The Best Songs of the 1960s Folk Revival

Some of the most influential artists left their marks on the '60s

Pete Seeger, full-length portrait, performing on stage at Yorktown Heights High School, Yorktown, N.Y. / World Journal Tribune photo by James Kavallines, 1967.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection./Wikimedia Commons

The '60s folk revival churned out a lot of great songs. We all know that cultural phenomena don't necessarily happen in neat little blocks of time that we like to refer to as "decades," but the years between 1960 and 1969 were surely packed to the rim with an uncanny amount of folk singer/songwriters doing their thing in New York, California and elsewhere. 

Among them were some of the most influential artists and groundbreaking women songwriters, not to mention protest singers, traditionalists and envelope pushers.

Here's a list of some of the greatest songs of the 1960s folk revival. It's arranged alphabetically by the artist's first name. Click on the links to purchase or download the songs. 

Arlo Guthrie

The son of Woody Guthrie, Arlo grew up in the company of some famous folksingers, including Pete Seeger. He burst onto the scene in 1967 with the release of "Alice's Restaurant."

Bob Dylan

A Nobel Prize laureate, Dylan is a prolific singer/songwriter who definitely left his mark on the 1960s, including this impressive list of songs:  

Song to Woody
Just Like a Woman
Like a Rolling Stone
Masters of War
Mr. Tambourine Man
Subterranean Homesick Blues
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol
The Times, They Are a-Changin'

"Blowin' in the Wind" was particularly integral to the anti-war movement. 

Buffy Sainte-Marie

A Canadian, much of Buffy Sainte-Marie's work both in and out of music focused on helping native peoples of the Americas.

"Now That The Buffalo's Gone" is a classic. Sainte-Marie really hit her stride a decade later in the 70s. 

Chad Mitchell Trio

William "Chad" Mitchell, Mike Pugh and Mike Kobluk formed the Chad Mitchell Trio in the late 1950s. Pugh departed the group in 1960 to go back to college and Joe Frazier replaced him.

They released "Hello Susan Brown" in 1962. 

The Chambers Brothers

The Chambers Brothers were more about soul than folk music, but the group left its mark on the '60s with their 1965 release "People Get Ready." 

Crosby, Stills & Nash

"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" was a '60s anthem from the trio's first album, released in 1969 without what would become the on-again-off-again participation of Neil Young. 

Dave Van Ronk

Van Ronk emerged from New York's Greenwich Village folk scene to record "Both Sides Now" and "The Butcher Boy." Joni Mitchell said his version of "Both Sides Now" was the finest ever. He called the song "Clouds." 

Doc Watson

Watson piled up seven Grammy Awards before his death in 2012 at the age of 89. His major '60s contributions include "Salt Creek," "Black Mountain Rag" and "Doc's Guitar." 

Eric Andersen

Another Greenwich Village boy, Eric Andersen contributed "Thirsty Boots" and "Violets of Dawn" to the '60s scene. He also wrote songs for Bob Dylan and Judy Collins. 

Gordon Lightfoot

Lightfoot owned the '70s, but he also contributed the noteworthy "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" and "Early Morning Rain" to the 1960s. "Early Morning Rain" helped launch him to fame. 

Harry Belafonte

The "King of Calypso" released "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)," his best charting single, in 1957.

It was still alive and kicking a few years later, a big part of the '60s scene. 

Janis Ian

"Society's Child" was Ian's first hit single in 1967. Born Janis Fink, she was still a teenager when she appeared on the folk music scene. She recorded a spoken word autobiography for which she won a Grammy Award in 2013. It shared the title of her breakout song.  

Jesse Fuller

Fuller's "San Francisco Bay Blues" has been covered by Janis Joplin and Jim Croce. 

Joan Baez

Baez had been performing for nearly 60 years when she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2017. She began recording in 1960. Her folk contributions to that era include:

There But For Fortune
Diamonds & Rust
Kumbaya

The Kingston Trio

Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane emerged from the San Francisco Bay Area music scene to contribute "The MTA" and "Tom Dooley" to 1960s music history.

The New Christy Minstrels

Founded by Randy Sparks in 1961, this group contributed "Green, Green" in 1963 from their album Ramblin'. Group members change regularly, pretty much with every tour. As of 2008, there had been around 300 of them. They're still touring in 2017. 

Odetta

Odetta Holmes has been called the "Voice of the Civil Rights Movement." Martin Luther King Jr. once crowned her the queen of American folk music. Her contributions to the '60s include:

This Little Light of Mine
Mule Skinner Blues
He's Got the Whole World In His Hands

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger actually hit the music scene in 1940 when he performed with the Almanac Singers. By the 1960s, he was a legend. He's released 52 studio albums and 31 singles over the decades. Those that marked the '60s include: 

If I had a Hammer
We Shall Overcome
What Did You Learn In School Today?
Which Side Are You On?
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Phil Ochs

Phil Ochs was known for his protest music as much his folk rock. He released seven studio albums in the 1960s, featuring these memorable hits: 

I Ain't Marchin' Anymore
Is There Anybody Here
Love Me, I'm a Liberal
Outside of a Small Circle of Friends
Talking Vietnam Blues
Draft Dodger Rag

Ochs died in 1976 at the age of 35. He suffered from alcohol-related problems and mental illness. 

The Rooftop Singers

The Rooftop Singers – Bill Svanoe, Erik Darling and Lynne Taylor – made a name for themselves with "Walk Right In." In fact, Darling formed the group specifically to record that song. 

The Sandpipers

The Sandpipers' "Guantanamera" was a Top 10 transatlantic hit in 1966.

The group was all about their harmonies, but they found their way memorably onto the folk scene. 

Simon & Garfunkel

"Scarborough Fair" and "The Sound of Silence" topped the charts for Simon & Garfunkel in 1968 and 1965 respectively. They performed phenomenally together but were said to have more than a few personal differences. They broke up in 1970 as the '60s drew to a close. They reunited a few times, but Paul Simon said in 2016 that it would not happen again.

The Springfields

The Springfields, a British group, contributed "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" in 1962. The song wasn't really folk. It topped out on the U.S. country music charts. The group was made up of Dusty Springfield, her brother Tom and – originally – Tim Feild, who was eventually replaced by Mike Hurst. They began making music together as the Kingston Squares and disbanded in 1964. 

Sonny & Brownie

Sonny and Brownie are known for "Walk On." They were blues musicians who nonetheless left their mark on folk music in the '60s. 

Sylvia Fricker (Ian & Sylvia)

Canadians Sylvia Fricker and Ian Tyson began performing together in 1959 and married five years later. The marriage lasted 11 years and they stopped performing in 1975 when it ended. They contributed a few songs to the '60s, but their most notable hit, "You Were On My Mind," actually came out in 1972. 

Tom Paxton

Paxton received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2009. His most significant '60s contributions include:

I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound
Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation
The Last Thing on My Mind

The Village Stompers

This group has been credited with launching the folk-Dixie sound. They released "Washington Square" in 1963.

The Weavers

A Greenwich Village quartet, The Weavers left their stamp on the '60s with "Goodnight Irene." Fred Hellerman, their last surviving founding member, died in 2016. He was 89. 

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Ruehl, Kim. "The Best Songs of the 1960s Folk Revival." ThoughtCo, Jun. 4, 2017, thoughtco.com/best-songs-of-1960s-folk-revival-1322721. Ruehl, Kim. (2017, June 4). The Best Songs of the 1960s Folk Revival. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/best-songs-of-1960s-folk-revival-1322721 Ruehl, Kim. "The Best Songs of the 1960s Folk Revival." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/best-songs-of-1960s-folk-revival-1322721 (accessed December 11, 2017).