10 of the best 1970s albums to test your speakers

10 of the best albums of the 1970s to test your speakers
(Image credit: Pink Floyd)

Most people have familiar records and tracks to put their system through its paces and give it a thorough workout. For the team at What Hi-Fi?, however, these go-to tracks and albums become a vital part of the reviewing process. 

Of course, different people use different music, and everyone has their own preferences as far as style and form are concerned – but here are some of our old faithful go-tos from around half a century ago. 1970s, here we come...

Bitches Brew by Miles Davis (1970)

(Image credit: Miles Davis)

This revolutionary album, released at the start of a new decade, changed the face of jazz. It's not always an easy listen – especially for those of us who aren't jazz aficionados – but, as with a classic novel (once you get past the first hundred pages or so...), Miles Davis's genius shines through and has the listener gripped.

And, of course, a good hi-fi system is a must if you want to sort out the musical strands in what can, in the care of poor electronics, become a confusing, disengaging disappointment.

What's Going On by Marvin Gaye (1971)

(Image credit: Marvin Gaye)

One of the seminal albums of the 70s, What's Going On is a politically charged, soulful and sad response to the Vietnam War and the state of the nation at the time.

A wonderful mixture of soul and jazz, with haunting melodies and thought-provoking lyrics, this album has stood the test of time better than most, and deserves a place in any record collection.

Tapestry by Carole King (1971)

(Image credit: Carole King)

Tapestry is one of the best selling albums of all time – and it seems only fair that Carole King should reap some recognition outside the industry from a career in song-writing that, up until that point, had meant monster hits for other people.

King, with co-writer Gerry Goffin, wrote such classics as Take Good Care Of My Baby by Bobby Vee, The Drifters' Up On The Roof, and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, made famous by Aretha Franklin. And plenty more.

Tapestry, was King's own, however, and is packed with beautiful melodies – including her own version of A Natural Woman, of course.

Ege Bamyasi by Can (1972)

(Image credit: Can)

Another acquired taste, perhaps. But, again, one worth persevering with. A heady mix of musical genres, Ege Bamyasi is hard to define – but Krautrock is too simplistic, and certainly doesn't give it the gravitas it properly deserves. 

Tricky, complex rhythms and beats will certainly put your speakers to a proper test – especially once you've taken the time to get to know this remarkable piece of work.

Paul Simon by Paul Simon (1972)

(Image credit: Paul Simon)

By setting himself free from his angel-voiced partner of many years, Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon could finally embrace a variety of musical genres that the previous collaboration somehow prohibited.

And this, his eponymous first solo album, is a trailblazer on that journey, influenced by and referencing as it does a variety of musical genres from all over the Americas – from folk to blues, via South America and the Caribbean.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John (1973)

(Image credit: Elton John)

Elton John had any number of hit albums throughout the 70s of course, but few of them have as many belters as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

This album contains some of his and lyricist Bernie Taupin's very greatest hits, from the title track, through Candle In The Wind, Bennie And The Jets and Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting. Winners, all.

The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd (1973)

(Image credit: Pink Floyd)

The iconic cover imagery still adorns millions of t-shirts and bedroom walls. And, of course, if spaced-out students were to be believed, it's imperative to listen to it alongside a viewing of The Wizard Of Oz

And yet, strip all the cliche and legend behind this album away, and there it is: a remarkable piece of work from one of the greatest bands to have graced a recording studio. Dark Side Of The Moon marked a change in direction for the group and was immediately a great influence on the music creation and production industry.

Another must for any collection.

Songs In The Key Of Life by Stevie Wonder (1976)

(Image credit: Stevie Wonder)

Stevie Wonder had well and truly broken away from the "Little" moniker by now, and along with it the Motown machine that was perhaps restricting him. 

Songs In The Key Of Life is a triumphant double album, with every one of the tracks written (or at the very least co-written) by Wonder. It's a soulful, funky delight of a record with a number of singles chart hits, including Isn't She Lovely and the joyous Sir Duke.

A treasure.

Parallel Lines by Blondie (1978)

(Image credit: Blondie)

A smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic when it was released in 1978, Parallel Lines ended up delivering so many single chart hits from its 12 tracks that it was almost a greatest hits album in its own right.

Blondie made a mighty artistic leap from the New York punk scene with this entertaining mix of pop and rock, and while the hardcore may lament the band abandoning their punk roots, the rest of the world rejoiced.

With such classics as Hanging On The Telephone, Heart Of Glass, Sunday Girl, One Way Or Another, and so many more, this is one of the classic must-own albums of the 70s.

London Calling by The Clash (1979)

(Image credit: The Clash)

The Clash's third record is a double album released in December 1979, so just sneaks in at the end of the decade.

While The Clash were known as a punk band, London Calling is a riotous mix of many genres, and not really much like anything else 'punk' at the time. The band borrowed from reggae, rockabilly and more and – what was this? – there were some beautiful melodies in there among the politics and protest.

Unashamedly political, yet witty and tuneful at the same time, London Calling was The Clash confirming themselves at the top table.


Jonathan Evans
Editor, What Hi-Fi? magazine

Jonathan Evans is the editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine, and has been with the title for 17 years or so. He has been a journalist for getting on for three decades now, working on a variety of technology and motoring titles, including Stuff, Autocar and Jaguar. With his background in sub-editing and magazine production, he likes nothing more than a discussion on the finer points of grammar. And golf.

  • soswishy
    One glaring omission - Joan Armatrading's superbly produced eponymous LP (1976).
  • doctorrazz
    I concur with the majority of your choices, but most of us have evolved beyond the limitations of Vinyl. Newly recorded and remastered copies of those classics sound great, a good comparison can be found on Tidal HiFi and Quboz streaming platforms. I am a fan of the MQA copies this will make the Analogue fans flip a disc. Give Miles Davis Tutu in MQA some ear.
  • soswishy
    Vinyl or CD is a question of personal preference, nothing at all to do with "evolution". Indeed many hifi enthusiasts run both. It was a particularly odd comment to make since the article doesn't even recommend a format on which to listen to these albums (and even includes Spotify playlists!).
  • Friesiansam
    Surely the best albums for any system testing, are ones you are familiar with.
  • Mr. C Nation
    Friesiansam is perfectly correct. The only way to know if a system of new component is better or worse than what went before is to know what went before intimately.

    That is why, at the most basic, recording studios run a test tone of just one frequency through the system to balance everything up.

    In the words of Captain Beefheart on Trout Mask Replica "The following tone is a reference tone, recorded at our operating level... "

    I have been fortunate enough to have been at the recording of an album, at the stereo mix-down, the mastering for vinyl, the re-mastering for CD and own 12" and CD versions. That is my reference.
  • hybridauth_Facebook_10154038329961575
    The articles says 10 of the best....not the best 10...there are no doubt 100s of albums that can give your speakers a good work out...does not matter if it is CD, steamed or vinyl....does not matter if it is remastered....just sit back and enjoy...try some of the recommendations (I know some are not in my collection) and love music.....
  • Darwinia
    doctorrazz said:
    I concur with the majority of your choices, but most of us have evolved beyond the limitations of Vinyl. Newly recorded and remastered copies of those classics sound great, a good comparison can be found on Tidal HiFi and Quboz streaming platforms. I am a fan of the MQA copies this will make the Analogue fans flip a disc. Give Miles Davis Tutu in MQA some ear.

    The article says nothing about vinyl and even has screenshots of the albums from a streaming service.
  • abricru
    I was a little surprised that Rumours - Fleetwood Mac didn't make the list.

    Dreamboat Annie by Heart was one I liked to try out speakers with.