Song of the Day #502: ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle’ – Simon & Garfunkel

I once came up with a scientific formula to numerially rank every CD in my collection. The idea was to assign a point value (on a scale of 1-10) to each song on each album and then divide by the number of songs on the album. This would give you a mean song-score for the whole album… basic stuff.

The added wrinkle came when I tried to account for longevity. I figured it would be easy to overpraise more recent songs while a song that stood the test of time would get no boost for having done so. So I weighted the scores by adding a tenth of a point for every year since each album’s original release.

Once all my calculations were complete, the CD that emerged as the #1 album in my collection was Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

Now, more than anything, this result points out that my system was hopelessly flawed. The date-weighting wound up giving an album like this one, released in 1966, a huge advantage. And in retrospect, I probably overvalued some of the songs on the album to begin with.

That said, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is a lovely album, and an even better one than Sounds of Silence. It contains the classics ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)’ and lesser-known gems ‘Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall’ and ‘For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her’ as well as Paul’s first real stabs at rock and funk.

My favorite song on the album is ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle,’ which is the one track not written by Paul Simon. It’s a blend of a traditional ballad and a war poem, with Simon and Garfunkel playing off each other just beautifully.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
(On the side of a hill in the deep forest green)
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
(Tracing a sparrow on snow-crested ground)
Without no seams nor needlework
(Blankets and bedclothes the child of the mountain)
Then she’ll be a true love of mine
(Sleeps unaware of the clarion call)

Tell her to find me an acre of land
(On the side of a hill, a sprinkling of leaves)
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
(Washes the grave with so many tears)
Between the salt water and the sea strand
(A soldier cleans and polishes a gun)
Then she’ll be a true love of mine

Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather
(War bellows, blazing in scarlet battalions)
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
(Generals order their soldiers to kill)
And gather it all in a bunch of heather
(And to fight for a cause they’ve long ago forgotten)
Then she’ll be a true love of mine

Are you going to Scarborough Fair
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #502: ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle’ – Simon & Garfunkel

  1. Amy says:

    A few things:

    -once again, I’m going to cry foul that you chose to feature a song not written by Paul Simon when you have so many you can choose that were written by him.

    – still, beautiful song, wonderful harmony

    – more than anything, you did what?!! i hope you only had 5 or 6 albums in your collection at that point 😉 which one came in dead last? do you still have this list somewhere? you may have to publish it… consider it an early Christmas present to your readers 🙂

  2. Dana says:

    I was thinking the same thing as Amy—you did what? Was this pre-kids? Have you confessed this to Alex? As I know you have well over 200 CDs, I’m thinking this exercise must have taken weeks if not months.:)

    Anyway, I have never heard any version of this song other than S&G’s, and for years I assumed that Simon had written it. However, the fact that he didn’t does not diminish from the song’s beauty and the stamp they have indelibly placed on it. The song maintains its timeless quality (I believe the original dates back centuries) and yet feels completely grounded in the 1960s folk era.

  3. Clay says:

    I agree that regardless of who wrote the original words and tune (which Simon rearranged for this recording) this song belongs to Simon & Garfunkel.

    As for my experiment, this was back in college so no, I didn’t have kids. 🙂 I think I’m close to 500 CDs now but back then I had far fewer. And I don’t remember which ones came in last, though I suspect I no longer own those.

  4. dana says:

    And it is worth noting that simon wrote the counterverses sung by garfunkle, which garfunkle worked in from an older simon song. Those anti-war verses bring in that 60’s spirit

  5. peg clifton says:

    I have two things to say–I love this song and you did what?

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