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Enjoy fun in the sun during Life@50+, May 14-16, 2015

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9 Folk-Rock Albums That Will Rock You

Guitars and passion star in these albums by Dylan, Springsteen and other troubadours

Great Folk Rock Albums: Dylan and Springsteen performing together

Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen perform during a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show, Sept. 1, 1995. — Photo by Neal Preston/Corbis

Summer is a time for music festivals and memories of songs and albums from our past.  With that in mind, we look at nine uplifting folk-rock albums that we think do what folk-rock does best — blend evocative storytelling with some rock 'n' roll.   It doesn't hurt that the personalities behind them — Springsteen, Dylan and the like — are the ones telling the stories.

Below is our list of albums plus a favorite song. Tell us whether you love them or loathe them by leaving a comment on the bottom of this page or visit the messages board):

  1. Bob Dylan — Bringing It All Back Home: "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
  2. The Byrds — Mr. Tambourine Man: "All I Really Want to Do"
  3. Simon and Garfunkel — Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme: "Homeward Bound"
  4. Nick Drake — Five Leaves Left: "Day Is Done"
  5. Fairport Convention — Liege & Lief: "Matty Groves"
  6. Traffic — John Barleycorn Must Die: "John Barleycorn"
  7. Roy Harper — Stormcock: "Hors d'œuvres"
  8. Bruce Springsteen — Nebraska: "Highway Patrolman"
  9. R.E.M — Fables of the Reconstruction: "Wendell Gee" 

See also: Join the Rock n' Roll Community Group.

Great Folk Rock Albums: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan — Bringing It All Back Home (1965). Track that will improve your life: "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"

This was Dylan's first album to mix folk with rock 'n' roll. Though the LP seemed to devote one side to each genre, never had there been rock as lyrically ambitious as the frantic "Subterranean Homesick Blues," nor folk as texturally sprawling as "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." For my money, this is Dylan's most accessible album. Its best-known song, "Mr. Tambourine Man," would feel equally at home on pirate radio or at a middle-school dance. The rock sizzles, while the folk goes deeper than anyone had before — including Dylan himself. Just listen to how he captures the end of a relationship in "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue": "The vagabond who's rapping at your door/ Is standing in the clothes that you once wore./ Strike another match, go start anew,/ And it's all over now, Baby Blue."

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Great Folk Rock Albums: The Byrds

The Byrds — Mr. Tambourine Man (1965). Track that will improve your life: "All I Really Want to Do"

The Byrds influenced both the Beatles and Bob Dylan. (After hearing the Byrds play their version of his own "Mr. Tambourine Man," Dylan decided he could combine his love of Woody Guthrie with his love of Little Richard.) The four Dylan covers on this, the Byrds' debut album, got the most attention, but "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" symbolized the new folk-rock sound they were helping to pioneer. Toss in the delightful "We'll Meet Again," their grimly upbeat cover of the folk standard "The Bells of Rhymney," add those sumptuous Byrds harmonies, and you have not just one of the earliest folk-rock albums but still one of the best.

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Great Folk Rock Albums: Simon and Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel — Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966). Track that will improve your life: "Homeward Bound"

Opening with their impossibly gorgeous arrangement of the haunting ancient lay "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" and continuing through their savage Dylan parody "A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara'd into Submission)" before wrapping up with the chilling "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night," this was the album that made it clear Simon and Garfunkel were serious contenders for the folk-rock throne. Indeed, Dylan would soon hole up at Woodstock with The Band to recover from a motorcycle accident, then detour into country. That left S&G with no serious challengers until they broke up (for the second and final time) in 1970.

Next: Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, and Traffic. »

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