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johnross Most Influential Album? (320* d) RE: Most Influential Album? 14 Dec 05

When I started this thread, I echoed the BBC's question: What album had the greatest impact on the North American folk revival?

That's not the same as "which album sold the most" or "what album first attracted you to folk music." It's "the greatest impact on the revival."

Just because I started the thread, that doesn't make me the Final Authority on What It All Means, but I believe the "folk revival" part of the question is just as important as the "greatest impact" part. And that's where the Kingston Trio and Pter Paul & Mary (and Lonnie Donnegan in the UK)) albums lose their claims. Sure they were all huge sellers, and yes, they exposed a lot of people to folk music, but the vast majority of those people didn't move on to become part of the folk revival. Instead, they moved on to whatever the next big thing might have been. A few did become serious folkies, but many more moved into folk-rock and on to psychedelic music. Ritchie Untermeyer's excellent two-volume history of folk-rock traces that evolution in great detail.

And of course, some, like Jim McGuinn and John Sebastian (and arguably, Jerry Garcia until his death ten years ago), have moved back and forth over the years.

But if the question is about the album that contributed most to the shape of the folk revival as it exists today, it's probably the Harry Smith Anthology. That was the first exposure of many (if not most) urban revival singers to country blues, to oldtime string band music, and much more. The people who were inspired by the Anthology did far more to shape today's folk music revival than any of the trios and quartets with nice harmonies and fancy musical arrangements ever did.

At the same time, the "who influenced who" argument can be carried to silly extremes. If you want to claim that "Tom Dooley" was the record that started the revival, then maybe the most influential album was really Frank Warner's 1952 10-inch Elektra LP, "American Songs and Ballads," which was where the Kingstons learned the song. But then, maybe it was one of the records in Bob Sacks' collection that first created Jac Holzman's interest in folk music, and inspired him to start Elektra Records, without which Frank Warner's version of "Tom Dooley" might never have been recorded. This kind of thing can go on and on.

I don't expect everybody to agree with me. But please, can we conduct a discussion about the music instead of claiming to score points with ad hominem attacks?

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