Folk music is the people’s music. Folk music is simple and unrefined, with basic tunes often played with only a guitar, transcending genres and evolving from its cultural setting. Often rooted in protest, folk music’s roots are virtually impossible to define. The very word is derived from folklore, and can be found in any culture. Its popularity reached its zenith in America, popularized in the 1950’s, finding its voice in Vietnam war protests in the 1960’s.
Folk generally manifests from oral tradition, the telling of, and handing down of stories. Often defined as “old songs, with no author,” the very word derives from the German “volk,” or “the people as a whole.” The list of popular folk songs is seemingly infinite. But here are our picks for the Top Ten Best Folk Songs Of All Time.
List of Top 10 Best Folk Songs Of All Time until 2017
10. EVE OF DESTRUCTION – Barry McGuire
This protest song, penned by P.F. Sloan in 1964, was rejected by The Byrds, but recorded by several acts, including Jan and Dean and The Turtles. But it was Barry McGuire’s raspy, angry version that produced a smash number one hit on the U.S. charts in 1965, also reaching number 3 in the U.K. The song is a protest anthem against the Vietnam War, racism, and political upheaval. McGuire observes You may leave here for four days in space / but when you return, it’s the same old place. Eve Of Destruction sets the tone for 60’s era American protest counterculture.
9. GET TOGETHER – The Youngbloods
If Eve Of Destruction stirred the angry masses, Get Together was an attempt to soothe the savage beast. Eve Of Destruction is a call to protest. Get Together is a plea for restraint. Contrasting love with hate, the tune appeals to the brotherhood of man, and the united across racial divides. Originally recorded by The Kingston Trio in 1964, the song was released in 1967 by The Youngbloods, but found new life two years later when it was re-released, and peaked at number 5 on the Billboard charts.
8. MR. TAMBOURINE MAN – The Byrds
Penned and recorded by Bob Dylan, Mr. Tambourine Man became The Byrds’ first number one hit, both on U.S. and British charts. Mr. Tambourine Man calls on the character to perform, while the narrator describes what he is seeing. Dylan began writing the song shortly after leaving Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1964. Some critics have interpreted the lyrics as everything from an ode to the drug LSD, to various religious interpretations. Recorded by numerous acts, including Judy Collins, Melanie and William Shatner, it was The Byrds’ version which enjoyed the most commercial success.
7. SAN FRANCISCO – Scott MacKenzie
Written by John Phillips of The Mamas And The Papas, San Francisco evokes images of Volkswagen buses filled with hippies headed west in sandals and, of course, flowers in their hair. Released in 1967, the song rocketed to number four on the U.S. charts, and became the theme of the hippie, flower power and Vietnam war protest movements. Charting number one in the U.K., San Francisco sold over seven million copies worldwide. Ever seen as an anthem of freedom, the song remains a pillar of 1960’s counterculture.
6. THE SOUND OF SILENCE – Simon And Garfunkel
Written by Paul Simon over a months-long span in 1963-64, The Sound Of Silence garnered the duo their first major recording contract with Columbia Records. Released in 1965, the song went to number one on the U.S. charts in January 1966, propelling Simon And Garfunkel to stardom. The song soon became a worldwide hit. Many speculated the song was penned in response to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but Simon maintained he first wrote lyrics prior to the tragic event. Pressed further on its meaning, he simply replied, “I have no idea.”
5. PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON – Peter Paul And Mary
In 1959, Cornell University student Leonard Lipton wrote a poem, whose lyrics evolved into the hit song, co-written by his friend, Peter Yarrow, of the group Peter Paul And Mary. Puff The Magic Dragon tells the story of an ageless dragon who lives by the sea in a land called Honalee, where he is befriended by a young lad, Jackie Paper. Little Jackie grows up and eventually leaves behind his fantasy adventures, leaving Puff to live alone forever in Honalee. Puff The Magic Dragon became a number one hit for the folk trio in May of 1963.
4. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN – Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young
Written by Graham Nash when he was still a member of The Hollies, Teach Your Children became a hit for Crosby, Stills Nash And Young in 1970. Peaking at number 16 on the charts, the song also featured Grateful Dead member Jerry Garcia on the steel guitar. Nash had seen a famous photograph by artist Diane Arbus, Child With Toy Hand Grenade In Central Park and was inspired to pen the lyrics, which serve as a warning to parents about the implications of war and other issues with their children.
3. WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE – The Kingston Trio
Legendary folk singer and social activist Pete Seeger wrote this song in 1955, while reading an article on a plane ride. The pictorial asked “Where are the flowers, the girls have plucked them. Where are the girls, they’ve all taken husbands. Where are the men, they’re all in the army.” Recorded by multiple acts including Peter Paul And Mary, Bobby Darrin and Eddy Arnold, The Kingston Trio took the song to number 21 on the Billboard charts in 1964.
2. BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND – Bob Dylan
No single artist defined the modern folk era as did Bob Dylan. This song asks a series of rhetorical questions, for which there is no definite answer. How many years can a mountain exist before it is washed in the sea? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. Released in 1963, Blowin In The Wind rose to number two in the charts, and became the unofficial anthem of the 1960’s protest culture.
1. THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND – Woody Guthrie
Irving Berlin wrote the standard God Bless America, and Kate Smith popularized it. Tired of hearing it, Woody Guthrie wrote this tune, originally titling it God Blessed America For Me before changing it to This Land Is Your Land. Written in 1940, the song is generally acclaimed as the original American protest song, as Guthrie’s lyrics interpret an America meant for the masses, not merely a privileged few. Recorded by many artists, the song has international appeal, with its lyrics often being customized for the nation in which it’s sung. Seen as a mentor to Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie is widely regarded as the father of American folk music.
These above are the Top 10 Best Folk Songs Of All Time until 2017. Folk music is simple, raw, and serves many functions, from lighthearted fare to war protest anthems. Often played with a simple guitar and a harmonica, its lyrics cover a myriad of themes, from magical dragons to soldiers dying on battlefields of controversial wars. Whatever its topic, folk music remains the music of the people.