Posted in Album Reviews

Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends (1968)

Bookends (Vinyl)

The Graduate OST released in January 1968 saw Simon & Garfunkel become a very big deal on an album that featured their name in bold print even if they only contributed one new song. But what a song it was, “Mrs. Robinson” would hit #1 on the US singles chart with its full version appearing on side two of the duo’s Bookends album released that April. The single is best remembered from the soundtrack which obscures its lyrics about Mrs. Robinson being in a mental institution and later talks about watching a political debate that claims “when you’ve got to choose/every way you look at it, you lose”.

Bookends got off to a difficult start with producer John Simon (no relation) being brought in to help Paul with a bout of writer’s block before eventually leaving the project, the album was then produced by the duo with Roy Halee. The eventual recording sees the first side contain a concept journey from the start of life through being elderly. “Bookends Theme” is a lovely acoustic number that is interrupted by a dissonant Moog synthesizer slash that announces the arrival of second track “Save the Life Of My Child” that also contains a snip of “The Sound of Silence” amongst the chaos.

“Voices of Old” is a sound collage put together by Art Garfunkel of folks in two different seniors’ homes speaking about life.  This leads beautifully into the guitars and strings of “Old Friends” sitting on a park bench like “bookends”. The title track then reappears at double it’s length as the first version and closes out side one.

Paul Simon describes the second side of the album as “throwaway tracks”, with some dating back to the Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme recording sessions.  “Fakin’ It” is an up-tempo rock song that sees Simon speak of imposter syndrome to a chorus of handclaps. The heavy guitar riff of “Hazy Shade of Winter” took the single to #13 on the singles charts as Simon sounds close to rage that “the leaves are brown/there’s a patch of snow on the ground”. The Bangles would later introduce this song to a whole new generation of fans when their version goes to #2 in the late 80s.  The album ends with the lighthearted single, “At the Zoo”.

The heart of the album is on third track, “America”, an epic of emotion in under four minutes. It has a folky, 60s vibe of discovering America on a Greyhound Bus, a trip that Simon did take with then girlfriend Kathy Chitty. It carefully describes a scene of boredom with a sense of longing in a moment that would rarely occur today in a world with everyone locked into their phones.

So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine/and the moon rose over an open field….”Kathy, I’m lost”, I said, though I knew she was sleeping/I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why/Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike/they’ve all come to look for America

Bookends is a massive leap forward for the duo and one that was certainly influenced by what The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys were doing with pop songs in the late 60s. Simon & Garfunkel stretch their boundaries to experiment with unique sounds, collages and concepts. While Simon is dismissive of side 2, it’s sound likely inspired a whole crop of 90s alternative power pop bands. While it clocks in at just under 30 minutes – the album’s experiments, enduring singles, and iconic black and white cover art all make Bookends a landmark album.

10/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Simon & Garfunkel – The Graduate OST (1968)

The Graduate

The Graduate was the highest grossing film of 1967, earning $104.9 million. The Mike Nichols movie stars Dustin Hoffman as a 21-year-old who has an affair with the much older Anne Bancroft, before eventually falling for her daughter.  The film soundtrack, that frequently gets mentioned in soundtrack best of lists, is nearly evenly split between Simon & Garfunkel songs and jazzy, orchestral numbers by soundtrack maestro Dave Grusin.

The album is bookended by two different versions of “The Sound of Silence” from the duo’s first album that was later remixed to become a #1 hit.  Other S&G tracks include an extended version of “Scarborough Fair/Canticle”, “April Come She Will” and an alternate version of “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine”. The movie’s main song is the first appearance of “Mrs. Robinson” that Simon had been working on but initially known as “Mrs. Roosevelt”. The eventual #1 hit appears here twice but not in its full version. Because of the movie, the song has become synonymous with the allure of older women.

While it’s Simon and Garfunkel’s name that is splashed across the record, Dave Grusin contributes six tracks that would appeal to the older generation.  They are fun, upbeat numbers that have a dash of novelty and 60’s slapstick to them. The album vacillates between the hushed, folk rock of Simon & Garfunkel before the Grusin instrumentals come crashing in to up the pace. It’s an odd mix, one that appealed to both teenagers and adults at the time and sent the album soaring to #1.  Today, it makes for an interesting curiosity that should really only appeal to completists and soundtrack buffs.

7/10

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Simon & Garfunkel – Live from New York City, 1967 (2002)

Live From New York City, 1967

Simon & Garfunkel:  The Complete Albums Collection released in 2014 contains all the albums, the duo’s greatest hits, plus four live albums.  The live albums were all released after the duo broke up in 1970 so in the box, they appear all in a row.  One of the last Simon & Garfunkel official releases was one of the earliest,  the Live from New York City, 1967 album. 

This album was recorded at New York’s Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center on January 22, 1967 but was not released until July 2002. The album starts with a fine version of “He Was My Brother” from the duo’s debut album before turning in an excellent rendition of “Leaves That Are Green”.  “Homeward Bound” is the first hit song to appear and receives enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Art Garfunkel describes “The Dangling Conversation” as one of their favourites before edgy versions of “Richard Cory” and “Hazy Shade of Winter” that would later appear on the Bookends album. A long and amusing recounting of their photography session for first album Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. precedes “A Poem on the Subway Wall”.  Towards the end of the album, Simon & Garfunkel show their skills on three of their most beloved tracks – a less defiant than the album version of “I Am a Rock”, their breakthrough hit “The Sound of Silence” and a stunning Garfunkel vocal on “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her”.

The recording of the concert is impeccable as it sounds like the duo are singing right into your ear. Simon’s guitar playing is the only instrument heard is wonderfully rendered with several intricate passages. While missing a few popular songs, most notably “Scarborough Fair/Canticle”, Live 1967 acts as a greatest hits of their first three albums. At the end of the concert, the crowd is more vocal and can be heard shouting for more, showing the duo’s popularity and performing prowess.  Live from New York City, 1967 is a fine document of where the duo were at in that stage of their career with several very good takes on many of their better early tracks.

8.5/10

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Simon & Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966)

After Sounds of Silence was released in January of 1966, Simon and Garfunkel released Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme in October of that year. The album continues the trend of including tracks originally released on Simon’s solo album, The Paul Simon Songbook.  “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall” receives added harmonies and “A Simple Desultory Phillippic” is a much better take of the song. Whereas the solo version sounded like a harsh, angry parody of Bob Dylan; this newly recorded version sounds like a fun celebration.

A few of the tracks here would later appear on 1972’s Greatest Hits album including the classic first track “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” which melds the traditional folk tune to Simon’s “The Side of a Hill”.  “Homeward Bound” was the next single released after the “The Sound of Silence” and was a top 5 hit in the US.  This simple track was written in Liverpool when Simon was travelling around the UK and includes the cynical lyric that “all my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity”.

“The 59th St Bridge Song” joy and cheerfulness has lived on in pop culture even making an appearance on the Simpsons nearly 30 years later. Set only to an acoustic guitar, the Art Garfunkel lead “For Emily Whenever I May Find Her” is a beautiful track of walking the streets and “tripping down the alleyways”. “Cloudy” was written with Bruce Woodley of The Seekers, a dreamy track about watching the clouds roll by. The harsher side of life is examined on “The Dangling Conversation” where a woman reads her Emily Dickinson and the man reads Robert Frost while their relationship crumbles.

Clocking in at less than 30 minutes, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is like an extension of Sounds of Silence.  It doesn’t grow the duo by leaps and bounds but is a smidge better and more successful.  Interestingly, many of the tracks that were later included on the Greatest Hits appear in live versions that add even more warmth to the originals.  Several of the elements are already in place here for when Simon & Garfunkel release their next two critically lauded studio albums.

8.5/10

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Simon & Garfunkel – Wednesday Morning, 3AM

garfIn the fall of 1964, folk rock duo Simon & Garfunkel released their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3AM. Originally named Tom and Jerry, the Queens NY duo had scored a minor hit in the New York area several years before with “Hey School Girl” before they drifted apart. With the New York folk scene in full swing, the duo regrouped in the early 60s to start performing together again.

Though they would go on to great success, the debut is patchy at best.  It is mix of folk standards (“Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream”/ “The Times They Are A-changin’”), gospel music (“Go Tell It On The Mountain”), and several original compositions written by Simon.  The harmonies on the album are quite good but the duo bring little grit or soul to the traditional songs and instead come across as a squeaky-clean version of many of their peers.

Of the originals, “Bleecker Street” is a nice track about Greenwich Village.  “He Was My Brother” is a good if earnest eulogy written by Simon about his friend Andrew Goodman who was killed in Mississippi at the hands of the KKK along with Michael Schwerner and James Chaney.  The most famous song here is the original version of “Sounds of Silence”.  Here the track appears backed by just an acoustic guitar, unadorned with the instrumentation later added by producer Tom Wilson that turned it into a folk-rock classic.  Soon after the release, Simon moved to London but was later called back to NY by Garfunkel when the remixed version of “The Sounds of Silence” became a #1 smash hit.  Unfortunately, there is little here that is essential to the Simon and Garfunkel story.  The best thing is probably the album cover.  Seen as old fashioned by some at the time, viewed through the Mad Men 60s prism, it is a classic shot of upstart young New Yorkers busking in the underground.

5/10