6 of the Best Folk Songs of the 60s
The folk revival of the 60s produced an endless list of classic songs. While the movement can’t be neatly confined between 1960 and 1969, the decade was jam-packed with unprecedented folk singer-songwriters making waves in New York, California and beyond.
Among these artists were some of the most influential musicians of all time, both traditionalists and envelope pushers. From Arlo Guthrie to Bob Dylan, here are just six of a long list of amazing folk songs from the 60s.
1. “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie (1967)
“Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”, more commonly referred to as “Alice’s Restaurant”, evokes the spirit of protest often found in folk music of the time.
In the song, Arlo Guthrie tells a satirical version of a story from his life and that of his friend Rick Robbins: he is arrested and convicted of illegally dumping trash, which later endangers his ability to the army. Vast and wordy, the talking blues song is a deadpan protest against the Vietnam War draft.
2. “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel (1964)
Although this song might be resigned to a meme for many Gen-Zers, it was once a worldwide hit and led to Simon and Garfunkel landing a record deal with Columbia.
The origin of the song’s moody lyrics is unclear however, Paul Simon credits time spent playing guitar in his bathroom with the lights off as the inspiration for the line, hello darkness, my old friend / I came back to talk to you.
Garfunkel, introducing the song during a live performance in 1966, summed up the meaning of the song as “people’s inability to communicate with each other, not particularly intentionally but mostly emotionally, so what you see around you, what are people incapable of loving each other. ”
3. “Helplessly Hopeing” by Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
“Helplessly Hoping” was recorded during Crosby, Stills & Nash’s first session as a band. Written by Stephen Stills about his impending breakup with fellow folk artist Judy Collins, the song features a simple, soothing melody and carefully crafted lyrics, exactly what you’d expect from a good folk song.
4. “Don’t Think Twice, Everything’s Alright” by Bob Dylan (1963)
When Bob Dylan first performed “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” at the Gaslight Cafe in October 1962, then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo had already been studying in Italy for four months. To “feel better” about the separation, he wrote this track which has become one of the most classic folk songs of all time.
In the verses, Dylan lays bare all the ways his daughter had hurt him before giving up the fight singing but don’t think twice, everything is fine. As Dylan said, “[It’s] a statement that you can perhaps say to feel better… as if you were talking to yourself.
5. “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell (1969)
This song written by Mitchell was first recorded by Judy Collins. Although Collins’ version made waves on the charts, it was Mitchell’s version that appeared on his 1969 album, Cloudswhich fully laid bare the emotional weight of this song.
In the lyrics, Mitchell poetically compares childlike wonder to the harsh reality of life that we begin to understand as we grow older. She says when she was younger the clouds were angel hair bows and streams but, Mitchell, 20, sends them away, saying they’ve just come from rain and snow all over the world. She similarly reflects on life and love before admitting that she doesn’t really understand either at all.
Since Mitchell’s version, the song has been covered many times by Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, proving its enduring appeal.
6. Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1963)
Bob Dylan has way too many top folk hits to make it to this list just once. Any of his tracks from the era could dominate the folk annals, but we’ve chosen to conclude with “Blowin’ in the Wind” from Dylan’s second studio album, Bob Dylan coasting.
Upon its release, this song became an anthem for black Americans amid the civil rights movement. It even inspired Sam Cooke to write “A Change is Gonna Come”. In the lyrics, Dylan doesn’t pretend to know all the answers to the ongoing struggle, but admits the answers are out there somewhere, blow in the wind.
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