Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel started their recording career as Tom and Jerry, making teen-oriented Everly Brothers style pop. But by 1963, they’d re-branded as Simon and Garfunkel, and re-launched their career as an earnest trad-folk duo. Their debut album, 1964’s Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., was unsuccessful, and Simon relocated to London. But a Simon penned track ‘The Sound of Silence’ slowly gained a following, and producer Tom Wilson overdubbed guitar, bass, and drums on it. Despite not knowing about the re-release, Simon and Garfunkel had a number one hit in early 1966, and hastily reconvened, rush releasing a second album to capitalise on their sudden popularity.
Their golden era of albums started with 1966’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. With more studio time, the duo’s sound is more detailed and ornate, and they continued through their last two albums; 1968’s Bookends and 1970’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. The duo fractured in 1970 over tensions fuelled by Garfunkel filming Catch-22 in Mexico while Simon was recording Bridge.
The pair have reformed for live performances and recorded two songs in the 1970s – ‘My Little Town’ appeared on both of the duo’s 1975 solo albums, while the second release of Garfunkel’s 1977 album Watermark featured a cover version of ‘(What a) Wonderful World’, with James Taylor singing alongside the duo. But their attempt at a full blown reunion album failed – Simon released the sessions as a solo album, 1983’s Hearts and Bones.
So Simon and Garfunkel’s legacy is essentially five studio albums, released between 1964 and 1970. This is how I rank them:
#5 – Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964)
Despite a handful of strong Paul Simon songs, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. is the odd one out in the duo’s discography. The upbeat folk covers like ‘You Can Tell The World’ and ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ and the incongruously joyful reading of Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A’Changin” are at odds with the group’s usual introspection. Simon’s originals like the title track and the original, acoustic ‘The Sound of Silence’ are the album’s highlights.
#4 – Sounds of Silence (1966)
The duo’s second album was quickly pieced together to capitalise on the popularity of ‘The Sound of Silence’. There’s strong material like ‘I Am A Rock’ and ‘Kathy’s Song, but also obvious filler like the guitar instrumental ‘Anji’ and rote lyrics from Simon on ‘A Most Peculiar Man’ and ‘Richard Corey’.
#3 – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme (1966)
A huge step up from the duo’s first two albums, a less hurried schedule allowed the group to stretch out in the studio. There’s brilliance like the beautifully harmonised folk song ‘Scarborough Fair’, and the jazzy groove of ’59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)’ uses Dave Brubeck’s rhythm section. Simon’s lyrics occasionally overreach, on songs like ‘The Dangling Conversation’.
#2 – Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
The duo’s final album is half brilliant pop epics like ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’ and ‘El Condor Pasa’, and half charming throwaways like ‘Baby Driver’ and the cover of ‘Bye Bye Love’. Some of the throwaways work brilliantly too – ‘Cecilia’ is one of the group’s most popular songs – but it’s hard for the lesser songs not to be overshadowed by tracks like ‘The Boxer’ and the epic gospel of the title track. In interesting trivia, there were at least two movies released in 2017 using song titles from this record; ‘Baby Driver’ and ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’.
#1 – Bookends (1968)
Simon and Garfunkel’s most consistent work is a concept album about ageing; at least on the first side, the second side is leftovers from their soundtrack for The Graduate. ‘Mrs Robinson’ and ‘America’ are the most well known songs, but there are plenty of great album tracks like ‘Punky’s Dilemma’ and ‘Overs’.
Do you have a favourite album from the duo?