade.
The voice of Michael Jackson was, is, and always will be one of popular music's most exciting special effects.
6. "Damn the Torpedoes" -- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Damn, this album never gets old. A classic rock gem with a New Wave energy, "Damn The Torpedoes" took the promise of Petty's first two albums with the Heartbreakers and over-delivered with an album -- produced by Jimmy Iovine -- that's packed with songs that have never lost their ability to thrill, including "Refugee," "Here Comes My Girl," "Even The Losers" and "Don't Do Me Like That."
7. "Easter" -- Patti Smith
There may now be a generation of Patti Smith fans more familiar with her 2010 memoir, "Just Kids," than with her extraordinary and poetic music.
This 1978 album -- expertly produced, like "Damn The Torpedoes," by Jimmy Iovine -- was a groundbreaking and influential statement for a woman in rock. So keep listening to Carole King's '70s classic "Tapestry," the splendid "Heart Like A Wheel" by Linda Ronstadt, and anything by Heart, but don't forget to fully celebrate "Easter" too.
8. "This Year's Model" -- Elvis Costello and the Attractions
"This Year's Model" might be the album that I listened to the most growing up in the '70s -- closely followed by "Born To Run" by Bruce Springsteen, anything by Earth, Wind & Fire, "Boston" by Boston, "London Calling" by The Clash, "Squeezing Out Sparks" by Graham Parker & The Rumour, "Look Sharp" by Joe Jackson, and possibly "Leftoverture" by Kansas -- but I am giving Elvis Costello the nod here because this album is where one of my favorite singer-songwriters came together for the first time with the Attractions, the Brits that rode highest on rock's New Wave.
9. "Physical Graffiti" -- Led Zeppelin
CNN's "The Seventies" -- much like CNN's "The Sixties" before it -- offers a fresh look at history and features fantastic vintage news footage that most of us have never seen before. For example, in the "What's Going On" episode, there are a few endlessly amusing clips of vintage new journalists repeatedly referring to Led Zeppelin as "The Led Zeppelin." Well, in my opinion, this is The Led Zeppelin at their most mind-blowing.
10. "Bad Girls" -- Donna Summer
Just in case you were still wondering, disco didn't suck. Beyond Donna Summer's agile voice and a song cycle featuring many anthemic tracks for the ages, "Bad Girls" offers a gorgeously textured musical soundscape masterminded by Giorgio Moroder.
The powerful pulse that Summer, Moroder and their collaborators created here continues to inform much of the more soulful electronic dance music that has followed.
OK, now that you're all on the same "Seventies" page with me, please keep going -- perhaps with "Exile On Main Street" by the Rolling Stones, "One Nation Under a Groove" by Funkadelic, "Hunky Dory" by David Bowie, "Hotel California" by the Eagles, "At The Fillmore East" by The Allman Brothers Band, "Off The Wall" by Michael Jackson, "Rumours" and "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac, "Can't Buy A Thrill" by Steely Dan, and whatever else strikes a lasting '70s chord with you.