Vinyl Vlog 104

Vinyl Vlog 104

Sunday, 06 December 2015
TITLE: Vinyl Vlog 104
A deeper look into the grooves pressed into The Complete Albums Collection box set by Simon & Garfunkel
DATE: 11-26-15
WRITER: Bill Adams

Bookmark and Share

It’s almost unfathomable how productive Simon & Garfunkel was in such a short time. While the duo first got together in 1957, they released their first album together in ’64 and their final album in 1970; that means the group released five albums within six years and set a legacy in stone as well. Looking back now, it’s a little staggering; in six years, Simon & Garfunkel released five albums of career-defining quality and then, when that was done, they never entered the studio together again. They’ve done lots of reunion tours in the years since, but they have never released any material below the standard they set in their first go-round together. That’s pretty awesome in and of itself, but it gets even better because the story gets even more direct; it might sound a little contentious, but there is simply no way to become acquainted with Simon & Garfunkel’s music as a whole by listening to just one album; they just did too much in too short a time to get a sense of it all, so listeners pretty much have to go front-to-back with the duo’s entire studio output in order to get a genuine understanding of both the music and the men who made it. It might sound a little unbelievable, but it’s a fact.

The above endorsement is actually the second reason that the Complete Columbia Albums Collection box set is worth the price tag affixed to it. The first is the music found on each of the six LPs which have been collected within it and the third (if those first two weren’t enough) is the beautiful remastering job applied to the music before it was pressed onto vinyl.

For those who already know, just sitting back and enjoying the experience of hearing the Simon & Garfunkel songbook develop is sublime – but new minds which are just discovering the music will have an even more enriching experience as they absorb it all and learn just how ambitious the group really was. The first sounds they hear on Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. find Simon & Garfunkel as very collegiate (no surprise there. Both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were twenty-three when the album was released in 1964) songwriters in love with the folk renaissance which also gave the world artists including Bob Dylan and Joan Baez as well as the poetry, bright lights and brimming possibilities of New York. The way the results play are both brilliant and brilliantly exciting; the combination of tracks like “Bleeker Street” and “Sounds Of Silence” with traditional songs like “Go Tell It On The Mountain” and “Benedictus” make an incredible experience because it blurs the lines between the (then) new and old values of composition and songwriting and makes a new kind of brilliance clearly steeped in history. It’s great and remains timeless.

After Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. Got the ball rolling, it didn’t take long for things to begin to develop – as this set illustrates. Sounds Of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel’s sophomore effort – keeps true to the songwriting parameters set by the duo’s debut, but the acceptance of what the group was doing clearly also had an effect; the arrangements of the songs (especially the title track, which features a much more ambitious arrangement than the original version did onWednesday Morning, 3 A.M. just two years before) consistently feature electric instrumentation and more “rock” and “pop” flavoring than Sounds of Silence‘s predecessor did. Not only that, but both Simon and Garfunkel have a far stronger presence on the microphone here; two years and a whole lot of acceptance clearly had a positive effect, as both singers project their voices to be heard on this record.

…And then, the going got even more bold, experimental and impressive. For many fans, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is the high water mark for Simon and Garfunkel; here, the band bravely approaches social issues and the Vietnam War, but does so in a manner which again seeks to be timeless – not just timely. It works too – “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” holds equal amounts of hope and melancholia which is still able to make the knees of listeners buckle, while “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” gently curses American societal practices and concerns. These are impressive statements to be sure, but easily the most impressive and damning remains the album closer, “7 O’clock News/Silent Night.” There, the concepts of hope and tragedy are perfectly crossed by news headlines mentioned over an otherwise wordless performance of the Christmas classic and, in the end, it’s hard to know whether to feel warm from the song or hollow due to the sentiment; it’s a track which remains untouched for ts candor and of-its-moment power, as does Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme for that matter.

After the impression that Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme left on both fans and pop culture, Simon and Garfunkel were musical and pop cultural stars. Whatever they did, the world was watching and listening – and that it wasn’t lost on the musicians themselves is perfectly apparent on the group’s cheekily entitled fourth album, Bookends. The band’s star turn is perfectly self-evident here as, on one hand, Simon and Garfunkel turn in some of their greatest, most enduring hits (“Mrs. Robinson,” “America”) while also taking particular care to revisit some of more collegiate side of their sound as well – as if to imply that, as much as things may have changed, they’ve also stayed the same and what always mattered still matters. The results are a good, austere album which, was considered a massive breakthrough for the band and made it possible for a whole new community of listeners to discover the group (thanks in no small part to the runaway success of “Mrs. Robinson” and its inclusion on the soundtrack of The Graduate), although the album remains something of a breaking away point for some fans; with Bookends, there was a loss of innocence in that it no longer felt like Simon and Garfunkel were still under the radar and so a secret, anti-establishment weapon.

If Bookends didn’t mark the emergence of Simon and Garfunkel as rock stars, Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel’s fifth and final studio album – certainly did. This time, after some time apart wherein Garfunkel pursued an acting career and Simon further refines his solo songwriting chops, the duo reconvened and the outside world had clearly had an effect; elements of rock, R&B, gospel, jazz, World music and pop all exerted an influence on songs like “Cecelia,” “The Boxer,” “Why Don’t You Write Me” and “So Long Frank Lloyd Wright.” While all the new influences could easily have alienated fans who had been drawn in by Simon & Garfunkel’s early folk style, they were more than replaced by a new group of fans hungry for more progressive music with a poetic bent which this album had in spades. As a result, Bridge Over Troubled Waterended up being one of Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest successes – but the pressure exerted on the pair produced a breakdown rather than diamonds and so, not long after the release of Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon and Garfunkel Parted ways. The first greatest hits package collected and released in 1972 is also included here, but it really only serves as a reminder that the group straddled the line between ‘ghost’ and ‘product’ after the split.

Running front-to-back through the box set as this reviewer did to compose this review, again, reiterates first just how good the music is and really how superficial that last Greatest Hitsinstallment is. Really, the Greatest Hits is irrelevant; this box set is truly the only way to hear Simon and Garfunkel for the production, the format and the breadth of the material. Get this set, and love it.



The Complete Columbia Albums Collection is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

Comments are closed.