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The early sixties was an incredible time for folk music. Arguably one of the best times, in fact! Acoustic singer/songwriters took the stories of old and brought them to the ears of music lovers the world over. From the coffee houses of Toronto to Greenwich Village folk revivalists, the genre was everywhere!
I love this era in folk; there’s poetry in the lyrics, and the melodies are just so pretty. Whether it’s a protest song or a plaintive lullaby, the folk music of the early sixties had something magical about it. Join me today and for a full on folk revival.
Essential Track: ‘Looking Glass’ (1965)
“She was to me a golden cup // That poured me life, for me to sup // And in her heart was a lookin’ glass // And a sturdy ship with a highest mast.”
I love this contemplative track from US folk singer/songwriter Eric Andersen. Beautiful, finger picking acoustic guitar and Eric’s simplistic vocal style is what makes ‘Looking Glass’ my absolute must-hear. Featured on Eric’s 1965 debut album ‘Today Is the Highway’, there’s something plaintive yet hopeful about ‘Looking Glass’, and it is by far my favourite track on the album.
Part of the Greenwich Village folk revival scene of the early sixties, Eric captures all the charm of that era in this stunning song. Just one listen to the melancholy, poetic narrative, the sweet melody, and the soulful resonance of Eric’s vocal is sure to have you wanting more. A real hidden gem, ‘Looking Glass’ is pure sixties folk.
Essential Track: ‘Souling Song’ (1965)
“An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry // Any good thing to make us merry // One for Peter, two for Paul // Three for Him that made us all.”
British folk doesn’t get much more traditional than the effortlessly gorgeous chanting style of The Waterson’s, and their 1965 track ‘Souling Song’ from the debut album ‘Frost and Fire’.
Formed in Hull, North Yorkshire in 1965 by siblings Mike and Norma Waterson, the vocal group’s distinctive style featured largely unaccompanied performances and tightly woven harmonies.
‘Souling Song’ is one such unaccompanied vocal piece, and it’s an absolutely stunning performance that draws you in with an almost hypnotic rhythm. If understated, stripped back British folk with a touch of magic and whimsy is your thing, then I highly recommend you check ‘Souling Song’ by this unusual and unique vocal harmony group. Spellbindingly beautiful.
Essential Track: ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ (1962)
“Where have all the flowers gone? // Young girls have picked them everyone // Oh, when will they ever learn?”
‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ is a beautiful, poignant acoustic ballad featured on the sweethearts of the Greenwich Village folk revival, Peter, Paul and Mary’s eponymous debut album. I do love this track, it has all the gusto of a political protest song but the delivery is almost lullaby-like.
Written by Pete Seeger, ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ has enjoyed a few cover version over the years, but my favourite by far is Peter, Paul and Mary’s. The harmonies are just lovely, and Mary’s vocal is so sweet and pure. Just gorgeous.
And if you’re looking for a true taste of surreal sixties folk, check out the trio’s version of ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon’!
Essential Track: ‘The Water Is Wide’ (1964)
“When love is young and love is fine // It’s like a gem when first it’s new // But love grows old and waxes cold // And fades away like the morning dew.”
Australian band The Seekers first came into the spotlight in their homeland before spreading their upbeat, folky/pop hybrid sound across the world. ‘The Water Is Wide’ has a beautiful melody, and the harmonies are simply sublime.
‘The Water Is Wide’ is a traditional Scottish folk song dating back hundreds of years, and has been covered by artists including Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Cliff Richard and Neil Young to name but a few. Of all the versions, The Seekers’ is without doubt one of my favourites.
Probably best known for the glorious vocal talent of Judith Durham, The Seekers certainly made an impact on mainstream folk music during the early sixties, bringing something sweet and charming to a world of political protest.
Essential Track: ‘Old Man’s Lament’ (1963)
“She goes out every night // Goes to bars, goes to parties // Leaves me rocking the cradle // And it’s none of my own…”
Native Canadian singer/songwriter Buffy Saint-Marie is without question one of the most talented and influential folk artists of the sixties, and this article wouldn’t be complete without mention of this incredible lady.
Buffy’s legend precedes her, so I’ll leave the formalities and skip straight to the good bit – the music. Taking poetic lyrics and weaving them with pretty melodies, Buffy’s traditional, acoustic style has been mirrored by her peers and contemporaries alike.
‘Old Man’s Lament’, featured on Buffy’s debut album ‘It’s My Way!’, is a gorgeous acoustic track, and her vocals have such depth of feeling you almost feel like she’s singing straight to you. Powerful folk performed perfectly. You can’t get much better than that, so get some Buffy on your playlist today!
Essential Track: ‘A Summer Song’ (1963)
“They say that all good things must end some day // Autumn leaves must fall // But don’t you know that it hurts me so // To say goodbye to you…”
Sweet, harmony laden folky track from UK folk duo Chad and Jeremy, ‘A Summer Song’ made it into the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, peaking at #7. Part of the British Invasion of the sixties, there’s a touch of The Searchers to Chad and Jeremy’s musical style, and the pretty melody just washes over you – the perfect summer song!
Aside from the obvious comparisons with folk staples Peter and Gordon, Chad and Jeremy didn’t fare quite as well as their US counterparts, but there’s something very appealing about this simple, folky style that leaves you wanting more. Perfect for a summery folk playlist, give ‘A Summer Song’ some long overdue love!
There really is no denying the influence of those early folk heroes on the genre, and it was only going to get better from there on in. As Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez began to dominate the US folk scene, they opened the floodgates for their peers.
The UK also saw a huge revival in folk music during the early sixties, spawning bands that would go on to pioneer both electric and progressive sub-genres of folk. How fantastic it would’ve been to be around in that era, to experience such changes to music. Luckily, music itself is like a time machine, taking us back to bygone days we never lived through.
If you’d like to add your own musical flashbacks to this list, then get commenting!
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