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Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits (1972)

Released two years after they disbanded, Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits went into the top 5 in both the US and UK.  It breaks many fundamental rules of compiling a greatest hits album – it’s not in chronological order, it substitutes live versions of hit songs, and it leaves off several important tracks.  Somehow this collection makes it all work. The aforementioned live versions chosen here are all exceptional.  “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” is warmer than its studio version and both “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” and #1 single “Bridge Over Troubled Water” are showstoppers featuring Art Garfunkel’s soaring vocals.

 Two other US #1 singles appear, the duo’s first hit “The Sound of Silence” and the “coo coo ca choo” of “Mrs. Robinson” from The Graduate OST. Besides the title track, all the other hits of Bridge Over Troubled Water appear with the upbeat folk rock of “Cecilia” closing out the set.  While the collection is missing key tracks like “The Dangling Conversation”, “A Hazy Shade of Winter”, and “The Only Living Boy in New York” – what is included here is some of the best folk rock of the 60s and early 70s.  While other collections gather more of the duo’s essential tracks, the enduring popularity of this album made it a must for inclusion on Simon & Garfunkel: The Complete Albums Collection.

10/10

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Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)

The last Simon & Garfunkel studio album came out in 1970, just under six years after their debut. Once again working with producer Roy Halee, the album starts off with the iconic title track.  A dramatic opening sounds almost like a Christmas carol in its hymn like devotion. Art Garfunkel’s performance soars as strings and cymbals crashing come up to meet him. This is pop music at its highest form.

Beyond the title track, the next two songs were also singles.  “El Condo Pasa (If I Could)” has a folky, Spanish feel that hit #1 in several countries. A memorable drumbeat opens “Cecilia”. The infectious track will eventually end up on many party playlists and remains one of the duo’s most popular songs. At the opposite end of the spectrum, “The Boxer” has a softer drumbeat where Paul Simon sings “lie la lie”, that acts as a hook but was originally in the song as filler. The epic track follows the story of a boy who leaves home, “seeking out the poorer quarters, where the ragged people go” before becoming the boxer.

“So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” came about when Garfunkel asked to have a song written about the famous architect.  A laid-back tune that can double as an allusion to Garfunkel having studied to be an architect in his earlier days.  One of the duo’s most popular album tracks appears on the second half of the album, “The Only Living Boy in New York” is one of the most emotionally charged songs in the catalogue. Simon sings “Tom, get your plane right on time/I know your part’ll go fine”, a direct comment that Garfunkel was off filming a movie in Mexico, leaving Simon behind in NY.  The use of an echo chamber for their voices takes the song to a celestial level. The album winds down with a live cover of “Wake Up Little Susie” before finishing with just Simon and his guitar singing, “Song for the Asking”

The debate rages on as to which the critics think is their masterpiece, this or 1968’s Bookends. The public voted with their wallets. With four of their most well-known songs, Simon and Garfunkel went out with a bang as Bridge Over Troubled Waters would go on to be the duo’s most popular album with approximately 25 million units sold.  A truly great album that deserves a spot in every record collection.

10/10

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Simon & Garfunkel – Live 1969 (2009)

Recorded in 1969 but not seeing a full release until 2009, Simon and Garfunkel’s Live 1969 captures the duo just before the release of their last album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. About a third of the tracks were also included on the Live 1967 release including another spellbinding take on “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” that later appeared on their Greatest Hits collection that also included the live version of “Kathy’s Song” but cuts out the raucous audience before launching into the track.

Unlike the 1967 Live release that captures just one night, 1969 takes in several locations and includes a crack band of hired hands to augment the duo but never overshadow. The band is most heard during the smash hit “Mrs. Robinson” and Hal Blaine’s subtle drumming adds an extra layer to “The Boxer”. “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” is a track that lets Garfunkel shine with Simon adding the minimalist of acoustic guitar and additional vocals.

The centrepiece of the album is, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.  Garfunkel introduces the yet to be released track over a piano introduction to no crowd applause whatsoever.  What follows is a stunning rendition of one of the most popular tracks of the early 1970s.  The version manages to make the arm hairs stand on end over 50 years later.  After the last note sounds, the crowd recognizes that they’ve just heard a song that will be in their lives forever and proceeds to give a thunderous ovation.

The album also includes earlier hits such as “I Am a Rock” and #1 hit “The Sound of Silence”. Both are fine renditions but the 1967 version gets the nod for being the fresher sounding.  Even though it’s just two years later, the duo sound wearier on a tour that proves to be one of their last as Simon & Garfunkel for 20+ years.  Capturing the band about to release their next classic album, Live 1969 is a must have sound document for those wanting to catch some of the last moments of this classic folk rock duo at the tail end of the 60s.

8/10

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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

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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