An article in Billboard's first issue of 1977 was devoted to the upward trend in high-quality R&B of all flavors. Labels were encountering new challenges in getting their music heard. KGFJ Los Angeles operations manager "Lucky" Pierre Gonneau: "It will be harder to get a record on [in 1977] because the competition coming out is so stiff." Going by what did and did not reach the publication's Hot Soul Singles chart in 1977, Gonneau's forecast was undeniably accurate. While disco, the form synonymous with the late '70s, was indeed prominent and given major injections by Donna Summer and the emergent Chic, there was enough undiluted soul and funk to keep a discophobe's ears perked year-round.

Stevie Wonder released Songs in the Key of Life in late September 1976, but most of its singles shot forth in 1977. As those who caught Stevie's 2014-2015 performances of the parent album can attest, those life-affirming songs can still reach the last row of any arena. Stevie's label mates and studio associates alone, including Marvin Gaye, Commodores, Ray Parker, Jr. (Raydio), and Deniece Williams, accounted for many of the distinctive styles that hit the airwaves. The year also brought heaps of charting A-sides by new names, whether they were fledgling acts or groups fostered by established musicians and producers, such as Aquarian Dream (Norman Connors), Pockets (Earth, Wind & Fire's Verdine White), and Stargard (Norman Whitfield). Additionally, jazz musicians like vibraphonist Roy Ayers, drummer Idris Muhammad, keyboardist George Duke, and Connors himself granted some of the year's deepest club records. Only a sourpuss could resist them.

Here are forty personal-favorite singles that reached Billboard's Hot Soul Singles chart during 1977, followed by a Spotify playlist and month-by-month top tens. (In a parallel universe, the Isley Brothers' "Footsteps in the Dark" was issued as an A-side and appears at the top.)

1. Stevie Wonder - "Sir Duke" [Tamla, 4/16]
2. Stevie Wonder - "As" [Tamla, 11/12]
3. Slave - "Slide" [Cotillion, 5/21]
4. Donna Summer - "I Feel Love" [Casablanca, 8/6]
5. Bill Withers - "Lovely Day" [Columbia, 10/22]
6. Norman Connors - "Once I've Been There" [Buddah, 5/21]
7. Marvin Gaye - "Got to Give It Up" [Tamla, 4/9]
8. Rufus f/ Chaka Khan - "At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)" [ABC, 2/5]
9.The Brothers Johnson - "Strawberry Letter 23" [A&M, 6/18]
10. Heatwave - "Boogie Nights" [Epic, 7/2]

11. Roy Ayers Ubiquity - "Running Away" [Polydor, 9/3]
12. Stevie Wonder - "Another Star" [Tamla, 9/3]
13. War - "Galaxy" [MCA, 11/19]
14. Raydio - "Jack and Jill" [Arista, 11/19]
15. L.T.D. - "(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again" [A&M, 9/10]
16. Chic - "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)" [Atlantic, 10/29]
17. Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson - "The Bottle" [Arista, 2/12]*
18. Stargard - "Theme Song from 'Which Way Is Up'" [MCA, 12/3]
19. The Emotions - "Best of My Love" [Columbia, 5/28]
20. Commodores - "Too Hot ta Trot" [Motown, 12/24]

21. Loleatta Holloway - "Hit and Run" [Gold Mind, 4/9]
22. Ashford & Simpson - "Over and Over" [Warner, 6/11]
23. Rose Royce - "Do Your Dance" [Whitfield, 9/3]
24. Parliament - "Bop Gun (Endangered Species)" [Casablanca, 10/29]
25. Earth, Wind & Fire - "Serpentine Fire" [Columbia, 10/15]
26. Bootsy's Rubber Band - "The Pinocchio Theory" [Warner, 3/12]
27. Idris Muhammad - "Could Heaven Ever Be Like This" [Kudu, 10/8]*
28. Mass Production - "Welcome to Our World (Of Merry Music)" [Cotillion, 2/12]
29. Rose Royce - "I'm Going Down" [MCA, 5/14]
30. Enchantment - "Sunshine" [Roadshow, 5/28]

31. Heatwave - "Always and Forever" [Epic, 12/24]
32. L.T.D. - "Love to the World" [A&M, 1/22]
33. First Choice - "Doctor Love" [Gold Mind, 7/23]
34. George Duke - "Reach for It" [Epic, 11/12]
35. Pockets - "Come Go with Me" [Columbia, 11/5]*
36. Barry White - "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me" [20th Century, 6/13]
37. Floaters - "Float On" [ABC, 6/25]
38. Brick - "Ain't Gonna Hurt Nobody" [Bang, 12/24]
39. Deniece Williams - "Baby, Baby My Love's All for You" [Columbia, 12/10]
40. Cameo - "Rigor Mortis" [Chocolate City, 1/22]

*These songs are not available on Spotify in the U.S. Favorites 41-43 appear in their places, at the end of the playlist.

L.T.D. - "Love to the World"
Cameo - "Rigor Mortis"
Crown Heights Affair - "Dancin'"
Aretha Franklin - "Look into Your Heart"
Natalie Cole - "I've Got Love on My Mind"
Love Unlimited Orchestra - "Theme from King Kong"
Four Tops - "Feel Free"
Norman Connors - "Betcha by Golly Wow"
Brass Construction - "Ha Cha Cha (Funktion)"
Funkadelic - "Comin' Round the Mountain"

Rufus f/ Chaka Khan - "At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)"
Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson - "The Bottle"
Mass Production - "Welcome to Our World (Of Merry Music)"
Johnnie Taylor - "Love Is Better in the A.M."
Daryl Hall/John Oates - "Rich Girl"
Minnie Riperton - "Stick Together"
The Blackbyrds - "Time Is Movin'"
Parliament - "Dr. Funkenstein"
Bar-Kays - "Too Hot to Stop"
Rose Royce - "I Wanna Get Next to You"

Bootsy's Rubber Band - "The Pinocchio Theory"
Steve Miller Band - "Fly Like an Eagle"
Earth, Wind & Fire - "On Your Face"
The Isley Brothers - "The Pride"
Aquarian Dream - "Phoenix"
T-Connection - "Do What You Wanna Do"
Jean Carn - "Free Love"
Side Effect - "Keep That Same Old Feeling"
Ashford & Simpson - "So So Satisfied"
Kool & the Gang - "Super Band"

Stevie Wonder - "Sir Duke"
Marvin Gaye - "Got to Give It Up"
Loleatta Holloway - "Hit and Run"
Phyllis Hyman - "Loving You -- Losing You"
Rufus f/ Chaka Khan - "Hollywood"
Teddy Pendergrass - "I Don't Love You Anymore"
The Jacksons - "Show You the Way to Go"
Garnett Mimms & Truckin' Company - "What It Is"
George Benson - "Everything Must Change"
Aretha Franklin - "Break It to Me Gently"

Slave - "Slide"
Norman Connors - "Once I've Been There"
The Emotions - "Best of My Love"
Rose Royce - "I'm Going Down"
Enchantment - "Sunshine"
Commodores - "Easy"
Gladys Knight & the Pips - "Baby Don't Change Your Mind"
Pleasure - "Joyous"
Brainstorm - "Lovin' Is Really My Game"
Michelle Wiley - "I Feel So at Home Here"

The Brothers Johnson - "Strawberry Letter 23"
Ashford & Simpson - "Over and Over"
Floaters - "Float On"
Johnny "Guitar" Watson - "A Real Mother for Ya"
Kellee Patterson - "Turn on the Lights"
George Benson - "Gonna Love You More"
War - "L.A. Sunshine"
The Isley Brothers - "Livin' in the Life"
Bootsy's Rubber Band - "I Can't Stay Away"
Candi Staton - "Nights on Broadway"

Heatwave - "Boogie Nights"
First Choice - "Doctor Love"
Peter Brown - "Do You Wanna Get Funky with Me"
Deniece Williams - "That's What Friends Are For"
Phyllis Hyman - "No One Can Love You More"
Idris Muhammad - "Turn This Mutha Out"
Hodges, James & Smith - "Since I Fell for You"
Natalie Cole - "Party Lights"
The Whispers - "Make It with You"
Brief Encounter - "In a Very Special Way"

Donna Summer - "I Feel Love"
Barry White - "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me"
Rufus f/ Chaka Khan - "Everlasting Love"
Brick - "Dusic"
The Dramatics - "Shake It Well"
Aretha Franklin - "When I Think About You"
Maze f/ Frankie Beverly - "Lady of Magic"
Mother's Finest - "Baby Love"
Margie Alexander - "Gotta Get a Hold on Me"
Willie Hutch - "We Gonna Party Tonight"

Roy Ayers Ubiquity - "Running Away"
Stevie Wonder - "Another Star"
L.T.D. - "(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again"
Rose Royce - "Do Your Dance"
High Inergy - "You Can't Turn Me Off (In the Middle of Turning Me On)"
The Spinners - "Heaven on Earth (So Fine)"
Smokey Robinson - "Theme from Big Time"
Ashford & Simpson - "Send It"
Cameo - "Funk Funk"
Commodores - "Brick House"

Bill Withers - "Lovely Day"
Chic - "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)"
Earth, Wind & Fire - "Serpentine Fire"
Parliament - "Bop Gun (Endangered Species)"
Idris Muhammad - "Could Heaven Ever Be Like This"
Con Funk Shun - "Ffun"
Odyssey - "Native New Yorker"
Curtis Mayfield - "Do Do Wap Is Strong in Here"
The Emotions - "Don't Ask My Neighbors"
The Brothers Johnson - "Runnin' for Your Lovin'"

Stevie Wonder - "As"
War - "Galaxy"
Raydio - "Jack and Jill"
The Isley Brothers - "Voyage to Atlantis"
George Duke - "Reach for It"
Pockets - "Come Go with Me"
Rose Royce - "Ooh Boy"
The Salsoul Orchestra - "Run Away"
Mandré - "Solar Flight (Opus I)"
Natalie Cole - "Our Love"

Stargard - "Theme Song from 'Which Way Is Up'"
Commodores - "Too Hot ta Trot"
Heatwave - "Always and Forever"
Brick - "Ain't Gonna Hurt Nobody"
Deniece Williams - "Baby, Baby My Love's All for You"
Al Hudson & the Soul Partners - "If You Feel Like Dancin'"
Manchild - "Especially for You"
Lenny Williams - "Choosing You"
Mass Production - "Cosmic Lust"
Cat Stevens - "Was Dog a Doughnut?"