Top 100 Most Essential Folk Songs

Best 100 folk songs

Woody Guthrie Museum – Photo: LTTL

Folk Alley went online in September 2003, offering live-streaming music twenty four hours a day.  The hosted stream is produced by WKSU-FM in Kent, Ohio, which also built and maintains the web site.  The Folk Alley playlist is created by senior host, Jim Blum, and Folk Alley Music Director Linda Fahey and features a distinctive blend of the best of singer/songwriter, Celtic, acoustic, Americana, traditional, and world sounds.  It’s a nice website – well worth checking out.

Folk Alley, which has over 100,000 registered listeners, recently called for votes from its faithful for the most essential folk songs of all time.  The results are below. Some of the most-mentioned performers are Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Paul Simon, Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, Gordon Lightfoot, Tom Paxton, Joni Mitchell and John Prine.

100 Most Essential Folk Songs Of All Time

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
26. “Across The Great Divide” – Kate Wolf
27. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” – The Band (Robbie Robertson)
28. “The Dutchman” – Steve Goodman
29. “Matty Groves” – Fairport Convention (Trad)
30. “Pastures of Plenty” – Woody Guthrie

31. “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” – Gordon Lightfoot
32. “Ramblin’ Boy” – Tom Paxton
33. “Hello In There” – John Prine
34. “The Mary Ellen Carter” – Stan Rogers
35. “Scarborough Fair” – Martin Carthy (Trad)
36. “Freight Train” – Elizabeth Cotton
37. “Like a Rolling Stone” – Bob Dylan
38. “Paradise” – John Prine
39. “Northwest Passage” – Stan Rogers

Ralph McTell – Photo: LTTL

40. “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” – Eric Bogle
41. “Changes” – Phil Ochs
42. “Streets of London” – Ralph McTell
43. “Gentle On My Mind” – John Hartford
44. “Barbara Allen” – Shirley Collins (Trad)
45. “Little Boxes” – Malvina Reynolds
46. “The Water is Wide” – Traditional
47. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” – Bill Monroe
48. “No Regrets” – Tom Rush
49. “Amazing Grace” – Odetta (Trad)

Bill Monroe Museum – Photo: LTTL

50. “Catch The Wind” – Donovan
51. “If I Were a Carpenter” – Tim Hardin
52. “Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell
53. “House of the Rising Sun” – Doc & Richard Watson (Trad)
54. “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” – The Weavers
55. “Tangled Up In Blue” – Bob Dylan
56. “The Boxer” – Simon and Garfunkel
57. “Someday Soon” – Ian and Sylvia
58. “500 Miles” – Peter, Paul and Mary
59. “Masters of War” – Bob Dylan

60. “Wildwood Flower” – Carter Family
61. “Can The Circle Be Unbroken” – Carter Family
62. “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” – Tom Paxton
63. “Teach Your Children” – Crosby, Stills Nash & Young
64. “Deportee” – Woody Guthrie
65. “Tecumseh Valley” – Townes Van Zandt
66. “Mr. Bojangles” – Jerry Jeff Walker
67. “Cold Missouri Waters” – James Keeleghan
68. “The Crucifixion” – Phil Ochs
69. “Angel from Montgomery” – John Prine

The International Bluegrass Hall of Fame – Photo: LTTL

70. “Christmas in the Trenches” – John McCutcheon
71. “John Henry” – Traditional
72. “Pack Up Your Sorrows” – Richard and Mimi Farina
73. “Dirty Old Town” – Ewan MacColl
74. “Caledonia” – Dougie MacLean
75. “Gentle Arms of Eden” – Dave Carter
76. “My Back Pages” – Bob Dylan
77. “Arrow” – Cheryl Wheeler
78. “Hallelujah” – Leonard Cohen
79. “Eve of Destruction” – Barry McGuire

From the Ralph Stanley Museum – Photo: LTTL

80. “Man of Constant Sorrow” – Ralph Stanley (Trad)
81. “Shady Grove” – Traditional
82. “Pancho and Lefty” – Townes Van Zandt
83. “Old Man” – Neil Young
84. “Mr. Tambourine Man” – Bob Dylan
85. “American Tune” – Paul Simon
86. “At Seventeen” – Janis Ian
87. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Simon & Garfunkel
88. “Road” – Nick Drake
89. “Tam Lin” – Fairport Convention (Trad)

90. “Ashokan Farewell” – Jay Ungar and Molly Mason
91. “Desolation Row” – Bob Dylan
92. “Love Is Our Cross To Bear” – John Gorka
93. “Hobo’s Lullaby” – Woody Guthrie
94. “Urge For Going” – Tom Rush
95. “Return of the Grievous Angel” – Gram Parsons
96. “Chilly Winds” – The Kingston Trio
97. “Fountain of Sorrow” – Jackson Browne
98. “The Times They Are A Changing” – Bob Dylan
99. “Our Town” – Iris Dement
100. “Leaving on a Jet Plane” – John Denver

Photo: LTTL


Best 100 folk songs

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Author: Rob Dickens

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  1. One glaring omission here – “Beeswing” by Richard Thompson

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    • Good point Barry. That song is a corker. At least there’s some Fairport material there…

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      • Could you send me your email address as opposed to your blog site. Would feel more comfortable communicating with you. Old school, you know how it is.

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  2. This is an Awesome list! And enough Dylan to keep me happy. ;D haha 🙂

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  5. Hi Rob,

    Sorry, not that technical enough to safeguard against ‘hackers’, which is what I thought Apple and the iCloud do for me. I would think that someone like Richard would be a better person to ask than a moron like myself.

    Anyway, besides that, when are you coming home? Marnee and I are pretty keen to go next year to the Americana Awards, if you would like to take some extra travelling companions.

    Not much chance at this stage that the Saints are going to be in Grand Final contention for the foreseeable future. And by the way, congratulations on such an impressive demolition of Sydney, it was really great to watch a group of players so on their game.

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    • Hey Barry

      I’ll be back on 22 October. I’m currently in Bristol on the border of Tennessee and Virginia. Two more music festivals to go. Good to hear of your Americana plans. I have every intention of returning next year. I know of a couple of lock-ins already. Be great to have you and Marnee aboard – you will love it!

      Watched the Grand Final on my iPad from about halfway through the first quarter. Hawks were ferocious. I was rapt and surprised! Kept waiting for the Swans revival but didn’t happen.

      Hope you are healthy and well.

      If you are going to Out On The Weekend, could you get let Jim Know, he is coming over for it and would appreciate the company I reckon.

      Say hi to Marnie

      Sorry for the delay in responding

      See you when I get back


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  7. I see you have Freight train by Elizabeth Cotten . What about Shake Sugaree?

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    • Yeah, another great song which has become classic. Maybe Rhiannon Giddens has covered it most recently? Thanks for raising!

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  8. Great list. Nice work. Good to see some anti-war songs, yet the best one of all, in my opinion, Sam Stone by John Prine, was omitted. Powerful message, simply stated.

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    • Hey Bill. Thanks – its actually not our list but came out of Folk Alley. There’s a couple of Prine songs there – “Paradise” and “Hello In There”. As you say “Sam Stone” is powerful and is up there with those two. Makes me think about a JP top songs list – those three would likely be in or close to the best 10, along with “Lake Marie”?

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  9. What about Gene Clark? For a Spanish Guitar, I Feel a Whole Lot Better, One in a Hundred, So You Say You Lost Your Baby, Gypsy Rider, She Don’t Care About Time and his 20 other masterpieces.

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    • Phillip – good point. Gene Clark is generally underrated I’d have to say and those songs you mentioned should be in contention. Hard to fit everything in for sure.

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  10. Yes certainly and there are of course his covers that he had made his own with his magical emotive voice, like Send my Love to Maria, Tears of Rage, the Jokers are Wild, his collaborations with Carla Olsen, The Drifter, Don’t it make you want to go Home Boy, and with the Gosdin Brothers and Dillard and Clarke, the many artists who have covered him along with these other creations, The Virgin, White Light and the various genres his music opened up.

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    • Phillip – sounds like you are a GC aficionado. Don’t suppose you’d like to write an article about him for Listening Through The Lens?

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