SIMON AND GARFUNKEL
15 OF THEIR GREATEST HITS
THE LATE 60’S, REDUX
Let me preface this posting with a quick reiteration of something I’ve said before, but which I feel is necessary to underscore from time to time. And that is, that even though I have very specific and often poignant memories associated with all the popular music I post, every song I post here is music that I love—my attachment to everything is primarily musical. The specific circumstances in my life that I associate with every song I love could have been totally different, but I would not love any song any less. It has ALWAYS been about the music. Even though I sometimes remark that or that song might occasion a walk down memory lane, it is not for that reason—at all—that I post popular music. The music I love is MUSIC that I love.
Regardless of your age—but particularly if you are in your 60’s or 70’s—Simon and Garfunkel were probably some part of your life. For me, their prime-time years overlapped my high school and college experiences. I would boil their considerable success down to two ingredients: Paul Simon’s song-writing—which was (and is) impressive by any standard—and Art Garfunkel’s silky high tenor voice.
I first heard Sound of Silence on a dreary Saturday mid-winter afternoon in eighth grade. I was immediately attracted to the simple two-part harmony and lyrics which drew me in like a fish on a hook. I think it was probably The Boxer that formed the other bookend, in 1971, of my Simon and Garfunkel acquaintance.
As it happened in my own life, I spent 1970-76 in New York City. Although one absolutely need not have any “New York” experience to fully appreciate S&G’s music, I would have to say that there are many facets to Simon’s song-writing that are intrinsically part of living in and around the NYC area. Included in his songs were subtle references to the sun setting “so high”—obscured by skyscrapers, counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike, and visiting the Central Park children’s zoo. And also overt references such as the 59th Street Bridge or being the only boy in New York.
These and other New York-specific things give one a dual perspective of Simon and Garfunkel—that they were troubadours for the world, expressing feelings in music and poetry that the whole world could relate to. And, being New York City boys, they had a certain perspective on the world that could not help but come out in their music.
Simon and Garfunkel met in elementary school in Queens, New York, in 1953. By the time they were in high school, they were playing and performing together under the name Tom and Jerry in material that was reminiscent of the Everly Brothers. After high school, they went their separate ways, but regrouped in 1963 when they were signed to make a duo album with Columbia Records. Their first album, “Wednesday Morning” did not sell well, and the duo once again broke up. Their previously recorded “Sounds of Silence,” however, became a major hit in the United States in 1965. They released a second album, started extensive college touring, and after their music was featured in the movie The Graduate, they enjoyed great success, not just in the U.S., for the rest of the 1960’s.
S&G’s rocky relationship was no secret to the music tabloids, or to the music-loving public in general. They finally broke up in 1970—having won 10 Grammys. They reunited—for an evening, anyway—to perform in New York’s Central Park to an audience of half a million. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. They have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide; their Bridge Over Troubled Water album ranks #51 on Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Albums List.
I had the real pleasure of seeing them on their Reunion Tour–maybe ten years ago now–in Columbus. They were still exciting and expressive.
Paul Simon, in my opinion, is a fine poet. One can easily read, and be inspired by, the texts of his songs all by themselves, without music. And, there is no question in my mind that S&G simply would not have had the success they had—regardless of Simon’s song-writing ability—without the purity of Art Garfunkel’s voice.
It may seem like overkill or too much of a good thing (if such a thing is actually possible), but I’d like to link to FIFTEEN S&G tracks here. EACH ONE of these songs is expertly written—with regard for formal construction, timbre of instruments, and an equal repose between melody, harmony and rhythm.
Both Simon and Garfunkel continued to record—Simon especially—after their breakup. Both of them had notable songs and successes. I am limiting this post to what they accomplished as a duo. I’ll list these favorites in the order they came out, chronologically.
SOUNDS OF SILENCE
A generation’s shorthand for alienation. If their producer Tom Wilson had not taken the initiative to overdub a rhythm section over their previously-recorded folk song, it is doubtful we would even know of Simon and Garfunkel. This is the song that propelled their career.
HAZY SHADE OF WINTER
A great example of a marriage between lyrics and music. Written during the year that Simon spent in London, trying to make it there as a solo artist. “Time will go by and you won’t notice until it’s gone. Wasting time in the springtime of one’s life.” Realistic, but not cheery, lyrics.
Another song that Simon wrote while in London. He was waiting for a train in Merceyside—THE heart of British pop music in Liverpool—waiting for a train to go back to London and his girlfriend—when he scribbled this song down. He is the “one-man band” he is singing about. There is actually a plaque at the Widnes train station, commemorating Homeward Bound’s creation there.
I AM A ROCK
A plea to himself to avoid pain and brokenheartedness by avoiding emotional attachment. A sad song.
Simon felt that both “I Am A Rock” and “Dangling Conversation” were pretentious, his poorest song-writing efforts. He felt they showed him trying to be literary and concerned with “high” thoughts. But the lush string orchestra here serves as a great backdrop to emotional turmoil a couple—who clearly have trouble communicating with each other. The mass popularity of both songs—the extent to which millions could relate to the very feelings he was expressing—attest to the fact that his self-analysis was incorrect.
59TH STREET BRIDGE SONG (FEELIN’ GROOVY)
Maybe the happiest song S&G did? The 59th Street Bridge in New York, also known as the Queensboro Bridge, is a NYC landmark. Many thousands of drivers, bike-riders, and joggers use it every single day. It affords great views of the city in all directions.
AT THE ZOO
Or maybe this was the happiest? A song about the children’s zoo in Central Park.
Who can forget Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate? What a great movie. Dustin Hoffman’s debut, too, I think.
SCARBOROUGH FAIR – PARSLEY, SAGE, ROSEMARY AND THYME
To me, this song seemed magical, a natural and logical—yet completely unexpected—extension of what S&G had already been doing.
EL CONDOR PASA
I knew nothing about Peru when I was in high school, yet somehow this music transported me there. You could actually call this song a cover—it was written as part of an zarzuela (a Spanish operetta) in the 1920’s by Peruvian composer Julio de la Paz. Paul Simon added his own words to de la Paz’s melody.
BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER
It’s hard to say, but this may be S&G’s greatest song, or at least the one with the widest popularity. A full-throated ballad featuring Garfunkel’s voice, it never fails to make shivers run and up down my spine. Five minutes of bliss. GREAT pianist.
THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK
From S&G’s fifth and final album. Very poignant meaning: Simon wrote it when Garfunkel left him, alone in New York, to make a movie in Mexico. In spite of the wistful sound and cloud-like harmony, the lyrics tell of a young man who is really emotionally hurt. The Only Living Boy in New York was actually made into a (terribly reviewed) movie starring Jeff Bridges and Pierce Brosnan.
One of my favorite S&G. The lyrics still get to me—at the time, they somehow typifying the loneliness of living in a really huge city, of feeling all alone.
In a clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving…
This is a song about searching. The Kathy of the song was Simon’s girlfriend at the time he wrote this song. If you’ve ever been on the New Jersey turnpike, the endless traffic and often surreal inhumanity of being part of that ebb and flow is something from this song you can relate to. It shows us—perhaps—that “America” is just a figment of our collective imagination.
FOR EMILY, WHEREVER I MAY FIND HER
Yet another crystal-clear example of Garfunkel’s sensitivity. What an expressive singer.