Written on the 5th of September 2014
Some time after listening to Paul Simon’s Graceland, my parents decided to play some other cassette tapes during our long car trips. There was one I particularly liked which made me ask my parents something. Their answer confirmed what I already was fairly sure of: that “Simon” from Simon & Garfunkel was indeed Paul Simon.
Graceland was not played in the car as often as before, but I didn’t mind the change back then: true, their sound didn’t have that cool African influence, but listening to the duo sing together was heavenly. In fact, instrumentally speaking, their music is not especially complex, but when you combine two voices in such a perfect way, who gives a… I mean who cares about the instruments. Of course, there’s also the lyrics. Yeah, I usually don’t really pay attention to them, but some of them are beautiful (Kathy’s Song comes to my mind right now, for example).
Simon and Garfunkel had a relatively short but very intense relationship when it comes to music. Personally, their relationship is not that short, as they met in elementary school when they were twelve. In 1955, two years after meeting, they started recording Simon’s original songs as Tom & Jerry, and they even had a minor hit, called Hey, Schoolgirl, which sold about a 100.000 copies. According to what I have read, the Everly Brothers had a big influence on them back then. I say “according to what I read” because although the Everly Brothers do ring a bell, I don’t recall ever listening to them. Perhaps one of these days curiosity will beat me.
The duo disbanded as their next efforts were not successful enough, and they went to separate colleges. By 1963, they both had developed an interest in folk; Simon showed Garfunkel a few of the songs he had written and voilà, the duo released their first album in 1964. The used their real names, and not that Tom & Jerry thing, mind you.
Wednesday Morning, 3 AM contains a few traditional songs rearranged by them: Peggy-O, Go Tell It on the Mountain and the beautiful Benedictus. Some covers of songs written by other artists can also be found. A banjo, probably played by Simon, sounds in Ed McCurdy’s anti war Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream. The Sun is Burning is not an original either, and, finally, there’s a cover of Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing.
The rest of the album was written by Simon. I’d like to mention three of those songs. First of all, Bleecker Street, because I can’t find the appropriate words to express how beautiful it is. Then, The Sounds of Silence, probably their best known song. However, some of you may be surprised when you hear this version (the original), as the one that became extremely famous worldwide is on their following album (I’ll talk about that in another post). The Sounds of Silence is much more… well, silent, in this album. Finally, He Was My Brother was dedicated to Andrew Goodman, who was their friend and a classmate of Simon’s at Queens College. Andrew Goodman was one of the three civil rights workers murdered in the Mississippi civil rights workers’ murders. Members of the Ku Kux Klan killed them because Goodman and the other two men were taking part in a campaign to help give African-Americans the right to vote.
The album’s formula is simple: guitar, bass (which is often not very noticeable) and then banjo on Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream. The duo’s music would soon evolve, but this time, there was no need for more. Their voices alone made, and make, the album stand tall.