Here’s to you, Simon & Garfunkel
Today, Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame members Simon & Garfunkel are recognized as the most successful folk duo of the 1960s. However, had it not been for the secretive machinations of an overzealous record producer, S&G may have never risen above obscurity.
In 1957, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel scored a U.S. hit while going by the name Tom and Jerry with an insouciant rocker “Hey Schoolgirl.” They recorded an album under the same name, but it wasn’t released until after they became international stars in the 1960s.
In 1964, Simon & Garfunkel recorded Wednesday Morning, 3 AM. The album, which included an acoustic version of “Sound of Silence,” sold poorly and the duo disbanded.
While songwriter Simon was in England, producer Tom Wilson (Bob Dylan, Mothers of Invention) slapped electric guitar, bass and drums onto “Sound of Silence” in an attempt to capitalize on the success of folk-rock acts such as of the Byrds (“Turn, Turn, Turn”) and Animals (“House of the Rising Sun”).
The ploy worked, and the overdubbed version of “Sound of Silence” soared to No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts. Simon & Garfunkel were promptly reunited and rushed back into the studio. In 1966, Columbia rush-released an album titled after their smash single.
Simon’s socially conscious, literate lyrics, stirring melodies and soft, sensitive vocals blended with Garfunkel’s massive pipes to produce a stream of hits that did not dry until the duo called it quits at the height of their popularity in 1970. Before splitting, the duo recorded five studio albums, not including The Graduate soundtrack (which consisted of mostly previously released material).
Columbia/Legacy has given
all five S&G studio albums 24-bit remastering and reissued each album with previously unreleased bonus tracks. The CDs can be purchased individually or as a box set, Simon & Garfunkel: The Columbia Studio Recordings 1964-1970, that includes a 74-page deluxe booklet.
Wednesday Morning 3AM
Produced by Tom Wilson1964
Simon & Garfunkel’s all-acoustic debut is the duo’s one pure folk album and includes traditional numbers such as “Go Tell It On The Mountain” and “Peggy-O” as well as covers, including a less-than-inspired reading of Bob Dylan’s “Times They Are A-Changin’.”
The highlights of the album are the Simon originals. “Bleeker Street” is a vivid portrait of the post-Beatnik Greenwich Village scene the young folksingers were inhabiting during the turbulent 1960s.
“Voices leaking from a sad cafÃ© / Smiling faces try to understand / I saw a shadow touch a shadow’s hand / On Bleeker Street.”
Another Simon original, “Sparrow” features the duo at their harmonic best while the title track is Simon at his heavy-handed worst – a first-person account of a grief-stricken robber that contains clunkers such as “A scene badly written / In which I must play.”
The genius and utter beauty of “The Sound of Silence” would not find mass appeal (and salvage the struggling duo’s career) until Tom Wilson returned to it after the album’s release and juiced the single up with electricity and drums.
Sounds of Silence
Produced by Bob Johnston, 1965
For S&G’s second album, Simon returned from England with a wealth of self-penned compositions that rank among some of the most ambitious and depressing rock songs ever written. The title track welcomes listeners with “Hello Darkness My Old Friend” and on the album’s closer, “I Am a Rock,” Simon declares “I have no need for friendship / Friendship causes pain.” Both songs are legitimate classics.
In between, there is not one, but two songs involving suicides “Most Peculiar Man” and “Richard Cory.” (One of the bonus tracks, the traditional “Barbriallen,” also involves a suicide). On “Blessed” Simon repeatedly asks, “O Lord why have you forsaken me?” Fusing folk ethics and rock attitude with poetic meditations on despair, Sounds of Silence proves to be a compelling listen – just make sure you take your Prozac prior to spinning it..
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
Produced by Bob Johnston, 1966
The title of the album is the chillingly whispered chorus of the opening cut, “Scarborough Fair / The Canticle.” The haunting composition is a marriage involving two traditional British folk songs arranged by S&G as a stirring anti-war hymn. “Homeward Bound,” the quintessential road (weary) song, is a far cry from cheery. “The Dangling Conversation” is a bleak “still life water color” of two disenchanted lovers “crouched in (their) indifference.” “Cloudy” is no beacon of hope either, however, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme does actually rise above life’s pathos. Sprinkled with rays of hope and even some humor, the album contains elements foreign to the duo’s first two releases.
“59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” has the friendly, foot-tapping feel of an early Beatles record, while “A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission)” is a hilarious send-up of the counter-culture/folk-rock craze of which S&G were so heavily entrenched.
Unable to isolate themselves from the volatile atmosphere of the times, the disc concludes with S&G offering a poignant reading of “Silent Night” while the din of a newscaster reporting plays in the background.
Produced by Simon & Garfunkel, Roy Halee 1968
Bookends is an interesting progression in the S&G catalog that finds the cerebral-looking duo from Queens, N.Y., reaching international stardom and staking their claim as the hottest duo in music. Decisively more rock than folk – check out “Hazy Shade of Winter,” the tune that the hairspray, girl-group, The Bangles notched a hit with in the 1980s – the album holds up well thirty-plus years later.
Along with “America,” one of the finest dissections of the American dream ever penned, the album also boasts the timeless classic “Mrs. Robinson.” Simon wrote the song specifically for Mike Nichol’s landmark film The Graduate (1967). Like the film, the song questions the ideals and mores of suburban America. The hit single was rescued from the soundtrack that consisted of previously released S&G tracks in addition to inconsequential orchestral filler.
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Produced by Simon & Garfunkel, Roy Halee1969
Bridge Over Troubled Water is an album that works on various levels and is S&G’s finest achievement. From the sing-along jubilee of “Cecilia,” and the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love,” to the lush orchestration and emotionally charged title track and Simon’s impassioned telling of “The Boxer,” the album connects again and again. Incorporating elements of folk, rock, gospel and pop, it has become one the highest-selling albums of all time (303 weeks on the U.K. chart).
Ironically, just as the duo reached their artistic and commercial peak, they cited irreconcilable differences and split.
Simon, who wrote all the songs and sang the majority of leads (“Bridge Over Troubled Water” is Garfunkel’s greatest moment on lead vocals) continues to enjoy much success as a solo artist – his crowning achievement being his highly influential, 1986 Grammy award-winning album Graceland.
Garfunkel has pursued a career in acting (Catch 22, Carnal Knowledge) and tours on occasion, performing mostly tunes Simon wrote during the duo’s glory days.