The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the L.A. area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some Los Angeles TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. In this edition we discuss Simon & Garfunkel’s Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits.
For those of you not up on your music history, Simon & Garfunkel was an American musical duo made up of singer-songwriter Paul Simon and vocalist Art Garfunkel. Formed in 1957 under the stage name Tom & Jerry, they scored their first minor hit with “Hey, Schoolgirl”. They would not truly breakthrough, however, until 1965 when—as Simon & Garfunkel—they had their first (and now biggest) folk rock hit single: “The Sound of Silence”.
While the pair would go on to incredible success, they would not earn a five-star rating on any of their albums. It would not be until two years after the duo disbanded (1972) that they would garner this honor with the album titled Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits. This was their first compilation album on Columbia Records and ran over 43 minutes long.
The album contains 14 cuts of material at least co-written by guitarist Simon. The collection includes ten tracks of studio recorded singles and four live, undated, previously unreleased recordings from between 1965 and 1972. Side One opens with “Mrs. Robinson”. Thanks to its being featured in the hit film The Graduate. This song was a chart-topper.
The second selection is a live performance of the “Eleanor Rigby”-like “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her”. This was recorded live in 1969 and would later be included on a 2008 live release as well. This is followed by “The Boxer” (which reached number 7 as a single) and a live recording of “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” (which was later a big hit for Harper’s Bizarre). This particular piece was taken from their very last live (1970) performance before their break-up later that year.
Next is their biggest and best folk-rock hit, “Sound of Silence”. While Simon’s writing skills here cannot be denied, Tom Wilson’s grafting a subtle electric guitar to the song made the tune all the more unique and memorable. This, too, of course was a number one chart-topper.
“I Am a Rock” follows. This song had also placed in the top ten when originally released as a single. Next is the only song co-written by Simon and Garfunkel “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” is an adaptation of a couple of traditional songs. While it, too, was include on The Graduate soundtrack it only reached number 11.
The flip side lead-in is a live version of the beautiful “Homeward Bound”. The single version of this song, of course, was yet another of the talented twosome’s top-ten tunes. The next number, “Bridge over Troubled Water”, peaked at number one as a single.
It was arguably one of the most influential and certainly one of the most recorded songs of the latter half of the 1960s. Considered by many critics to be near perfect it is definitely breathtaking. It has roots in black gospel music and became an unheard of success. It sold over four million copies in the US alone and many millions more elsewhere.
“America” is the only single that did not place anywhere near the top ten on the charts. Critics believe this was due to the fact that the single was put out years after it was included on the Bookends LP. “Kathy’s Song” comes after this. This is a live version which was also later released on the 2008 disc Live 1969 (which is odd since some sources indicate the track was recorded in 1968.)
“El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” follows here. This is the only other co-written piece on the platter. It was written by Simon, Jorge Milchberg and Daniel A. Robles. While not a favorite of your rockin’ record reviewer, this too would be a hit for the performing pair.
An early album title track, “Bookends” (minus its parent tune “Old Friends”) is also included. The closing cut is “Cecilia”. Both the singles had also made it to the top ten when they were first released helping to make a greatest hits album truly what a greatest hits album should always be.
The music here reminds listeners that Simon’s imagistic and elliptical song-writing became very popular especially to those who enjoyed poetic lyrics. While Simon was obviously influenced by both rock and folk his songs proved he owed allegiance to neither. Simon knew how to write quality hit songs.
It should be no surprise then to learn that Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits climbed to number five on the U.S. albums chart, number 2 on the UK Album Chart and number one on the Dutch album charts. It would rank somewhere between 5 and 85 on charts in several other countries as well. 2003 witnessed the album being ranked at number 293 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Initial chart-placings aside, Simon and Garfunkel’s Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits/Col.PC-31350 has come to prove itself to be a consistently durable best-seller. It has (at this writing) sold well over 14 million copies in the US making it the pair’s best-selling album ever. And even holds the record for “best-selling album ever by a duo”. It is simply the finest example of Simon & Garfunkel’s music.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.