Sunday, August 12, 2012

Peter, Paul & Mary

Mary Travers, Peter Yarrow and Noel "Paul" Stookey

I’m going to talk about why I’m a big fan of the popular 1960’s folk group, Peter, Paul & Mary, but first a bit of background.

When you are talking about folk music one of the most important factors people tend to look for is authenticity.

Woody Guthrie (love the guitar sticker)

Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie along with great songwriting talent exuded this deep authenticity, of dirt, poverty and desperation, where you could easily see any of them (not just Woody), in some 1930’s work camp singing about revolution around the campfire with Tom Joad at his side.

Pete Seeger

As fate would have it, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s folk music exploded in popularity on university campuses across the United States.  Keep in mind, by the late 1950’s that original rush of rock n roll had ended. Elvis was in the Army, Pat Boone’s Tutti Frutti had sold something like ten times the copies that Little Richard had, and in those dark days after the death of Buddy Holly and before the British invasion brought a new intelligence and creativity to rock music, if you wanted to hear something challenging to your intelligence, something political radical or music about important issues, it was folk music that you listened to.

The Kingston Trio

The Kingston Trio from San Francisco and the Brothers Four out of Seattle, were all nice white boys from middle class homes, who came out of college singing songs about labor riots and civil rights, but with such clean cut wholesomeness to their style that middle America embraced them.

The Brothers Four

Of course all that changed in 1962 when scruffy, middle class Jewish kid Robert Zimmerman moved to New York from Minnesota, and revolutionized music.

Bob Dylan

See the thing is that after a few decades of Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the like, nice wholesome boys like the Kingston Trio, no matter that they were singing music that at the time, was revolutionary, are pretty much at best nostalgia acts these days.

I tend to think that in a way the same thing happened to Peter, Paul & Mary
Put together in 1961 by a manager looking to create a recording act out of the New York coffee house scene, Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers, enjoyed quick success with their excellent harmonies and arrangements, making Peter, Paul & Mary one of the most successful, and one of the most openly political acts of the 1960’s.

The thing about Peter, Paul & Mary is that unlike, Seeger or Dylan, is that they had smoothness to their sound that in my opinion just isn’t really embraced or understood by modern audiences. They just aren’t really viewed by modern fans of folk music as being particularly “authentic” or street level, and as such while not quite forgotten, Peter, Paul & Mary they do tend to get ignored.
And that’s a shame because Peter, Paul & Mary were excellent singers, who put out beautiful songs.

Let’s listen to a few…..

If I Had a Hammer

Written by Pete Seeger, If I Had a Hammer was a 1949 call to arms of American labor. This clip is of the trio singing their version of the song at the 1963 Civil Rights march on Washington DC, shortly before Martin Luther King would come out and give his immortal "I Have a Dream" speech.

In many ways it was because of Peter, Paul & Mary that these old labor songs seeped into the popular consciousness, to the point where these songs became wholesome enough for elementary schools.

Too Much of Nothing

The original version of Two Much of Nothing, by Dylan and the Band is one rough song, sounding like a bunch of miners singing in the dark. Under Travers, Stookey and Yarrow, the song becomes much more mainstream, and maybe that does cause the song to be lose something to some fans, but listen to that chorus and tell me that isn't just a beautiful hook.

Say Hello to Valerie
Say hello to Marian
Send them all my salary
On the waters of oblivion

Just lovely.

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right

This is another Dylan cover by the band that's just beautiful, and probably my favorite version of this classic.

Stookey's voice on the lead just carries the weight of the lyrics, while at the same time just singing in this clear and beautiful voice. It's a real treat.

Let me say that I know this kind of folk stuff is not normal Studd material, but I really like Peter, Paul and Mary and think that their music has worth and should be put out there for a new generation to appreciate.

Okay, since you've all put up with this salute to whitebread, lets finish with the one you all really wanted to hear...

Puff the Magic Dragon

One of the great songs about childhood.

Enjoy Yarrow's nice little introduction where he addresses certain rumors.

1 comment:

  1. I always liked them too. even in the late 70s when I was angry about everything and wallowing in British punk, I still had a couple of their records that I played every so often.