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100 Albums: "The Big Folk Hits" by The Brothers Four

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: The Brothers Four
Title: The Big Folk Hits
Released: 1963
Genre: folk


The Brothers Four were wart of the 1960s folk music that also produced acts like Peter, Paul, and Mary or The Kingston Trio. It's the same movement that was parodied in A Mighty Wind, referenced in Inside Llewyn Davis, and summarily destroyed when Bob Dylan arrived on the scene. The band was best known for their take on Greensleeves (the tune was borrowed for the Christmas hymn What Child Is This, although the original is equally haunting and low-key bawdy).

The Big Folk Hits was another car album for me, and I associate it with vacations and long drives. It includes a variety of standards which that band didn't appear to update at all. Silver Threads And Golden Needles is clearly sung from the perspective of a woman, but they don't change the lyrics at all. The John B. Sails keeps the Nassau dialect you'll find in the earliest versions of the song. There are more popular versions by The Kingston Trio and The Beach Boys under the title Sloop John B, but this version is the default version in my head. Similarly, when I think of the song El Paso, I will always think of The Brothers Four and not Marty Robbins.

In addition to standard folk fare like 500 Miles or If I Had A Hammer or Michael Row The Boat Ashore (which is a dreary album closer; I usually skip it), it also has some seriously wild tunes, like Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport or Darling Corey, both of which are energetic and just a bit zany. It's an album I still like to put on for long car trips and share with my kids.

Further Listening: It's a short album and if you try to buy it on disc you'll probably find it paired with Songbook which contains their version of Greensleeves. For car trips, my dad had taped his LP and on the other side of the tape had Today by the New Christy Minstrels, which is a fun album, although a bit more irreverent and Southern-oriented.

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