Find Out the Top 10 Folk Songs that Influenced American Music and Culture

May 13, 2023 - Dj Life

The music industry is filled with numerous musical genres and many new subgenres are taking birth with the constant flux of change and evolution in musical creation. No matter how much the industry has changed, one thing that remains timelessly constant is the unparalleled influence of folk music in the industry. Folk, country, and Americana are the base of the US music industry and it started long ago.

Since folk music reflects local dialect, regional music, natural references, etc many cultural aspects; folk music is considered to be a cultural benefactor which offered more diversity with stability. Let’s take a better look at the Top 10 folk songs that helped to shape the American culture.


Candy Man – Mississippi John Hurt


The list of popular folk songs ends with none other than John Hurt and his timeless musical creation ‘Candy Man’. John was one of the elderly veteran musicians who inspired many other music artists to pursue their careers in folk music. Most blues and folk guitar players worship him as their idol. Candy Man offers an enthralling tune that depicts the godly finger-picking style of John Hurt.


500 Miles – Hedy West

‘500 Miles’ is one of the most popular folk tracks that received a lot of appreciation around the world and it is still being practiced in many schools and music institutions for teaching. It is considered one of the fundamental tracks that almost every other music lover knows. The tune was covered by Bobby Bare, Peter, Paul & Mary, Sonny & Cher, Roseanne Cash, and many other artists. Not to mention, this song is also used in the Coen Brothers’ film ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ where Justin Timberlake performed it with two others.


Blue Moon Of Kentucky – Bill Monroe

Folk music offers a bigger envelope where many other sub-genre can easily fit it but what is even more interesting is that folk can be fused with pop, rock, and other genres that offer more room for creativity. ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’ is not only the first true bluegrass track but also the first song ever recorded by Elvis Presley. He made it become a part of rock n roll history. Bill’s tune became the official state song of Kentucky.


If I Were A Carpenter – Tim Hardin

Tim Hardin’s classic hit ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ is one of the most enduring and touching folk tracks ever. Based on the theme of romantic insecurity; the song is highly engaging and enjoyable as well. This timeless creation has been covered by many artists later such as Jack Elliott, Bobby Darin, The Four Tops, Robert Plant, and, most famously, June Carter and Johnny Cash.


‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Bob Dylan

When folk music was being heavily used in the civil rights movement; no other music artist could utilize the situation as well as Bod Dylan. This legendary singer-songwriter crafted an anthem named ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ which is referred to as wind in the sails of change. When it comes to best folk songs, Dylan will be always on the list.


Little Boxes – Malvina Reynolds

Malvina Reynolds’ hit track ‘Little Boxes’ has been released in 1962 and created a huge buzz among the critics as well as the listeners. The artist offered an unapologetic approach by providing a satirical take on the sudden growth of American suburbia. The song made fun of the white-collar Americans, their homes, and their lifestyles which somehow affected the overall economic structure.


Freight Train – Elizabeth Cotten

‘Freight Train’ is one of the staple creations in the folk music industry that will be always in the folk songbook. As an influential major senior figure in the 60s folk revival, Elizabeth did a great job in crafting this single that paved her way even further. This versatile music artist is one of the important figures in the American folk scene who developed her passion for music at a very young age.


Irene – Lead Belly

Huddie Ledbetter or better known as Lead Belly was a musical maniac. In 1933, he recorded the track ‘Irene’ which instantly become a number-one hit. Pete Seeger’s group named The Weavers also performed this song in 1950. Not only for this track, but Lead Belly became a global icon due to his unwavering presence and menacing performances with a twelve-string guitar.


If I Had A Hammer (Hammer Song) – Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger is well revered as the main man behind the revival of American Folk Music. Folk music at that time was not just music but a medium to share powerful emotions or protest, rebellion, love, and brotherhood. Pete has written this track that later became one of the most important songs of the civil rights movement.


This Land Is Your Land – Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land’ is one of the greatest patriotic songs ever made that offers goosebumps every time. Guthrie once said he was utterly irritated and tired of Kate Smith’s version of “God Bless America” and so, he came up with this patriotic single, penned by him.

There are many other folk music artists who helped to take the music industry forward but unfortunately, the top 10 can only feature 10 of them. Some of the other honorable mentions are Harry McClintock, Jackson C. Frank, Doc Watson, Nick Drake, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, and the list goes on.

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