I have a strong recollection of our household getting the five Simon and Garfunkel studio albums, and it wasn’t in chronological order of their release.
First, there was Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme (PSRT-1966), the third album, which my father purchased for himself. That album included Cloudy, which was covered in a more cheerful manner by The Cyrkle; The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy), covered even more pep by Harpers Bizarre; The Dangling Conversation; and my dad’s favorite, 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night. The latter always bothered me because the newscaster says that there were nine student nurses killed in the July 1966 massacre but there were ‘only’ eight killed, with the ninth one hiding under a bed.
Then I bought Sounds of Silence (SOS-1966), the second album, which featured We’ve Got a Groovy Thing Goin’, Blessed, and Richard Cory. We read the Edwin Arlington Robinson poem upon which the latter song was based, in 7th or 8th grade. We were all perplexed that that “I wish I could be” Richard Cory, even AFTER he put a bullet in his head.
The next purchase was Bookends (B-1968), the fourth album, which featured America (“We’ve all gone to look for America”); Fakin’ It (“not really makin’ it); Punky’s Dilemma (“Old Roger draft-dodger, leavin’ by the basement door, Everybody knows what he’s tippy-toeing down there for” – took a lot of razzing over that!); Mrs. Robinson (took me 40 years to see the Graduate – the folks I hung with at the time found the only movies that were acceptable to be from Disney – and I STILL don’t know what it means); and A Hazy Shade of Winter, which always felt like a potential Mamas & the Papas song.
Eventually got around to buying Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964), the first album, which is more a folk collection, though it has the original version of Sounds of Silence.
Finally, there’s the masterpiece, Bridge Over Troubled Water (BOTW-1970), with El Condor Pasa and The Only Living Boy in New York.
On my Top 12 list, the top four were no-brainers – links to the songs.
12. I Am A Rock (SOS) – “And a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.” I related to this at the time far more than one could imagine.
11. My Little Town – this is a bit of a cheat, for it appears on Paul Simon’s solo album Still Crazy After All These Years AND Art’s solo album Breakaway. It reminds me of my hometown of Binghamton, NY, hardscrabble and shrinking.
10. Old Friends/Bookends (B)- I can’t separate the two. The title of the post comes from Old Friends. Have you noticed how melancholy a lot of these songs are?
9. A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission) (PSRT) – so this is probably the LOUDEST S&G song in the canon. And as mentioned before, this tease of Bob Dylan may have led to Dylan’s AWFUL version of The Boxer.
8. At the Zoo (B) – I wrote a whole blogpost about this song!
7. Patterns (PSRT) – I especially love the intro, which sounds like a guitar being tuned, and the effect over the lyric “until the rat dies.”
6. Cecilia (BOTW) – this is, astonishingly, practically biographical of me; that’s all I’m gonna say.
5. Homeward Bound (PSRT) – one of the greatest songs about the life of a performer.
4. Scarborough Fair/Canticle (‘The Graduate’ soundtrack, originally PSRT). When Simon and Garfunkel seemed to be slow going commercially, Simon went to England and recorded an album called The Paul Simon Songbook. Many of the songs showed up on later S&G albums. The lyrics to the song The Side of A Hill from that early album was incorporated into this tune.
3. The Sound Of Silence (SOS) – If a producer hadn’t taken the Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. version of this song, which sounds much like this live acoustic version, “overdubbed the recording with electric guitar… electric bass.. and drums… and released it as a single without consulting Simon or Garfunkel,” musical history would have been much different.
2. Bridge Over Troubled Water (BOTW) – from Wikipedia: “This song’s recording process exposed many of the underlying tensions that eventually led to the breakup of the duo…Most notably, Paul Simon has repeatedly expressed regret over his insistence that Art Garfunkel sing this song as a solo, as it focused attention on Garfunkel and relegated Simon to a secondary position. Art Garfunkel initially did not want to sing lead vocal, feeling it was not right for him.”
Are they kidding? Art Garfunkel’s ethereal voice on this track is one that practically brings me to tears.
1. The Boxer (BOTW) – yet it is this song, the single before the long-awaited album, which I think is about perfect. This version, that is. Not the live version with that “changes” verse. Peculiarly, some spammer left me a rather detailed description of The Boxer which I will use:
“Simon’s acoustic guitar tracks are exquisitely detailed… Set upon the implacable heartbeat of the kick drum, they dance and flutter like solemn butterflies. Very few major artists could get away with the opening line to this song, but Simon’s delivery not only suspends mundane reality, it welcomes the listener into a story so matter-of-factly that one simply assumes its authenticity. Garfunkel’s intimate, intuitive harmony is so finely crafted and performed that it’s nearly transparent; like the guitars, it focuses attention on the song, rather than itself. The inclusion of the bass harmonica compliments and emphasizes the narrative so well, that it achieves an aura of inevitability. It is nearly impossible to imagine the song without it.
Then one comes across that ephemeral guitar solo. Because the guitarist uses the volume knob or foot pedal to allow the notes to swell into being, the solo appears to glide into and out of awareness; a ghost moving serenely through the mist.
Simon stated, in a long-ago interview, that he was initially opposed to an extended ending for this song. At that time, Hey Jude had just recently taken that concept to the limits of pop utility (and then some!)and he didn’t want to appear to be contrived. Fortunately, Garfunkel and producer Roy Halee convinced him otherwise. And so it is, that after one of Simon’s most profoundly moving verses (listen to the restrained delivery on the last quatrain…..it HURTS), we are treated to layer upon layer of sonic textures, opening upon some facet of the many emotions implicit in the song. Simon DID prove his instincts were correct when, at the very end, everything drops out, save the acoustic guitars and a brief, haunting voice that seems to be singing to itself.”