Simon & Garfunkel…Almost Weren’t

Their first album went…nowhere.

Paul Simon went…to England.

Art Garfunkel went…back to college.

In London, Paul Simon continued his songwriting (he had only written 5 of the 12 songs on their first album), and in 1965 released a solo album in England, The Paul Simon Songbook.  Art Garfunkel was getting his master’s degree in mathematics.  So…no Simon & Garfunkel.

But on their first album was a song… “The Sound Of Silence”.  It wasn’t as we first heard it.  Instead, it was an acoustic folk song.  The album, Wednesday Morning, 3A.M., had been released in October of 1964 (“The year of The Beatles, the year of The Stones”), and it tanked.  Then in 1965, a few radio stations along the East Coast started playing “The Sound Of Silence” off the album.

Album producer Tom Wilson made a bold move that was probably the key moment in keeping Simon & Garfunkel from oblivion.  In June of 1965, as Folk Rock was taking off, he had studio pros add an electric guitar, bass, and drums onto “The Sound Of Silence”.  He didn’t bother telling Simon & Garfunkel about it.  Officially, they didn’t exist as a duo anymore.  The remix was released as a single in the fall of 1965.  Simon found out by seeing his song on the charts (which he commonly checked), and Garfunkel called Simon a few days later, because he had also heard about the song’s success.  By January of 1966, the song topped the Billboard Hot 100, and sold over a million copies.

All of a sudden, and to their surprise, Simon & Garfunkel were back together.  Their label wanted an album to go with the hit single.

Columbia Records was lucky Paul Simon had written songs for his solo album, as “I Am A Rock”, “Leaves That Are Green”, “A Most Peculiar Man”, “April Come She Will”, and “Kathy’s Song” were all on The Paul Simon Songbook.  Also “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” is a reworking of “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” with a new chorus.  Both versions are good, “Wednesday” is folk, “Somewhere” is rock.  The album was recorded in three weeks, and released in January of 1966, while the single was still high on the charts.

Two bits of trivia.  If you look at album covers, and some early publicity photos of Paul & Art, you’ll notice that the shots are arranged to make them look similar in height.  Of course Paul Simon is much shorter, as later photos show.  Either Paul or the photographers stopped caring about the height difference.  Also, there was confusion over whether the song is “The Sound Of Silence” or The Sounds Of Silence”.  Paul says it was always meant to be with no “s”.

Interestingly, their next single was not on the album.  “Homeward Bound” (which was recorded just after the album) reached #5 in February of 1966, and then in May, “I Am A Rock” went to #3.

Simon & Garfunkel took much more time to record their next album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

I remember buying this album at a bookstore in Lincoln, NE.  Each week they would feature a brand-new album on sale.  I think the price was $2.99.  It certainly was a bargain, because I like everything on it.  Highlights of the October 1966 album include, “Homeward Bound”, “Scarborough Fair” (a traditional English song), “The Dangling Conversation”, “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her”, and “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”.

Simon & Garfunkel mostly toured college campuses to support their albums.  They didn’t use a touring band until much later,  just Paul Simon’s masterful guitar playing, and the beautiful blend of their voices.

There was not another album until 1968.  However, they did release some singles…”A Hazy Shade Of Winter” #13, “At The Zoo” #16, and “Fakin’ It” #23.

Movie director Mike Nichols asked Simon & Garfunkel if he could use some of their songs for his new film.  They were reluctant, but after visiting with him, they approved the use of their songs in his movie “The Graduate”.  Smart decision.

The movie and the use of their music are now classic.  “Scarborough Fair” was featured prominently, and became another hit single.  During filming, Mike Nichols asked Paul Simon if he had any new songs, and he mentioned he was working on one called “Mrs. Roosevelt”.  That quickly became “Mrs. Robinson”.  The song is incomplete in the film, but Simon finished it and the single became Simon & Garfunkel’s second #1.

The movie soundtrack was released in January of 1968, and in June, Simon & Garfunkel released their 4th studio album…Bookends.  It’s another high quality effort.  Side one starts with the “Bookends Theme”, and the concept is a life cycle ending with “Old Friends/Bookends”.  The other major song on that side is “America”.  I love it, and remember using it in the ’70’s as the soundtrack for my college Television Directing presentation.

Side two features 4 hit singles, “Mrs. Robinson”, “Fakin’ It”, “A Hazy Shade Of Winter”, and “At The Zoo”.

There was only one album left.  Bridge Over Troubled Water was recorded in 1969, and released in January of 1970.  I have a vivid memory of hearing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on the radio when we were in Memphis.  It was raining, we had just parked our car, and we stayed inside to finish the song.  It was so good…it felt like an honor to hear it.

Paul Simon says the song “came to me”, and was not like other songs he had written.  Here’s a way to know a song is special.  S&G performed “Bridge Over Troubled Water” during a 1969 concert, before the song was released, and it received a standing ovation!  “Bridge” was the #1 song of 1970, and topped Billboard’s singles chart for six weeks.  The song and the album won six major Grammy Awards, including Song Of The Year and Album Of The Year.

Other singles were “The Boxer”, “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)”, and “Cecilia”.  The album’s eleven songs feature a variety of musical styles that foreshadowed Paul Simon’s impressive solo career.

The strain of recording the album when Art Garfunkel was busy filming “Catch 22”, and then his taking another acting role in early 1970, contributed greatly to the duo breaking up in the summer of that year.  It was just months after their greatest success.  There would be some performance reunions, but no more studio albums.  Their four main albums are among the best recorded in the 1960’s.

Epilogue:  If Tom Wilson had never made the “Folk Rock” version of “The Sound Of Silence”, would Simon & Garfunkel have been as we know them?  Probably not.  Paul Simon was going to have a career as a singer-songwriter, because he’s just too talented to have failed.  But, two questions remain.  1.  Would Paul have eventually asked his friend Art to join him?  (Despite his vocal ability, Garfunkel would likely have become an architect or math teacher.)  2.  How long would it have taken Simon to move to a more popular rock sound, instead of the folk style on his album The Paul Simon Songbook?

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