Folk music lyrics have changed tremendously over the years. Originally, in England, the lyrics told of stories, legends in the communities and about the ways of life of ordinary people. The lyrics evolved with the times, leading into what we know as Folk music today, a blend of traditional Folk music and popular music.
Folk music originally told about the lives of common people in the 19th century, of the illiterate peasants who couldn’t write their stories and so sang them instead. When composers of the Romantic era such as Beethoven did some Folk music, there were no lyrics involved: they used a very Celtic music which often had no lyrics, and was simply told by tune. Some of the Romantic Era Folk musicians did include lyrics, and they were the traditional type: Benjamin Britten and Percy Grainer were two such musicians.
Woody Guthrie, who was one of the first popular Folk music musicians of the 20th century, and helped lead the revival of the genre, sang very traditionally as well, originally performing songs his mother had sung to him when he was a boy. Later, at the height of the Folk music revival in the United States, scholarly work references and philosophical references were often included in the lyrics. In the 1960s, the style changed, and when protest Folk music emerged, the lyrics were politically charged. They denounced the capitalist ideals of the United States, protested the war in Vietnam and spoke in support of the American Civil Rights movements, among other things. In the 1970s, humor and satire began to be incorporated into Folk music lyrics, and in the 80s, with heavy metal being all the rage, Folk music began leaning towards a pagan theme as well as the Neofolk style of music emerging. This style combined European Folk music with post-industrial music forms as well as historical references, philosophy and traditional songs.
It also included some paganism, making Folk music of the 80s generally a pagan style of music.
There has been much parody made of Folk music throughout the ages as well. In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there is a folk ballad sung for “brave Sir Robin”. In more recent times is the song “I’m Sending and E-mail to Santa” by the group Artisan. As folk music has persevered throughout the ages, it is much easier to ridicule as everybody knows the style. Parodies of Folk music are relatively common, and the lyrics often quite amusing.
Folk music lyrics are quite varied, but in general they all come down to the same thing: telling stories of the way of life of ordinary people and their communities. For hundreds of years, this has been the case. From England in the 19th century to protests against the Vietnam War and capitalism to the modern day, Folk music has generally stayed true to its roots of telling the stories of ordinary people and ordinary lives.