Wednesday 8 February 2017
1. The Sound of Silence
Given that they had one of the most fractious relationships in music, it should come as no surprise to learn that Simon and Garfunkel almost didn’t make it beyond their time as a rock’n’roll duo named Tom and Jerry. They had one moderately successful single during high school, and three subsequent ones that sank without a trace, but Tom and Jerry fizzled out when the pair went off to college. Their death knell came when Paul Simon released a solo single, True Or False, the perceived betrayal of which Art Garfunkel carried with him for decades. “That solo record I made at the age of 15,” Simon told Playboy in 1984, “permanently coloured our relationship.” Still, they reconciled several years later in 1963, this time using their real names, and in the space of three recording sessions had produced an album – Wednesday Morning, 3am. To promote it, they performed a handful of terribly received shows. The Sound of Silence in particular was treated with derision. “[The song] actually became a running joke,” said folk singer Dave Van Ronk, who was at the shows. “It was only necessary to start singing ‘Hello darkness, my old friend …’ and everybody would crack up.” Discouraged and dispirited, and selling just 3,000 copies of their album, the pair split up once again, and Simon moved to London. That might easily have been the end of the duo, if it weren’t for the album’s producer, Tom Wilson, overdubbing electric guitars and a drumbeat to the melancholic, acoustic ballad and rereleasing it without their consent. That version reached No1 in the US Billboard Hot 100, and catapulted the pair to fame, though the haunting original has also come to be revered.
2. I Am a Rock
The duo – keen to capitalise on their sudden success and with Simon more than happy to come back from Europe, where he was failing to make waves as a solo artist – now hastily returned to the studio. The quickest way to create a second album was to repackage several songs Simon had released on his largely ignored solo album, The Paul Simon Songbook. One of those songs, I Am a Rock, served as the closing track to The Sounds of Silence (1966). The jangly electric guitar and driving drum beat of I Am a Rock followed the precedent Wilson had set with the repurposed title track, only this time they weren’t shoehorned into an existing recording. Given that it was written when Simon was convinced his career was failing, it’s perhaps understandable that the song’s lyrics are almost comically morose: “I have no need of friendship / Friendship causes pain / It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.”
3. Homeward Bound
Homeward Bound, whose every line aches with nostalgia, doesn’t exactly make for cheery listening either, but it serves as something of a balm for anyone who’s experienced homesickness. It first appeared on the UK release of The Sounds of Silence, but turned up again on the duo’s third album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966). Written during Simon’s time in England, when he was touring the country while pining after his new girlfriend Kathy Chitty, it speaks to a sense of solitude and longing. “And each town looks the same to me,” sings Simon, as Garfunkel’s falsetto harmony sweeps in. “The movies and the factories / And every stranger’s face I see / Reminds me that I long to be / Homeward bound.” Simon has since said: “It’s like … a photograph of a long time ago. I like that about it, but I don’t like the song that much. First of all, it’s not an original title. That’s one of the main problems with it. But there’s something naive and sweet-natured, and I must say I like that about it. … And that’s my memory of that time: it was just about idyllic.”
4. For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her
After rushing through the process of recording their second album, Simon and Garfunkel were adamant that they would take their time with their third (though it came out just nine months after its predecessor). A handful of the songs from Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, including Homeward Bound, were recycled from older releases, but the duo took great pains over its recording and production. Simon’s song For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her is a hazy, guitar-led love song. “And when you ran to me / Your cheeks flushed with the night / We walked on frosted fields / Of juniper and lamplight.” Introducing the song at a concert, Garfunkel told the crowd: “This is a song about a girl who is fictitious. Her name is Emily. Neither of us know her, but the song is written about her. I’m sure she will appear someday.” Later, Simon contradicted this interpretation, saying it was not about a girl at all, but a “belief”.
5. Bookends Theme – Reprise
At 26, Simon believed he had reached the upper echelon of rock’n’roll without compromising his integrity, according to biographer Marc Eliot, but the duo continued to be met with sniffiness from critics. Their fourth album, Bookends (1968), wasn’t universally panned, but it was hardly acclaimed, either. “The music is, for me, questionable,” wrote Rolling Stone’s Arthur Schmidt of the album. “But I’ve always found their music questionable … I admit to liking it, but it exudes a sense of process, and it is slick, and nothing too much happens.” The album has since, like their debut, been significantly reappraised. To dismiss the 32-second Bookends Theme, which opens the album, and its lengthened reprise, as slick is to do it a grave disservice. It’s achingly poignant, sheltering in the comfort of the past while lamenting its loss. “Preserve your memories,” concludes the reprise, which adds strings, and then words, to the crawling, minimalist guitar melody. “They’re all that’s left you.” The vagueness of those last five words – are the memories all that remains, or all that has now gone? – renders the song even more arresting.
6. Mrs Robinson
The film director Mike Nichols had become fascinated with the duo’s music and approached them about his next film project, The Graduate. Simon was initially reluctant, but after meeting Nichols and reading the script, agreed to write a couple of songs for the film. The two he came up with, Punky’s Dilemma and Overs, weren’t quite what Nichols had in mind. So they decided to show him an incomplete song they’d initially called Mrs Roosevelt, changing it to Mrs Robinson after the film’s seductive female lead. It wasn’t finished – they even had to fill in parts with “dee dee dee” because they’d not come up with lyrics yet – but Nichols loved it. He even insisted they keep the “dee dee dee” part.
Is there a lyric more heartbreakingly, beautifully restrained than this: “‘Kathy I’m lost,’ I said / Though I knew she was sleeping”? The song America – as musically sprawling as the journey it recalls – was inspired by a road trip Simon took with Kathy Chitty. As its narrator searches for a country that seems constantly beyond his grasp, the song flits in tone between youthful playfulness and a deep-rooted, intangible sadness. One minute they are “laughing on the bus” as the pair make up stories about their fellow passengers (“I said, ‘Be careful, his bow tie is really a camera’”), the next there is an “empty and aching, and I don’t know why”. The latter confession only emerges when the narrator knows no one is listening.
8. The Boxer
By the time Simon and Garfunkel limped towards their fifth album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, their relationship was irreparably damaged. Many of the tracks on what would turn out to be their final album together were littered with allusions to their relationship. But The Boxer is more insular than such interpersonal turmoil, speaking of of a private, inner struggle: “I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises.” For many years it was assumed to be a diatribe against Bob Dylan, the “lie-la-lie” in the song’s chorus a comment on Dylan’s artistic disingenuousness. That assumption was baseless; the “lie-la-lie” was simply a placeholder lyric that stuck. “I didn’t have any words!” said Simon. “But, it’s not a failure of songwriting, because people like that and they put enough meaning into it, and the rest of the song has enough power and emotion, I guess, to make it go, so it’s all right. But for me, every time I sing that part … I’m a little embarrassed.
9. The Only Living Boy in New York
If Simon and Garfunkel began with a perceived betrayal, they ended with one, too. The pair were cast in Mike Nichols’ 1970 film adaptation of Catch-22, which was due to be filmed in Mexico. At the last minute, realising he had too many characters, Nichols cut Simon’s role and Garfunkel flew to Mexico without his bandmate. Simon was left alone in New York for what turned out to be many months. “Tom, get your plane right on time,” the song opens, the smoothness of Simon’s voice veiling an edge of bitterness. (Tom was a reference to Garfunkel’s moniker during their Tom and Jerry days, “I know your part’ll go fine. Fly down to Mexico … and here I am / The only living boy in New York.” In 2013, Garfunkel credited the incident as one of the driving factors in the pair’s split: “I had Paul sort of waiting: ‘All right, I can take this for three months. I’ll write the songs, but what’s the fourth month? And why is Artie in Rome a fifth month? What’s Mike doing to Simon and Garfunkel?’”
10. Bridge Over Troubled Water
It often seems as if bands produce their most heart-stirring material at the height of their turbulence, and Bridge Over Troubled Water is surely a shining example of this. “When you’re weary / Feeling small,” sings Garfunkel, “When tears are in your eyes / I will dry them all / I’m on your side.” His wavering falsetto is almost a whisper at first; later it soars. Simon would come to regret insisting that Garfunkel provide the vocals: “Many times on a stage, when I’d be sitting off to the side and Artie would be singing Bridge, people would stomp and cheer when it was over, and I would think, ‘That’s my song, man.’” The pair split up months later, with Simon calling Columbia Records chairman Clive Davis to say: “I want you to know I’ve decided to split with Artie. I don’t think we’ll be recording together again.” He wasn’t quite correct, though most of their brief attempts to record new material in subsequent years were fairly fruitless. They have since performed a handful of reunion shows and tours, but after Garfunkel referred to Simon as a “monster” in a 2015 interview with the Daily Telegraph, it seems unlikely they’ll be touring again any time soon. Still, troubled though the waters may have been, what a team they once were.