Simon & Garfunkel – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection – Sony/ Legacy Edition (6 discs) stereo vinyl box set [8/7/15] *****:
(Paul Simon – guitar, vocals; Art Garfunkel – vocals; Hal Blaine – drums; Larry Knechtel – piano, keyboards and many others)
On their way to become the next Everly Brothers, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel created musical history. Childhood friends from Queens, New York, the duo was part of the sixties folk scene that embraced the rock and roll culture. Simon’s dynamic songwriting skills and both his and Garfunkel’s incredible voices combined on some of the most unforgettable folk rock music of all time. They were renowned for their innate musical chemistry and personal acrimony. Their legacy is as chroniclers of the Sixties. In a mere six years, they produced five studio albums for Columbia Records. Grammys and election to The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame cemented their foothold in music. Fifty years after their debut, their catalog is available again.
The Complete Columbia Albums Collection encompasses the relatively brief recording career of perhaps the greatest duo in rock annals. All five studio releases and a greatest hits compilation are re-mastered to 180-gram vinyls. Their debut (not counting the 50s Tom and Jerry “Hey Schoolgirl” incarnation), Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. is representative of the 1964 folk movement, popularized by groups like Peter, Paul and Mary. There are various covers of spiritual folk songs like “Benedictus”, “The Sun Is Burning”, “Go Tell It On The Mountain” and “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream”. Simon’s acoustic guitar and the impeccable vocal harmony are compelling.
But the four original compositions are an indication of storytelling eloquence that would define Simon & Garfunkel. The gentle rhythm of “Bleecker Street” (“…$30 pays your rent on Bleecker Street…”) surrounds urban desolation with sophisticated, complex imagery. The first version of “The Sound Of Silence” (stripped down compared to the future version) is powerful and built on agile harmonies. The lyrics are stunning (“…And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made…”). The title track is a gentle love song . This is nothing short of a very auspicious debut for a major recording group.
On “Sounds Of Silence”, the growth of Simon as a composer emerges. Many of the songs were part of the 1965 UK release, The Paul Simon Songbook. This album disappeared in the U.S. (allegedly at Simon’s request). There are many highlights among these songs. “I Am A Rock”, though rhythmically up tempo speaks of isolation (“…I touch no one and no one touches me…”) and became a symbol for disaffected youth. The music has adopted more electric instrumentation (with studio players like Hal Blaine, Glen Campbell, Larry Knechtel and Joe South), spurred on by the mass commercial appeal of The Byrds’ cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man”. The biting social commentary of “Richard Cory” and the nursery rhyme innocence of “April Come She Will” are equally potent. Both singers are skilled and have emotional depth. Together, Simon & Garfunkel are without equals. The more recognizable version of “The Sound Of Silence” has studio verve with electric guitar, bass and drums added (supposedly unknown to S & G) by producers. Simon’s sense of personal intimacy glows on “Kathy’s Song”.
There is great debate on which Simon & Garfunkel albums are the best ones. To many, each release was more rewarding than the previous one. Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme was the first album to feature the involvement of the duo in production. Simon’s England visit resulted in his arrangement of “Scarborough Fair/Canticle”. Exquisite vocals and the shading of a harpsichord build on an ethereal musical landscape. Simon learned the song from Martin Carthy. The undercurrents of civil unrest permeate this 1966 release in the beatnik feel of “A Poem On The Underground Wall” (with bongos) and the plaintive “7 O’Clock News/ Silent Night” (which brought reviewer Ralph J. Gleason to tears). The overall sound is expanded with orchestration on “The Dangling Conversation”. But the basic resonance of loneliness is realized on “Homeward Bound”, now a Simon classic. There is whimsy on songs like “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” and “Cloudy”. Garfunkel’s angelic tenor shines on “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her”.
After the success of The Graduate soundtrack, Bookends was released in 1968. Utilizing a conceptual theme (especially on Side One), this album launched the group into the rarefied air of Bob Dylan and The Beatles. Tracing the stages of life, there are seminal Paul Simon compositions. “America” is a lyrical meditation of a road trip. There are musical flourishes that elevate the performance. “Old Friends” is tender and nostalgic with a swirling orchestrated transition. Both singers are superb. Their graceful voices intertwine effortlessly. The second side is punctuated with catchy tunes. “Fakin’ It”, “A Hazy Shade Of Winter” and “At The Zoo” are sprightly with instrumental augmentation. Adding to the stellar list is “Mrs. Robinson”, the first rock song to receive a Grammy for Record Of The Year.
If Bridge Over Troubled Water was intended as a finale, it is certainly a worthwhile one. The title cut is a gospel hymnal and Garfunkel’s vocals are mesmerizing. The song was another No. 1 hit, and many consider it to be the quintessential S & G opus. Another step forward is the reworking of the Peruvian Indian tune, “El Condor Pasa”. This early attempt at World Music (found also on “Cecelia”) would become a prominent attribute of Paul Simon solo material. The elaborate arrangements expand the music, especially on wistful numbers like “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” and “Song For The Asking”. A certain highlight is “The Boxer” an intricately produced (seven mics on just the guitar) folk gem. Two years later (after they split), Simon And Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits was released. It included several hits and four live tracks.
Simon And Garfunkel – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection is a shimmering testament to bona fide icons. The re-mastering to 180-gram vinyl is superb. The vocals are warm and pristine and guitars and piano have crispness and deep tonality. The album format enhances the sequential order of the songs. The original covers and liner notes are intact and there is a full-size booklet with loads of vintage photographs. Additionally, there are downloadable cards.
Disc One: Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. 88875049681
Side 1: You Can Tell The World; Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream; Bleecker Street; Sparrow; Benedictus; The Sound Of Silence
Side 2: He Was My Brother; Peggy-O; Go Tell It On The Mountain; The Sun Is Burning; The Times They Are A-Changin’; Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.
Disc Two: Sounds Of Silence 88875049691 (1965)
Side 1: The Sound Of Silence; Leaves That Are Green; Blessed; Kathy’s Song; Somewhere They Can’t Find Me; Anji
Side 2: Richard Cory; A Most Peculiar Man; April Come She Will; We’ve Got A Groovy Thing Goin’; I Am A Rock
Disc Three: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme 88875049701(1966)
Side 1: Scarborough Fair/Canticle; Patterns; Cloudy; Homeward Bound; The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine; The 58th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
Side 2: The Dangling Conversation; Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall; a Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission; For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her; A Poem On The Underground Wall; 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night
Disc Four: Bookends 88875049721 (1968)
Side 1: Bookends Theme; Save The Life Of My Child; America; Overs; Voices Of Old People; Old Friends; Bookends Theme
Side 2: Fakin’ It; Pinky’s Dilemma; Mrs. Robinson (From The Motion Picture “The Graduate”); A Hazy Shade Of Winter; At The Zoo
Disc Five: Bridge Over Troubled Water 88875049751 (1970)
Bridge Over Troubled Water El Condor Pasa (If I Could); Cecelia; Keep The Customer Satisfied; So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright
Side 2: The Boxer; Baby Driver; The Only Living Boy In New York; Why Don’t You Write Me; Bye Bye Love; Song For The Asking
Disc Six: Simon And Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits 88875049731 (1972)
Side 1: Mrs. Robinson; For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her (live); The Boxer; The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) live; The Sound Of Silence; I Am A Rock, Scarborough Fair/Canticle
Side 2: Homeward Bound (live); Bridge Over Troubled Water; America; Kathy’s Song (live); El Condor Pasa (If I Could); Bookends; Cecelia