Richard Nisley

Simon & Garfunkel–3 albums/3 reviews
Pop Culture Released - Sep 14, 2019
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (October 24, 1966)

Simon and Garfunkel considered this–their third studio album–as really their first. Working closely with engineer Roy Halee, it was the first time they were able to fully employ the recording studio to enhance Paul's songs. Finally, the boys had found their sound. The strength of the album is the high quality of the songwriting: “Scarborough Fair”– which Paul had learned while on tour of England–plus a bevy of songs he had written: “Cloudy,” “Homeward Bound,” “The Dangling Conversations,” and the exquisite “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her.” These are tastefully and imaginatively realized in the use of their multi-tracked voices, prominent use of acoustic guitar, the melodic accompaniment of occasional keyboard, electric bass, drums and various hushed percussive instruments. Maturity and confidence abound—along with a sophistication that can only be described as urbane. The boys were New Yorkers in upbringing and worldly outlook, yet this is a collection of songs with the scope and feel of rambling, suburban California. “Coudy” and “Flowers Never Bend With the Rainful” are evocative of West Coast culture. “The 59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” while set in New York, celebrates the kind of bright sunny day that can only be found in Southern California. Even “Homeward Bound,” a song about the loneliness of touring and “one-night stands,” longs to escape the trapping of crowds and city living.

Art Garfunkel gives a haunting performance of the dreamy “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her,” one of the album’s highlights. But the best moments are reserved for “Scarborough Fair/Canticle,” a majestic piece of rich vocal harmonies and vivid imagery. The weakest piece is the topical “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” which dated quickly and sounds out of place in what is one of the best albums of the 1960s.

Bookends (April 3, 1968)

The boys from Queens put a great deal of time and effort into this song collection. They were more than a little apprehensive about its chances in the marketplace, however, in the wake of an album released the month before—“The Graduate/Soundtrack.” They had good reason to be concerned. Who was going to shell out another four dollars (the price of an album then) for yet another album featuring their songs? Also, their previous two singles had not sold all that well, and were featured on the new album. Their worries were unfounded, as it turned out. “Bookends” topped the charts and, coupled with the smashing success of “The Graduate" movie, pushed them into the stratosphere of pop superstardom. Unlike their previous album, which was suggestive of suburban California, “Bookends” reflects their New York roots. The album breathes with an air of urbane sophistication as heard on “Punky’s Dilemma.” “At the Zoo” (where all the animals are metaphors), and the zoo keeper is “very fond of rum,” could only be about New York. “Fakin’ It” and “A Hazy Shade of Winter” add dimension to the feeling. But the album has a counter theme of isolation that speaks of another side of city living. “Overs” is about the end of a love affair—a breakup. An elderly pair seated on a park bench "lost in their overcoats" is the subject of “Old Friends." The loneliness of growing old and alone only hinted at in “Old Friends,” is manifest in “Voices of Old People,” a composite recording Art made in rest homes in New York City and in Reseda, California. “Save the Life of My Child,” however, finds that even in an attempted suicide there’s no escaping the crush of people living in close quarters. The album’s magnum opus is “Mrs. Robinson,” the featured tune of “The Graduate.” It does not fit either theme but somehow fits quite well into the album's mood and structure. Their wizard-as-producer was Roy Halee.

Bridge Over Troubled Water (January 26, 1970)

“Bookends” may have had better songs, but “Bridge Over Troubled Water” features three masterpieces elevated to epic proportions, thanks to the modern recording studio: the title song ("Bridge Over Troubled Water”), “The Boxer,” and “The Only Living Boy in New York.” Indeed, Simon and Garfunkel were among the few recording artists of the 1960s to fully utilize the capabilities of modern recording technology (the Beatles were another). The result was a big, breathtaking sound coupled with sophisticated instrumentation that could not be duplicated in the concert hall.

Simon and Garfunkel’s accomplice was producer Roy Halee, a classically trained musician who worked in television before landing a job as a sound engineer for Columbia Records. He met Simon and Garfunkel while the boys from Queens were recording their first album. At the time–1964–Paul and Art considered themselves folk singers. Their first album didn’t sell well and Columbia Records dropped them. Two years later, however, one of their songs began getting airplay at a radio station in Miami, Florida. Roy Halee was no fool. He knew the song needed work if it was going to crack the Top-40 playlist. He located the master and overdubbed electric guitar, bass, and drums, and enhanced the vocals so that the boys’ two-part harmony sounded as full and rich as the three-part harmonies of the Byrds. In fact, that was what he was after–a song that sounded like the Byrds, who were hot at the time. Simon and Garfunkel, meanwhile, had no idea of what Halee had done to their record and were absolutely stunned when “Sound of Silence” became the surprise hit of 1966.

“Sound of Silence” was the first of a string of highly-produced smash hits for Simon and Garfunkel. For the next three years Roy Halee, Paul Simon, and Art Garfunkel worked closely together, as if joined at the hip. They utilized the recording studio like a painter uses all the colors of the pallet. They peaked with the boy’s fifth and final album, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” One of the album’s songs– “The Boxer”–consumed one-hundred hours of studio time, and at one point had Paul and Art singing at the top of their lungs from inside a stairwell at Columbia Studios in New York, which in turn was overdubbed 16 to 20 times (depending on whom is telling the story). The result was a dense wall of harmonies that gives the song its ethereal quality. The “Only Living Boy in New York” duplicated the feat, while “Bridge Over Troubled Water” employed a symphony orchestra in the final verse to accompany Garfunkel’s angelic voice. The results are stunning. Fifty years on, the sound world of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” continues to take one’s breath away. It was the biggest selling album ever made (until the summer of 1975 when "Fleetwood Mac" topped the charts).

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