The following list includes the biggest singles from the era that show a distinct sense of ecological concern. To make the list, the songs had to have appeared somewhere between 1 and 130 on Billboard's pop singles chart at any point from 1970 to 1974 and contain at least one line expressing concern for the air, the water, or the land. Not included here are any of the numerous songs that merely celebrate country life or any ecologically-oriented non-charting album tracks, however well-known. All of the titles are ordered according to the date of their first appearance in Billboard. This is because it's common for any one of these to be written about as "the first," but no, the subject was a real thing back then.
1. Pacific Gas and Electric – “Are You Ready” (#14, 5/30/70): Pollution gets listed as one of the social ills Jesus can help fix. ("If you breathe air you'll die/ Perhaps you wonder the reason why.")
2. (Take your pick) The Neighborhood – “Big Yellow Taxi” (#29, 6/20/70); Joni Mitchell – “Big Yellow Taxi” (#67, 7/25/70): The Neighborhood's vocal-troupe version of Joni Mitchell's song about paved-over parking lots, tree museums and DDT charted a week earlier than her own more natural-sounding record. It also charted much higher.
3. The Guess Who – “Hand Me Down World” (#17, 7/18/70): The environmentalism is implicit here ("Anybody see the sky weeping tears for the ocean?"). The Canadian group's follow up hit, "Share the Land," had a made-to-order Earth Day title, but the lyrics focused instead on communal hand-holding.
4. Three Dog Night – “Out in the Country” (#15, 8/29/70): This one stands apart from other frolics in the hay by painting a grim picture in the chorus: "Before the breathin' air is gone/ Before the sun is just a bright spot in the night time/ Out where the rivers like to run/ I stand alone and take back something worth remembering."
5. Blue Mink – “Our World” (#64, 9/26/70): Blue Mink was a British vocal group featuring songwriter Roger Cook, and their only US hit referenced "people trying not to choke...breathing the smoke," black clouds and "troubled waters,"
6. The Kinks – “Apeman” (#45, 1/2/71): Typically cheeky, Ray Davies takes the nature movement to the extreme, lauding the lifesyle of primates. ("I look out my window but I can't see the sky/ 'Cause the air pollution is a-fogging up my eyes.")
7. Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – “Solution for Pollution” (#96, 1/23/71): Wherein a solution isn't offered, just yearned for. ("The first thing I saw this morning was polluted skies/ Some people walking around with tears in their eyes.")
8. R. Dean Taylor – “Ain’t It a Sad Thing” (#66, 2/14/71): The "Indiana Wants Me" singer-songwriter offers up one of pop's catchiest whistle choruses. ("Cities eating up the land/ Progress eating up the planet")
9. Spirit – “Nature’s Way” (#111, 3/20/71): Spirit's final charting single, although not especially detailed, was reportedly prompted by an environmental conversation between band member Randy California and a friend.
10. Brewer and Shipley – “Tarkio Road” (#55, 5/15/71): In their hazy way, the "One Toke Over the Line" duo zeroes in on 1916 as industrial Year One in Crete, Nebraska. ("Fifty-five years of pollution/ Everybody knows how the puzzle was laid/ But can anyone recall the solution.")
11. Marvin Gaye – “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” (#4, 7/3/71): The ultimate ecology record is this one, from top to bottom.
12. Ten Years After – “I’d Love to Change the World” (#40, 9/25/71): Alvin Lee's repeating guitar riff is both unsettling and seductive - one of rock's greats. The opening lyrics sound like Axl Rose source material ("Everywhere is freaks and hairies, dykes and fairies, tell me where is sanity"). Pollution makes the grievance list in verse three.
13. The Staple Singers – “Respect Yourself” (#12, 10/16/71): This take-responsibility proclamation was a highlight of the Staple Singers' classic early seventies output. ("Keep talkin' 'bout the president/ Won't stop air pollution/ Put your hand on your mouth when you cough/ That'll help the solution.")
14. Lighthouse – “Take It Slow (Out in the Country)” (#64, 12/11/71): Like with Three Dog Night's "Out in the Country," the jazz-rock army Lighthouse's "Take It Slow" made air quality a case in point: "Trying to find fresh air to breathe/ Just can't be done."
15. The Stylistics – “People Make the World Go Round” (#25, 6/3/72): The pulsing intro and menacing strings make for a musical approximation of urban smog. This is one of producer Thom Bell's many masterworks. ("Buses on strike want a raise in fare/ So they can help pollute the air.")
16. Tom Rush – “Mother Earth” (#111, 6/3/72): Although the folksinger Rush is known for more than his pop chart appearances, this is one of his very few. ("Though I treat her carelessly, Mother Earth provides for me.")
17. Albert Hammond – “Down by the River” (#91, 7/22/72): This is not one of the handful of charting cover versions of Neil Young's murder tune. It's Hammond's hand-clapping report on how he swam in a contaminated country river and had to go to the doctor.
18. The Osmonds – “Crazy Horses” (#14, 10/21/72): The Osmond brothers' hardest rocking track depicts air quality in Book of Revelation horses-of-the-apocalypse terms. ("There's a message floating in the air...There they go, what a show, smoking up the sky... If they keep on moving then it's all our fault.")
19. John Denver - "Rocky Mountain High" (#9, 11/25/72): John Denver turned early seventies nature-consciousness into a career, but his "Rocky Mountain High" is his only chart hit from the era to express outright concern: "Now his life his full of wonder, but his heart still knows some fear/ Of some simple thing he cannot comprehend/ Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more/ More people, more scars upon the land."
20. Stevie Wonder – “Living for the City” (#8, 11/10/73): Wonder's urban-struggle mini-epic from his Innervisons LP features more gasping and hacking: "He's almost dead from breathing on air pollution."
21. Hall and Oates - "She's Gone" (#60, 2/9/74; #7, 7/24/76): Although it went Top Ten as a reissue in '76, "She's Gone," in which the duo sings of taking heartbroken refuge in the city to let the "carbon and monoxide choke" their "thoughts away," first charted in '74,
22. Prelude – “After the Gold Rush” (#22, 10/5/74): Neil Young's own 1970 recording of this song, with the line "look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s," is the classic version, but this lovely acapella curio from Britain is the one that charted.
Have I forgotten any?