“Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds was released in April of 1965. It quickly became the number one song in the country and helped popularize the sound known as folk/rock. Tom Wilson, who had produced Simon & Garfunkel’s first album, had an idea while listening to this song.
His inspiration led to the birth of a legendary career. Wilson took an obscure Paul Simon acoustic folk tune from the Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. album and added an electric guitar, bass and drums. What emerged from these additions was the number one song, “The Sounds Of Silence.” Simon and Garfunkel quickly returned to the studio to record their second album.
Sounds Of Silence would be a commercial coming out party for the duo and a transitional album for their career. They were now poised between folk and pop but more importantly Paul Simon had begun to write the type of songs that would propel him into the upper echelon of writers.
This release is propelled by the two great and memorable singles that serve as bookends for the album. The lyrics of the title tune are equal to any that were being produced at the time as Paul Simon emerged as a rare master of imagery and story telling. It is also one of those rare songs that defines a period of time and is instantly recognizable by its first few notes. “I Am A Rock” continues this use of imagery. This sensitive and thoughtful song of loneliness is poetry set to music. The subtle up-tempo nature of the song only served to increase its impact.
Paul Simon did not leave his folk roots completely behind. “Richard Corey” and “A Most Peculiar Man” are two of the darkest songs that he would write, yet they would be musically upbeat enough to throw the listener off guard. “Richard Corey” was about a man who has everything and one who works in a factory and hates his life. Yet it is the man with the perfect life who puts a bullet in his head, which the other cannot understand. “A Most Peculiar Man” is a song of a person’s life and death which didn’t matter to anyone.
“Kathy’s Song” is one of the great forgotten tunes in the Simon & Garfunkel catalogue. This sensitive and thoughtful song of love and longing may be a very personal glimpse into the life of Paul Simon.
There were several other highlights to the album. “We’ve Got A Groovy Thing Goin'” is about as close to rock ‘n’ roll as the duo would get. “April Come She Will” is a short song in the folk tradition of love’s growing old with the seasons. “Blessed” is an early socially conscious song. There is biblical imagery (beatitudes) that form the lyrical foundation.
Sounds Of Silence has held up well over the years and still sounds fresh despite the fact that Simon & Garfunkel would quickly supersede it with their future releases. Still, it remains a very good and relevant album.