Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Simon & Garfunkel Album

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1966, Columbia)

C –

It’s not bad per se, but if you’ve never heard this album, you might be fairly surprised at just how incredibly bland the debut outing from Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel is, the disc being more of a curio piece than an essential listen. The overwhelming majority of the album consists of folk standards such as “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “You Can Tell the World,” and “Peggy-O.” They even cover Dylan on “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” There are five Simon originals included here; of those, “Sparrow” and “Bleecker Street” fare much better than “He Was My Brother” and the title cut, but the best of the five is easily “The Sounds of Silence,” which is presented in a different version than the one you know from the radio, the song performed in pure acoustic fashion without the benefit of a backing band.

Sounds of Silence (1966, Columbia)

B

A huge leap forward in quality from their debut, Simon & Garfunkel’s sophomore outing finds the duo wisely dispensing with the folk standards in favor of more Paul Simon originals. “The Sounds of Silence” makes its second appearance on this disc, but producer Tom Wilson has overdubbed a backing band onto the original track, resulting in the duo’s first Number One hit. The disc also boasts a second Top Ten hit in the brilliant poetry of “I Am a Rock,” Simon’s greatest moment yet as a lyricist. The surrounding cuts are never quite as catchy as the two singles, but they’re all quite pleasant and charming, particularly the wildly underrated “April Come She Will,” “Leaves That Are Green,” and “Kathy’s Song.”

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme (1967, Columbia)

A –

The duo’s third full-length is the duo’s first true album piece, and it’s a pretty captivating one. There are some singles to be found here, including the brilliant vocal interplay of the stunningly beautiful “Scarborough Fair/Canticle,” the poetic “The Dangling Conversation” (most likely the only Top 40 hit in history to ever name-check Emily Dickinson), and the wistful folk-rock of the Top Ten hit “Homeward Bound.” While never released as a single by the duo, “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” would become one of their signature tunes and would nearly reach the Top Ten in the form of a cover by the folk duo Harpers Bizarre (whose members – fun trivia alert – included future Van Halen and Doobie Brothers producer Ted Templeman). The album admittedly gets a tad pretentious at times, but Simon makes up for it with the high quality of cuts like “A Poem on the Underground Wall,” “Patterns,” and the jubilant “Cloudy.” The album also ends in spine-tingling fashion with “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night,” which features the duo singing the Christmas carol it shares part of its title with against a backdrop of tragic announcements from a news broadcast.

Bookends (1968, Columbia)

A +

Arguably the best album the duo ever made, this concept album about friendship and aging was, in actuality, an odds-and-ends package coupling several previously-released non-LP singles with a side’s worth of new tracks. It works brilliantly, though, the non-LP sides fitting in surprisingly well with the album’s concept. The Number One hit “Mrs. Robinson” is here, as are the wildly underrated Top 40 hits “Fakin’ It,” the surprisingly hard-hitting “A Hazy Shade of Winter”(arguably the best uptempo song Paul Simon has ever written and the closest the duo has ever come to cutting a power-pop song), and the playful “At the Zoo.” This album is so, so much more than its singles, though, and the quality of the surrounding album cuts like “Save the Life of My Child” and “Punky’s Dilemma” is first-rate indeed. The album also sports two of the most famous and well-loved non-singles in the duo’s catalog, the pensive and dramatic “America” and the tear-jerking, strings-laden ballad “Old Friends.” This is a true masterpiece and easily one of the greatest albums of the Sixties.

Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970, Columbia)

A +

An ever-so-slightly overrated album, there’s still little denying the brilliance of this album, and if Bookends isn’t the best album the duo ever made, then this is it. The title cut, which remains Art Garfunkel’s finest hour as a vocalist, is the most emotionally powerful and majestic single the duo ever recorded, while “The Boxer” is simultaneously one of the duo’s catchiest singles and one of Paul Simon’s greatest moments as a lyricist, boasting one memorable line after another (including the ever-relevant “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”). The Top Ten hit “Cecilia” is simply one of the group’s most playful singles, boasting a fairly off-kilter, heavily-percussive backing track, the duo sounding like they’re having a ball harmonizing on the cut.  The album’s fourth Top 40 hit also marks Simon’s first excursion into world music, the Peruvian-pan-pipe-laden “El Condor Pasa (If I Could).” The surrounding album cuts alternate between the fun and playful (“Keep the Customer Satisfied,” “Baby Driver”, the light reggae of “Why Don’t You Write Me”) and the serious and pensive (“So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright,” “Song for the Asking,” “The Only Living Boy in New York”). The only flaw of any note is that the live cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” doesn’t quite fit in here, but then, considering that this would turn out to be the duo’s final full studio album together (though they’d periodically reunite for the occasional one-off single or live album), perhaps it’s somewhat appropriate that the song appears here and takes the duo full circle back to the music that inspired the two men in the first place.

Compilations:
The 1999 Columbia/Legacy package The Best of Simon & Garfunkel is easily the best buy as far as the duo’s many compilations go; it usually can be found for well under ten dollars, and it’s got every last one of the duo’s Top 40 hits for Columbia, including the 1975 reunion single “My Little Town.”

Live Albums:
There are two live albums available from Columbia that were compiled from tapes from the ‘60s but not released until the ‘00s, but, while it doesn’t capture the duo at the height of their fame, it’s hard to pass over 1981’s The Concert from Central Park, if only because of its historic importance as the first full concert done by the duo since its 1970 breakup and the sheer fun of getting to hear the duo play not just their old hits but some of Paul Simon’s solo hits as well. The disc also yielded a Top 40 hit in the duo’s cover of the Everly Brothers classic “Wake Up Little Susie.”