The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

6 November 2005

A vision softly creeping

In October 1964, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel got their names — their real names, not the "Tom and Jerry" nom de disque they'd used for "Hey, Schoolgirl" back in the late 1950s — on an actual Columbia LP, titled Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. Garfunkel, in the liner notes, suggested that there was a "major work" among the plaintive folk tunes: Simon's "The Sound of Silence," at the end of Side 1. The album did not chart, and the duo broke up, Simon departing for England for most of 1965.

Meanwhile, album producer Tom Wilson was pleased that "Sound" was getting some small amount of East Coast airplay, but worried that it wouldn't go beyond that. Folk itself, at least the part of it that was likely to get on the radio, was evolving into folk-rock, a process accelerated by two enormous hits: the Animals' British cover of the New Orleans ballad "House of the Rising Sun," and Bob Dylan's six-minute single "Like a Rolling Stone," which Wilson himself had produced.

With S&G more or less out of the picture, Wilson decided to consult neither; he took the original tape of "Sound," overdubbed a folk-rock rhythm section, and got Columbia to put it out as a single. Simon, by all accounts, was surprised to hear that he had a hit, and was even more surprised at how little it resembled the version he'd recorded. He reunited with Garfunkel, and they hurriedly assembled an album, inevitably titled Sounds of Silence, mostly from songs Simon had written for a UK-only release (The Paul Simon Song Book).

Billboard first took note of the "new" recording on 6 November 1965. By the New Year, it was on top of the Hot 100, where it remained for one week before being bumped by a new Beatles single ("We Can Work It Out"); however, the next week it was back to Number One again. The drawing power of "Sound" was so great that even the forgotten Wednesday album finally made the charts for the first time.

In the forty years since then, you've probably heard the rocked-up hit version more times than you can count. I know I have. But sometimes I'd just as soon hear the original, undubbed version, with just the two voices and Simon's guitar: to me, the simpler arrangement makes more sense for a song about alienation and despair.

Posted at 12:01 AM to Tongue and Groove

I love the original version. Too bad they're such asshats.

Posted by: miriam at 7:03 AM on 6 November 2005

I can listen to them sing all day long. Or each individually after their breakup. Perhaps the highest rotation of any record amongst my group of friends at the time was Art Garfunkel's "Breakaway" from 1975. It was one of the very few collections which could be played in it's entirety without any temptation to only play selected cuts.

Posted by: ms7168 at 9:36 AM on 6 November 2005

Thanks for the music. I'm listening to it now.

Posted by: Julie at 12:12 AM on 7 November 2005