I wandered empty streets down
Past the shop displays
I heard cathedral bells
Tripping down the alleyways
As I walked on..
There was a time when watching Dustin Hoffman – as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate – floating around in a swimming pool wearing shades was the height of cool. Or I thought so, anyway. The music playing in the background was pretty cool too – an extended version Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel.
What’s not to like about Simon and Garfunkel? Folky guitar, intelligent lyrics, flawless harmonies. I have all five of their original albums, plus sundry live stuff, box sets, unreleased material, even their 70’s collaboration, My Little Town. It's music I continually come back to, a bridge to my childhood, to adolescence, to the care-free days of youthful summer through to shadowy evenings of judgement.
Ignoring the false start as a teenage duo – Tom and Jerry - their career lasted about six years. Following their unsuccessful first album Wednesday Morning 6am, Paul Simon went off to England to play as a solo artist. Here he wrote (and recorded) many of his greatest songs learning from the greats of the British folk scene. But the phenomenal success of The Byrds and Mr Tambourine Man, opened up a demand for folk-rock and,unknowingly, the duo began to take off. Back in the States, their record company remixed the acoustic The Sound of Silence and added bass, drums and an electric lead and – eh viola! – a number 1 record was made.
And so followed The Sounds of Silence, Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme, Bookends and finally Bridge Over Troubled Water. Add some non-album singles and that was about it. The Graduate doesn’t have new material on it not found elsewhere (apart from an abridged acoustic version of Mrs Robinson)...
For Emily (Wherever I may find her)
Some of Simon’s best imagery populate this touching love song. He generously allows Garfunkel to sing lead. And he does it well. So good is their live performance of this song that the version on the UK Great Hits album is pretty much definitive. Simon says he wrote this about an imaginary girl, an imaginary situation and the loss of hope of ever finding her. Kind of stole my idea 50 years before I had it...
April Come She Will
A deceptively simple song, using the months as a backbone to the story of a love affair that starts, grows and dies. Simon at his folkie best.
Oh Lord, why have you forsaken me? // I have tended my own garden too long.
The forlorn cri de coeur at the end of this stylish whinge always gets to me. About how the writer has been ignored, rejected whilst other groups (The Blessed) have been favoured in his place. In the final line there is a sort of epiphany as the writer realises that the fault lies more with him than others or Fate.
The Sound of Silence
Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
If he wrote nothing else, Simon would be up there amongst the rock gods with this epic. Ridiculously quotable, endlessly thought-provoking, it was a major song before the illicit re-working by Tom Wilson of Columbia Records. The added beat, bass and electric guitar however, propel it to a different, higher plane.
In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminder of every
Cut that made him cry out in pain
“I’m leaving! I’m leaving!”
But the fighter still remains.
FFS - how can other writer in the popular music sphere fight against this? Thing is, Simon could write tunes too. With his left hand he had talent, with his right abundance.
There is some dispute about whether Simon nicked his arrangement from Martin Carthy. Maybe, maybe not. But Simon and Garfunkel's version pisses on all other versions. Yes, even Nana Mouskouri's version. If you don't like this then you have no soul. From the tune, the counter melody, the delicate acoustic guitar, the harpsichord, the close harmony - lovingly sung, this is the perfect tune to be drifting aimlessly around in a pool to in a Mike Nicholls film.
Notable others - Overs, The Dangling Conversation, The Only Living Boy in New York, Mrs Robinson, Homeward Bound. Basically most of them. Yeah, Leaves That are Green, Bleecker Street. Loads. Old Friends. I am a Rock. Kathy's Song. Red Rubber Ball (huh? Look it up). The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine (for those who have a tendency to W).