Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were the voices of a generation. Simon and Garfunkel sang of love, of loss, of isolation and alienation. They gave a quieter, reflective voice to the anger and cynicism of a generation. But that voice was no less vehement or effective than the louder, more strident voices of social change and protest. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Simon and Garfunkel’s first Columbia Records release, Sony Music Entertainment has just released a remarkable 12-CD box set–a gift for anyone touched by their music: Simon and Garfunkel: The Complete Albums Collection. This is not just a compilation, but a lovingly packed set of their original albums in miniature (compete with original cover art and liner notes)
The other day I was sitting in a university town coffee bar, playing Scrabble with my son. Over the speaker system, among the local bands’ recordings and other music came the familiar “Koo-koo kachoo, Mrs. Robinson…” Simon and Garfunkel transcend generational lines, and speak just as resonantly to my children’s generation as they had to me in mine. Growing up, there wasn’t a party I attended that at some point someone said, “put on your Bookends album or Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.” Or, “Hey Barbara, take out your guitar and sing ‘Sounds of Silence.”‘
Simon and Garfunkel: The Complete Album Collection box set includes every album recorded by the duo, and a wonderful newly-done booklet of notes on the music and the duo by legendary Rolling Stones’ writer Bud Scoppa. Inside: the CDs, with perfectly preserved sound–each a trip down memory lane. Of course, there are the songs still played, performed, and enjoyed by all. But then there the hidden gems: a minimalist arrangement of the iconic “Bridge Over Troubled Water” recorded on the included Live 1969 album, before the song was ever released.
The 12-CD box set includes:
Wednesday Morning, 3AM, Simon and Garfunkel’s first release (1964)–So much of this album is classic mid-’60s Greenwich Village folk music. “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream,” “Peggy-O,” “Go Tell It on the Mountain”: covers of Gibson and Camp, Ed McCurdy, Bob Dylan and traditional folk tunes. But then the surprise–the stunning “Sounds of Silence,” first recorded here.
Sounds of Silence (1966) includes, of course, the title tune; the words and evocative melody still resonate: “Hello darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again…” And then there’s “I Am a Rock,” which spoke of the desire not to feel pain, and our inability to hold it in check. Love ballads like “Kathy’s Song” and “April Come She Will” still manage to touch the heart.
Probably my favorite Simon and Garfunkel album is Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966). It’s blend of pop (“Feelin’ Groovy”) and folk (“Scarborough Fair”): light themes following the darkest and most haunting rendition of “Silent Night” (“7 O’Clock News/Silent Night”) ever recorded, make the album a roller coaster ride.
The soundtrack to The Graduate: one of the best soundtracks in the history of cinema. The songs inform the movie, hitting the emotional beats of Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock and his affair with Mrs. Robinson. Some of the music had already been released on other albums, but not, of course, the indelible “Mrs. Robinson.”
Bookends (1968) features a maturing sound and lyrics for Simon and Garfunkel, from the pop-ish (but interestingly layered) “At the Zoo” to the powerful “Save the Life of My Child,” speak to the sense of apathy infecting the country (so, what else is new?) at the time, with social unrest and the unrelenting war in Vietnam still raging. The sense of lostness and (as the liner notes say, “unravelling of ’60s idealism”), “America” might well have been written yesterday, and not 45 years ago.
Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon and Garfunkel’s final studio album. Released in 1970, the title song is a hymn of hope as the nation bid farewell to the troubled ’60s. Fuel to the weary, balm to the disillusioned. But the album also includes a fair amount of pop, and the beautiful El Condor Pasa, played with Peruvian instruments, and evocative of (again quoting the excellent liner notes) the sort of South American “magical realism” in the literature of Gabriel Maria Marquez and others).
The box set also includes several live and re-release recordings, including Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, the live-recorded 1981 release, The Concert in Central Park, the two-CD live concert album, Old Friends Live Onstage, Live From New York City, 1967, and Live 1969.
Simon and Garfunkel: The Complete Albums Collection is an incredible box set–a “must-have” for the Simon and Garfunkel fans old, and yet to be.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00N9LNNQA]