Our top 10 Arlo Guthrie songs list digs deep into the music of an American artist famed for his folk-rock influence. Born in 1947, Arlo Guthrie’s love for music is highly inspired by his family’s history in the music industry. His father, Woody Guthrie, was one of the most significant pillars in the early twentieth century’s thriving American folk music. Woody Guthrie is known by many thanks to his hit “This Land Is Your Land,” a song that inspired generations. On the other side, Arlo Guthrie’s mother, Marjorie Mazia Guthrie, was a professional dancer and dance teacher.
Even deeper into the artist’s family tree, we find Aliza Greenblatt, a nineteenth-century-born famous American Yiddish poet. Probably the reason Arlo Guthrie was such an amazing songwriter and storyteller (pun intended). He couldn’t ask for more as a father having his four children also take up a musical career later in their lives. Music seems to flow in the Guthrie family. But the big question remains, how good was Arlo Guthrie as a folk singer-songwriter?
Arlo Guthrie started his music career in 1965 after graduating from Stockbridge School. He traveled to London, where he would later meet Karl Dallas, one of the most prominent folk music journalists. Karl Dallas helped Arlo gain the connections he needed with the UK folk-rock scene. His satirical talking blues song “Alice’s Restaurant” was one of his most renowned releases from the 1960s and debut album Alice’s Restaurant (1967).
With his first releases, Arlo Guthrie delivered lengthy songs which were popular in those days. However, he released shorter songs in the next decade, and one of his all-time favorites is the hit “City of New Orleans.” The hit has been described as a song of praise to long-distance journeys through trains. He later released songs such as “Coming into Los Angeles” and “The Motorcycle Song,” which awarded him a loyal following.
Arlo Guthrie formed his band, going under the name Shenandoah (not the country music band). The band’s exposure to the public was a 1975 benefit concert having Arlo perform with his fellow members until the early ‘90s. Throughout this period, Arlo Guthrie still made music for his solo career. In the initial stages of his burgeoning career, he recorded and released music through Warner Bros. Records. The record label was then home to reputable names, including The Doobie Brothers, Dionne Warwick, Fleetwood Mac, Alice Cooper, Van Halen, Chaka Khan, and Van Morrison.
Even though he is a decorated folk-rock artist, his song also features talking blues and protest music elements. Arlo Guthrie’s protest songs showed his love for society, with most songs pointing out social injustices. The talking blues elements in his songs saw him take up his father’s tradition of story-telling while performing. Arlo Guthrie has interacted with other singers throughout his career, including Pete Seeger, Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Judy Collins, and Cyril Neville. Here are the top 10 Arlo Guthrie songs of all time.
#10 – Hard Time Come Again No More ft. Jim Wilson and Vanessa Bryan
Ushering us to the top 10 Arlo Guthrie songs is “Hard Time Come Again No More.” The legendary folk music artist collaborated with iconic pianist Jim Wilson featuring vocalist Vanessa Bryan in the release of this exquisite hit. “Hard Time Come Again No More” is a timeless ballad penned in 1854 by Stephen Foster. Arlo Guthrie’s rendition maintained a compassionate feel having it remind all to think of the less fortunate during this pandemic era. Other artists to have covered the song include Mavis Staples, Nanci Griffith, Bruce Springsteen, The Chieftains, and The Longest Johns.
#9 – Massachusetts
“Massachusetts” is one of the glittering works of art from Arlo Guthrie’s album Amigo (1976). The song was quite a popular hit having it adopted as the official folk song of the Massachusetts State five years after its release. Massachusetts is where Arlo spent the better part of his adulthood. Other artists that have released a song with the same title but different lyrics include Bee Gees and Silverstein.
#8 – When A Soldier Makes It Home
More Together Again (1994) is one of the most satisfying albums from the folk legend Arlo Guthrie. The album saw him release several hits, some of which featured fellow folk singer Pete Seeger and the contemporary folk-rock act The Mammals’ founder Tao- Rodríguez. One of the greatest songs from the album is “When A Soldier Makes It Home.” Does anyone seem to care about soldiers who make it home? The song shows the dark side of being an American soldier, hoping that something is done to see these honorable men gain more respect for their name.
#7 – Coming into Los Angeles
“Coming into Los Angeles” is a song featured on his album Running Down the Road (1969). The song was inspired by a bumpy flight he had from London to Los Angeles. This flight was so bumpy that chicken dinners dropped off from trays. However, for Arlo Guthrie, there was more to experience. His friends from London had sent him gifts on his way back. Opening one, he found contraband, an experience he put together in this song. While this song impressed many, it received little airplay due to its plot.
#6 – St. James Infirmary Blues
Number six on our top 10 Arlo Guthrie songs is the hit “St. James Infirmary.” The song is a rendition of one of the most famous blues hits whose origins are uncertain. However, the artist who made the song known to the world was Louis Armstrong. The song borrows partly from the popular eighteenth-century folk song “The Unfortunate Rake.” Arlo Guthrie released his cover to the song alongside the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra. Other artists who have covered the song include Hugh Laurie, Jon Baptiste, Josh White, The Standells, Joe Cocker, and Lily Tomlin.
#5 – Amazing Grace
Celtic Woman, Alan Jackson, Rosemary Siemens, Carrie Underwood, Peter Hollens, and Judy Collins are some artists to have released songs under the title “Amazing Grace.” Arlo Guthrie decided to take us to church for some minutes with his awe-inspiring performance of the famous “Amazing Grace.” What’s better than having Arlo entertain the crowd with his story-telling and playing musical instruments? This reminds many of his father, a legendary Woody Guthrie. While some renditions of the song “Amazing Grace” might have been so emotion-driven, Arlo Guthrie adds some humor and inspiration, thanks to his story-telling trademark. Listening to him give his narrations while playing the keyboard is just mind-blowing.
#4 – The Motorcycle Song
Alice’s Restaurant (1967) became one of Arlo Guthrie’s most acclaimed albums, thanks to the tons of songs it featured. “The Motorcycle Song” is inspired by the motorcycling community as well as the counter-culture seen in the ‘60s. Its fame comes with how the song showcases different elements in the history of motorcycling culture in the US. Alice’s Restaurant (1967) rose steadily thanks to such hits, reaching number seventeen on the Billboard 200 album chart.
#3 – Can’t Help Falling in Love ft. Pete Seeger
Elvis Presley had his moment of fame back in the twentieth century, having him inspire scores of artists. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was one of his famous releases on Blue Hawaii (1961). Folk legend Arlo Guthrie collaborated with Pete Seeger in performing a rendition of this ode. Arlo also spices up the song with his usual story-telling art while underlining the significance of this timeless hit. Other artists who tried to make a mark with this song include A-Teens, Dead moon, Slim Whitman, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, UB40, and Andy Williams.
#2- City of New Orleans
“City of New Orleans” is a song penned by Steve Goodman and originally released on his eponymous 1971 album. The song’s lyrics allude to a train ride to New Orleans described in some nostalgic disposition. Arlo Guthrie was quick to cover the song, featuring it on his album Hobo’s Lullaby (1972). The song was also covered by other popular hitmakers such as Willie Nelson, Crème 21, Gerald Cox, and Indira Weis. Arlo Guthrie’s version peaked at number eighteen on the Billboard Hot 100.
#1 – Alice’s Restaurant
Number one of our top 10 Arlo Guthrie songs is the eighteen-minute long hit “Alice’s Restaurant,” also known as “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” The song majorly features Arlo’s true story about how he got arrested and convicted for littering. However, the song aims at taking a dig at the Vietnam War draft. Arlo Guthrie’s arrest and conviction affected his suitability for a call to the military service towards the Vietnam War. The song peaked at number ninety-seven on the Billboard Hot 100.
Top 10 Arlo Guthrie Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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