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Folk Alley - 100 Best Folk Songs

Mike Harding | 17:07 UK time, Friday, 16 October 2009

A few years back in the USA I discovered Folk Alley a 24/7 free radio station that broadcasts
folk music - and does a terrific job of it too.

You'll hear everything from Asleep at the Wheel to Mike McGoldrick on the station and though it is a little USA biased (as you would expect) it is remarkably diverse in its playlist.

I've found my way into a lot of interesting music through listening to the station, and  I was
interested recently in their listener poll which went looking for the 100 Most Essential Folk Songs.

Here is the Top 25.

  1. This Land is Your Land - Woody Guthrie

  2. Blowin' in the Wind - Bob Dylan

  3. City of New Orleans - Steve Goodman

  4. If I Had a Hammer - Pete Seeger

  5. Where Have All The Flowers Gone - The Kingston Trio

  6. Early Morning Rain - Gordon Lightfoot

  7. Suzanne - Leonard Cohen

  8. We Shall Overcome - Pete Seeger

  9. Four Strong Winds - Ian and Sylvia

  10. Last Thing On My Mind - Tom Paxton

  11. The Circle Game - Joni Mitchell

  12. Tom Dooley - The Kingston Trio (Trad)

  13. Both Sides Now - Joni Mitchell

  14. Who Knows Where The Time Goes - Sandy Denny

  15. Goodnight Irene - The Weavers (Trad)

  16. Universal Soldier - Buffy St Marie

  17. Don't Think Twice - Bob Dylan

  18. Diamonds and Rust - Joan Baez

  19. Sounds of Silence - Simon & Garfunkel

  20. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - Gordon Lightfoot

  21. Alice's Restaurant - Arlo Guthrie

  22. Turn, Turn, Turn - The Byrds (Pete Seeger)

  23. Puff The Magic Dragon - Peter, Paul and Mary

  24. Thirsty Boots - Eric Andersen

  25. There But For Fortune - Phil Ochs

You can see a list of all 100 songs here.

We did carry out a survey on my programme a few years back asking for listeners votes for the most influential  folk album of all time and ­ Liege And Lief by Fairpot Convention was the leader by a long head.
It would be interesting to see what listeners to my programme came up with in terms of 100 best folk songs of all time. I suspect it would be very different and that Puff The Magic Dragon and Leaving On A Jet Plane might not have made the cut.

Any ideas? Fire them in.


  • Comment number 1.

    Who Knows Where The Time Goes, definitely. I definitely wouldn't have This Land Is Your Land anywhere in the top 100 though!

    What would I have in my top list? Crazy Man Michael (simply a superb example of songwriting), Sir Patrick Spens (especially the way June Tabor sings it), Little Musgrave/Matty Groves (Martin Simpson's version, probably), The Wife of Usher's Well...

    This is hard.

  • Comment number 2.

    As a listener to Folk Alley & their regular Podcast, I'm more amused by the comments to the final list including these extracts:

    "I would love to see the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem on the list but I bet they were considered ethnic"
    "it is a very wide range of AMERICAN folk music. What kind of folk music did you want? European? Asian?"
    "Assuming this is a list of the top 100 AMERICAN folk songs, this is an excellent list."
    "I agree with many of the comments about this list not being true folk music. It's mostly composed music of the 60s which, for those of us who participated in the Folk Music revival of that era, are all belovedly familiar... How about another list of favorite REAL folk songs?"
    "I'm surprised what some people consider to be "folk" music. Traditional American folk music, in my opinion anyway, was mostly written before 1970 and most of it before 1960. "John Barleycorn Must Die," while a good song, is a traditional English song - revamped by Steve Winwood and Traffic"

    but Mike this is the pertinent one:

    "I guess the old saying, "Be careful what you ask for" is applicable here, huh, Folk Alley? How critical of a list that in spite of its name probably never was meant to be the "be all" list of folk music. Just enjoy the music and quit trying to overintellectualize!"

    I note that Folk Alley's was '100 essential folk songs' you are asking for '100 best folk songs', not the same.

  • Comment number 3.

    I was child in the 50s and a teenager in the 60's so a lot of these songs are very familiar to me. In fact in the unlikely event that anyone ever asked me to sing , I would choose one of these songs as I know the words of an awful lot of them. So I suppose they are the folk music of my generation. Lovely to see Tom Paxton well represented.

    Like MaW I would have included Crazy Man Michael. And maybe something by the wonderful Hamish Imlach.


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