411 Music Hall Of Fame Class of 2011: Simon & Garfunkel
SIMON & GARFUNKEL’S MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
Let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag…
The beginning lines of the song “America” may not mean that much to you. But to me, this is a song that represents something deep and ineffable inside of me as it relates to music. This is a song that helps me define not only who I am as a music fan, but it’s a litmus test that I use for others. If you can listen to “America” and not be moved, not be affected, not feel the emotion of the song, then you and I will likely never be able to see eye-to-eye about music. It doesn’t matter what genre you’re a fan of, this is a song that simply sets a standard for music of all sorts. You don’t have to be a Simon and Garfunkel fan, and you don’t even have to really like the song, but for me to respect your opinion on music you have to at least respect “America.”
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel grew up together in Queens and were performing together as early as elementary school. Their friendship was often contentious, but their love of music helped the two grow close. By high school they were performing together as a duo, mimicking The Everly Brothers in their style. While still in school they recorded the song “Hey, Schoolgirl” as Tom and Jerry, and the single charted on Billboard. It was during this time that they developed their habit of pursuing perfection in their harmonies, going so far as to study how each other formed the words they were singing so to better blend their vocal harmonies. By the end of high school, however, neither was looking at pursuing a career in music, and they went off to separate schools for college.
By the early 60’s, however, both were out of school and involved in the folk music scene in Greenwich. Simon was already writing poetry, and it wasn’t difficult for the duo to turn those poems into songs. They recorded their first album as Simon and Garfunkel in 1964. Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. included both Paul Simon originals as well as a variety of traditional folk songs and cover songs. This was by far the most traditional folk album that the duo put out, and most of the songs are simply Simon and Garfunkel singing over Simon’s guitar. Most of the vocals are blended as well, and there were very few solo opportunities for either member.
Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. made absolutely no immediate impact, as it was released just as The Beatles were on their meteoric rise in popularity. This was almost the end of Simon and Garfunkel, as Art Garfunkel returned to school and Paul Simon headed across the Atlantic to ply his trade in the U.K. During that time Simon wrote songs for other artists as well as recorded his first solo album. Back in the U.S., however, the song “The Sound of Silence” began to gain a following on radio stations. Simon and Garfunkel’s producer, without knowledge from the duo, took the original track and had Bob Dylan’s studio band add drums, bass, and additional guitars. The resulting single hit the charts and, by the end of 1965, had gone to #1 in the U.S.
Paul Simon immediately returned to the U.S., and the duo regrouped and headed back into the studio. The next four years would result in some of the most timeless music from the 60’s. Their next effort, 1966’s Sounds of Silence, included many tracks that would become defining songs for both the duo and for the folk rock scene. The album includes the definitive version of “The Sound of Silence” as well as “I Am A Rock.” Other tracks are notable simply for what they added to the duo’s catalog. “Kathy’s Song” and “Leaves That Are Green” are simply some of the most beautiful songs that the duo ever recorded, and others like “A Most Peculiar Man” showed their willingness to deal with serious subjects.
More than anything, however, Sounds of Silence proved that Simon and Garfunkel could make the transition from folk to folk rock. This was never a guarantee, as the initial reworking of The Sound of Silence was done completely absent of the duo’s input, and Paul Simon had been working on straightforward folk music in England. However, they were able to transition many of Simon’s folk songs into this new genre, and thus appeal to a much wider audience.
In October of 1966, they released their third album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme. While Sounds of Silence was put together quickly in order to capitalize on their unexpected hit single, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme was much more well thought out and created to be a true folk rock album. The effort paid off, as the album went up to #4 on the charts and included multiple hit singles. The most well-known song from the album is “Homeward Bound,” although “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” was the lead single from the album. Other notable tracks from the album include “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” and “The Dangling Conversation,” a song that both Simon and Garfunkel have identified as one of their favorites.
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme also saw the duo branching out, with each vocalist taking opportunities to shine individually. Art Garfunkel in particular stood out on “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her.” In just a few short years, the duo evolved from primarily being experts in harmony and folk music to each having their own distinct strengths and personalities. They still harmonized and kept their folk roots, but they had really started to push the boundaries of their genre.
1968 ended up being a banner year for the duo, and it was actually a movie soundtrack that made the difference. Their soundtrack for The Graduate not only help propel the movie to become considered one of the greatest of all times, but it also solidified Simon and Garfunkel as major stars. The soundtrack was a collection of previous Simon and Garfunkel songs as well as the new song “Mrs. Robinson.” “Mrs. Robinson” became the duo’s biggest hit, and The Graduate
became their first #1 album.
Despite its success, The Graduate was hardly a new Simon and Garfunkel album. Other than “Mrs. Robinson,” the album consisted of previously released songs as well as a couple songs from other artists. Simon and Garfunkel knew how to capitalize on success, however, and released Bookends in April of 1968. Simon and Garfunkel would go on to hold the #1 spot on Billboard from April through July, with The Graduate and Bookends trading the #1 and #2 spots multiple times. Despite their relative youth, the album took a serious look at the topic of aging, and songs such as “Old Friends” and “Hazy Shade of Winter” seem much more appropriate when the duo sings them now that they’re in their 60’s than they did when they were in their 20’s.
The duo was truly at the top of their game when they released 1970’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. The album would go on to become the defining album of their career, as well as their final studio album. The title track was an opportunity for Garfunkel to shine, as he took most of the vocal duties himself. The result was a song that, while atypical for Simon and Garfunkel, would be one of their best-known songs as well as a precursor for what Garfunkel would do with his solo career. The rest of the album was extremely diverse, with fun songs like “Cecilia” and “Baby Driver” mixing well with “The Boxer” and “Song For The Asking.” The album has sold over 25 million copies to date, spent 2 months on top of the U.S. charts (and more time on top of charts around the world), and won the duo 6 Grammys.
In 1970, the personal tension between the two old friends finally split the duo up. They had been unable to agree on some songs for the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album, as Garfunkel wanted more opportunities to display his vocals while Simon wanted to record more politically charged songs. Garfunkel was also getting work as an actor, and Simon felt left behind (a theme which could be heard on the track “The Only Living Boy In New York.”) Their relationship had always been marked with a certain amount of tension, even during their younger years, and the years of constant touring and recording finally had taken its toll.
In just a few short years, Simon and Garfunkel had left an enormous legacy. As a songwriter, Paul Simon was never afraid to tackle social topics. Some of the earliest Simon and Garfunkel songs dealt with topics such as nuclear war (“The Sun Is Burning”), social justice and the environment (“Sparrow”) and the civil rights movement (“He Was My Brother”). This continued throughout Simon and Garfunkel’s career. Even their final single, 1975’s “My Little Town,” (recorded after their breakup) could easily be seen to be a commentary on hopelessness and poverty in small-town life. The songs were stories that were grounded in reality, and were a picture of life as the duo saw it.
Simon’s ability to write about serious topics without being either overly idealistic or depressing allowed the duo to strike a real chord with their listeners. As the duo progressed, they took on weightier comments with more confidence. Songs about emotional isolation were a popular topic (“I Am A Rock,” “The Dangling Conversation,” “A Most Peculiar Man,”) and much of the Bookends album deals with the struggle and fear of growing older. While Simon was often writing from personal experience, his gift was in making the songs easy to relate to, which is yet another thing that sets Simon & Garfunkel apart from their contemporaries.
Why Simon & Garfunkel Was Selected:
While Simon and Garfunkel obviously took much of their influence from earlier vocal duos, they took the style far beyond any of their predecessors. The Everly Brothers are the most obvious precursor to Simon and Garfunkel, yet, by the time they released their debut album, Simon and Garfunkel were exploring music that The Everly’s never ventured into. Musically they quickly drifted far from the folk scene that had inspired and moved into early rock and roll. They were not only comfortable with sharing a stage with folk contemporaries such as Joni Mitchell or James Taylor but also rock and roll artists such as The Animals, The Byrds, and Jefferson Airplane.
As a vocal duo, Simon and Garfunkel broke new ground and paved the way for folk artists to move into the rock and roll world. Their songs were a snapshot of the times, beautiful pictures painted with vocal harmony that were able to accurately recreate scenes from different walks of life. Their songs have gone on to help define the late 60’s just as much as artists like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, or Janis Joplin.
Paul Simon would go on to have an extremely successful solo career, while Art Garfunkel’s work outside of Simon and Garfunkel isn’t nearly as timeless. However, both Simon and Garfunkel have recognized the unique music than can be created when they work together. They’ve reunited periodically since their 1970 breakup, including a free concert in Central Park that was attended by over 500,000 people. They’ve released multiple greatest hits albums and box sets, which make it easy for anyone to quickly jump into their career.