Peter, Paul and Mary
Peter, Paul and Mary
Folk's First Pop Moment
Of the many ripples emanating from the 1950s "folk revival," Peter, Paul and Mary were perhaps the most inevitable—an enterprising singing group that brought the heady righteousness of folk to a pop audience.
Starting with this charming, contrivance-free 1962 debut and continuing for a run of seven hit albums, the New York trio created consciousness-raising music that was well scrubbed and appealing enough to land on the radio. Although the group's very first single was the crisply sung "Lemon Tree," many of its other songs got people thinking about the times they were living in: Hedy West's wistful "500 Miles," an earnest rewrite of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "This Train," and two Pete Seeger classics, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and "If I Had a Hammer."
"Hammer" was the group's breakthrough hit, and a big reason this album stayed on the charts for 185 weeks. When he looked back on it years later, Peter Yarrow described it as the song that defined the trio's mission: "It was an attempt to use music to create community . . . to address social injustice or for gathering spirit."
Subsequent efforts furthered that mission. Guided by the savvy manager Albert Grossman, Peter, Paul and Mary successfully championed songs written by Grossman's other client, Bob Dylan: Among the great PPM singles are rousing three-part-harmony versions of "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." As rock ascended and the cultural climate changed, Peter, Paul and Mary issued singles that were less strident (see "Leaving on a Jet Plane," from 1967). But by then, they'd made a serious mark, showing a generation that shouting down injustice and crafting grabby hit songs were not mutually exclusive endeavors.
Released: 1962, Warner Bros.
Key Tracks: "500 Miles," "If I Had a Hammer," "Lemon Tree," "This Train."
Catalog Choice: Album 1700.
Next Stop: Joan Baez: Any Day Now
After That: Odetta: At Carnegie Hall
Book Pages: 594–595