The 25 best songs of 1978

20 September 2023, 17:06 | Updated: 18 January 2024, 10:43

The best songs of 1978, ranked
The best songs of 1978, ranked. Picture: YouTube/Getty

By Tom Eames

The year 1978 was a remarkable one for music, as it witnessed the emergence and evolution of various genres and styles that shaped the sound of the late '70s and beyond.

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From the disco fever that swept the world led by the Bee Gees, to the punk rock rebellion that challenged the status quo to the pop perfection that captivated millions spearheaded by Grease, 1978 was a year of musical diversity and innovation.

Whether you are a fan of rock, pop, soul, funk, disco, or anything in between, you will find something to enjoy in this list of the best songs of 1978.

  1. Althea & Donna - 'Uptown Top Ranking'

    Althea and Donna - Uptown Top Ranking - TOTP - 1978 [Remastered]

    'Uptown Top Ranking' is a song by Jamaican teenage singers Althea Forrest and Donna Reid, recorded in 1977 when they were 17 and 18 years old respectively.

    The song is a response to Trinity's hit 'Three Piece Suit', using the same music of Alton Ellis's 'I'm Still in Love'. The song features the girls singing in Jamaican slang about their style and attitude, while mocking pop music and uptown snobs.

    The song was produced by Joe Gibbs and became a surprise hit in the UK, reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart in February 1978. Althea and Donna became the youngest female duo to achieve this feat.

    The song is considered a classic of reggae music and has been sampled by various artists.

  2. Blondie - 'Denis'

    Blondie - Denis (Official Music Video)

    'Denis' is a cover version of a 1963 doo-wop song by Randy & the Rainbows, originally titled 'Denise'. Blondie changed the name to 'Denis', using the masculine form of the name in French, and added a verse with partly improvised lyrics in French by their lead singer Debbie Harry.

    The song was released in 1978 as the second single from their album Plastic Letters, and helped the band break into the international market. It reached number 2 in the UK Singles Chart, and was one of the first new wave songs to incorporate elements of 1960s pop music.

    The song is about a girl who is infatuated with a boy named Denis, and expresses her desire to be with him.

  3. Olivia Newton-John - 'Hopelessly Devoted to You'

    GREASE | "Hopelessly Devoted" Clip | Paramount Movies

    'Hopelessly Devoted to You' was sung by Olivia Newton-John, who played Sandy in the movie Grease. The song was written and produced by John Farrar, who also worked with Newton-John on many of her other hits.

    The song expresses Sandy's feelings for Danny, the leader of the T-Birds, who she met and fell in love with during the summer. Sandy is heartbroken when Danny acts cold and distant towards her at school, and tries to impress his friends by dating other girls. She sings that she is still hopelessly devoted to him, and hopes that he will realize how much she loves him.

    The song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1978, but lost to 'Last Dance' from Thank God It's Friday. The song is considered one of the most iconic and memorable songs from Grease, and one of Newton-John's signature songs.

  4. Boney M - 'Rasputin'

    Boney M. - Rasputin (ZDF Disco 30.10.1978)

    'Rasputin' was released in 1978 as the second single from Boney M's third album Nightflight to Venus.

    The song is about Grigori Rasputin, a Russian mystic and advisor to the royal family in the early 20th century. The song portrays Rasputin as a charismatic and powerful figure who had a strong influence on the political and personal affairs of the Tsar and the Tsarina.

    The song also depicts Rasputin as a womanizer and a lover of the Russian queen, although these claims are not historically verified. The song narrates how Rasputin's enemies plotted to kill him, but he survived several attempts on his life until he was finally shot dead.

    The song has a tune that resembles a Turkish folk song called 'Kâtibim', and was a hit in many countries and became one of Boney M's most popular songs.

  5. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John - 'Summer Nights'

    Grease - Summer Nights HD

    'Summer Nights' is also from the musical Grease, written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. It was recorded by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John for the movie adaptation of the musical in 1978, and became a worldwide hit.

    The song depicts the summer romance between Danny and Sandy, who have different perspectives on what happened. Danny, a greaser, boasts about the physical aspects of the relationship to his friends, while Sandy, tells her friends about her emotional attachment to Danny.

    The song is one of the most iconic songs from Grease, and has been covered by many artists and parodied in various media.

  6. Jeff Wayne and Justin Hayward - 'Forever Autumn'

    Justin Hayward - Forever Autumn (1978) [with lyrics on screen]

    'Forever Autumn' is a song that expresses the sadness and longing of a man who has lost his love to an alien invasion. The song was written by Jeff Wayne, Gary Osborne and Paul Vigrass, and sung by Justin Hayward, the lead singer of The Moody Blues.

    The song was originally composed by Wayne in 1969 as a jingle for a Lego commercial, but later became part of his musical adaptation of HG Wells' novel The War of the Worlds.

    The full version of the song features a haunting melody played by a synthesizer, accompanied by a narration by Richard Burton, who plays the role of the journalist in the musical. The lyrics describe the changing seasons and the fading memories of the man's lover, who was killed by the Martian heat ray.

    It was released as a single in 1978 and reached #5 on the UK Singles Chart. A new version was recorded by Gary Barlow in 2012 for the updated version of the musical.

  7. Commodores - 'Three Times a Lady'

    Commodores - Three Times A Lady [Live]

    The song 'Three Times a Lady' was written by Commodores lead singer Lionel Richie. The song was inspired by a toast that Richie's father made to his mother on their 37th wedding anniversary, in which he praised her as a great lady, a great mother, and a great friend.

    Richie dedicated the song to his wife Brenda, and wrote it as a waltz, imagining that it would be sung by Frank Sinatra.

    The song was the first number-one hit for the Commodores on the Billboard Hot 100, topping the chart for two weeks in August 1978. It also reached number one in Canada, UK, Ireland, and Australia.

  8. Rose Royce - 'Wishing on a Star'

    Rose Royce - Wishing On A Star 1977 -THE ORIGINAL- (by SUNNY RAINBOW)

    'Wishing on a Star' was written by Billie Rae Calvin, a former member of the Undisputed Truth, and produced by Norman Whitfield, a legendary Motown producer. The song was originally offered to Barbra Streisand for an album project, but she declined.

    The song expresses the longing of a lover who wishes to reunite with their partner, who has gone far away from them. The singer uses the metaphor of wishing on a star, a dream, and a rainbow to convey their hope and desire to follow where their partner is.

    It also reflects the regret and guilt of the singer, who admits that they hurt their partner and caused them to leave. The singer pleads for a second chance and promises to make the best of things if they get back together.

    The song was a hit in the UK, where it reached number three on the singles chart in 1978.

  9. The Rolling Stones - 'Miss You'

    The Rolling Stones - Miss You - OFFICIAL PROMO

    'Miss You' was released in 1978 as the first single from the Rolling Stones' album Some Girls. The song was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and it features a distinctive disco-influenced groove and a harmonica solo by Sugar Blue.

    The song was a worldwide hit, reaching number one in the US and Canada, and number three in the UK.

    The song is about the loneliness and longing that Jagger felt after his divorce from Bianca Jagger, and his subsequent relationships with other women. The lyrics express his mixed feelings of sadness, frustration, and desire, as he misses his former lover but also enjoys his new freedom.

    The song also reflects the changing musical scene of the late 1970s, as the Rolling Stones experimented with different genres and styles, such as disco, punk, and reggae.

  10. 10cc - 'Dreadlock Holiday'

    10cc - Dreadlock Holiday

    'Dreadlock Holiday' was the lead single from 10cc's album Bloody Tourists. The song is a reggae-inspired pop tune that tells the story of a white tourist who encounters various troubles in Jamaica, such as being robbed, harassed, and cheated. The song was based on real experiences that the band members had while visiting the Caribbean islands.

    The song features the catchy chorus "I don't like cricket, oh no, I love it", which was inspired by a conversation that Graham Gouldman had with a Jamaican who loved the sport.

    The song was a huge hit for 10cc, reaching number one in several countries, including the UK, where it was their third and final chart-topper.

  11. Sylvester - 'You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)'

    Sylvester - You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)

    'You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)' is a classic disco song by American singer Sylvester, released in 1978. The song was co-written by Sylvester and James Wirrick, and was the second single from Sylvester's fourth album, Step II.

    The song is known for its electronic instrumentation and effects, which were influenced by Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love'. The song is also considered a gay anthem, as it celebrates the joy of self-expression and sexual liberation.

  12. Chic - 'Le Freak'

    CHIC - Le Freak (Official Music Video)

    'Le Freak' is a funk/disco song by the American R&B band Chic, and was their first number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts, and also topped the disco charts for seven weeks.

    The song was inspired by the band's experience of being denied entry to Studio 54, a popular nightclub in New York City, where they had been invited by Grace Jones. The original lyrics of the chorus were "F*** off!" but they changed them to "Freak out!" to make the song more radio-friendly.

    'Le Freak' is considered one of the most successful and influential disco songs of all time, selling over 7 million copies worldwide and being inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2018.

    It showcases the musical talents of Chic's members, especially the guitar playing of Nile Rodgers and the bass playing of Bernard Edwards, who also wrote and produced the song.

  13. The Police - 'Roxanne'

    The Police - Roxanne (Official Music Video)

    'Roxanne' was released in 1978 as a single from The Police's debut album Outlandos d'Amour. The song was written by Sting, the lead singer and bassist of the band, who was inspired by the prostitutes he saw near their hotel in Paris.

    The song is about a man who falls in love with a prostitute named Roxanne and tries to convince her to leave her profession. The song has a reggae rock and new wave style, and features a distinctive tango rhythm by the drummer Stewart Copeland.

    The song was initially unsuccessful, but became a hit when it was re-released in 1979/ The song is considered one of the classic songs by The Police, and has been covered by many artists.

  14. Frankie Valli - 'Grease'

    Frankie Valli - Grease (Top Of The Pops September 14th, 1978)

    'Grease' was written by Barry Gibb, and performed by Frankie Valli, the lead singer of the Four Seasons. The song was released in 1978 as the title track for the musical film Grease.

    The song celebrates the greaser lifestyle, which was a subculture of young people who wore leather jackets, slicked-back hair, and rode motorcycles. The song also reflects the theme of the film, which is about finding one's identity and expressing oneself through music and dance.

    The song was a huge success, selling over seven million copies worldwide and reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US and on the UK Singles Chart. It is considered one of the most iconic songs of the disco era and one of the best songs from a musical film.

  15. Buzzcocks - 'Ever Fallen in Love?'

    Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve?) (TOTP, 1978)

    'Ever Fallen in Love' is a punk rock song written by Pete Shelley and performed by his band Buzzcocks in 1978. It was inspired by a line from the musical Guys and Dolls, where a character says to another, 'Wait till you fall in love with someone you shouldn't have.'

    Shelley wrote the lyrics in a van outside a post office in Edinburgh, where the band was touring. The song expresses the frustration and pain of being in love with someone who is either unavailable, inappropriate, or uninterested.

    The song has a catchy melody and a fast tempo, typical of the punk genre. It also features some unusual chord progressions and minor keys, giving it an edgy and melancholic feel.

    The song has been praised by critics as a masterpiece of punk rock and pop music, and as one of the best songs of the 1970s.

  16. The Jacksons - 'Blame it on the Boogie'

    The Jacksons - Blame It On the Boogie (Official Video)

    This disco classic was released in 1978, encouraging people to dance and have fun, and not to blame their problems on anything else but the boogie.

    It was originally written and recorded by another singer named Mick Jackson, who had hoped to sell it to Stevie Wonder. However, the Jacksons' manager heard Mick's version and quickly arranged for the Jacksons to record their own version before Mick's was released.

    It was a hit for both Mick and the Jacksons, reaching the top 10 in many countries. The Jacksons' version was more successful in the US, while Mick's version was more popular in the UK.

  17. The Undertones - 'Teenage Kicks'

    The Undertones - Teenage Kicks (Official Video)

    'Teenage Kicks' was written by John O'Neill, the Undertones' guitarist and main songwriter, and expresses the frustration and excitement of teenage life.

    The song is famous for being the favourite song of the influential DJ John Peel, who played it twice in a row on his show and later requested that some of its lyrics be engraved on his tombstone.

    The song is considered a classic of the punk rock genre, as well as a pop anthem that captures the spirit of youth.

  18. Earth, Wind & Fire - 'September'

    Earth, Wind & Fire - September (Official HD Video)

    'September' is a classic disco-funk song that was released in 1978 as a single from the album The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1. The song was written by band members Maurice White and Al McKay, along with songwriter Allee Willis, who came up with the catchy chorus of "ba-dee-ya".

    The song was a huge hit, reaching the top 10 on the charts in the US and the UK. It has become one of the band's signature songs and a classic of the disco era.

    The song was inspired by White's memories of September 21, which was the due date of his son.

  19. Dire Straits - 'Sultans of Swing'

    Dire Straits - Sultans Of Swing (Official Music Video)

    'Sultans of Swing' was written by Dire Straits lead singer and guitarist Mark Knopfler. The song tells the story of a jazz band playing in a pub in London, who are ignored by most of the audience except for the narrator, who appreciates their music.

    The song was inspired by a real band that Knopfler saw in a pub in Deptford, who called themselves the Sultans of Swing.

    The song was first recorded as a demo in 1977 and became popular on London radio, leading to a record deal for Dire Straits. The song was then re-recorded for their debut album in 1978.

    It features Knopfler's distinctive guitar style, showcases his expressive and poetic lyrics, which draw on imagery from jazz and blues culture.

  20. Bee Gees - 'Night Fever'

    Bee Gees - Night Fever

    'Night Fever' was released in 1978 as part of the soundtrack for the film Saturday Night Fever.

    The song was inspired by the theme from A Summer Place, a 1960 instrumental hit by Percy Faith. The song was a huge success, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for eight weeks, and becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time.

    The Bee Gees song is considered one of the signature songs of the disco era, and has been covered by many artists.

  21. John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John - 'You're the One that I Want'

    John Travolta And Olivia Newton John - You're The One That I Want

    'You're the One that I Want' is another song from Grease, and is a duet between Danny and Sandy, who express their attraction and desire for each other after undergoing some changes in their appearance and attitude.

    The song is one of the most popular and successful songs from the film, reaching number one in several countries and selling over 15 million copies worldwide. The song is also one of the two songs that were not in the original stage musical, but were added for the film adaptation.

    The song is often considered as one of the iconic songs of the 1970s and of the film musical genre.

  22. ABBA - 'Take a Chance on Me'

    ABBA - Take A Chance On Me (Official Music Video)

    'Take a Chance on Me' was released in January 1978 as the second single from their fifth studio album, ABBA: The Album.

    The song is about a woman who is trying to persuade a man to take a chance on her and start a relationship, even though he is afraid of a love affair. The song uses a vocal technique called "nonsense syllables", where the singers repeat sounds like "ba ba ba ba" and "honey I'm still free" in the background to create a rhythmic effect.

    The song was a huge success for ABBA, reaching number one in several countries, including the UK, Ireland, Belgium, and Mexico. It also reached number three on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming one of their most popular songs in America.

  23. Kate Bush - 'Wuthering Heights'

    Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights - Official Music Video - Version 2

    This was Kate Bush's debut single, released in January 1978. Inspired by the 1847 Emily Brontë novel of the same name, the song was released as the lead single from Bush's debut studio album, The Kick Inside.

    It peaked at number one on the UK Singles Chart for four weeks. Bush became the first female artist in the United Kingdom to achieve a number-one single with a self-penned song with this song.

    'Wuthering Heights' is sung from the perspective of the Wuthering Heights character Catherine Earnshaw, pleading at Heathcliff's window to be allowed in. Cathy is in fact a ghost, which the listener may only realise upon reading the novel.

    Bush wrote the song aged 18, within a few hours late at night in March 1977. She was inspired after seeing the 1967 BBC adaptation of the novel. She then read the book and also discovered that she shared her birthday with author Emily Brontë.

    Bush recorded her vocal in a single take. The guitar solo is played by Ian Bairnson, who said that he initially disliked the tone for many years due to "purely guitarist reasons". He played the inspired solo with a broken arm.

  24. Gerry Rafferty - 'Baker Street'

    Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street (Official Video)

    'Baker Street' was released in 1978 as part of Gerry Rafferty's album City to City. It won the 1978 Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically and achieved high chart positions in the UK, US and elsewhere.

    The song is named after the street in London, where Rafferty often stayed with a friend during his legal troubles with his former band Stealers Wheel. The song expresses Rafferty's mixed feelings about the city and his music career, as well as his longing for home and a simpler life.

    The song is known for its distinctive saxophone riff by Raphael Ravenscroft, which was originally intended to be sung by Rafferty. It is widely regarded as one of the best rock songs of all time.

  25. ELO - 'Mr Blue Sky'

    Electric Light Orchestra - Mr. Blue Sky (Official Video)

    'Mr Blue Sky' was released in 1978 as part of their seventh studio album Out of the Blue. The song was written and produced by Jeff Lynne, the lead singer and main songwriter of ELO.

    It is the fourth and final track of the 'Concerto for a Rainy Day' suite, a musical concept that depicts the mood changes from a rainy day to a sunny one.

    The song is a progressive pop and symphonic rock masterpiece, featuring a catchy melody, rich harmonies, orchestral arrangements, and various sound effects. The song has a cheerful and optimistic tone, celebrating the beauty of a clear blue sky and expressing gratitude for the end of the storm.

    The song also includes a vocoder section that mimics a radio broadcast, and a coda that features a distorted voice saying 'Mr. Blue Sky' backwards.

    The song was a commercial success and has been praised for its creativity, originality, and musicality. The song has become one of ELO's most popular and recognizable songs, and has been used in various films, TV shows, commercials, and video games.