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With pretty acoustics and thought-provoking lyrics, folk music brings poetry to the music world, and it’s a genre I absolutely adore. Just as country excels in storytelling and rock loves to talk about love, folk has a tendency to take you far deeper into the songwriter’s psyche, often sharing deep social, political, and even spiritual musings.
By the mid-sixties, folk music in the US had become the voice of a disillusioned generation, adopted by hippies, flower children and protestors of the Vietnam War. They eloquently spoke the words the masses felt powerless to share. Folk music has some incredible singer/songwriters, so today, I’m taking you back to its heyday to share a few of my favourites…
Essential Album: ‘Photographs’ (1968)
“Ideas can not buy me? // And the wind can not free me // No one can possess me // No person can be me.”
Kicking off with a real sixties hidden gem, US folk artist Patrick Sky’s fourth studio album, ‘Photographs’, is a must-hear for all fans of sixties folk music. The lilting, lyrical quality of Patrick’s vocals are what make him one of my favourite male folk singers, and his traditional style of songwriting is at its finest on ‘Photographs’.
It’s a crime this artist didn’t reach the same dizzying heights of his peers, but in the ever-increasing angst-ridden musical climate of the sixties, his style of pretty, fanciful folk was often overshadowed by the giants of the genre.
I particularly like the track ‘Who Am I?’, and that’s my song choice today. It’s conversational folk, almost bordering on country’s storytelling style.
Upbeat, jangly, unusual, and uplifting, check out this criminally neglected folk artist and get some Patrick Sky on your playlist!
Essential Track: ‘Once I Had a Sweetheart’ (1969)
“Once I had a sweetheart and now I have none // He’s gone and left me, he’s gone and left me // Gone and left me in sorrow to mourn.”
This track from British folk/rock band Pentangle is what I consider to be the quintessential sound of sixties folk music. The beautiful finger picking acoustic intro, the floaty, ethereal vocal from Jacqui McShee, and the sweet lyrical style, is just sublimely pretty.
Featured on The Pentangle’s 1969 album ‘Basket of Light’, ‘Once I Had a Sweetheart’ is a lovely arrangement of a traditional folk song, and by far my favourite track on the album.
What I loved about The Pentangle was their ability to inject a little diversity into the folk blueprint, throwing in a touch of jazz and blues for a unique, eclectic sound.
‘Once I Had a Sweetheart’ has a sound of sixties summer to it; imagine the sun streaming through the trees of a small wooded area, the breeze in your hair and the smell of a country fair. That’s this song in a nutshell.
Essential Track: ‘Farewell Angelina’ (1965)
“There’s no need for anger // There’s no need for blame // There’s nothing to prove // Everything’s still the same.”
Joan Baez’s cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Farewell Angelina’ is a perfect showcase for one of folk music’s most beautiful voices. The purity of Joan’s vocal on this track is spine-tinglingly good, and the simple acoustic backing is just ideal.
Released from Joan’s album of the same name, ‘Farewell Angelina’ is one of my favourite cover versions by this incredible folk talent. I love how she interprets this Dylan track, and that ability to turn another songwriter’s work into something that sounds uniquely your own is a gift.
Although never released as a single, ‘Farewell Angelina’ has often had a place in Joan’s live performances, becoming a firm favourite with fans over the years. Get this glorious folk song on your summer playlist and drift away to a simpler time…
Essential Track: ‘Don’t Let the Rain Come Down’ (1965)
“Oh, no, don’t let the rain come down // My roof’s got a hole in it and I might drown // Oh yes, my roof’s got a hole in it and I might drown.”
Initially formed as a nine-piece folk group by the name of The Newport Singers, by 1964, the group had lost some of its number and had a name change. The newly named Serendipity Singers found some commercial success when the debut single ‘Don’t Let the Rain Come Down’ made it into the top 30.
I love this track with its acoustic calypso feel, tight harmonies and lyrics from the nursery rhyme ‘Crooked Man’ made into a fun, folksy hit.
It’s not deep or meaningful or soul searching; it’s not politically edgy or spiritually aware; it’s just great folk music with a lively, imaginative twist, and it’s an absolute gem!
Essential Album: ‘Song to a Seagull’ (1968)
“For loving the freedom of all flying things // My dreams with the seagulls fly out of reach out of cry.”
It’s hard to believe Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell started her career busking on the streets and playing her particular brand of unique, thought-provoking folk in nightclubs. She is, without a doubt, one of my all-time favourite folk artists. I love her vocal style, her poetic ability, and her whimsical yet well thought out approach to songwriting.
Joni’s debut album, ‘Song to a Seagull’ was released in 1968 and produced by David Crosby (of Crosby, Stills and Nash). Whilst she’d written tracks for other artists, including ‘Both Sides Now’ for Judy Collins and ‘Easter Rain’ for Fairport Convention, this was Joni’s time to shine.
Not her most memorable album chart-wise, ‘Song to a Seagull’ has some truly beautiful moments, and its simplistic acoustic style is perfect for Joni’s high, almost hesitant voice. It’s one of my favourite albums by this incredibly gifted lady, and I particularly love the title track; the sheer depth of the melody blended with Joni’s stunning performance, is heart stopping.
Essential Track: ‘Wear Your Love Like Heaven’ (1967)
“Cannot believe what I see // All I have wished for will be // All our race proud and free // Wear your love like heaven…”
British folk singer Donovan’s ‘Wear Your Love Like Heaven’ became the first track from his 1967 album ‘A Gift from a Flower to a Garden’, and it’s everything you’d expect from British mid-sixties folk music. If you’re looking for a more positive alternative to Dylan, look no further!
Whilst artists in the States often had political and angst ridden social unrest themes to folk music, British artists such as Donovan, Fairport Convention and The Pentangle had more of a traditional feel, turning old English rhymes into commercially accessible songs.
Donovan’s ‘Wear Your Love Like Heaven’ is a glorious track, made all the more sentimental by his plain, conversational vocal style. This psychedelic folk track from Donovan always conjures images of Stone Henge to me; it has an almost druidic peace and love feel to it. A perfect addition to a summery folk playlist.
It really is a no brainer, but I can’t wind this up without a nod of appreciation to a man who did so much for folk music – Bob Dylan. With his tracks, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’’, anthems for the anti-war movement during the sixties, Dylan was hailed as a voice of a generation, and certainly, it’s easy to see why when you consider the lyrics and the political climate during that era.
Musically speaking, Dylan’s raw, untrained tone may not be the prettiest of vocals, but it has lent itself well to his deep, poetic writing style making it all the more poignant. Love him or loathe him, Dylan is arguably the biggest exponent of folk music in the world!
I’ve shared just a few of my favourite folk artists of the late sixties today, but who would you add?
Get commenting and let us know!
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