Simon and Garfunkle

Simon and Garfunkle

“I’m on your side, when times get rough,
And friends just can’t be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will lay me down…”

There was a simplistic beauty to Simon and Garfunkle, two voices intertwined in pristine harmony to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar. Add haunting, cerebral lyrics written by a masterful storyteller and you have one of the most successful musical duos of all time. But underneath the magic was a volatile tension that, despite their many appearances together, the pair has never quite been able to mend.

The duo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel was a friendship forged all the way back in junior high school. By their early teens, they were recording music together and in 1957, managed to a get a record deal of sorts to record one of Simon’s compositions called “Hey Schoolgirl.”

Thanks no doubt to record executive somewhere who didn’t particularly think their names were marketable, they were renamed Tom (Art) and Jerry (Paul). Their efforts led to television exposure on American Bandstand and a Top-40 hit, but things fizzled shortly after for Tom and Jerry. They decided to take a break from each other (what would become a recurring trend) with Paul continuing to hone his songwriting skills and Art getting a college education, but their was no denying that their voices were a perfect compliment to each other.

They decided to make another collaborative attempt in the early 60s, this time deciding that their own names were just fine. Record executives thought so as well, and in 1964, they released Wednesday Morning at 3 AM for Columbia Records. The public response was lukewarm, so the group disbanded again, with Paul taking off to live in Great Britain, where he had made a minor name for himself as a folk singer.

But Columbia exec, Tom Wilson wasn’t ready to give up on the duo quite so easily. He took it upon himself to remix one of their singles, upgrade the orchestration to make it a little more lush, and released it as a single without ever telling either singer of his intentions. The haunting “Sounds of Silence” proved to be just the breakthrough hit they needed, jumping to #1 almost immediately and causing Paul to quickly purchase an airline ticket back to America.

While the success of the single caused the public to take another look at the album from which it came, placing it on the charts for the first time, the duo was busy in the studio recording a follow-up album that would put the duo on the map as a voice for a new generation. Titled The Sound of Silence, the new album featured such radio friendly hits as “I am a Rock” and “Homeward Bound,” another equally haunting interweaving of vocal harmonies accentuating a sole acoustic guitar.

The same year, the prolific pair would release Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Two singles would immediately become minor successes, “The Dangling Conversation” and “Hazy Shades of Winter,” but the biggest hit from the record would come a bit later. A number of their songs were used in the film, The Graduate, starting a young Dustin Hoffman, including a new offering “Mrs. Robinson,” which not only stayed on the charts in the #1 spot for three weeks, but helped earned the pair a trio of Grammy Awards.

Radio listeners also began demanding the release of a song from their previous album – a unique take on a traditional song called “Scarborough Fair.” Simon and Garfunkel were emerging folk heroes, who chose simplicity over the mindless pop of their peers. 1968 brought another album, Bookends, a compilation of earlier hits along with such new offerings as “Old Friends” and “America.”

Something big was looming on the creative horizon, however, and it would arrive with their 1970 masterpiece, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Art would take lead singing duties for the title track, delivering a mesmerizing performance that few have equaled. It swiftly moved into the #1 spot on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and became one of their most beloved hits of all time.

Thanks to other hits such as “El Condor Pasa (If I Could) and “The Boxer,” the album quickly achieved multi-platinum status and rested atop the US and UK charts in the #1 spot for ten weeks. The following year, Simon and Garfunkel’s efforts would increase their Grammy Award collection substantially.

But while Art sang of the power of friendship, the truth was, Simon and Garfunkel were again ready for some alone time, and this time it lasted for years. They would make a celebrated surprise appearance together to perform for stunned and overjoyed audiences on Saturday Night Live in 1975, and release another hit called “My Little Town,” but it would be another five years before they took the stage together again.

In 1980, they announced a free concert to be held in Manhattan’s Central Park. Over a half-million people turned out for the event, simply to hear those two angelic voices harmonize together again. The live recording of the performance was released as a highly successful double album. A tour soon followed which sold out stadium-sized venues wherever they appeared.

Paul Simon continued a very successful solo career, releasing two astonishing internationally-flavored albums in the 80s – Graceland (which would win Album of the Year) featuring a roster of African musicians, and the South American influenced Rhythm of the Saints.

In 2003, the pair put aside their celebrated differences to appear together for the opening of the Grammy Awards, for which they were being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and they soon embarked upon a substantial tour called “Old Friends”. The success of the tour led them to go back on the road for another 25 dates in 2004, which ended with a performance at the Colosseum in Rome in front of an estimated 600,000 people.

The pair have united a handful of times since, but the collaborations are getting fewer and farther between. Meanwhile, the world still has their catalog of timeless material to bridge the gaps and their loyal fans remain hopeful that there will be more reconciliations in the future for this iconic pair of performers.

If you count yourself as one of the millions of Simon and Garfunkle fans out there, we would love to hear your thoughts and recollections of this songwriting duo in our comments section below.

One Response to “Simon and Garfunkle”

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  1. Gina says:

    My parents had a greatest hits compilation LP of Simon & Garfunkel that I liked to listen to and daydream to. However, looking at the photo on the cover, I thought that Simon was Garfunkel and Garfunkel was Simon!

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