10 beautiful, beguiling and bold folk albums from 1969

1969 was an amazing year for music, particularly for the album format.
Ralph McTell
Ralph McTell / Michael Putland/GettyImages
4 of 6

5. Basket of Light – Pentangle

The top five of this list could be interchangeable depending on this writer’s mood on a day-to-day basis, but on this day, Pentangle’s seminal 1969 release Basket of Light leads the charge at number five. Featuring the incredible interplay between vocalist Jacqui McShee, vocalist and guitarist Bert Jansch, vocalist and guitarist John Renbourn, bassist Danny Thompson, and drummer/percussionist Terry Cox, this album crystallized much of Pentangle’s sound, though their high-water mark was prior album Sweet Child from 1968.

Still, though, this album is no slouch, as it features the incredible opening track (much like their debut album featured one of the best opening songs from the 1960s) “Light Flight,” which perfectly represents the amalgamation of sounds that Pentangle could produce representing their myriad influences, as well as the intriguing doo-wop cover “Sally Go Round the Roses,” which sounds perfectly fitting in the hands of a group that dealt in medieval-sounding folk music.

4. Spiral Staircase – Ralph McTell

Ralph McTell’s first album of 1969 also serves as the superior album overall, and a lot of this album’s merit rests with the fact that it marks the first appearance of McTell’s all-time classic “Streets of London,” which has become a modern standard thanks to the song’s astounding lyrics and deeply affecting melody.

This version is incredible – as it only features McTell’s highly expressive voice and his delicately finger-picked guitar – but the superior version is actually a more fleshed-out single release from 1974 that featured a full band, a tearful harmonica part, a backing choir, and more assured vocals from McTell.

Beyond that, this album is a bit livelier than his later ’69 release with notable skiffle- and blues-inflected tracks such as the driving “Last Train and Ride” as well as the up-tempo title track. Of course, there’s plenty of supreme beauty here as well – such as on the strikingly human “Mrs. Adlam’s Angels,” the tender “Daddy’s Home,” and the gorgeous instrumental “Ritzraklaru (Anag).” An essential folk album from 1969.