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.
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.
In 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.
“Hello darkness my old friend” is one of the classic lines in folk rock history and it’s the way the sophomore Simon & Garfunkel album, Sounds of Silence, opens. Released in 1966, just over a year after their debut and after Simon spent time in London playing the folk circuit as a solo artist, Sounds of Silence holds up quite well 45+ years after it was initially released.
There are several spots on the album that provide touchstones for recording artists that came much later. Billy Bragg appropriated the opening lines to the catchy “Leaves That Are Green” for his track “A New England” (“I was 21 years old when I wrote this song, I’m 22 now but won’t be for long”), “We’ve Got a Groovy Thing Goin’” has a lot in common with Belle & Sebastian’s “Legal Man” and character sketches such as “Richard Cory“ are reminiscent of mid 90s period blur. Besides the title track, two other classic Simon & Garfunkel songs appear on Sounds of Silence. The wistful “Kathy’s Song” and the utterly defiant “I am a Rock”. Music and book collectors everywhere can rejoice in the “I have my books, and my poetry to protect me” line after a particularly hard break-up.
Sounds of Silence as an album is often overshadowed by what came down the pipeline in the great Bookends and Bridge Over Trouble Water. While a listener would be well served by starting with those albums, eventually you’ll want to discover Sounds of Silence. A strong yet understated album from one folk rock’s best, this is truly where the legend began.