Here’s a top 20 of folk music’s finest hits


Peter, Paul and Mary did a stellar take on Gordon Lightfoot’s “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane.”

Folk songs strum through the new Coen Brothers movie “Inside Llewyn Davis,” but the film winds up missing its essential milieu.

Certainly, there are worthy songs on the accompanying soundtrack — some stemming from the original Village scene it means to depict. They include one song by self-professed “Mayor of MacDougal Street” Dave Van Ronk and another by key Bleecker St. player Bob Dylan. But the movie’s cast of Justin Timberlake, Carrie Mulligan and Oscar Isaac lack the nuance to nail the era’s soul.

In reality, the acoustic movement of 1960s New York gave us some of the best melodies and most finely braided harmonies in history. That much was clear when the cream of the modern folk movement gathered for a tribute show to the form at Town Hall in October. That terrific event, featuring the Avett Brothers, Gillian Welch and the Punch Brothers and many more, airs on Showtime Dec. 13 at 10 p.m.

In the meantime, I’ve compiled a download-ready list of the original movement’s top 20 greatest lilts and observations:

— “My Back Pages,” Bob Dylan: The great bard at his most poetic and wise, offering an undying turn-of-phrase in the chorus (“I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now”).

— “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore,” Phil Ochs: The political side of folk rises through the fervor of Ochs’ classic antiwar cry.

The king and queen of 1960s folk music: Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

The king and queen of 1960s folk music: Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

— “No Regrets,” Tom Rush: The poignancy of Rush’s graceful song comes in its dry reading. It’s an end-of-the-affair summation where the narrator pretends not to care — which only makes his kiss-off more crushing.

— “Morning Glory,” Tim Buckley: Buckley’s arrangement has an Edwardian formality, a facade broken by the vulnerability of the singer’s vibrato. Those who only know Buckley’s brilliant son Jeff owe it to themselves to visit the tree that bore that fruit.

— “Thirsty Boots,” Eric Andersen: Folk loves a traveler’s tale. Andersen’s song nails the ironic poles of the form — from footloose freedom to lost wandering. Andersen’s deep voice, too, straddles notions, communicating both loneliness and warmth.

— “The Last Thing on My Mind,” Tom Paxton: A song of romantic regret, expressed in fine poetry and with a melody that will break your heart.

— “Everybody’s Talkin’,” Fred Neil: This song’s dream of leaving cold New York for warmer climates finds a perfect corollary in chords that speak of flight.

— “Get Together,” Dino Valenti: Made famous by the Youngbloods, the socially aware tale was written by early Village folkie Dino Valenti.

Tim Buckley’s “Morning Glory” featured the singer’s famous vibrato.

Tom Monaster

Tim Buckley’s “Morning Glory” featured the singer’s famous vibrato.

— “House of the Rising Sun,” Joan Baez: The Virgin Mary of folk, Baez gave this traditional song a holiness and chill, told in a heavenly vibrato.

— “Both Sides Now,” Joni Mitchell: Though most associated with L.A. and Canada, Mitchell lived and played in New York in the mid-’60s, contributing the scene’s great philosophical touchstone.

— “High Flyin’ Bird,” Ritchie Havens: A folk-blues ballad given gravitas by Havens’ husky voice, as well as his distinctly percussive guitar style.

— “Maid of Constant Sorrow,” Judy Collins: The first song off the 1961 debut from Collins took a twist on “Man of Constant Sorrow,” providing the perfect showcase for Collins’ clarion tone and lost-girl soul.

— “You Were on My Mind,” Ian and Sylvia: This Canadian couple lived here when they created one of folk’s most romantic odes.

— “Pack Up Your Sorrows,” Mimi and Richard Farina: A song from Joan Baez’s sister and her husband that expresses an emotional generosity rivaled only by Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine.”

Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bleecker Street” is a spot-on evocation of the folk scene.

Vincent Riehl

Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bleecker Street” is a spot-on evocation of the folk scene.

— “The Love’s Still Growing,” Buzzy Linhart: A shimmer of a song, with an indelible vocal chorale.

— “Darlin’ Be Home Soon,” John Sebastian: Joe Cocker’s 1970 take remains the most crushing, but Sebastian’s original from 1967 blueprints the song’s urgency and need.

— “Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down,” Odetta: Big chested and deep, Odetta’s voice had a pan-gender power. Her take on this traditional piece married folk purity to gospel grace.

— “Early Morning Rain,” Peter, Paul and Mary: The unbearable lightness of PPM’s three-way harmonies on this Gordon Lightfoot tune makes its beauty ache.

— “Something’s On Your Mind,” Karen Dalton: She’s as much a soul singer as a folkie, but the overlooked Dalton was a mainstay on the ’60s Bleecker scene. Her spiraling take on this gorgeous Dino Valenti song keeps evolving, elaborating a vocal that’s as much about implication as direct expression.

— “Bleecker Street,” Simon & Garfunkel: A perfect evocation of scene’s allure, with a detail that now seems hilarious: “Thirty dollars buys your rent/On Bleecker Street.”

Music & Arts – NY Daily News

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