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50 Years Ago: Simon & Garfunkel Become Folk-Rock Stars With ‘Sounds of Silence’

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After their debut, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., didn’t spark much interest, the two members of Simon & Garfunkel went their separate ways. However, after producer Tom Wilson overdubbed a rock band onto one of its songs, “The Sounds of Silence,” and had a No. 1 hit, the duo got back together. Their second album, Sounds of Silence, was released on Jan. 17, 1966.

It was a perfect statement of the folk-rock sound, incorporating the truth and soul of the folk world with the amplification and style of the post-Beatles music world. Simon & Garfunkel quickly became key players in the movement.

The album opens with the title track, which is still one of the most significant records of its time, but Art Garfunkel was not totally taken with the new sound. “It was in that electric 12-string style of the Byrds,” he told Blue Railroad. “It’s cute. They’ve drowned out the strength of the lyric and they’ve made it more of a fashion kind of production.”

The LP, however, was far from a one-hit wonder, and the original folk style of the duo was not totally abandoned. Songs like “Kathy’s Song” and “April Come She Will” retain the stark guitar-and-vocal feel of the first album. Another song, “Anji” was an instrumental written by British folk guitarist Davy Graham, and was a showcase for Paul Simon‘s acoustic finger-picking.

I was 21 years when I wrote this song / I’m 22 now but I won’t be for long,” sings Simon in “Leaves That Are Green,” showing the spirit of an old soul at work despite his young age. “Blessed” is one of the highlights with its shimmering, jangly guitar lines and some of Simon’s finest early lyrics. “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” is another full-band number on which Simon weaves a few jazz nods into the mix.

One of the darker cuts on the album is also one of its most rocking. “Richard Cory” paints a portrait of working-class disillusionment, only to have the protagonist realize that the grass isn’t always greener. The song was, in part, based on the 1897 Edwin Arlington Robinson poem of the same name, borrowing the key final line of “Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head.” Meanwhile, “A Most Peculiar Man” also deals with the topic of suicide. They even approach genuine garage band territory on “We’ve Got a Groovy Thing Goin’,” but it’s the album’s final song that points to a prolific future.

“I Am a Rock” ends the album in as profound a manner as the title song begins it, proving that Simon had more where that came from. One of his finest songs, the record captures the whole 1965 folk-rock sound. From the jangling guitars to the Hammond organ so prominent on the touchstone of the era, Bob Dylan‘s “Like a Rolling Stone.” But Simon was hardly a paint-by-numbers thief and the song ends the short-but-sweet jaunt perfectly.

Six of the songs on Sounds of Silence had actually already appeared on another album. In the spring of 1965, while living in England after the duo had split, Simon put out The Paul Simon Songbook, which featured just Simon performing his songs with only his guitar. The album was only available in England, and remained unheard in America until the ’80s.

See Simon & Garfunkel and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the ’60s

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