Top 10 Folk Artists
Their Influence Is Incalculable
There’s so much to love about folk rock music. When we think of chilling on a weekend, it’s what we plug in. Acoustic guitars and melancholic tales – the tunes just get stuck in your head. And it’s fairly easy to get addicted to their songs because they get to you. Sometimes, it feels like finally, someone understood you and put those emotions into words. Other times, you find something relatable even though you’ve never been in their shoes.
From stories of love lost, political unrest, and peace – we turn to folk-rock because it’s easygoing and uncomplicated. Combining the various elements of folk and rock, and we are left with a wide array of musical masterpieces. It’s the best of both worlds and more.
10. The Byrds
The Byrds loved to experiment and play around. They were anything but ordinary. They were often cited as the group that kickstarted folk-rock by adding electric to folk music – something no one has done before them.
Like almost every single artist on the planet, they’ve had their highs and lows. They had albums which completely blew everyone out of the water but they also had records which were mediocre at best.
“We started out with the folky thing, mixing Dylan and Pete Seeger with The Beatles, then we dabbled in a bit of jazz fusion with “Eight Miles High”, which was misconstrued as psychedelic.” – Roger McGuinn
In a nutshell, they were unafraid to evolve. A little mixture here and there, tinkering with sound, playing around with equipment – once they got tired with some tried and tested formula, they went ahead and dipped their toes into unfamiliar waters. And for that, they remained as influential as ever.
9. Nick Drake
Sometimes, it still surprises us that few people listen to Nick Drake’s music let alone know about the man. He was a musical genius with a fragile, sensitive soul. Like many artists, he was battling his inner demons.
He didn’t have a large following when he was still alive, mostly because he refused to be interviewed and in fact, he was also reluctant to perform his songs live. But posthumously, more and more critics recognized his songs as rare gems.
“A singular talent who passed almost unnoticed during his brief lifetime, Nick Drake produced several albums of chilling, somber beauty. With hindsight, these have come to be recognized as peak achievements of both the British folk-rock scene and the entire rock singer/songwriter genre.” – All Music
His songs hit you right in the feels. Behind his shyness and even awkwardness was a brilliant man who suffered from depression. This is what made his lyrics darker and more haunting. But he was clearly one of the finest artists folk-rock has to offer.
8. Leonard Cohen
Where do we even begin with Leonard Cohen? He isn’t just an accomplished musician, he’s also a poet and novelist. Unlike other artists, he launched his music career a wee bit late, he was already in his early 30s when he released his debut album.
His signature song “Hallelujah” had limited success but it was later popularized by John Cale’s cover version.
“One of the reasons I’m on tour is to meet people. I consider it a reconnaissance. You know, I consider myself like in a military operation. I don’t feel like a citizen.” – Leonard Cohen
And you know what, perhaps the appeal of his music lies in its simplicity. Also, it says a lot about your influence when both fans and critics still sing your praises after more than six decades. Leonard Cohen’s fascinating and remarkable and his music just stuns you. There’s no way you can listen to his songs and not feel like you’ve just been transported to another dimension.
7. The Mamas and The Papas
The Mamas and The Papas were a major figure in the ‘60s music scene – they’re one of the finest musicians produced in that decade for sure. They’re widely known for their intricate arrangements and lovely vocal harmonies. There were dramas and internal issues but what band doesn’t have any?
In an era full of so much musical gems and iconic artists, The Mamas and The Papas still managed to stand out which isn’t an easy accomplishment by the way.
“Well, Lou [Adler] really helped us make the transition from folk to rock or from folk to folk-rock. I think that John (Phillips) didn’t really know how to make the transition. We were not the Rolling Stones. We were coming out of folk and we were trying desperately to get away from that.” – Michelle Phillips
Their music is so easygoing and chill, they make you forget everything else. It’s as hypnotic as it can get. And in the folk-rock movement, there’s no way we can forget how much this group has given us.
6. Cat Stevens
We feel bad for people who have never heard of Cat Stevens. They’re missing out big time. At his peak, he wrote some of the greatest songs infused with folk-rock flavor. He has so many classic chart-topping hits under his belt like “Wild World” and “Father and Son.”
More than an iconic singer, he was also a legendary songwriter.
“I get the tune and then I just keep on singing the tune until the words come out from the tune. It’s kind of a hypnotic state that you reach after a while when you keep on playing it where words just evolve from it. So you take those words and just let them go whichever way they want.” – Cat Stevens
When he converted to Islam, he abandoned his music career and went on a hiatus. While he was involved in several issues and controversies over the years, we can’t deny the fact that he is a prominent folk-rock artist whose work is nothing short of stellar.
5. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
A powerhouse group with pretty messed-up interpersonal relationships until today, they have such an incredible catalog that picking only 10 of their greatest songs is a daunting task. They were a defining force in folk rock and we cannot imagine how this subgenre would be without Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
They were the very definition of a ‘perfect harmony’ and they may not have gotten along well but still managed to produce memorable songs. They were America’s response to The Beatlemania.
“When you play music, you have to come from a certain place to do it and everything has to be clear and you don’t want to disturb that.” – Neil Young
Sure there’s certainly no hope for a reunion for now but their legacy will live on. They’re folk legends who were way ahead of their time and well, they didn’t sound like anyone before them which certainly added to their appeal.
4. Simon & Garfunkel
Here’s our favorite folk rock duo who still manages to make headlines because of their continuous feud. Putting all the drama aside, they’ve given us such a rich catalog of classics which remains as well-loved today as when they were released.
Take your pick – from “Mrs. Robinson” to “The Sound of Silence” and “Bridge over Troubled Water,” the songs are the fastest and easiest way to take us back to the ‘60s.
“I think the main thing about us is that we’re good. We’re very good. We take two very different people, Artie and Paul, who have very different natures and found a fusion.” – Art Garfunkel
It’s difficult to find a flaw in their canon. Every single track is so good, it should be illegal to play them only once. It doesn’t matter whether you’re into sad and melodramatic songs or something easygoing and uplifting, there’s guaranteed to be a tune for everyone.
3. Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell is undeniably up there among the greatest singer-songwriters of all time regardless of genre but even more so in the folk-rock movement. Anyone who disagrees needs only to listen to her 1971 album “Blue” because that was definitely her finest musical moment.
From her complex compositions to her raw and emotional vocal performances, she is the real deal.
“No female artist better typified the singer/songwriter movement of the ’70s than Joni Mitchell, though her public image as the serious, sensitive woman with a guitar shortchanged her abilities, ambitions, and accomplishments. Mitchell’s gift for writing personal, folk-inspired songs about the thorny side of life and love was inarguable…” – AllMusic’s Jason Ankeny
She weaves magic with her words and chords – even after all these years, we still know the lyrics to her songs by heart. She’s an artist through and through and apart from making unforgettable music, she also designed most of her album cover artwork.
2. Neil Young
Neil Young needs no introduction. The man pours so much soul into his songs and he captures the emotion in all his compositions. The words to his tracks are pure poetry. He is a clear genius. When you read them, they sound simple enough but looking closer, the meaning is actually pretty deep.
The thing is, you can listen to him for the nth time and it will still feel as hypnotic and mystical as the first. He is the epitome of folk-rock.
“I never did interviews because they always got me in trouble. Always. They never came out right. I just don’t like them.” – Neil Young
Whether he’s in a superstar lineup or as a solo artist, he always brings something new to the table. His sound was unlike any of his predecessors and even at a young age, he mesmerized his listeners easily. The decades did nothing to dull his sparkle.
1. Bob Dylan
Sometimes when we write about Bob Dylan, we find ourselves at a loss for words. The man’s too great to be confined in mere descriptions. We can use all the superlatives in the dictionary and still, that won’t be enough. He’s a living legend and for good reason.
He’s a genius to the truest sense of the word. And his influence reached musicians from different genres. His music transcends time and generation.
“The thing about rock’n’roll is that for me anyway it wasn’t enough… There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms… but the songs weren’t serious or didn’t reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing.” – Bob Dylan
While his tune is often simple, it’s beautiful and perfect for the stunning depth of his lyrics. When it comes to folk rock, the only one who can come close to Bob Dylan is Neil Young.