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Pete Seeger: 20 Essential Tracks

Remember the folk icon with a playlist spanning his acclaimed career

pete seeger

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The late Pete Seeger was such a broadband conduit of folk music, who recorded so prolifically, that compiling a brief survey of his catalog is a daunting task. (The excellent and fairly concise 2009 collection American Favorite Ballads, only covers six years of his solo recordings, and clocks in at nearly 150 songs.) Nevertheless, here are 20 of the most memorable songs from Seeger’s heroic career as singer, songwriter, activist, and national conscience. Feel free to sing along. By Will Hermes

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“Barbara Allen”

Seeger was a committed political singer, but he was also committed to beautiful music. His reading of the traditional ballad "Barbara Allen" – one of the most popular English-language folk songs in history, covered by Bob Dylan, the Everly Brothers and countless others – is a fine example.

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“Guantanamera”

Maybe the most famous Cuban song of all time, Seeger popularized this around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, recording it in 1963 at the Carnegie Hall concert that produced the LP We Shall Overcome. The song is in fact a love song about a girl from the town of Guantánamo – which given recent history, only deepens its political resonance.

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“Dink’s Song”

A traditional song named for the prostitute who sang it to folklorist John Lomax, this is a wistful traditional song grown from both English and African-American root stock. A key song in Inside Llewyn Davis, it gets a handsome reading here by Seeger.

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“Round and Round Hitler’s Grave”

Seeger is revered for being an anti-war singer. But during WWII, Americans were united against a common foe, and the Almanac Singers were on board. Co-written with colleague Woody Guthrie, it features Seeger and company as bloodthirsty avengers. Per one verse: "I'm-a going to Berlin/To Mister Hitler's town/I'm gonna take my forty-four/And blow his playhouse down."

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“Kumbaya”

This song would become a Boy Scout campfire anthem and a punchline to dis folkie impulses. But as Seeger's version with the Weavers shows, it's really quite lovely

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“Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”

Seeger and the Weavers had a hit with this love song, a rewrite of an Irish folk tune via Leadbelly. It would also be covered by many, from Fifties pop star Jimmie Rodgers to Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt.

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“John Henry”

There are countless versions of this African/American work song about the legendary steel-driving man. This version by Seeger is one of the most rousing, and features some of his hottest banjo-picking.

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“Get Thee Behind Me, Satan”

Recorded with the Almanac Singers, this country blues was included on the 1941 Union Songs album, and has Seeger & Co. painting a picture of the Devil as a money waving, wannabe union breaker.

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“Shenendoah”

A beautiful sea chanty that dates back at least to the 1840s, it was recently covered by Tom Waits and Keith Richards. This version by Seeger shows his way with a ballad.

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“This Land Is Your Land”

Seeger remained an active performer into his 90s. This song, written by Woody Guthrie, was also a Seeger signature. He re-consecrated it for the 21st century at Barack Obama's 2009 Inauguration with some help from a friend, fan and musical heir, Bruce Springsteen.

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