Simon and Garfunkel officially split up after the 1970 release of their last studio album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Their split got lost in the fanfare of the breakup of another group, called The Beatles. It was typical, though. Simon and Garfunkel headlong been overlooked at times as the duo tried to find an opening between the twin giants, The Beatles and Bob Dylan.
A new release of all of their 11 splendid Columbia releases, including concerts from 1967 and 1969 as well as their triumphant 1981 reunion in Central Park, on Sept. 19, 1981 (I was there and it was superb), underscores what made S&G so remarkable. Simon wrote brilliant, compact classic songs and their voices meshed alongside the sounds of some of the best studio musicians in all of rock and roll.
Their music sounds like no one else — not the Everly Brothers, their singing models from the 1950s. Not The Beatles and not Bob Dylan. It was this freshness, this originality that propelled the duo to No. 1 with “The Sounds of Silence” and caught the eye of director Mike Nichols when he was searching for a rock sound for The Graduate.
It seems a little incongruous to remember that Simon and Garfunkel sold huge quantities of records because their songs were so well crafted and meticulously arranged and unique. You’d think this would not be a conducive sound for pop radio. But they kept up the momentum for years — after The Sounds of Silence, with I Am a Rock, Homeward Bound, Mrs. Robinson, Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Boxer and other hit tunes,
Would Simon and Garfunkel have made it as big if they had emerged today, out of their Queens, N.Y., roots? This is always a great parlor-game kind of question. Would Bill Russell have been as dominant if he was playing basketball today? Could the great pitcher Bob Gibson have won as many games in the 21st century? Of course, of course and of course.
The greats have ways of thriving through the years. Simon, for his part, has enjoyed a solo career that might just be more acclaimed — remember Graceland? — than his work with his high school pal Artie.
The noted rock and roll writer and historian Robert Hilburn has just started working on an ambitious biography of Paul Simon. I can’t wait to read it. Hilbrun will help to explain the greatness of this music.
Simon is a lot smarter than the other guys. He has had his fallow periods. And with the fiasco of The Capeman, he has demonstrated that he doesn’t always have a Midas touch. But what the heck — nobody does, either. Nobody.
But what Simon does have is a gift for longevity. His concerts continue to sellout.You can hardly turn the dial for long on oldies radio stations without hearing a Simon and Garfunkel classic.
It’s all in the music and that indelible sound. Hearing their music always makes me smile. My favorite album is Bookends, with At the Zoo, Mrs. Robinson and America burning bright in my memory. But so do such great, hidden gems as Overs and Punky’s Dilemma. Listen to the lyrics of these songs, especially Overs! Simon has a flair for writing three-minute long novels. He was a tad melancholy during this period — despite the occasional Feelin’ Groovy memento. But that’s quite alright.
Simon and Garfunkel made winer music, songs that cold somehow be best enjoyed when the temperatures were dropping and frost appeared on tree branches. They made timeless masterful music. And it sounds just as good today as it did back then.