This Top 10 Pete Seeger Songs list presents the most legendary Pete Seeger songs including classics like “We Shall Overcome,” and many more. Born on May 3, 1919, and raised as a New Yorker, Peter Seeger has a family history that stretches into the era of the American Revolution, as well as deep roots in the New England area. He was brought up in a household that held firm to the same Christian values that still remain prominent among the original colonies of the United States. For Pete, the connection his parents had to the music industry and its studies served as a key influence to him becoming the world-class folk singer whose name is still regarded as one of the best entertainers to this day. In addition to his impressive musical background, Seeger was also known for his social activism. This was also something he inherited from his parents as his father was an outspoken pacifist. When Seeger was seven years old, his parents divorced that eventually saw his father marry Ruth Crawford approximately thirteen years later. Scholars of the music industry may be aware of Crawford’s name due to her contribution as a composer.
As for Pete Seeger, he was twenty years old by the time his father remarried and had already developed a strong interest in folk music. However, Crawford is also credited as a key influence that saw Seeger emerge as one of the elite recording artists and stage performers that led to his big breakthrough into stardom. Seeger’s music style as a folk singer was fused with his brand of spiritualism which made him become such a favorite among music fans during this era. Even nearly a century later, listeners of classic folk music that date as far back as the roaring twenties regard Pete Seeger as a talent who deservedly earned his place as an American legend.
Pete Seeger often poured his political and social views into his style of folk music. On many occasions, this put the artist in hot water against communities who disagreed with his opinions, along with his approach to expressing them. This resulted, from time to time, blacklists and boycotts against him, especially during his time as a member of the 1950s group, the Weavers. However, this didn’t stop Seeger from still making his mark as the 1960s saw him actively support a variety of causes through his music, usually as protest songs against something he disagreed with.
He was also known for writing support songs whenever he was in favor of something and wanted the world to know about it. This activism didn’t just stop with any of his recordings or stage performances. He also became directly involved with many political and social causes, seeming to pick up where his father left off who had done the same. In fact, from 1942 until 1945, he served in the United States Army as an entertainer although he was technically trained as a pilot. While he was in full support of the American’s efforts in World War II, he did not support the Vietnam War and this was clearly demonstrated through his music and the causes he took up at that time. All the way up to his death in 2014, Seeger was not the least bit shy to express his political and social views as he consistently sided with human rights and Christian-related values rather than satisfying whatever happened to be considered politically correct.
Most of the music he recorded has since been covered by a long list of artists, turning many of his classics into huge hits that extended beyond the folk music genre. Much of the influence that sculpted the history of rock and roll comes directly from Pete Seeger and how influential and inspirational he was to scores of fans. Throughout his career, he recorded and released fifty-two studio albums, twenty-two live albums, twenty-three compilation albums, and thirty-one singles. The People’s Songs were Pete Seeger’s creation that used folk music as a means of influence, ultimately defining more than just this particular genre of music. From country music to rock, Seeger’s voice seems to echo through the lyrics of protesters and supporters who’ve come to learn that nothing makes a stronger statement than a powerful song that is designed to do more than simply entertain an audience.
In 1972, Pete Seeger was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and then into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. The Grammy Awards issued a Lifetime Achievement Award to Seeger in 1993 and has since awarded him Best Traditional Folk Album on two occasions, namely in 1997 for Pete and in 2009 for At 89. He also won Best Musical Album for Children in 2011 for Tomorrow’s Children and Best Spoken Word Album in 2014 for Pete Seeger: The Storm King; Stories, Narratives, Poems. These are just a few of the many awards and citations of achievements Seeger has received due to his contribution to the music industry as well as the causes he supported.
Top 10 Pete Seeger Songs
#10 – The Battle of New Orleans
Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans” remains an all-time favorite after it was recorded and released in 1959, this musical history lesson from the perspective of an American soldier when the British attempted to take the territory of New Orleans, Louisiana in 1814. However, Pete Seeger’s performance of this particular song brought about a hint of spiritualism that gave it a little more drama than Horton’s comedic version.
Seeger recorded and released this song the same year as Horton but did not appear on any of the music charts as Horton’s did. Among the patriotic Americans who see “The Battle of New Orleans” as something more than one of the most beloved songs of all time, this still remains a solid favorite that is listened to over and over again by fans who simply can’t get enough of it.
#9 – Little Boxes
“Little Boxes” was a 1962 song originally performed by Malvina Reynolds before Pete Seeger turned it into a hit with his version in 1963. Filled with political satire in regards to the lineup of tacky housing that looks like boxes, the stab against the earliest examples of the suburbs was entertaining enough to chart as high as number seventy on the US Billboard Hot 100.
#8 – Waist Deep in the Big Muddy
Pete Seeger’s 1967 protest song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” revolved around a group of soldiers who were trekking through a river in Louisiana until realizing the route taken had them encounter a dangerous situation that forced them to turn back. Historians observed the story paralleled with a 1956 military mishap in Ribbon Creek, South Carolina that resulted in the loss of six soldiers due to the lack of better judgment exercised by the leadership of that platoon.
It was Seeger’s way of protesting against the Vietnam War and then-President Lyndon Johnson as the growing distaste the American public had against their nation’s involvement in the overseas conflict. For the sake of re-election, Lyndon changed his own tune and finally began to listen to the protests of the people. The dramatics revolving around ‘Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” wasn’t necessarily about the song itself but the reluctance of certain media networks from playing it.
#7 – God’s Counting on Me, God’s Counting on You (featuring Lorre Wyatt & Friends)
Using music as a political statement is nothing new for Pete Seeger. On the election day of November 6, 2012, he released “God’s Counting on Me, God’s Counting on You,” a song he actually recorded two years prior in response to the massive oil spill that took place in the Gulf of Mexico. Displeased with the lack of safe-handling measures taken by big business, the environmentalist in Seeger lyrically voiced his opinion in what was actually the last song he would record and release in his career. He performed this environmentalist awareness song with Lorre Wyatt & Friends as they express their concern about the global treatment of the planet and hope to inspire listeners to not just sing along but do their part as caregivers of the world’s ecosystem.
#6 – Goodnight, Irene (featuring the Weavers)
“Goodnight, Irene” became a haunting populist lullaby by Pete Seeger and the Weavers once they released it as a single in 1950. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it became a number one hit. This song has been a folk standard ever since it was first recorded and released in 1933 as a bluesy number by Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter. The original was performed as a suicidal love ballad and served as Lead Belly’s staple song throughout his music career and remains one of the all-time favorites among folk music singers to this day. Seeger’s version altered the original lyrics as a means to doll up the song in order to win over the appeal of a new audience.
#5 – Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” is the English version of the old traditional Ukrainian folk song, Koloda Duda. Pete Seeger turned this into a popular song for children to sing while at the same time making it so powerfully influential that it became, and remained, a cult favorite. In 1964, it was released via Columbia Records Hall of Fame as a single and was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame’s Folk Category in 2002. For Seeger, the inspiration of this song came about while flying to a concert he was scheduled to perform in 1955. To pass the time while in flight, Seeger went over the pages of a notebook that featured the Ukrainian folk song and it was enough to use it one of Seeger’s most popular political songs.
#4 – Kisses, Sweeter Than Wine (featuring the Weavers)
Originally, “Kisses, Sweeter Than Wine” was first recorded in 1951 by Jimmie Rodgers While with the Weavers, Pete Seeger’s version to “Kisses, Sweeter Than Wine” became a favorite love song by the fans after it was released as a single, also in 1951. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it became a number nineteen hit and remains an all-time classic favorite. Pete Seeger also has his own solo version, which was released in 1957, singing as a man in love with a woman whom he feels has “Kisses, Sweeter Than Wine.”
#3 – Turn! Turn! Turn!
Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!” inspired The Byrds to cover this song with their own version, which became one of the biggest hits in their career. For Seeger, this wasn’t just some song. It was a poetic statement loaded with inspirational views and how Seeger viewed life. It was already an incredibly powerful song at the time he first released it and all The Byrds did with their version was convert a whole new breed of fans into absorbing “Turn! Turn! Turn!” at a musically spiritual level.
Pete Seeger was born and raised as a dedicated Christian and has much of his musical performances feature at least a hint of his religious beliefs. “Turn! Turn! Turn!” was technically a poem Seeger put together as a fan of the Holy Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes. As of 1999, Seeger had arranged for some of the song’s royalties to be donated to preserve some of Israel’s architecture. To this day, the version by The Byrds remains the most popular of all time.
#2 – If I Had a Hammer
One of Pete Seeger’s signature songs is “If I Had a Hammer,” which served as a support song in favor of the controversial United States Communist Party, right after they were convicted by the 1950 Smith Act. In 1950, Pete Seeger and his group, the Weavers, first released this song before he’d release it again in 1962. The 1962 version became a hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and has since seen a multitude of covers, as well as spinoffs, and remains one of the most popular songs Seeger has ever recorded in his career. Just like “We Shall Overcome,” “If I Had a Hammer” has served as one of the staple protest songs by activists who want to spark change in something they’re in disagreement with.
#1 – We Shall Overcome
“We Shall Overcome” became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement when it was released by Pete Seeger in 1947. To this day, it still remains a cult favorite. Technically, “We Shall Overcome” started off as a gospel song, inspired by the 1901 hymn “I’ll Overcome Some Day.” Seeger’s recording remains one of the most iconic songs to use as a means to protest against something. At first, it was titled “We Will Overcome” but when copyright issues came about in 1976, “We Shall Overcome” officially became a song belonging to the public domain.
“We Shall Overcome” has seen a number of adaptations over the years and is used for a variety of reasons as the song of choice to push for a change in policy the protesters involved want to be changed. Prior to Seeger, it was mainly a gospel song. After Seeger, it has become so much more than that. Bruce Springsteen covered this song on his The Seeger Sessions album released in 2006.
Top 10 Pete Seeger Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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