Simon & Garfunkel – Old Friends

23 11 2010

Listened: Wednesday October 13

This is the first review I’ve come across that’s made me stop and think about my strategy. Do I do 5 separate reviews for all 5 Simon and Garfunkel albums (mostly) contained herein? Or do I just write one long review? Because I’m too lazy to create 5 separate entries, this is going to be a doozy of an entry.

Simon and Garfunkel were and are huge in my life. About the same time my dad fixed the record player when I was in high school, I was up late during the summer and saw The Graduate on KBHK. It was so badly edited that some threads of subplots didn’t make sense. It wasn’t until I rented it that I realized how bad it was (and offensive this practice is from an art perspective!)

Anyway, even in its cruelly chopped form, I fell in love with it immediately. The themes fit my life pretty perfectly – here’s all this stuff I’m “supposed” to do and not do, but what am I going to do with my life that’s at all interesting? I also loved the subversive humor – scenes that were hilarious, even though from a straight reading one wouldn’t know anything was funny (“Ben!” “Mr. McGuire.” “Ben!” “Mr. McGuire.”).

The Graduate was screened twice on campus while I was at Cal, and it was a great experience to watch it with other young people who seemed to “get it” too. The laughing and talking back to the screen was never as fun at any other movie. “You’re going the wrong way” when Benjamin drives on top of the Bay Bridge, supposedly going to Berkeley. The screams of recognition at all the Berkeley location shooting. And I’ve never heard an audience get as riled up at any other movie scene than when Benjamin uses the crucifix to defend himself and lock the door at the end of the film. The filmmakers made something truly meaningful and lasting if 30 years later college students were as enthralled as we were.

And the music – it’s beautiful and used to brilliant effect. The campus audience always cheered as “Music by Simon & Garfunkel” appeared on the screen. As soon as I saw the film as a high schooler, I wanted all the Simon and Garfunkel I could get my hands on. I went to Vinyl Solution (yes, it’s really called that) to make all my purchases, since that was the only place anywhere nearby that sold used vinyl cheaply. This is the reason why I own Old Friends – I don’t own any of their albums on CD, and buying the box set when it came out was a lot easier than acquiring them all.

Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. was the last album I bought, which is pretty back-asswards. I was already used to the electric version of Sound of Silence, as well as Dylan’s original version of Times They Are A’Changing, so I was unimpressed by either version on 3 A.M. However, it’s great to see where they got their start and which songs influenced them. He Was My Brother is an excellent first stab at a protest song by Paul.

My parents already owned the Sounds of Silence album, so I immediately started my intense S&G study with it. Sound of Silence is one of my favorite songs of all time. The singing is beautiful, and the lyrics are poetic, descriptive, and gripping. “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls.” I never realized until now that no one ever uses a harpsichord in popular music, but it’s used to such nice effect in Leaves That Are Green. This song makes me feel the passing of time very acutely – I remember when “21 years” was quite a bit older than me, and now it’s so much younger.

The album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme immediately makes me think of Berkeley, both because of how the song Scarborough Fair is used in The Graduate, and because it was the first record I played in my dorm after I set up my stereo, since Berkeley is name-checked in Cloudy. Each song is a beautiful little story wrapped up with a bow with the fabulous harmonies.

The Bookends album is a major leap in maturity for the duo. Maybe it has to do with the increased notoriety from the success of the Graduate. The layers of sound in songs like Save The Life of My Child and the more funky musical direction in general sound much less like simple “folkies” and more like multifaceted musicians. Mrs. Robinson is one of the great singles of all time.

Despite the musical maturity, Bridge Over Troubled Water is actually a return to Simon and Garfunkel’s 50s New York street harmonizing (they even go so far as to include the Bye Bye Love live track to make that point). Cecilia was purposely written as a song people would sing in the street, and I would put Baby Driver and Why Don’t You Write Me in the same class. Another part of this album is white-boy gospel like Bridge Over Troubled Water. Old Friends includes two extra Christmas tracks from their career, Star Carol and Comfort and Joy and way back on their first album they sang Go Tell It On The Mountain. I always found it a little odd that two Jewish guys were singing their hearts out about Jesus in these three songs, but I think it was all leading up to writing a song like Bridge Over Troubled Water in the same style. It wasn’t the words that they were latching on to, it was the sound and vocal emotion.

The only thing about Bookends that really bugs me is that while the tracks are in general ordered chronologically, they completely mixed up the song order as it appears on the albums. Maybe they figured that in our world of song shuffle, it didn’t matter. But it does to me, dammit! I never shuffle.



One response

6 09 2011
Kings of Convenience – Quiet Is the New Loud « Emily's Albums A to Z

[…] is like the modern European version of Simon & Garfunkel. The guitars are lovely, the harmonies beautiful, and the lyrics brilliantly […]

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