The Concert in Central Park was the first Simon & Garfunkel album I ever heard. Released in 1982, this recording of the late-1991 benefit concert was my gateway to the duo’s music and also to a half dozen of Paul Simon’s solo tunes.
In fact, it wasn’t until I started diving into Simon & Garfunkel’s catalog that I realized tracks such as ‘Late in the Evening,’ ‘Slip Slidin’ Away,’ ‘Kodachrome’ and ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ were actually solo tracks written and recorded after their breakup. I mean, they sound so good performed by both men.
A couple of months back I took a look at my birth year, 1972, counting down my favorite album releases and then featuring songs from acclaimed ’72 albums I haven’t heard.
I liked the yearly snapshot thing enough to make it a regular feature on the blog. But rather than move on to 1973, I’m going to jump around the decades a bit. For the next few weeks I’ll focus on 1982.
Because the Concert in Central Park was originally intended to be a Paul Simon solo gig, many of the featured songs are from Simon’s solo albums.
I imagine the setlist was changed a bit once Garfunkel’s participation was assured (‘Old Friends,’ for example, had to have been an addition meant for the duo) but many of the tracks would likely have been performed whether Garfunkel showed up or not. And that gives listeners the treat of hearing what Paul Simon’s solo records might have sounded like had he never split with Garfunkel.
In September of 1981, a planned Paul Simon solo concert turned into a generation-inspiring event when Simon invited Art Garfunkel to join him onstage in Central Park. Half a million people gathered on the Great Lawn to witness the historic reunion.
The resulting album is a lovely, touching document of the event and a hell of a batch of songs, too. It has a charmingly rough quality, including some flubbed verses and musical stumbles, which only serve to highlight the spontaneity of the show.
Simon & Garfunkel released only one more album (so far), though they have reunited a number of times since 1970. That release was The Concert in Central Park, a 1981 recording of the most memorable of those reunions.
Simon had been scheduled to appear solo, playing a free concert on the Park’s Great Lawn, but word got out that Garfunkel might appear and the show turned into something much bigger, both in size and importance. More than 500,000 people filled Central Park that night, celebrating not just the reunion of a classic group but the era they represented.