Every now and then I reach into the old music collection and grab something off the shelf which I have not visited in awhile. A couple of days ago this lead me to Arlo Guthrie who was a constant musical companion during my late teenage years.
The son of American folk music legend Woody Guthrie, Arlo is now over 25 albums into his own career which stretches back over four decades. While he has remained active both in the studio and in concert halls, he has faded into the background and much of his material is unknown to the present generation of music fans.
During the late sixties, though, he was an important link in the group of folk artists who were active in the anti-Vietnam War protest movement. He performed at Woodstock and remains a part of that generation’s legacy. He has held true to his ideals and continues to stay active for a variety of social causes.
The Best Of Arlo Guthrie was released in 1977 and is an excellent presentation of his best material from the most commercially successful period of his career.
If you want to understand the music of Arlo Guthrie and get a good picture of the sixties protest movement, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” is the place to start. It clocks in at over eighteen minutes and is presented as a talking-blues folk tune. Guthrie incorporates his own experiences with his local draft board which still resonate and amuse today. If you don’t know about the Group W bench you have missed a slice of the sixties. It may not be a song you will want to play over and over again but it remains his best-known song and is essential listening for anyone even mildly interested in folk music.
“Coming Into Los Angeles” was performed at Woodstock and perfectly fit the gathered hippie generation at that event. His simple and breezy interpretation of Steve Goodman’s “City Of New Orleans” became his only top twenty hit. “Motorcycle Song” is another amusing and in many ways nonsensical song which combines his views about pickles with his love of motorcycles.
The first decade of his career produced a number of strong tracks and I lament the fact that tunes such as “Washington County” and “Hobo’s Lament” were not included but what is here is universally excellent.
Arlo Guthrie is now an elder statesman of the American folk movement. The Best Of Arlo Guthrie is not only a nice introduction to his music but also to an important period of American history.