This article originally appeared in Issue 1 of
on Jan. 30, 1966
When I returned from home in the middle of November I brought with me a copy of the record. I showed it to a couple of people. “Simon and Garfunkel?” they said. “Are you kidding?” “It’s number one in Boston,” I said. “The record shops keep selling out faster than they can keep them in stock. It’s sort of a folk song.” Then I started playing it on the college radio station, and the shop in town sold out three weeks in a row.
By Christmas even New York was playing “The Sounds of Silence.” More than a year after the song had been released in an LP (Wednesday Morning 3 A.M.) it became the most popular recording in America. The world had now heard of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Would it ever heard of them again?
Yes. They have just recorded and rush-released their second LP, Sounds of Silence. It is easily the best American album since Bringing It All Back Home.
In the grand tradition (not trend!) of Guthrie, Seeger, Fariña, and Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel are modern bards, poets who know that poems are still meant to be sung, that minstrelry is still the best means of communication. This is a simple fact; people who speak of “protest” music or “folk-rock” are hopelessly confused, and guilty of dragging others down into their own misunderstanding. Paul Simon is not a “man with a message.” lt’s simpler than that. He wants to talk to you.
This is an amazing album. The songs show many and diverse influences; the subjects and styles are wonderfully eclectic. These are above all songs that can be sung—the aim is communication, not sound. Which makes it all the more incredible that the sound, too, is good. Most of the people who bought “The Sounds of Silence” didn’t know the words.
“The Sounds of Silence” is, of course, the lead song on the album, and it remains a powerful, evocative portrait of today’s city-world, of people who as they are pushed together more and more withdraw more and more into their own worlds, wrap themselves in the silence, in the protection, of “not getting involved.” The song reaches its peak when Simon cries, “Hear my words, that I might teach you…take my arms, that I might reach you!” Communication is the base, the prerequisite for living, and we are losing it; the song is not a protest, but a plea. The song is well written, effective in its imagery and also in the pounding accompaniment given it. The momentary break in the vocal and alteration of the accompaniment to create words “echoing in the wells of silence” is brilliantly done.
The pounding vision of “The Sounds of Silence” is balanced by a handful of gentle, easy songs which seem simple but are wonderfully rich. Simon is almost always able to say what’s important clearly without overstating. He is a phrasemaker, a man with a gift for words. “She faded in the night like a poem l meant to write…and the leaves that are green turn to brown.” The song (“Leaves That Are Green”) is lovely. You hear the words and understand; but Garfunkel’s tripping guitar figure [sic] expresses the feeling just as well as Simon’s words. The same thing happens in “April Come She Will” and “Kathy‘s Song” (reminiscent of Dylan’s “Girl of the North Country”). The guitar speaks with the voice; the songs are delicate, beautiful. The style is “folksy”…the appeal is universal.
The hard rock sound is put through a number of hoops on this LP. The only straight r ‘n’ r sound is “We’ve Got a Groovey Thing Going,” an extremely catchy song with a fascinating beat and melody. The use of harmony is in the best modern manner. Two songs, “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” and “Blessed,” use the non-melodic, big-sound accompaniment of “The Sounds of Silence,” with not quite as much success. “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” has a nice folksy melody, but the vocal and percussion are a bit too insistent. The melodic instrumentation is marvelous…the electric piano and guitar work really make the song. “Blessed” is the weakest cut on the album. It’s still a good song, but it suffers somewhat from pretentiousness, in contrast to the virtue of unpretentiousness found in most of the songs here; and the heavy electric sound is often overbearing. It is quite effective for creating mood in some places, but sustained over the whole song it is a bit too much. The words are varied: “Makes me nervous” is bad, “l have tended my own garden much too long” is excellent. The song has much of the same power (and the same tune) as Seeger‘s “Bells of Rhymney.”
“Richard Cory” is one of the best cuts on the album. Although sung in the early Kingston Trio vein (as are several songs on this album), it is given a rock ‘n’ roll treatment and could have strong possibilities as a 45. It will probably get a lot of airplay. It’s a rewrite of Edward Arlington Robinson’s bit about the man everyone envied who went home one day and shot himself, and it’s a damn sight better than Robinson’s poem. The theme is well handled, and—a rare thing—-the man who’s singing the song is given a little depth of character, and the image of Paul Simon standing in a recording studio vanishes altogether. The recurring guitar figure is great, and the whole thing is well arranged and should be well received.
“I Am a Rock” is another well-written, well-sung, well-arranged r ’n’ r sound with folk undertones, that completely catches up the listener in its power. Thematically, it presents the point of view of the man accosted in “The Sounds of Silence”...“nothing can touch me.” And the theme is woven in such a way that the singer, arguing the position of non-involvement, conveys to the listener the feeling that he is wrong. This is songwriting as it should be: indirect, artful, effective.
Another subtly written song, that grows on you not just melodically but thematically, is “A Most Peculiar Man,” another suicide story. The words work with the melody in a wonderful, illogical sort of syncopation. It’s a pleasant tune, and the meaning of the song sneaks up on you slowly and insidiously.
Finally, there is a delightful guitar instrumental called “Angie,” credited on the jacket to Davy Graham and on the record to B. Jansch. I would guess that this was recorded on two tracks by Art Garfunkel, as it’s very unlikely that both S & G could be such fine guitarists. An excellent piece of music.
All in all this record serves as unarguable evidence of the talent and musical creativity of Simon & Garfunkel. They are sparing; they go for the essentials, never committing the Dylanesque crime of ten-minute songs full of everything but the kitchen sink. But their songs are at the same time full, rich. They are universal without being impersonal. Simon writes about everyone, but he writes, as one must, from what he sees and feels. And what comes out is in this album. It’s not quite rock ‘n’ roll, nearly but never folk. So what do you call it? Call it poetry…call it music. And call it good. I hope Simon & Garfunkel make a million dollars.