10 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Folk Rock Bands

Written by Dan Farrant

With a lot of genres in music, it can be confusing to identify each one. To make matters more difficult, there are what you call hybrids, such as folk rock.

To put it simply, folk rock is a hybrid genre incorporating elements of both folk and rock music. It also uses electric instruments. It dates back to the 50s and 60s and gained popularity in the US, UK, and Canada.

For today, we’ve thought of putting together a list of 10 of the most famous folk rock bands that became popular in this genre. Read on to find out more.

1. Simon & Garfunkel

The famous folk rock duo consisting of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel met each other when they were 11. In their teens, they started a group called Tom & Jerry with some moderate success.

After the name change, Simon & Garfunkel released their first album, Wednesday Morning 3 A.M., to a disappointing result of only 3,000 sales.

They kept at it, though, and released five studio albums that resulted in over 68 million sold. They’ve won seven Grammy Awards and were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Simon & Garfunkel’s timeless hits include “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “The Sound of Silence,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “America,” and “The Boxer.”

2. The Byrds

The first time “folk rock” was used was in reference to The Byrds. Specifically, to their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The Byrds covered other Bob Dylan songs, giving their own take musically and harmonically.

The Byrds formed in 1964 in Los Angeles. Its members included Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke.

The on-again-off-again band recorded 12 albums selling over 1.2 million copies. Their biggest hits were “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “All I Really Want to Do.” When the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, they performed together for the last time.

3. The Mamas & The Papas

Active from 1965 to 1968, the Mamas & the Papas was a famous folk rock band led consisting of four members. John Philips was a former member of New Journeymen, a folk music trio. Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot were former members of the Mugwumps, a band that played music with bass and drums.

Along with Philips’ wife, the group combined all these to create their own sound. The first time they rehearsed was the first time they played electric.

Unfortunately, the Mamas & the Papas only managed to have one #1 hit in the US with “Monday Monday.” Their other songs include “California Dreamin’,” “Creeque Alley,” and “Dedicated to the One I Love.”

The band recorded five albums in their three years together, selling 40 million records. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

4. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

The next band on our list is a combination of personalities that were former members of other bands. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was a supergroup featuring David Crosby from The Byrds, Stephen Stills from Buffalo Springfield, and Graham Nash of The Hollies.

Neil Young was with the band for only about a year due to differences with the other members. Without Young, the trio is known as Crosby, Stills & Nash.

The band recorded eight albums, selling 20 million with Young as part of the band and 13 million without him. They were known for their vocal harmonies and for using all genres of music popular at the time. They played country rock to ballads while playing acoustic guitar or electric guitar.

5. Fairport Convention

The English folk rock band Fairport Convention might not be a household name. However, they were highly influential in the folk rock scene of the 60s and 70s.

The band was formed in 1967 with members Richard Thompson, Simon Nicol, Ashley Hutchings, and Shaun Frater. The band’s name came from the name of the house, “Fairport,” where they practiced. They were discovered by manager Joe Boyd who got them a recording contract with Polydor Records.

In their decades together, they have recorded multiple albums. It was in their fourth album that the band reached a new level of musicality. This was due to the use of electric instruments, coupled with the drumming and fiddle accompaniment. The album turned out to be a beautiful combination of rock and traditional.

6. Mumford & Sons

Now we’re going to take a turn and fast forward a few decades with Mumford & Sons, an English folk rock band formed in London in 2007. Members include Marcus Mumford, Ted Dwane, and Ben Lovett.

Mumford & Sons’ music featured traditional folk instruments like banjo and mandolin, besides the more conventional rock instruments. Their 2009 debut, Sigh No More, peaked at #2 in both the UK and US charts. In 2013, they took the Grammy for Album of the Year for their second album, Babel.

The band has released four albums, selling over 14 million records. Their hit songs include “I Will Wait,” “Lover of the Light,” and “Babel.”

7. Bright Eyes

Indie and folk rock prodigy Conor Oberst is behind the band Bright Eyes. Multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis and piano player Nate Walcott completed the lineup. They also collaborate with other instrumentalists from the Omaha, Nebraska, indie scene.

This band is known for their poetry, raw tremulous voice, and exploration of more traditional folk rock and synth-heavy rock. Bright Eyes was very successful in 2004 when two of their singles, “Lua” and “Take it Easy (Love Nothing),” grabbed the top two spots in the Billboard Hot 100.

Bright Eyes has recorded ten albums and sold over 700,000 records. Their hits include “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” and “First Day of My Life.”

8. The Lumineers

Formed in 2005, The Lumineers are a Denver, Colorado band founded by Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites. Classified as indie rock, folk rock, and Americana, the Lumineers had their time in the sun with the 2012 song “Ho Hey.”

The Lumineers became known for using simple instrumentation, evocative lyrics, and vocal delivery. Their 2012 self-titled debut album peaked at #2 on the US charts and was certified triple platinum.

The Lumineers have recorded four albums and have sold over five million records. Other famous songs include “Stubborn Love,” “Ophelia,” and “Angela.”

9. The Decemberists

Up next is a cult favorite folk rock band from Portland, Oregon. The Decemberists were formed in 2000 with members Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, and John Moen.

The Decemberists are an odd band whose lyrics focus on folklore and history. Often their live shows include staged re-enactments of these events. They take their name from the Decemberist Revolt, an 1825 insurrection in Russia.

The band has recorded eight albums and sold over 500,000 records. In 2011, their song “Down by the Water” was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Song. Other well-known songs of this band are “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” and “This is Why We Fight.”

10. Neutral Milk Hotel

Last but not least, we have Neutral Milk Hotel. This was a project of Jeff Mangum that was active from 1989 until 1995, with a reunion between 2013-2015. Neutral Milk Hotel’s folk rock featured lyrics that were surreal, abstract, and often hard to glean.

Neutral Milk Hotel recorded only two studio albums. Unfortunately, they never reached the commercial success of other bands. However, they garnered much critical success and became a cult favorite of folk rock and indie rock fans.

In addition, the band’s second album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, was one of the most important albums of indie rock and the 90s.

Some of Neutral Milk Hotel’s biggest songs include “In an Aeroplane Over the Sea,” “Ghost,” and “Holland, 1945.”

Summing Up Our List Of Great Folk Rock Bands

Now we are at the end of our list, and we hope you learned something from folk rock. It’s definitely an eye-opener to see a slice of the history of this hybrid genre.

Like any other genre in music, folk rock has changed and grown over the years. But what remains the same is these bands’ commitment to making great music.

Whatever your experience with folk rock, you cannot go wrong with the bands above. Did you find new songs you like? We definitely hope so!

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.