Skip to main content

Eight Folk Rock Songs of the 1960s: A Playlist for Today

Linda Crampton has loved music since childhood. She plays the piano and recorder, sings, and listens to classical, folk, and early music.

The guitar is a popular and useful instrument for accompanying folk songs.

The guitar is a popular and useful instrument for accompanying folk songs.

What Are Folk Rock Songs?

In the 1960s, a style of music known as folk rock became popular in the United States and Britain. It was created by a fusion of elements from traditional folk songs and rock music. The results were interesting and variable. Acoustic instruments, a combination of acoustic and electronic ones, or only electronic instruments were used. Some songs had a rock beat. Others more closely resembled the songs of their folk music ancestry.

The pieces in this article are generally classified as folk rock. I enjoyed listening to them as a child and still do today. My childhood friends and I called them pop songs. Today I realize that they are more similar to folk ones. Many have stood the test of time and are still popular. They often tell a story or convey a message, like traditional folk songs. Some are adaptations of traditional tunes from the past.

All of the pieces below were performed in the 1960s. I've sometimes chosen a video showing the artist or artists performing at a later date due to the better sound quality, however. When multiple artists or groups recorded a particular song, I've chosen the cover that I like best.

"Turn! Turn! Turn!"

"Turn! Turn! Turn!" was created by Pete Seeger some time in the late 1950s, although it apparently wasn't performed until the early 1960s. Seeger is considered to be one of the founders of the folk music revival at that time. Most of the lyrics come from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

As a child, I enjoyed this song as recorded by The Byrds. Their music was definitely on the rock end of the folk-rock spectrum. As an adult, I was unimpressed by the version of their song on YouTube, however. During my video exploration I discovered Judy Collins' 1966 rendition. I love her voice and her moving cover of the piece. The chorus of the song is shown below.

To everything turn, turn, turn

There is a season turn, turn, turn

And a time to every purpose

Under Heaven

— Pete Seeger

"Blowin' in the Wind"

Bob Dylan composed "Blowin' in the Wind "in 1962 and performed it in 1963. I don't remember ever hearing about him when I was growing up in Britain. I was familiar with Peter, Paul and Mary, though, and enjoyed listening to their music. One of their songs was "Blowin' in the Wind".

The song asks a series of questions related to problems for humanity. The answer to all the questions is said to be blowing in the wind. This answer could be interpreted in more than one way. Dylan has never given much help in resolving the song's ambiguity.

The piece has been used by both the civil rights and the anti-war movements. It's said to be the most popular and most covered of all Dylan's songs. The version in the video below was created in 1986.

Yes, and how many years can some people exist

Before they're allowed to be free?

Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head

And pretend that he just doesn't see?

— Bob Dylan

"Scarborough Fair"

Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair" is a version of a traditional folk song. The title refers to the town of Scarborough in Yorkshire. In the song, a man asks someone who is going to Scarborough Fair to give his loved one instructions that are impossible to carry out. She is supposed to make him a shirt without using a needle and without creating any seams, for example. If she performs the required tasks, she will become the man's true love.

As is true for many traditional folk songs, multiple versions of "Scarborough Fair" exist. Sometimes the song is a duet and the woman asks the man to perform some impossible tasks as well. There are unanswered questions about the meaning of the piece and about its original format. I enjoy listening to the Simon and Garfunkel version of the song, even though the lyrics are puzzling. The version below was recorded at a benefit concert for New York's Central Park in 1981.

"Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

"Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" is a lamentation and protest about war. I've included a 1994 version by Joan Baez. The first three verses of the song were written by Pete Seeger and the last two by Joe Hickerson. The story advances through the verses and is cyclic. Though the lyrics sometimes vary slightly, they generally follow the pattern below.

  • The first verse explains that the flowers have disappeared because young girls have picked them.
  • The second says that the girls have disappeared to get married.
  • The third says that the husbands have disappeared because they have become soldiers.
  • The fourth says that the soldiers have disappeared because they've gone to their graves.
  • The fifth verse takes us back to the beginning of the cycle by stating that the graves have disappeared because they are covered with growing flowers.

Each verse ends with the refrain "When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?"

"Five Hundred Miles"

"Five Hundred Miles" describes a traveller who is being transported further and further away from his home during a train journey. We are never told why he left home, but the fact that he has no shirt and no money allows us to speculate. The overall mood of the song is one of great sadness.

The song was written by Hedy West (1938–2005), an American folk singer and songwriter. "Five Hundred Miles" was her most famous creation. She based the song on fragments of a melody that she heard as a child. The version below (and the song afterwards) was recorded in the 1960s. Sadly, West died prematurely from cancer.

"If I Had a Hammer"

"If I Had a Hammer" was written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays in 1949. It was first recorded by a folk music group called The Weavers, to which both Seeger and Hays belonged. At that time, it was known as "The Hammer Song". Seeger was a social activist. His activism is reflected in the song.

In the upbeat melody, the singer says that if they had a hammer they would stamp out danger, hammer out a warning, and hammer out love between their brothers and sisters all over the land. The singer then says that they would create the same results by ringing a bell and then by singing a song. In the next verse they say that they do have a hammer, a bell, and a song to sing. The triumphal ending, which is shown below, is repeated.

It's the hammer of Justice,

It's the bell of Freedom,

It's the song of Love between my brothers and my sisters,

All over this land.

— Pete Seeger and Lee Hays

The Seekers

The Seekers were one of my favourite groups. Music historians seem to disagree about whether they performed folk rock music or pop music with a folk music influence. I love Judith Durham's voice, however the songs are classified.

The group formed in 1962 in Australia and became popular internationally. In addition to Durham, it consisted of Athol Guy, Keith Potger, and Bruce Woodley. All of the group members played instruments and sang, though Durham seemed to have been mainly a vocalist from what I observed. Her voice played the leading role in many of the performances. The group is known by many people for performing the song “Georgy Girl”, which accompanied the 1966 movie of the same name.

In 1968, the original group disbanded and the members pursued individual goals. They periodically rejoined for performances, however, to the delight of their fans. Judith Durham's voice stayed beautiful over the years. Unfortunately, she experienced a brain hemorrhage in 2013 just before turning seventy. Although she had to learn how to read musical scores again, her voice was unaffected. The second video of The Seekers below was recorded in 2014 after her recovery. The performance is as lovely as ever.

"When the Stars Begin to Fall" is a traditional African American spiritual that is sometimes sung as a hymn. The group performs it in the video below.

"The Carnival Is Over"

"The Carnival is Over" is said to be a very popular song in Australia. It's sometimes used to commemorate endings and was sung at the end of both Expo 88 and the 2000 Paralympics. The song was written by Tom Springfield, Dusty Springfield's brother. Dusty was an English pop singer. Tom is best known as a songwriter and a musician.

The theme of the song is lost love. The plot is very loosely based on a fictional tale about a real Russian Cossack leader named Stepan or Stenka Razin. According to the tale, Razin is a fierce warrior who is in love with a Persian princess. When his comrades mock him for his softened attitude, Razin throws the woman from his ship into the Volga River to drown. His goal is to prove his mental strength and maintain the solidarity in his group.

High above, the dawn is waking

And my tears are falling rain

For the carnival is over

We may never meet again.

— Tom Springfield

Sadly, Judith Durham died on August 5th, 2022 at the age of 79. Her death was due to complications arising from a chronic lung disease. She will be greatly missed.

The Value of Folk Music

The folk music genre contains a wide variety of music. At its best, it really is music of the people, or folk. Although the songs in this article first appeared in the 1960s, I and many others still like them. They were written in a different political and social climate, but some of the issues that they present are unfortunately relevant today.

Folk music is often entertaining and enjoyable. It can sometimes serve additional purposes. It can create a sense of community in the players or listeners. It can also celebrate or transmit information about a particular culture, religion, or incident in history. Sometimes, it can raise awareness about an issue. I think that the many subgenres of folk music, including folk rock music, add to its value.

© 2016 Linda Crampton


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 10, 2020:

Hi, Peggy. Remembering and hearing music from our past can be very enjoyable. It is for me!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 10, 2020:

Oh my! This article of yours zapped me back in time to singing many of these songs with my youngest brother, who played the guitar and singing at hootenannies with friends. Thanks for the memories!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 10, 2018:

Getting free concert tickets sounds great! Thanks for the visit, Rochelle.

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on February 10, 2018:

Love all of these songs. I grew up singing a lot of them with a couple of friends in high school at school assemblies, etc.

When I was in college my journalism prof gave me tickets to a Limelighters concert at Hollywood Bowl. It was fabulous!

My prof was a newspaper entertainment writer, so he was always getting comps.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 25, 2017:

Thanks for listening to the music, Kari. Merry Christmas to you, too!

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on December 25, 2017:

I enjoy folk music also. I listened to your choices and liked them all. Makes me wish it could become popular again, lol. Merry Christmas!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 08, 2017:

Hi, Peg. Thanks for the visit. I wish I had seen Judy Collins singing some of these songs in person. Hopefully I'll be able to attend one of her concerts one day.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on October 08, 2017:

These were definitely some of the best songs of those days. I remember hearing them often on the radio and even playing some of them on the guitar. We went to a Judy Collins concert in Fort Worth years ago. Thanks for the trip back in time.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 02, 2017:

Hi, Al. I haven't heard the Judy Collins song that you mention, but I'll look out for it. Thank you for the interesting comment.

Al Greenbaum from Europe on April 02, 2017:

I agree with you about Judy Collin's voice. She has one of the most beautiful voices in folk singing history. Did you ever hear her sing, "Who knows Where The Time Goes"?

I like The Byrds version of "Turn" but, as you say, it is not in the folk mold. I remember "Scarborough Fair" in "The Graduate" when Dustin Hoffman was driving across the bridge. As others have said, so many memories.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 20, 2016:

Hi, Ann. One of my favourite groups of all time is The Seekers. I like Judith Durham's voice and the style of music that the group sings. Thanks for the visit.

Ann Carr from SW England on December 20, 2016:

Many of these songs are among my favourites. Your list took me back to fun times. I especially liked The Seekers. Judith Durham has such a beautiful voice. Thanks for the reminder.


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 11, 2016:

Hi, Jo. I know what you mean about being stuck in the sixties, at least with respect to some styles of music! Thanks for the interesting comment.

Jo Miller on December 11, 2016:

I think I got stuck in the 60s. Music hasn't been as meaningful for me since those days. I saw Joan Baez perform a couple of years ago and she hasn't changed a bit. And Bob Dylan was and is one of my favorite. Thanks for the memories.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 08, 2016:

Thank you very much, anitabooks888. I appreciate your visit.

anitabooks888 on December 08, 2016:

Thanks for sharing. I love listening to Bob Dylan. Super hub.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 04, 2016:

Thank you very much for the comment, Genna. Happy Sunday to you, too!

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on December 04, 2016:

I love folk rock, and every song on your list. What a pleasure to listen to this wonderful music. Thank you! Happy Sunday. :-)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 28, 2016:

It certainly does sound like a mystery, Mel!

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on November 28, 2016:

Strangely enough, Linda, at that time my parents were both strict Baptists, not exactly hippie rebels. That they owned a PP & M record is one of my great unanswered mysteries.