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The 5 Most Popular Folk Songs You Must Know

When it comes to learning musical instruments, we may be torn between learning an acoustic or an electric guitar if we are into acoustic or rock music. Very rarely do you hear a new music student who wants to pick up a musical instrument to learn folk songs. What is folk music? You may be surprised that modern folk songs sound pretty cool. Here are 5 of the most popular folk songs in our modern era.

What is Folk Music?

Folk music is a type of rural music that has been traditionally passed down from families and other small groups. It is learnt via oral tradition through hearing rather than reading words. Folk music originated from Europe and America.

Compared to pop songs which involve social dancing, folk music is often associated with other types of activities such as life-cycle rituals, work, games, or folk religion. But when it comes to modern folk songs in popular music, it is distinguished from other genres with its political agendas and use of traditional instruments as well as acoustic guitars.

5. Where Have All the Flowers Gone by Pete Seeger

‘Where have all the flowers gone’ was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002 and was covered by famous groups such as The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary. It was first written by Pete Seeger partially in 1955 and Joe Hickerson added to the song in 1960.

The lyrics are anti-war while the tune of the song gives a sense of boredom about everything that involves war. It is a circular song where it starts with girls picking up flowers, and they get married to young men. The young men become soldiers and they are buried in graveyards, which are covered with flowers.

4. Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel

This popular hit by Simon and Garfunkel is a song about providing comfort for someone in need. It was written at a time of turmoil in 1969 when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated and racial tensions were high. The war was also raging in Vietnam. It inspired Paul Simon to finish his “humble little gospel song” and what came about is Simon and Garfunkel’s signature song ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, released in January 1970.

The song hit Billboard Hot 100 for 6 weeks and so far, over 50 artists have lent their voices to this song.

3. Mr. Tambourine Man

This is probably the most popular song written by Bob Dylan, causing him to record it live many times and also included in many multiple compilation albums. The song has also been translated into many languages and performed by many artists from the Byrds, Judy Collins to Stevie Wonder.

Dylan wrote this song on a road trip from New York to San Francisco while smoking a ton of marijuana with some friends.

2. Blowing in the Wind by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is an icon of folk music and he has a slew of popular folk songs, including ‘Blowing in the wind’. The song questions the problems faced by the human race. There is no answer to the many problems in humanity and Dylan answered with ‘Blowing in the wind’, which means that everything is open to interpretation.

1. Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel

This is undoubtedly one of the most popular songs, not just in the folk music genre but across genres. The song has been played in numerous movies, been used as a meme, and is one of the most culturally impactful songs of the 20th century.

‘Sound of Silence’ was a commercial failure in its initial release between 1963 and 1964. Its failure prompted the split between Simon and Garfunkel. But their split brought attention to this song and it began to receive airplay on radio stations along the east coast.

It was then remixed and re-released in 1965 to critical acclaim and the duo got back together. In 2013, the Library of Congress added this song to the National Recording Registry as a mark of its cultural and historical significance.

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