Five Great Albums from the ’60s Folk Era

Lightfoot! was released in 1965 as his solo debut album; Gordon Lightfoot‘s wide spectrum of talent was immediately evident to folk and country fans alike. Marty Robbins had already covered “Steel Rail Blues”, while Peter Paul and Mary had scored international hits with “For Lovin’ Me” and “Early Morning Rain”. Good as they were, they failed to match Lightfoot’s own superb renditions. He had a voice of golden purity and a songwriting talent that catapulted him into the ranks of the greatest. Lightfoot passed away earlier this year and has since been hailed as Canada’s greatest songwriter.

Bob Dylan called Tim Hardin ‘the greatest songwriter alive today”. Certainly Tim was more than a folkie, since his music was strongly influenced by his parents’ classical albums, his preference for piano and a predilection for jazz-flavoured blues. His songs could break your heart, and find a way deep into your soul in a manner that could last for decades. His solo album, released in 1965, contained three undisputed classics: “Reason to Believe”, “Misty Roses” and “How Can We Hang On To A Dream”. He died much too soon at the age of 39, his talent lost to drugs, alcohol and unreliability. In 1972 he managed one last great recording with the release of Bird On A Wire.

Judy Collins was a folk singer who frankly could sing anything. What she chose to record was an album of covers by some of the most talented writers ever, and they were not confined to the folk category: Bob Dylan, Bertold Brecht, Randy Newman, Lennon-McCartney and more. In My Life is an album of chamber-pop of the highest order, arranged and conducted by the legendary Joshua Rifkin. To each of these songs Collins brings her own interpretation, from the achingly beautiful “Tom Thumb’s Blues” to Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”, and the Beatles masterpiece “In My Life”. There is simply no contemporary singer on the music scene today that can rival the beauty and splendour of this recording. No one.

Joan Baez was more than Bob Dylan’s finest interpreter; it was she who made his great success possible. Back in the early ’60s Joan released a solo album of folk songs based on ancient British ballads, accompanying herself on guitar and singing with an aura of authenticity that roused many to consider folk music as something important and meaningful. Her endorsement of Dylan, and public appearances with him, brought him to the forefront. Joan’s 1965 release Farewell, Angelina contained no less than four Bob Dylan songs, the title song among them. The standouts, though, are “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”. People said that no one sang Dylan like Dylan. Outside of Hendrix and his one Dylan cover, no one interpreted Dylan like Joan Baez.

Phil Ochs began as a journalist, and his early works often seem more like newspaper articles than folk songs, but he progressed far beyond protest music. With the release in 1967 of Pleasures of the Harbor, he declared “in such an ugly time the true protest is beauty”. Beautiful indeed are the songwriting, the ambitious orchestral arrangements, and the performances. The album garnered Phil but a small measure of recognition, with the minor hit song “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends”. However, there was a dedicated coterie of fans that recognized this album as a splendid achievement, particularly the title song and the extended “Crucifixion”, which dealt with the assassination of President John Kennedy. Ochs is mostly forgotten these days, but deserves far more appreciative attention to his considerable talent.

Brian Miller

Brian Miller is the Publisher and Editor of Vivascene, which he founded in 2010. A former record store owner, business executive and business writer, he is devoted to vinyl records, classical guitar, and b&w photography.

One comment

  1. Great list. I have only the Lightfoot album but I will check out the others. You are right about Phil Ochs’s genius. He shouldn’t be forgotten.

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