Simon and Garfunkel were a rock folk act that came to prominence during the 1960s. Founded by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the two would meet in elementary school in Queens, New York.1953. Soon enough they connected and began to harmonize and write songs resulting in them performing together as teenagers as Tom & Jerry having minor success with their 1957 song Hey Schoolgirl.
In 1963 the duo would sign with Columbia Records, now known as Simon & Garfunkel, releasing their debut album Wednesday Morning, 3A.M. Unfortunately the album would sell poorly, despite the fact I believe it is one of the strongest debut albums I have ever heard, leading to Paul Simon to head back to England where he was pursuing a solo career.
Two years later The Sound of Silence would be re-released with electric guitar and drums, this resulted in a renewed interest in the duo. They would reunite and produce a second album, Sounds of Silence, it most definitely wasn’t a sophomore slump. It reached No.13 on the UK Album chart, No.21 on the US Album chart, and No.2 on the Spanish Album chart.
Their third album came in 1966 when the duo gained more creative control. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is a mainly acoustic album with many of its songs coming from Paul Simon’s time in England. The album would peak at No.2 on the Billboard 200, No.13 on the UK Albums chart, and No. 14 on the Australian Album chart. This would be followed up with their music being featured in the film, The Graduate, released in 1967 which would bring more exposure to the duo.
Their final two albums, Bookends and Bridge over Troubled Water would arrive in 1968 and 1970. Bookends would reach No.1 on the Billboard 200 and the UK Album chart. It would also reach No. 3 on both the Australian and French album charts. Bridge over Troubled Water is one of the best-selling albums of all time reaching No.1 in over 10 countries and becoming their most successful album to date.
Simon & Garfunkel are the most successful folk-rock duo of the 1960sRichie Unterberger
Out of the two, Paul Simon would go on to be the most successful after the duo broke up. He released the critically acclaimed album Graceland in 1986, That album means a lot to me as it has You Can Call Me Al on it. It was one of the few songs that would get my Grandpa dancing and was also the last song played at his funeral. Cause you need to end a moment of sadness with some fun. In 1981 Simon & Garfunkel would reunite for a concert in Central Park and then were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
10 Songs You Need to Know by Simon and Garfunkel
Controversially, depending on who you talk to, Bridge Over Troubled Water does not appear on this list. Personally, I am not a big fan of this song and in all honesty, it isn’t one of their best or more complex songs lyrically or musically. For me, it doesn’t hit the heights of some of their more emotionally charged and lyrically thought-provoking work.
Quite a few of these songs were originally written and recorded for Paul Simon’s debut solo album, The Paul Simon Songbook. This was completely unintentional on my part but I seem to have an affinity for the work he produced while in England. What he said about the album was:
This L.P. contains twelve of the songs that I have written over the past two years. There are some here that I would not write today. I don’t believe in them as I once did. I have included them because they played an important role in the transition. It is discomforting, almost painful, to look back over something someone else created and realize that someone else was you. I am not ashamed of where I’ve been and what I’ve thought. It’s just not me anymore. It is perfectly clear to me that the songs I write today will not be mine tomorrow. I don’t regret the loss.
They also do a really great version of The Times They Are A-Changing. Honorable mentions go to 59th Bridge Song [Feelin’ Groovy], Bleaker Street & Mrs. Robinson.
#10. Scarborough Fair/Canticle | Album: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme | 1966
Paul Simon first heard the traditional English ballad “Scarborough Fair” while gigging around London folk clubs in 1965. During the recording of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme in the summer of 1966, he created an innovative new arrangement of the tune which he mashed up with “Canticle,” a reworking of his anti-war ballad “The Side of a Hill.” The finished result was unlike anything else on the radio in 1966 and it instantly became one of their signature tunes.
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
#9. Patterns | Album: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme | 1966
Patterns is a beautiful song that was originally written for Paul Simon’s 1965 solo album The Paul Simon Songbook. It would be re-recorded with Art Garfunkel for the duos’ third album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. The song is one of Simon’s most philosophical, comparing life to a labyrinthine maze, following patterns which are, because we are trapped in them, difficult to unravel or control.
Impaled on my wall
My eyes can dimly see
The pattern of my life
And the puzzle that is me
#8. Kathy’s Song | Album: Sounds of Silence | 1966
I just love Kathy’s Song, it is beautiful, heartwrenching, and deeply personal, written for his then-girlfriend Kathy Chitty, she crops up a lot in his songs during this time. Kathy was his muse while in England during the mid-1960s. It was originally written and recorded for Simon’s debut album The Paul Simon Songbook but would be another one of his songs, this will be a common theme, to be re-recorded for a Simon & Garfunkel album. This time it was included on Sounds of Silence.
And from the shelter of my mind
Through the window of my eyes
I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets
To England where my heart lies
#7. I Am A Rock | Album: Sounds of Silence | 1966
I Am a Rock is another one originally off of The Paul Simon Songbook but this track was only released in the UK. It was the opening track for his debut album but the final track for the duo’s second offering Sounds of Silence. It would go on to be the B-side to their foot tapper The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy). I absolutely love this song, lyrically it gives me the same feeling as The Sound of Silence does. I Am a Rock taps into that feeling of isolation one can feel, with introspective lyrics and a simple melody it is one I would always recommend.
I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship friendship causes pains
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain
I am a rock I am an Island
#6. Homeward Bound | Album: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme | 1966
Homeward Bound is another song written by Paul Simon during his time in England, unlike others on this list, this one didn’t appear on his solo album. Recorded during the sessions for Sounds of Silence, and appearing on the UK edition of that album, it wouldn’t appear on an American release until Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme in 1966, this song speaks of a longing for the place you call home. In this case, his home is with Kathy, his muse, his love, and the woman who would crop up more than once in his songs, and on this list.
It has been speculated that the song was written at Widnes railway station near Liverpool, Paul Simon actually can’t remember which station specifically he wrote the song, but he has confirmed it was near Liverpool. Widnes has taken claim to it and even has a plague, which is something to take a look at if you are ever in the area.
Every day’s an endless stream
Of cigarettes and magazines
And each town looks the same to me
The movies and the factories
And every stranger’s face I see
Reminds me that I long to be
#5. Cecilia | Album: Bridge over Troubled Water | 1970
Cecilia is a bop, isn’t it. I know for me personally, it always makes me smile and want to sing along, which is nice from a folk duo who always seem to be more on the introspective side of the fence. It is fun and carefree, which the duo does from time to time, but this one just feels a little different. Originating from a late night party the two attended, they along with friends came up with the beat and recorded it, before Simon went back to it to create this house party stable. Well, it is at my house parties anyway, because I enjoy a good singalong moment.
A simple yet fun song about an untrustworthy lover it even includes Simon’s most explicit lyric to that point “making love in the afternoon”. The big question is why the name Cecilia? As a writer names often do have a meaning behind them and it has been suggested it could come from St. Cecilia who is the patron saint of music and musicians. I like this idea myself and I have always had a soft spot for that name since when I was in primary school I was in St. Celilia’s house.
Celia, you’re breaking my heart
You’re shaking my confidence daily
Oh Cecilia, I’m down on my knees
I’m begging you please to come home
#4. Hazy Shade Of Winter | Album: Bookends | 1968
A Hazy Shade of Winter is ranked so high because it is one of my favorite Simon & Garfunkel songs, I also have never heard a bad cover of it. The song is a little more rock than folk but there is nothing wrong with that, both feel like spiritual brothers. This song was recorded during the sessions for their previous album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme but wasn’t released until Bookends in 1968. It does date back even further though, as it was written during Simon’s time in England in 1965.
The Bangels recorded and released a version of the song for the soundtrack of the 1987 film Less Than Zero, which starred a young Robert Downey Jr. Another great cover come from Gerard Way and Ray Toro for the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy in 2019.
Seasons change with the scenery
Weaving time in a tapestry
Won’t you stop and remember me
At any convenient time?
Funny how my memory skips while looking over manuscripts
Of unpublished rhyme
Drinking my vodka and lime
#3. The Sound Of Silence | Album: Wednesday Morning, 3A.M. | 1964
It is crazy to think that Paul Simon wrote this song at the age of just 21 with its dark lyrics and sober tone it feels like it could come from the mind of someone older. For me, it has always been one of the best representations in music of depression, as someone who has suffered for over half of my life with it, The Sound of Silence has been a weird comfort to me. The melancholy lyrics talk about darkness, light, the things you see when people watching, and how people find it hard to communicate.
Paul Simon says:
“The main thing about playing the guitar, though, was that I was able to sit by myself and play and dream. And I was always happy doing that. I used to go off in the bathroom, because the bathroom had tiles, so it was a slight echo chamber. I’d turn on the faucet so that water would run (I like that sound, it’s very soothing to me) and I’d play. In the dark. ‘Hello darkness, my old friend / I’ve come to talk with you again.'”
The song was written prior to September of 1963, when Simon & Garfunkel had reconnected and had started to play around Queens and Greenwich Village in New York City. This is the song that got the duo noticed by Columbia Records leading to the pair being signed soon after and leading to their first album Wednesday Morning 3.A.M.
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence
#2. The Boxer | Album: Bridge over Troubled Water | 1970
The Boxer is the duo’s most highly produced track taking over 100 hours to record with multiple locations used and a 16-track recorder. The song is in two parts, with the majority being a first-person lament of loneliness in a new city while battling against poverty and hopelessness. The last verse changes to the story of a boxer told in the third person but it feels like the two men within the song are somehow connected by their experience and need to fight against all the odds.
In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame, ‘I am leaving, I am leaving,’ but the fighter still remains.
There is an additional verse of the song that is only performed live and does not appear on the version from Bridge over Troubled Water. Two covers I love are, firstly, by Waylon Jennings for his 1996 album Right for the Time and of course the beautifully simple and heartbreaking rendition by Mumford and Sons from their 2012 release Babel. The Mumford and Sons version also includes Jerry Douglas and Paul Simon.
I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocketful of mumbles such are promises
All lies and jest
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest
#1. America | Album: Bookends | 1968
America is my number one pick for so many reasons but I think it is down to the simplicity of the melody, the deeply personal lyrics, and the fact it is written about Kathy Chitty. Simon was deeply in love with Kathy and this song was inspired by a road trip the two took across America together. He didn’t want to leave her behind in England and invited her on a five-day excursion across the United States so he could finalize the mixes and artwork for Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. but it wouldn’t be until Bookends that this story would see the light of day in song form. Art Garfunkel described it as a song about:
young lovers with their adventure and optimism
and that is exactly how I feel about the song. It’s about young love, the adventure, and optimism that comes with that kind of relationship that you often don’t find again. Their trip hitchhiking through America is a metaphor for this, while they seem to be searching for the idea of “America” they are also exploring themselves and this relationship in a new way. Are they looking for the ideals and beauty of this country that have disappeared or on an even deeper level are they looking for those things in the relationship? For me, it’s both a truly sublime love song that any fan of Simon & Garfunkel needs to hear.
“Kathy, I’m lost”, I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why