by Alex Cosper (12/16/12)
Folk/rock music is a hybrid that grew mainly out of Bob Dylan's shift from acoustic to electric guitar in 1965. It marked the merging of folk with electric blues and pop/rock. Almost all of the folk music that came before this period was on acoustic instruments, although one can still argue that there were traces of early folk/rock in artists such as Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers or The Rooftop Singers.
One can also make a legitimate claim that the first big hit that clearly leaned in the folk/rock direction was "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals in 1964. The song itself was hundreds of years old and part of the folk tradition. It had been recorded in the late 50s by Joan Baez. But the Animals's version was much more forceful sounding, using electric guitar.
Dylan had an enormous influence on The Beatles, which resulted in their late 1965 Rubber Soul album having a folk/rock flavor. Earlier in 1965 The Byrds came on the scene with their cover of the Dylan song "Mr. Tambourine Man," which featured 12 string electric guitar. The Byrds' version was much more melodic than the more raw Dylan version. It also condensed the song by elminating verses and put harmonies on the chorus. The record was a number one smash for The Byrds and was followed by other successful folk/rock sounding records like "Turn, Turn, Turn" and another Dylan cover called "My Back Pages."
Bob Dylan's first exploration into folk/rock was getting booed at the Newport Folk Festival in the summer of 1965 when he unveiled his new sound. But folk lovers soon learned to appreciate the new sound that spread in the music world. Later in the year his recording of "Like a Rolling Stone" became a huge hit, breaking many rules of pop music, which had been restricted to songs under three minutes, although "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals had already broken that rule a year earlier. Another folk/rock hit in 1965 was "Eve of Destruction" by Barry McGuire. The song foreshadowed the escalation of the Vietnam War and became an anthem for the protest movement.
The mid-sixites was a period in which folk/rock expanded into an artform with many pop artists. One of the most prominent folk/rock acts of that era was The Mamas and The Papas with songs such as "California Dreamin'" and "Monday Monday." Their song "Creeque Alley" was very characteristic of the storytelling aspect of folk, as the song explained their journey to musical success. One of their proteges was Scott McKenzie, who had a big hit called "San Francicsco," which documented the influence of flower power on society.
Much of the anti-war music of the late sixties fell into the folk/rock vein, as accented by Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell and Jefferson Airplane. Dylan continued to be the master of folk/rock through the mid-seventies before venturing into gospel music. The Beatles' White Album had a noticeable folk/rock flavor in several songs such as conceptual "Blackbird" and the witty "Rocky Racoon."
By the 1970s folk/rock was a big part of the mainstream. Some of the top artists of the genre at that time were John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Croce, James Taylor and Jackson Browne. The Eagles also fit the realm for some of their work, such as the song "Hotel California." By the end of the seventies folk/rock had been overshadowed by disco, arena rock and new wave. Keyboards became more the sound of pop, but folk/rock has lived on in realms of alternative music. Many of R.E.M.'s most popular songs can be said to contain elements of folk/rock. Other successful artists who have stayed with this sound include Ani DiFrano, Natalie Merchant, Jewel and Jack Johnson.