Simon & Garfunkel were one of my first musical loves. I owned all of their albums on vinyl more than a decade after they broke up and was delighted by every poetic turn of phrase, every gorgeous harmony.
A few years ago I counted down my list of favorite songwriters and Paul Simon wound up in the top spot. So it’s no surprise that he’d place a song on this list.
What may be a surprise is that I’m not going with one of his solo tracks, particularly something from Graceland, one of the best albums ever recorded.
Sounds of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel (1966)
I backed into my appreciation of Simon & Garfunkel after discovering Paul Simon as a solo artist. So I always kind of looked at the duo as the opening stages of a brilliant career and less as a groundbreaking unit in its own right.
But over the years I’ve come to understand just what an impact they had on the musical landscape.
Among them is ‘April Come She Will,’ the haunting track that, like ‘The Sound of Silence,’ was featured prominently in the film The Graduate. Another is ‘I Am a Rock,’ Simon’s ode to detachment that English teachers the world over have used to demonstrate metaphor.
Both of those songs appeared as solo compositions on The Paul Simon Songbook, as did ‘A Most Peculiar Man’ and ‘The Leaves That Are Green.’ Essentially, Sounds of Silence was a collection of previously released material rerecorded to capitalize on the duo’s newfound success.
When we left Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, they had split up after the failure of their debut folk album, 1964’s Wednesday Morning, 3AM, with Simon moving to London to perform in small venues and Garfunkel pursuing a Masters degree in New York City.
During the summer of ’65, one track off of that debut album showed signs of life on college radio. ‘The Sound of Silence,’ a gentle tune with grand lyrics, received a lot of airplay in Gainesville, Florida, and other college towns. Producer Tom Wilson, who had worked on Wednesday Morning, 3AM, sensed an opportunity.
I’m referring to folk rock, a genre influenced by The Beatles themselves to some degree but mostly typified in the music of Bob Dylan, The Byrds and the focus of this week’s theme, Simon & Garfunkel.
Early on, Simon & Garfunkel leaned more toward the “folk” side of folk rock, but over the course of their five albums they introduced a host of new sounds to their repertoire and created a legacy that resonates to this day.