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Simon and Garfunkel: Harmonious Discord

Updated on October 22, 2017
Al Greenbaum profile image

Al fell in love with the music of Simon and Garfunkel at 15 years of age. He has followed their careers for many years.

Simon and Garfunkel

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The Sounds of Silence

Beginning

Simon and Garfunkel came together in elementary school in New York in a production of “Alice In Wonderland”. Paul played the white rabbit and Art the Cheshire cat. As their friendship grew so did their interest in singing. They would catch three buses just to buy the latest record of their idols, “The Everly Brothers”, who had a huge influence on the development of the duo. Paul Simon’s dad was a band leader and taught his son the basics of chord structure and guitar playing. Soon the two boys rehearsed together on a regular basis, trying to get their sound right.

They touted some recordings they made of some songs they had written and finally persuaded Sid Prosen of Big Records to give them a contract. Their first single was “Hey Schoolgirl”, reaching a respectable #49 in the Billboard chart. They even appeared on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”. For a brief period, they were famous. But subsequent success was elusive. The singles that followed bombed and their contract was not renewed.

In between College and further excursions into the music business, Simon working in the Brill building for a time, they produced more singles, together and solo. Nothing seemed to be working and the boys went their separate ways. Simon went to England to work the folk circuit and Garfunkel finished his studies.

While Simon was beginning to get a following on the folk circuit in the UK, fame outside it was becoming elusive. Undeterred, he returned to the USA, called up Garfunkel and with the help of a CBS recording contract made their first album, “Wednesday Morning, 3 am”. It was a standard folk album containing some of Simon’s songs, like “The Sounds of Silence”, classics like “Go Tell It To A Mountain” and even Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changing”.

The album did not sell. Disappointed, Simon went back to England to resume his folk singer career which by now was getting him several bookings at prestigious venues but a bit of a reputation.

It is alleged that Paul Simon “stole” the original arrangement of the folk classic, “Scarborough Fair”, from British musician, Martin McCarthy. But in a 2001 interview, McCarthy admitted he had been mistaken and that Simon had never claimed authorship of the song and had never received royalties for it. Simon even sang the song with McCarthy on his 2001 UK tour.

Back in New York, a CBS producer, Tom Robinson, was listening to the Simon and Garfunkel acoustic version of “The Sound of Silence” from their “Wednesday Morning 3 am album”. He liked it but felt it was missing something. With the success of groups like The Byrds and the pre-eminence of Bob Dylan, Robinson felt that with just a little bit of tinkering, the song could be a hit. Adding drums and electric guitar, Robinson re-released the song in October 1965. By January it had gone to number one.

Becoming Famous

When Paul Simon heard of the success of his song he knew it was time to go back to the USA. Soon he was calling Garfunkel, and the boys recorded two albums in 1966. “The Sounds of Silence” and “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme”.

“The Sounds of Silence”, was mainly taken from songs on Simon’s UK LP, “The Paul Simon Songbook” with a few additions, like the instrumental “Anji”.

“Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme” was a more considered album with Simon and Garfunkel having a large say in the production with the help of someone who was to become a lifelong friend, CBC producer, Roy Halee.

Successful singles followed including, “Homeward Bound”, “I Am Rock”, “Scarborough Fair” and “Feeling Groovy. The duo’s star was beginning to rise.

The Graduate

Their careers were to be given an unexpected boost when the film director and humourist, Mike Nichols, chose Simon and Garfunkel to provide the soundtrack for his new film, “The Graduate”. The movie was a smash hit and provided them with a worldwide platform for their work.

Although Nichols rejected all but one of the songs Simon wrote for the film, “Scarborough Fair”, “Sounds of Silence”, “April Come She Will” and “Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” featured along with some thematic music from Dave Grusin. The new song that Nichols accepted took on an unusual inception. Simon had written some instrumental music to go along with Dustin Hoffman’s helter-skelter ride to the Church to “stop” the marriage of Elaine. But it was just a hummed chorus. When the film came out to rapturous reviews Simon was warned that if he didn’t write the full song to the chorus he had written he was going to miss out on a number one record. The song was completed and duly went to number one. It was of course, "Mrs. Robinson".

Critical Recognition

Their next album, “Bookends”, included Mrs. Robinson, and one of their most enduring songs “America”. Massive sales ensured number one album positions in both the UK and America. The duo was established as shapers of popular culture, putting them on the same level as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The work also was notable for the experimental use of sound on songs like “Save The Life of My Child”.

Songs from the album like “America” and “Mrs. Robinson” became permanent fixtures in the S&G live repertoire and American popular culture.

However, things were beginning to change within the group. Mike Nichols had offered Garfunkel a role in his next film, “Catch 22”. For eight months, a long schedule by most movie standards, filming was taking place in Mexico. Work on the duo’s next production was always going to be difficult as Art needed to juggle his filming schedule with studio recording time. A frustrated Simon even penned a song “The Only Living Boy In New York” in response to the situation.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Despite a fraught working relationship brought on by Garfunkel’s film commitments Simon and Garfunkel’s next album, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, was their crowning achievement. The album’s title song is perhaps most associated with the group with its soulful promise of peace and calm, “when times get rough”, soaring to a grand finale with the breath-taking final note.

The rock ballad “The Boxer” had been released earlier as a single but found a wider audience on the strength of BOTW album sales. Its catchy chorus and tumultuous ending make it a perennial favourite with fans of the group.

“El Condor Pasa” a Peruvian song, originally composed by Daniel Robles, had English lyrics by Simon and was arranged by Jorge Milchberg (Los Incas; a South American group Simon had originally worked within 1965).

“So, Long Frank Lloyd Wright” was written as a challenge to Simon from Garfunkel who said he couldn’t write a song about the famous architect. But, unknown to Garfunkel, the piece had a subtext. It was also about the impending breakup of Simon and Garfunkel.

The up-tempo “Cecilia” is a fun, upbeat song that pokes fun at relationship infidelity. “When I come back to be bed somebody’s taken my place”.

The duo was now sitting at the peak of their popularity. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” charted at No.1 in both the USA and UK. Their previous albums were re-released and at one stage they had 4 of the top 5 albums on the Billboard charts.

A documentary about Simon and Garfunkel appeared. “Songs of America” mixed footage of political events in the USA of the time with Simon And Garfunkel songs and interviews with the duo. It was broadcast only once, at that time, due to complaints from sponsors about the content of the program.

Break Up

Then, after all the promoting and album sales and TV appearances, Paul Simon walked into the office of Clive Davis, CBS president, and told him he wanted to dissolve his musical partnership with Art. Davis tried to talk him out of it but Simon was adamant. Eventually, Davis agreed but told him he would never be as big as Simon and Garfunkel.

Simon started preparing for his new solo career and Garfunkel went off to make another film with Mike Nichols, “Carnal Knowledge”.

The Concert In Central Park

Reunions

The Concert In Central Park

In 1981 Paul and Art decided to bury the hatchet - they had not been in contact for some time - and perform in a free concert to raise money for Central Park, New York. Despite the old hostilities re-surfacing during rehearsals, the concert went ahead successfully, prompting a subsequent world tour and the promise of collaboration on a new album.

Unfortunately, the working relations between Paul and Art got so bad that they barely spoke to each other on tour. Still, millions of S&G fans held their breath and prayed the boys could produce the album that had been mentioned at the start of their reunion. But it didn’t happen. The duo did work together on the album but due to constant disagreements and Simon feeling it was a work for one voice, not two, “Hearts and Bones,” was released under his name only.

1993

The duo played 21 performances at the Paramount theatre, New York. Simon and Garfunkel would take the first set, followed by Simon and his band with S&G playing the final part of the evening. The duo then went on a short tour of the far east only to have another falling out that lasted 8 years.

2003

In 2003 the duo was asked if they would sing together at the Grammy Awards where they were to receive a lifetime achievement award. Naturally, they were approached about singing at the event. After some hesitation, they agreed, giving one of their best performances of “The Sound of Silence”. Back together, singing better than ever and now communicating better too, they took to touring once more.

On this, their final reunion – so far- a lot of their songs were re-worked to bring them in line with the sophistication of modern performing techniques, at the same time retaining the essence of the Simon and Garfunkel’s brand of music.

A single, “I am A Citizen of the Planet” was issued to poor reviews but the success of the concerts, perhaps their best tour they had ever done, meant that their music still had a big place in the hearts of millions of fans worldwide.

Why Did They Break Up?

The Strains of Working Together

They had each become rather fed up with each other. In interviews with Garfunkel in later years he admitted that a year or two away from Simon would have been enough to rekindle his desire to work again with his former collaborator. Alternatively, Simon has suggested there was an imbalance in their working relationship whereby he was responsible for songwriting, playing the guitar, and singing, while Garfunkel just contributed with his voice. There have also been indications that Garfunkel was a perfectionist in the studio and wouldn’t just try things and see how it went.

Equal Recognition

Simon was also more than put out by the rapturous applause Garfunkel earned when singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, when, as the writer, he seemed to get nothing at all. (In the 2003 reunion cycle, Simon and Garfunkel always sang the song together).

Movies

Garfunkel alleges that Simon was upset that an offer for him to appear in “Catch 22” was withdrawn by director Mike Nichols. In a recent interview, Simon stated that when he learned that Garfunkel was going to be in another film “Carnal Knowledge” after all the adaptations he had to make during “Catch 22” to ensure “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was made, he felt he would not like to record with Garfunkel again.

The Enduring Appeal of Simon and Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel have a unique sound. They seem to blend as if one voice and then move into lead voice and second voice seamlessly.

Their songs are great to sing along to, especially “The Boxer”, “Feeling Groovy”, “Homeward Bound,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

There is a fondness for the film “The Graduate” that will forever link Simon and Garfunkel to the sixties, a time of change and great hope.

Their songs often have great stories to them like “I Am A Rock” and “America” which people identify with.

The Current Situation

Things between the singers could not be much worse. In 2015 Garfunkel gave an interview to “The Telegraph” in which he described Simon as “a jerk” with “a Napoleonic complex”. Simon avoided responding to the article until just a few months ago when he said he had no idea why Garfunkel was so mad with him but thought he might be “wrestling with demons”.

Art Garfunkel's Autobiography Fall 2017

Art's autobiography is due out in the fall of this year. There has been speculation as to whether he might comment on his troubled relationship with Paul Simon. I think he will. The publishers would not have commissioned the book otherwise. But he is most likely to keep it fairly unprovocative.

Art Garfunkel's Autobiography

“What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man”.

In September 2017, Art Garfunkel’s autobiography was published. It proved to be a disappointment, if the many scathing reviews on Amazon are to be taken into account. It is mainly a collection of “prose poems” with one or two snippets about his partnership with Paul Simon in the 60’s. If you are looking for a well-written piece about the legendary singer, look elsewhere. For collectors only.

What Is Your Favourite Simon And Garfunkel Song?

Pick Your Favourite Simon And Garfunkel Song.

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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 10 months ago

      Yes, partnerships tend to be difficult and I suppose artistic partnerships are more complicated than most.

    • Al Greenbaum profile image
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      Al Greenbaum 10 months ago from Europe

      They were very popular indeed . I started listening to them in my mid-teens only to find out a year later, they had split up. It was "The Graduate" that introduced me to them. I think they were at the height of their powers when they produced BOTW so maybe it would not have been possible to better that album. So maybe they finished at the right time. But I don't think it was as cut and dried as that. Garfunkel definitely wanted to resume the musical partnership and Simon was a bit lukewarm. Art has said that he thought that whenever Simon was in trouble, for example, after the failure of his film and soundtrack album, "One Trick Pony", he was always brought out to resurrect the S&G vibe. Don't know how true that is. Perhaps they could have been like CSNY and recorded as a group and as solo artists. Anyway, the rift could never be fully healed and now it looks like they will never even have a reunion. It's a real pity as they had a unique sound.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 10 months ago

      It is amazing they had so many great hits. Their music reflected the times. It seems their stormy partnership was the usual story of one partner believing, with justification, the other partner wasn't as committed to the partnership as the other.