Tuesday, June 23, 2009


STEVE Winwood, who was born in Birmingham in 1948, for me, was the key to the sound of Traffic. And the quintessential Traffic album was John Barleycorn Must Die. But we also got into the live album, Welcome to the Canteen in a big way, as well as several of their later albums, including The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.

I recently picked up a copy of an early Traffic album at my favourite second-hand vinyl shop. In fairly good nick, it is just titled Traffic, and features that incredibly evocative song, Forty Thousand Headmen, which is also on Welcome to the Canteen.

Having just given it a fresh listen, I was struck by the crisply played lead guitar on innovative blues-rock songs. But more about that later.

Jim Capaldi and Dave Mason are the two other names of Traffic band members which stand out, particularly as they were almost as prodigious song-writers as Winwood. But it was Winwood’s vocals, and several key acoustic-guitar-based songs which really put Traffic up their with some of the world’s best in the early 1970s, my high school years, when I seemed to ingest more music than I probably ever had time for. But I suppose there are sixty minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day – and you can fit a helluva lot of music into even 12 hours. When you were as obsessed with music as we were, it is therefore not surprising we imbibed these sounds gluttonously.

Perusing my first Wikipedia download – sans pictures since it requires less space to store the info that way – I was immediately reminded of my key omission in the introductory remarks above. Chris Wood. For was it not he that injected the flutes and saxophones into the Traffic sound which was such a vital part of the overall package?

Classified as purveyors of psychedelic and progressive rock, the band was active from 1967 till 1974, arguably the pivotal years for music in the “revolution” I’m attempting to discuss.

One of the least “hip” parts of England, Birmingham, slap in the middle of the country, was where this group was formed in early 1967 by those four guys. Wikipedia says their “distinctive sound, innovative recordings and collaborative songwriting approach influenced many other groups of the period”. Influenced by early recordings of The Band, they too retreated to a country house to write and develop their songs before making their live debut.

Steve Winwood

So how did it all happen, and why the name Traffic?

Well nothing is easy in the world of rock group formation. Wikipedia tells us Steve Winwood became friends with his future band mates “in the latter days of the Spencer Davis Group”. And that is another blast from the past. Davis was born in Wales in 1939, and formed the group in 1963, while studying in Birmingham, having recruited the Winwood brothers, Steve and Muff. They had a hit single in 1965, Keep On Running, which I might recall if I heard it. They had further hit singles in 1966 and 1967, including Gimme Some Lovin’ which I probably know from the 1971 live Traffic version. With the record label keen to establish a “supergroup” around the talented young Steve Winwood (vocals, guitar and keyboards), he left to form Traffic in 1967, with bass player Muff moving to the recording industry at Island Records.

With Winwood, Capaldi, Wood and Mason having often jammed together at The Elbow Room club in Aston, Birmingham, Winwood jumped at Mason and Capaldi’s invitation to team up with them and Chris Wood. It was then that the four “retreated to a secluded cottage in Aston Tirrold, Berkshire, to rehearse”. And their first recording? The soundtrack for a 1967 British feature film, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. The band signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, and their debut single, Paper Sun, was a UK hit in mid-1967, though I don’t think I know it at all. Dave Mason is known for his quirky songs, and it seems his “psych-pop” – presumably psychedelic pop, not psychopathic or psychoanalytic pop – song, Hole In My Shoe was “an even bigger hit, and it became one of their best-known tracks”. Again, I can’t place it. And Wikipedia says it “set the stage for increasing friction between Winwood and Mason, the group’s principal songwriters”.

The group’s debut album was Mr Fantasy which, says Wikipedia, was a hit in the UK but not in the US or elsewhere. This, I don’t think I’ve heard, though of course the title track is most familiar from later albums. At this point, Mason quit over friction with Winwood, leaving the latter to have to play bass pedals along with keyboard and singing during live concerts. They were also short of a wide range of songs for their albums, so in 1968, guess what? Bassist Mason returned, bringing his zany songwriting abilities to their second album, Traffic, from that year.

And I don’t think I’m going to discover how they got their name, though, considering their last live album, from 2005, is called “Last Great Traffic Jam”, it is possible this pun had been the origin since those early days of the four jamming together.

The Beatles had done it, now it was Traffic’s turn. How to break into the lucrative US market? The band launched a tour of the US in late 1968, ahead of the release of the album, Last Exit, one side of which was recorded live. But still the niggles continued, with Mason being “fired” during the tour, and Winwood announcing the breakup of the band. And it was here that that brief mega-group, Blind Faith, had its short but sweet existence. I’ll deal with the band later, but just to note that Winwood teamed up with former Cream bandmates Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, as well as Ric Grech in a project that lasted only a year and produced one album – which some have panned, but which I revere as one of the all-time greats of rock music. The remaining Traffic members teamed up with Mick Weaver, but apart from some BBC gigs, made no formal recordings, says Wikipedia. But crucially, it was during this time, in 1968, that Winwood, Wood and Mason all contributed to “the sessions for the landmark Jimi Hendrix double-album Electric Ladyland”. And many would argue that had they not had their internal wrangles, this key collaboration in the history of rock may never have happened.

And now comes the biggie. Because after the end of the Blind Faith experiment, in 1969, says Wikipedia, Winwood started work on a solo recording “which eventually turned into another Traffic album (without Mason)”. The resultant John Barleycorn Must Die was “their most successful album yet”. Then, possibly a mistake after the success of John Barleycorn, they expanded the group in 1971, adding Ric Grech on Bass, Jim Gordon of Derek and the Dominoes (Clapton’s band) on drums, and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah. They released Welcome to the Canteen in September 1971. I’ll discuss these great albums a little later, but it is interesting to recall that that classic black and white cover photograph of the six guys sitting in a restaurant does not in fact have the name Traffic on the cover. Instead, it simply lists their names, with the title at the base of the sleeve. And, believe it or not, Dave Mason was back in favour, making his third and final spell with the band. Two songs from his recent solo album, Alone Together, were included, along with a cover of the Spencer Davis Group song, Gimme Some Lovin’.

Before getting on to the latter years of the Traffic era, it is probably fitting to look at those first albums in more detail.

Mr Fantasy

Mr Fantasy, Traffic’s debut album from December 1967, was released after Dave Mason had already left the band. And correction, there is no title track. Dear Mr Fantasy is the title of the song, and subsequent single, on the album. I did not experience this album, which Wikipedia says was “considered by far the strangest and most ‘art rock’ style album that Traffic released”. It features “more horns, flutes, and less rock-style instruments than most of Traffic’s future releases”. Under Mason’s influence, the sitar was also used “much more on this album than any other later Traffic albums”. What is notable, looking at the track listing, is that all the Mason songs are solo compositions, whereas the other three all collaborated on their songs, though Mason was part of Giving To You, which involved all members.


The eponymously titled Traffic album, released in October 1968, is classified by Wikipedia as jazz rock and art rock, as well as psychedelic rock and acid jazz. Yet, says Wikipeida, after that debut album, Mr Fantasy, Traffic “planned a more mainstream album, possibly with fewer drug references and psychedelic influences”. Having reinstated Mason, he proceeded to write and sing about half the album, “making almost no contribution to the other half”. Interestingly, having just listened to the album, I had the same thought as Wikipedia mentions when it says that Chris Wood’s flute playing on the album “was compared to that of Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull”.

The long auburn-tinged brown hair of Steve Winwood contrasts with his velvety green shirt. Wearing orange jeans, he occupies “centre stage” on the cover, which also features Chris Wood pointing. This draws attention to the “Traffic symbol”, four U-turn type arrows which together make a rounded square. Wikipedia says every Traffic album features the symbol somewhere on the front and/or back cover.

I’m not sure if the UK pressing was different, but the Interpak South African version has very weak artwork on the back, a silhouette of a house within which is contained the word Traffic. To its credit, it does list the writers of each track, with the album opening with Mason’s quirky You Can All Join In. And, as I mentioned earlier, it is crisp rock, with lead guitar and saxophone working superbly together. Melodic, with whimsical lyrics, it is nevertheless a lovely piece of blues rock. “Here’s a little song you can all join in with / It’s very simple and I hope it’s new / Make your own words up if you want to / Any old words that you think will do, yeah / Yellow, blue, what’ll I do? Maybe I’ll just sit here thinking / Black, white, stop the fight, does one of these colours ever bother you?” This was at a time when the Beatles had taken music apart and recreated it in their own image. Anything was possible, and Mason was proving he knew there were virtually no limits to what he could write about. “Here’s a little dance you can all join in with / It’s very simple and I hope it’s new / Make your own steps up if you want to / Any old steps that you think will do / Left, right, don’t get uptight, keep in line and you’ll be alright / Clap hands, move around, make sure no one puts you down.” The existential angst which many felt as the cold war intensified – and became decidedly hot in places like Vietnam at this time – is probably part of the reason for these cynical observations. Experimentation with drugs may well also have been a factor. “Here’s a little world you can all join in with / It’s very simple and I hope it’s new / Make your own life up if you want to / Any old life that you think will do / Love, yeah, it’s nothing new, there’s someone much worse off than you are / Help me set them free, just be what you want to be.”

The Winwood/Capaldi song Pearly Queen soothes one initially with gentle acoustic guitar and organ, before the sudden advent of heavy drums with attendant vocals: “I bought a sequined suit from a pearly queen / And she could drink more wine than I’d ever seen / She had some gypsies’ blood flowing through her feet / And when the time was right she said that I would meet / My destiny.” My destiny. This is Winwood’s vocals, and they are out of this world. When he sings those words, you know you’ve arrived at the true Traffic sound. “I travelled round the world to find the sun / I couldn’t stop myself from having fun / And then one day I met an Indian girl / And she made me forget this troubled world / We’re living in.” The lead guitar on this track is Claptonesque, while the drumming too is superb. The arrangement is inventive, with regular changes of tempo. At one point, the lead guitar recalls that on the Stones’ Paint It Black. There is even some incredible blues harmonica. The song concludes with the lines: “I had a strange dream. In my hair / I saw a pearly queen lying there / And all around her feet flowers bloomed / But they were made of silk and sequins two by two.”

Mason’s Don’t Be Sad is a slow rock, his alto vocals recalling the later Fleetwood Mac songs. This song features strong vocal harmonies, great lead guitar and some more inventive drumming. The organ is often pitched to sound like a female backing group. “Don’t be sad, I just want to see you get through / All I have, it’s yours if you think it helps you / Good or bad, there’s no one can really judge you / You just have to come to your own conclusion / There is only one who means more than all to me / And through the lady, in a dream I’ve learned to live with everyone / Mother, father, all my friends, have seen me have my day / But now I see that there’s no need in trying to run, though it’s been fun.” Not necessarily brilliant lyrics, but another great vehicle for the flow of Traffic.

Where were they headed? Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring. That was the title of the next track, another Winwood/Capaldi collaboration. Winwood’s strong blues vocals are again a hallmark of this slow, bluesy track where the lead guitar and organ are again superb. The lyrics are short, but sweet. “We are not like all the rest, you can see us any day of the week / Come around, sit down, take a sniff, fall asleep / Baby, you don’t have to speak / I’d like to show you where it is but then it wouldn’t even mean a thing / Nothing is easy, baby, just please me, who knows what tomorrow may bring? / If for just one moment you could step outside your mind / And float across the ceiling, I don’t think the folks would mind.” It was all about shocking the oldies, I think.

For a while, Winwood aside, it was a Mason track that defined the Traffic sound. And the last track on Side 1, Feeling Alright?, was that sound. With a pleasant acoustic guitar foundation, the song features tight bass and drums, and strong piano work, while a sax break near the end prefigures the wonders that Chris Wood would achieve on John Barleycorn. Fittingly, Mason’s bass is dominant throughout this song, which contains lines no Traffic lover will be unfamiliar with. “Seems I’ve got to have a change of scene / ’Cause every night I have the strangest dreams / Imprisoned by the way it could have been / Left here on my own or so it seems / I’ve got to leave before I start to scream / But someone’s locked the door and took the key.” Then that famous chorus: “You feelin’ alright? I’m not feelin' too good myself / Well, you feelin’ alright? I’m not feelin’ too good myself.” I think it’s something most drug-taking youths asked each other from time to time. It became quite a thing. In what should have been the flush of healthy youth, you are suddenly concerned that you might be losing it – because you happened to have smoked all that stuff on top of drinking that booze and popping those pills. “Not feelin’ too good myself, man.” But what the heck, let’s have another joint… Of course for most of us, it was about what to do with all that time, which, had you been lucky enough to be scoring with a beautiful chick, you would not have needed to spend doing antisocial things. Because this song is about a relationship. “Well, say, you sure took me for one big ride / And even now I sit and wonder why / That when I think of you I start to cry /I just can’t waste my time, I must keep dry /Gotta stop believin’ in all you lies / ’Cause there’s too much to do before I die.” Yeah. Ja. Yes. It was like that. A matter of life and death. Some okes, ous, guys, went mal, mad, gaga, from the drugs. I remember encountering one of our “gang” about five years after those heady high school days, and he was stuffed, virtually a vegetable. So Mason concludes with: “Don’t get too lost in all I say / Though at the time I really felt that way / But that was then, now it’s today; / I can’t get off so I’m here to stay / Till someone comes along and takes my place / With a different name and, yes, a different face.”

Now, as if that hormonal angst isn’t bad enough, Side 2 starts with something called Vagabond Virgin, by Mason and Capaldi. Like the first track on Side 1, this is a light, whimsical piece, which again features great acoustic guitar and piano. And, as the bass again leads the play, one gets the first sighting, or sounding, of that beautiful flute. But what was Mason on about this time? Before I check out the lyrics, it is interesting to note, in these days of crass commercialism – without which the lyrics wouldn’t be pasted all over the Net – that each set of lyrics includes an advert for ringtones. Who would want a Traffic ringtone on their cellphone – apart from people my age, that is, and frankly most of us couldn’t care what that ringtone sounds like. Anyway, Vagabond Virgin, which has nothing to do with Richard Branson, goes like this: “Tell me how you want me to be, then look again and you will see / That I’m still the same love / Think me into any shape, your twisted mind has no escape / But don’t be ashamed, love, it’s just a game, love / But don’t be ashamed, love, it’s just a game, love / You can learn how to play / Born like you were in a terrible mess, didn’t know what it was to have a new dress / You just wanted to scream out my name / Till somebody said, ‘Let me take you to bed’ / And with money and lies they filled up your head / You were barely thirteen, a child from the villages / So fresh on the scene.” This song, with its strong folk undertones, certainly anticipates John Barleycorn, and Chris Wood’s flute, alongside the acoustic guitar, sounds sublime. Mason’s vocals, ably backed by the others, is another high point of the early Traffic sound, irrespective of the difficult dynamic between him and Winwood.

But if we’re looking for the definitive Traffic sound, the next track, Forty Thousand Headmen (Winwood/Capaldi) must be right up there with the best. Indeed, that flute/acoustic guitar collaboration reaches a high point on this song, where the electronic instruments – especially the bass – combine perfectly with the acoustic sounds, while light percussion and even bongo drums give it a mysterious, almost exotic quality. Because this is a song about travel, a sort of odyssey. And it was while listening to this again that I made my note of comparison with Ian Anderson, as Wood’s flute soared and swooped. There is also a slow, bluesy end section in which organ and saxophone work exceptionally well together – or was that the start of the next track? I never used to hear all the words, so it’s good to get the full story, so to speak, courtesy of the Web: “Forty thousand headmen couldn’t make me change my mind / If I had to take the choice between the deaf man and the blind / I know just where my feet should go and that’s enough for me / I turned around and knocked them down and walked across the sea.” And that bass surges and recedes, surges and recedes, as the flute kicks in evocatively, while all the time the steel strings or the acoustic guitar quiver with life. “Hadn’t travelled very far when suddenly I saw / Three small ships a-sailing out towards a distant shore / So lighting up a cigarette I followed in pursuit / And found a secret cave where they obviously stashed their loot.” I loved those lines as a youngster, though I did not realise at the time that he had done a walking on water miracle… “Filling up my pockets, even stuffed it up my nose / I must have weighed a hundred tons between my head and toes / I ventured forth before the dawn had time to change its mind / And soaring high above the clouds I found a golden shrine.” You fully expect Gulliver to make an appearance at this point. “Laying down my treasure before the iron gate / Quickly rang the bell hoping I hadn’t come too late / But someone came along and told me not to waste my time / And when I asked him who he was he said, ‘Just look behind’.” It is about here that the song gets quite heavy, as he realises he’s in a spot of bother. “So I turned around and forty thousand headmen bit the dirt / Firing twenty shotguns each and man, it really hurt / But luckily for me they had to stop and then reload / And by the time they’d done that I was heading down the road.” Phew! It is consoling to realise that in poetry, like in the movies, it is possible to survive a fusillade by 40 000 men each armed with 20 shotguns. But what a classic song that was!

Not to be outdone, Mason returns the fire on the next track, Crying’ To Be Heard, which emerges from a slow blues, with baritone sax and organ, which lulls you into a false sense of peace and quiet. Suddenly, the words are torn out, bursting the bubble: “Somebody’s crying to be heard / And there’s also someone who hears every word…” The song slows for the first verse, acoustic guitar prominent: “Sail across the ocean with your back against the wind / Listening to nothing save the calling of a bird / And when the rain begins to fall, don’t you start to curse / It may be just the tears of someone that you never heard.” I thought I detected a harpsichord somewhere here, while later on the organ is reminiscent of Strawbs’s Rick Wakeman at his finest. Indeed, the song builds to a considerable crescendo, with lead guitar, sax, organ and drums, not to mention the Masonic bass, jamming together and indeed being heard.

To use that awful verb, this track again seques into No Time To Live, a Winwood/Capalidi track, with organ and piano emerging quietly. The insistent piano builds until some Phantom-of-the-Opera-type chords ring out. This time it is the saxophone that delivers the wind section, before Winwood’s voice takes centre stage: “As time begins to burn itself upon me / And the days are growing very short / People try their hardest to reject me / But in a way, their conscience won’t be caught.” Look, these aren’t necessarily the greatest lyrics, but if ever the Winwood voice was to be tested it was here. I was reminded of Ian Gillan, in the role of Jesus on Jesus Christ Superstar at times, his voice often soaring alongside that immaculate high-pitched sax. These verses sound far more impressive within the context of this dramatic song, with Winwood giving each word his all: “Something’s happening to me day by day / My pebble on the beach is getting washed away / I’ve given everything that was mine to give / And now I’ll turn around and find that there’s no time to live.” The final verse: “So often I have seen that big wheel of fortune / Spinning for the man who holds the ace / There’s many who would change their places for him / But none of them have ever seen his lonely face.”

The album concludes with another Winwood/Capaldi song, Means To An End, a quicker blues-rock. Indeed, two lead guitars near the end get positively raucous. “Well, you told me you were sorry, when I needed your advice / And I was too confused to see the meaning / Like Peter, you disowned me with a voice as cold as ice / And before the fire died and they were leaving.” With the reference to Peter, this really does recall JC Superstar. But it is during this chorus that the electric guitar really soars and scythes between Winwood’s powerful vocals: “I’m a means to an end and everybody’s friend / To a richman, poorman, beggar man or thief / From my heart I send a messenger to bend / And take your mind from agony and grief.” Listening to this again, it is not surprising the words were lost, as Winwood’s vocals and those guitars do tend to compete for space. The last verse, rarely heard, runs: “Oh, sweet silence without kings and queens / No one here has ever reached your centre / Better to be quiet than to speak without a thought / Or you may lose the meaning of your venture.” A trifle forced, I would suggest.

Nevertheless, this is a fine, fine album, setting the band up for the masterpiece called John Barleycorn.

Last Exit

But before that was Last Exit which, though it was doing the rounds at the time, I don’t recall us ever having. And it seems, judging from Wikipedia, it was not to be taken too seriously. Traffic’s third album was “a collection of odds and ends put together by Island Records after the initial breakup of the band”, says Wikipeida. While photos of all four band members appear on the cover, “Mason does not actually appear on most of the album”. One of the stand-out titles on this album is Medicated Goo, which we would encounter later on Welcome To The Canteen.

John Barleycorn Must Die

And so to John Barleycorn Must Die. Incredibly, for such a pivotal album, when I downloaded information off Wikipedia they had very little on this work. Wikipedia notes that the album, from 1970, features “different genres of music including art rock, jazz rock, and many psychedelic influences”. My personal view is that the title track is obviously a traditional English folk song, adapted to the folk rock era, but still relying on some superb acoustic guitar work, supplemented by flutes and sax. As noted earlier, it was initially going to be a Winwood solo album, but with Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi joining in, it became Traffic once more. It was the first Traffic album to achieve gold record status. In the tradition of Blind Faith and Cream, the album has just six tracks, ranging from 4:02 minutes to 7:05, which gives the band ample opportunity to include those brilliant passages of innovation for which it is rightly renowned. Significantly, and this I’ve gleaned off the cover of the original vinyl album, there seem to be no electric guitars on the entire set. And this may be the key to its success, offering a softer form of progressive rock built around organ and wind instruments, with a solid electric rhythm section.

Reminiscent, in a way, of that great Neil Young cover for Harvest, in this case the album uses black and white woodcuts from the English Folk Dance & Song Society, with a bushel (would it be?) of barleycorn on the front, and another of a scarecrow on the back. Inside, the album features one of the coolest picture in the history of rock, with Winwood, Capaldi and Wood shown in colour in their hippest gear against a cloud-strewn, greenish sky. All the tracks are credited to Winwood-Capaldi, apart from Glad (Winwood alone) and the title track, which I see is actually just called John Barleycorn (without the “must die”), which is a traditional song arranged by Winwood.

After listening to the album, I have to say it is every bit as good as I remembered it, conceding however that there is no way that one will ever be able to capture within one the sort of mood, or sentiment, one experienced as a teenager hearing this stuff when it was new and fresh out the box, as it were. Yet, having the perspective of nearly four decades does help one appreciate other factors overlooked at the time. The first is that this is probably Steve Winwood’s masterpiece. Certainly the album is credited to Traffic, but it is Winwood who provides the bulk of the work, and it is beautiful stuff! And what a brave move to open with an instrumental track, Glad, which is arguably the best on the album. I was reminded of John Mayall’s The Turning Point album by the interesting array of sounds on this bluesy, jazzy piece, with some extravagant piano and organ flourishes by Winwood augmented by incredible Chris Wood sax. And how do they get by without an electric guitar? Why, by Wood also using an electric sax, which provides a wah-wah effect that could in fact easily be mistaken for a guitar. Only, because it’s a sax it is just that much more interesting.

Naturally, the song doesn’t just end, it flows seamlessly into a tight bit of piano and sax which, with a sharp rap on the drums, heralds the first vocals on the album, in Windwood’s inimitable voice: “Like a hurricane around your heart when / earth and sky are torn apart / He comes gathering up the bits while / hoping that the puzzle fits / He leaves you, he leaves you. / Freedom rider.” I’d never read those lyrics before, despite “knowing” this song intimately for so long. It is on this track that Wood unleashes the flute to its full potential, at times rivalling, perhaps even surpassing, the sound of Ian Anderson. I assume Winwood also plays bass on here, as no one else is listed as doing so, because it too is brilliant. “With a silver star between his eyes / that open up at hidden lies / Big man crying with defeat, sees people gathering in the street / You feel him, you feel him. / Freedom rider.” These lyrics look as impressive as they sound, giving the song a sense of class and quality which would have been lost had the lyrics been weak and half-baked, the downfall of so many rock, especially hard rock, songs. “When lightning strikes you to the bone, / you turn around, you're all alone / By the time you hear that silent (siren?) sound, then your soul is in the / lost and found / Forever, forever. / Freedom rider / Here it comes.”

Empty Pages, also a Winwood-Capaldi collaboration, is another of those slow blues numbers which rely on some superb piano playing by Winwood, with Wood this time contributing the organ, and Capaldi again on drums and percussion. It is the interaction between the piano and drums which is such a key component here, as the song begins incisively, before mellowing: “Found someone who can comfort me, but there are always exceptions / And she’s good at appearing sane, but I just want you to know / She’s the one makes me feel so good when everything is against me / Picks me up when I’m feeling down, so I’ve got something to show.” Then that chorus, which I again read for the first time. Remember that it is accompanied by feisty music and drumming: “Staring at empty pages, centred ’round the same plot / Staring at empty pages, flowing along in the ages.” As I noted earlier, we, I never really cared too much what was being sung. It was the mood that mattered, with Winwood’s voice providing it. But the words were always there to be explored and understood, and even those bits which were readily heard added to the ambience. “Often lost and forgotten, the vagueness and the mud / I’ve been thinking I’m working too hard, but I’ve got something to show.” The song then returns to that lovely chorus, with its crashing drums and cymbals, before slowing to enable Winwood to manufacture an intricate piano solo against the foil of his own voice.

An integral, vital, part of this album’s character is the use of an acoustic guitar on the opening track on Side 2, Stranger To Himself. Working in tandem with the piano, the steel-strung guitar gives the song a lovely edge, while Capaldi provides more than adequate vocal harmonies. Again, the song provides a platform for some more incredible rock improvisations, with Winwood introducing the electric lead guitar for the first time on the album (so there was one!). The lyrics seemed to talk to our troubled teenage souls: “Struggling with confusion, disillusionment too / Can turn a man into a shadow, crying out from pain.” Did I really take not of these words at the time? No, I only heard about half of them, and never cared about their meaning, to tell the truth. Yet, had they been weak, I would have known immediately, and the song would have been ruined. You had to know you were listening to guys with brains, not some illiterate, inarticulate half-wits. “Through his nightmare vision, he sees nothing, only well / Blind with the beggar’s mind, he’s but a stranger / He’s but a stranger to himself.” I never imagined that was what was being sung, but I like it.” I was sucked into the rhythm, the blues, of this song, and loved the way its tension seemed to be echoed in the lyrics, so ably sung, but I wasn’t registering what was being sung: “Suspended from a rope inside a bucket down a hole / His hands are torn and bloodied from the scratching at his soul.” I heard all those words – bucket down a hole, and torn and bloodied – but never put the full sentences together. Which is probably just as well. No need to brood on the issues that drove these geniuses, rather simply enjoy the product in your own way. Yet it is great to finally see what it was they were saying, safe in the realisation that nearly 40 years on I am inured, I hope, to the angst these lyrics may engender.

It was always track 2 on side 2 that I wanted to hear most, despite lapping up the heavier electric music on this album. I was a sucker for traditional English music, and Irish, obviously, and John Barleycorn was sung most beautifully by Steve Winwood, who also plays some of the finest acoustic guitar one is likely to hear on a rock album. From intricate finger-picking, to full-blooded strumming as the song increases in intensity, he is a master of this instrument. Capaldi’s support vocals are perfectly pitched to complement Winwood’s totally distinctive work on this song. The album cover notes reveal that there are between 100 and 140 versions of this song in England, with the earliest known copy dating back to 1465. “The popular interpretation is the effort of the people to give up the alcohol distilled from barely,” says the sleeve note, but adds that the penultimate verse states that “Little Sir John with his nut brown bowl / And his brandy in the glass / And little Sir John with his nut brown bowl / Proved the strongest man at last …” But isn’t this song so wonderfully evocative of rural England in medieval times? With that acoustic guitar, backed by hauntingly beautiful flute flourishes, Winwood launches into this long and symbol-laden tale: “There were three men came out of the west / Their fortunes for to try, / And these three men made a solemn vow / John Barleycorn must die.” It sounds like a story of murder, but soon it becomes clear everything is metaphorical. “They’ve ploughed, they’ve sown, they’ve harrowed him in / Threw clods upon his head, / And these three men made a solemn vow / John Barleycorn was dead.” The tension ratchets up with each verse: “They let him lie for a very long time / Till the rains from Heaven did fall, / And little Sir John sprung up his head / And so amazed them all.” So now the crop is out of the ground, but what to do with it? “They’ve let him stand till Midsummer’s day, / Till he looked both pale and wan. / And little Sir John’s grown a long, long beard / And so become a man.” It is almost like ancient folk lore passed down by means of song, outlining when and how things had to be done. “They’ve hired men with the scythes so sharp, / To cut him off at the knee, / They’ve rolled him and tied him by the waist, / Serving him most barbarously.” Isn’t that a wonderful image, the crop personified. But the torture continues: “They’ve hired men with the sharp pitchforks, / Who pricked him through the heart / And the loader, he has served him worse than that, / For he’s bound him to the cart.” Then the flute abounds, along with some wonderful perscussion work and complementary piano from Winwood. “They’ve wheeled him around and around a field, / Till they came unto a barn, / And there they made a solemn oath / On poor John Barleycorn.” What’s to become of the “man”? “They’ve hired men with the crab-tree sticks, / To cut him skin from bone, / And the miller, he has served him worse than that, / For he’s ground him between two stones.” Can matters get any worse? “And little Sir John and the nut brown bowl / And his brandy in the glass / And little Sir John and the nut brown bowl / Proved the strongest man at last.” This seems a trifle sudden, from having ground the corn to producing brandy in the glass – though I did think it came from grapes, not barley. Anyway, the final verse reads: “The huntsman, he can’t hunt the fox / Nor so loudly to blow his horn, / And the tinker, he can’t mend kettle nor pots / without a little barley corn.” Everything in moderation, I say, including moderation.

The album ends, fittingly, on a high note, with one of the band’s all-time classics, Every Mother’s Son, another Winwood-Capaldi composition. Piano, organ, lead guitar launch this slow bluesy work, with Capaldi’s drumming as sympathetic as ever towards that unique Winwood voice. But once again, apart from a few key words, the lyrics were never fully formed in my psyche, so let’s get a feel for them now: “Once again I’m northward bound, on the edge of sea and sky / Tomorrow is my friend, my one and only friend / We travel on together searching for the end / I’m a travelling soul and every mother’s son / Although I’m getting tired I’ve got to travel on / Can you please help, my god? / Can you please help, my god? / Can you please help, my god? / I think it’s only fair.” All that just builds relentlessly, in a flash of brilliance. It sets the tone for the entire song, which includes lashings of inspired improvisation on organ and lead guitar before winding down for the final stanza: “Once again I’m northward bound, on the edge of sea and sky / Together we will go and see what waits for us / A backdoor to the universe that opens doors…” That long chorus again kicks in again, ensuring the song never loses its spark. I salute this album as one of the great achievements in rock history. No more, no less.

Welcome to the Canteen

As noted earlier, Welcome to the Canteen (September, 1971) did not carry the name Traffic on its front cover. Instead, just the names of the seven artists are recorded at the top of the black-and-white photograph of them sitting in, well, a canteen, or restaurant, of the sort in the UK where you can buy a cheap, greasy, eggs-and-bacon breakfast. The cover alone made this a firm favourite, but of course we also lapped up this somewhat heavier incarnation of a group which featured the marvellous talents of people like Winwood and Mason. For yes, Mason was back for his third stint, which lasted just six performances. Extracts from two of those are included on this ablum – concerts at Fairfield Halls, Croydon, and the Oz Benefit Concert in London, in July 1971.

Medicated Goo, a Winwood/Miller composition, became another of those instantly recognisable Traffic hits. It was originally on their album, Last Exit, and as with most of the tracks here, the vocals are somewhat overwhelmed by the band on this jazzy, bluesy rock number. This is hard rock at its best, with all the elements – bass, lead guitar, drums, vocals, piano – working well together. Again, thanks to the muffled nature of the vocals, which none-the-less reveal Winwood at his expressive best, the precise lyrics were largely lost on me, so here’s a look: “Pretty Polly Possum what’s wrong with you? / Your body’s kind a weak / and you think there’s nothing we can do / Good Golly Polly shame on you / Cause Molly made a stew that’ll make a newer girl out of you.” One can hear the tune in those lyrics, with words just rolling out at pace, before the more familiar chorus: “So follow me, its good for you / That good old fashioned Medicated Goo / Ooo, ain’t it good for you? / My own homegrown recipe’ll see you thru.” I hadn’t realised this was a fun alliterative exercise: “Freaky Freddy Frolic had some, I know / He was last seem picking green flowers in a field of snow / Get ready Freddy, they’re sure to grow / Mother nature just blew it / and there’s nothing really to it I know.” Kinda makes you wonder what this “medicated goo” might be, reading that last verse. “Aunty Franny Prickett and Uncle Lou / They made some Goo / Now they really sock it to their friends / Frantic friends and neighbours charge the door / They caught a little whiff / Now they’re digging it and seeking more.” How naïve I’ve been, not spotting earlier that this was advertising some kind of “upper” that was all the rage at the time.

One normally associates Winwood with the wooden sound on Traffic albums, with the acoustic guitars and folk-type ballads. But on Sad And Deep As You, the second track, it is Dave Mason who sucks it to us in a classic live performance characterised by immaculate finger-picked acoustic guitar. Indeed, I notice on the Wikipedia notes about this album that Mason is responsible for all the acoustic guitar work on the album, which sort of explodes my earlier assumptions. A feature of this album is the growing prominence given to various percussion instruments, including conga and bongo drums. Rebop Kwaku Baah is the man responsible for this sound, and he certainly brings an interesting “world music” dimension. It is much to the fore on this track. So, too, the flute of Chris Wood, which is, in a sense, the spiritual heart of the song. Mason doesn’t have Winwood’s beautiful voice, but his is distinctive and characterful, and it more than succeeds on this song. And what better subject for testosterone-charged youths to get their teeth into? “Lips that are as warm could be / Lips that speak too soon / Lips that tell a story / Sad and deep as you.” Is it a story of love, and loss? “Smile that’s warm as summer sun / Smile that gets you through / Sad and deep you / Eyes that are the windows / Eyes that are the dew / Eyes that tell a story / Sad and deep as you / Tears that are unspoken words / Tears that are the truth / Tears that tell a story / Sad and deep as you.” Again, as with most great poetry, the final interpretation is left with the listener/reader. It is, however, an inspired piece of writing, simple but ever so effective. And the applause it receives from a previously gobsmacked audience speaks volumes.

So it is Dave Mason, then, who plays that beautiful acoustic guitar accompaniment to Winwood’s voice on Forty Thousand Headmen. As observed earlier, this is one of the great Traffic tracks, and even though Winwood’s voice is somewhat lost at times probably due to poor mixing, this gives the song added mystery. Because this was the only version I knew – until I picked up that old vinyl copy of Traffic, the second album, a few years ago. Flute, congas, bongos and some evocative acoustic guitar work see this song evolve into one mega laid-back Traffic jam towards the end.

Anyone familiar with Traffic will recognise the opening notes, on organ, of the next track – daa-da-daa-da, daa-da-daa-da. Another Mason song, Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave is a great slow, bluesy rock number where Winwood’s lead guitar (or is it Mason?), including the extensive use of the wah-wah pedal, is a stand-out feature on some lengthy improvisations. The bongos again add interesting tonal textures, with the song returning every so often to that opening signature. But what was it that he took? I’m sure Mason will be gallantly vague in that regard. Well I was wrong again. It seem SHE did the taking. “You shouldn’t have took more than you gave / We wouldn’t be in this mess today / And though we’ve gone our separate ways / The dues we have to pay are / still the same.”

Winwood’s vocals really make Dear Mr Fantasy, from that earlier album. A Capaldi/Winwood/Wood composition, this slow blues again features strong lead guitar and organ, as it gradually mutates into a full-blooded rock sound, the lengthy improvisations reminiscent in a way of the great CSNY jams. With two lead guitars competing, the song’s denouement is an interesting and extended process. Fantasy seemed to be a favourite word in the Traffic dictionary. They’d even have a factory for it, later on. But here it is about music: “Dear Mister Fantasy play us a tune / Something to make us all happy / Do anything take us out of this gloom / Sing a song, play guitar / Make it snappy / You are the one who can make us all laugh / But doing that you break out in tears / Please don’t be sad if it was a straight mind you had / We wouldn’t have known you all these years.” Again, nothing too clear and straight-forward there.

Gimme Some Lovin’, the last track on the album, was written by the Winwood brothers and Spencer Davis back in the days of the Spencer Davis Group. It is a mot interesting track, starting with drums and bongos, even a bit of handclapping and some understated lead guitar. A simple melody comprising a few notes – almost simply a rhythm really – ensures a sparse, almost repetitious song which has a rough saw-dusty texture. While some would argue it is too long and unchanging, there are some inspired flashes of saxophone and the bongo-conga sound keeps the interest up. Again, the lyrics are muted. But again, too, the lines of verse have a rhythm all their own, and they ensure the song surges ahead: “Well, my temp’rature’s risin’ and my feet on the floor, / Twenty people knockin’ ’cause they’re wanting some more, / Let me in, baby, I don’t know what you’ve got, / But you’d better take it easy, this place is hot / So glad we made it, so glad we made it / You gotta gimme some lovin’, gimme some lovin’ / Gimme some lovin’ every day.” It was a remarkable album which remains one of the icons of this era.

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

It was now that my interest in Traffic waned a trifle. With Mason again leaving, they released The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (November, 1971), which was a hit in the US, says Wikipedia, but not in the UK. I’m afraid any title with the word “low” in it is asking for trouble. What it did have was an interesting cubist (literally), checker-board cover, the style of which was to be echoed on the next album. Interestingly, I see Wikipedia classify it as “rock, jazz rock”. It is, indeed, a sound hard to pigeonhole. Progressive rock and classic rock and roll are other adjectives used. But was it any good? With Winwood and Capaldi writing most of the songs, there is a sameness that would have been broken by some Masonry, but it is still highly listenable. Hidden Treasure opens with acoustic guitar and flute, with Winwood now clearly the man on that guitar. Crisp and clear, with some great acoustic lead breaks, I have to confess it was not that familiar when I listened to it again. But with Capaldi’s backing vocals, there is a gentle CSNY quality, augmented by that heady flute and bongos sound.

The title track was a bit of a favourite at the time, with most of us happily singing along during the choruses. But I hadn’t realised till now that it ran to 11: 35 minutes, and contains numerous and diverse jams and improvisations. The song has a strong, jazzy introduction, featuring acoustic guitar, sax and bongos, with some stunning bass lines. An organ and a piano add to the colour. “If you see something that looks like a star / And it’s shooting up out of the ground / And your head is spinning from a loud guitar / And you just can’t escape from the sound / Don’t worry too much, it’ll happen to you / We were children once, playing with toys” It is about here that the urgency increases: “And the thing that you’re hearing is only the sound / Of the low spark of high-heeled boys.” Lead guitar and sax solos, along with inventive piano riffs, permeate this jazz rock odyssey. “The percentage you’re paying is too high-priced / While you’re living beyond all your means / And the man in the suit has just bought a new car / From the profit he’s made on your dreams / But today you just read that the man was shot dead / By a gun that didn’t make any noise / But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest / Was the low spark of high-heeled boys.” So there is violence afoot here, too, if you’ll pardon the pun. “If you had just a minute to breathe / And they granted you one final wish / Would you ask for something like another chance / Or something similar as this / Don’t worry too much, it’ll happen to you / As sure as your sorrows or joys.” There is some ugly syntax in there, but let’s see where we end up: “If I gave you everything that I owned / And asked for nothing in return / Would you do the same for me as I would for you or take me for a ride / And strip me of everything, including my pride / But spirit is something that no one destroys ...” Then that final refrain: “And the sound that I'm hearing is only the sound / Of the low spark of high-heeled boys / Heeled boys.”

Jim Capaldi makes his, I believe, solo vocal debut on his own composition, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone. Again, not too familiar to me, this hard rock song has an almost Beatles quality, with some great lead breaks.

But Winwood is back at his sublime best on the next song, Many A Mile To Freedom, a 7:26 minute opus co-written with Anna Capaldi. A gentle rock song, with overarching flute, there are some strong, The Who-like bass notes and chords. The lyrics also flows beautifully, the song capturing something of the quality of the great early Traffic songs.

Bassist Ric Grech, who also plays violin somewhere on the album, though I couldn’t find where, co-wrote Rock & Roll Stew with Jim Gordon. “Sometimes I feel like I’m fading away …” Here Capaldi’s vocals are stronger, giving a performance of a great bluesman. There is an interesting passage where the wah-wah guitar and organ interact, under an overlay of organ, and electric piano.

The album ends with another epic, Rainmaker, which runs to 7:39 minutes and hangs on a pleasant melody built around the repetition of the word, rainmaker. Soothing acoustic guitar and flutes give this a gentle folk-rock feel. A creative sax solo near the end helps transforms the song into a slow bluesy jam.

Despite the long tracks, and jams, this album peaked at No 7 on the US’s Billboard Pop Albums chart in 1972. It may not have the heft of the earlier albums, but still finds the lads close to the peak of their abilities.

Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory

It was after this album that Capaldi started working on a solo career though he remained with the band. But Grech and Gordon left. However, they were latecomers anyway, so with Capaldi, Winwood, Wood and Rebop still there, Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory (released in January 1973, but recorded in December, 1971) was completed using drummer Roger Hawkins and David Hood on bass. And, not surprisingly, it was “another hit”, says Wikipedia, reaching No 6 in the US. The album cover, of dismembered clothed figures floating in a cubed space, built on the ideas of its predecessor and was superb. I had forgotten that both albums had their top right and bottom left corners “clipped” to fit the design. This album, however, I haven’t heard since the early 1970s, though I’m sure to recognise the songs when I hear them, especially (Sometimes I Feel So) Uninspired. With just five tracks, the longest, Roll Right Stones, runs to 13:40 minutes. Tragic Magic seems to be Chris Wood’s debut solo Traffic composition, while the other songs are all co-authored by Winwood/Capaldi.

Oh How We Danced

For a while, Capaldi was the man to watch. I recall once borrowing my classmate Jeremy’s copy of Oh How We Danced (1972), only to foolishly leave it lying on the back seat of the car, in the sun. It ended up a warped and twisted version of the original. Can’t recall how I made it up to Jerry. A few years back I found a vinyl copy of the album, which I see features all the Traffic musicians, plus a few others, though the likes of Winwood and Wood don’t appear on all the tracks. When I gave it a listen, however, I was unimpressed. And the problem lies, I think, in the songs themselves. Clearly Capaldi needed Winwood as a co-songwriter. I found the lyrics particularly uninspired, and Capaldi’s vocals nowhere near as good as Winwood or Mason’s. The album does, however, feature great snaps of the lands in action, or in the case of Rebop, seemingly taking a nap.

One has to sympathise with Capaldi. He was in the company of some of the greatest talents of the era, and as a songwriter was simply not as original and exciting as them. The album is formulaic and, frankly, a trifle embarrassing. It probably did Capaldi no favours to reproduce the lyrics on the rear sleeve of this gatefold cover, because it is here that the greatest flaws lie. Even the titles are weak, like Last Day Of Dawn. It’s meaningless. “On the last day of dawn when the world is no more / And the last tiny pigeon’s been swept off the floor …” I can’t go on. One song with redeeming features is Don’t Be A Hero. While naively written, at least here Capaldi takes a firm stab at the dangers of drug abuse – but compared with a song like Neil Young’s The Needle And The Damage Done, this palls. Chris Wood tries to salvage something on How Much Can A Man Really Take with his flute, and there is a reasonably good jam near the end, but all too often Capaldi’s over-lengthy lyrics intrude. Isn’t it significant that the shortest song, lyrics-wise, is the title track, an S Chaplin/A Jolson composition. But it too fails to set the album alight.

I know that Steve Winwood went on to have a long solo career, but he did it without my support. I lost interest in Traffic and its components around the time of Low Spark and Shoot Out, though they did splutter on a trifle longer. Wikipedia says the band released Eagle Flies in 1974 with new bassist Roskoo Gee, but then disbanded. Two compilations, Heavy Traffic and More Heavy Traffic followed. Capaldi and Winwood reunited as Traffic in 1994 for a one-off tour, Wikipedia tells us, and released a CD, Far From Home. But there was no Chris Wood around, because he died of alcohol-related causes in 1983. Fittingly, however, given those heady first few years, Traffic were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. And any hopes of further reunions were dashed with the death of Capaldi in 2005, aged 60.

Given how short, but incredibly productive, Traffic’s campaign was, it is worth recording, again thanks to a “trivia” insert on Wikipedia, what a pivotal role three band members played on that classic Jimi Hendrix double album, Electric Ladyland. With Winwood and Mason both friends of the guitarist, Winwood played organ on the slower jam version of Voodoo Chile, while Mason played 12-strong guitar on All Along The Watchtower on the same album. Wikipedia says Hendrix first heard Dylan’s original version of this song, from the album John Wesley Harding, at a party he was invite to by Mason, and decided to do cover it that same night. Also contributing on Electric Ladyland was Chris Wood, whose flute can be heard on 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be).

With such close ties to arguably one of the greatest rock musicians and composers of the era, is it any wonder that the original Traffic were right up there with the best during the pivotal years around 1970, when rock music became the very air that we, the youth, breathed.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Simon and Garfunkel

THE folk music tradition was still strong in the mid-1960s, despite the rapid rise of rock groups like the Beatles and Stones. Bob Dylan’s early protest songs were folk-based, while in England, Scotsman Donovan Leitch presented a far-more overtly folk sound, although in a peacenik, hippie idiom.

But, for me growing up in the 1960s, it was the songs of Simon and Garfunkel which probably had the most folk-based impact. It started with their early hit singles – songs like The Boxer, Homeward Bound, Leaves That Are Green and The Sound Of Silence (was it a response, I wonder, to The Sound Of Music?).

Later we got into the albums, especially the epochal Bridge Over Troubled Waters, and in the 1970s, into several Paul Simon solo albums, which underscored what we knew anyway: that Simon was the pivotal part of the duo, with Garfunkel mainly providing an angelic vocal accompaniment for Simon’s more than pleasant singing voice. And then, of course, in the mid-1980s, there was Graceland, with South Africa as its focus.

Simon and Arthur (Art) Garfunkel met at school in New York City in 1953. They started performing together fairly early on – in a school play of Alice in Wonderland. In 1957 they formed the group Tom and Jerry, and had a minor hit with Hey Schoolgirl. A decade later they would be one of the most popular recording artists in the world.

In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine had them at No 40 in their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.

But growing up in the 1960s, we became familiar first with those catchy seven singles. There was just something clean-cut and sincere about a song like Leaves That Are Green and the Boxer. And, like Dylan, here was a lyricist who knew the fundamental importance of excellent writing. Each word was made to count.

I never heard Hey, Schoolgirl, released in 1957, a year after I was born, but it went on to sell 100 000 copies and reached No 49 on the Billboard charts. Not bad for a debut single. They even performed the song on American Bandstand, right after Jerry Lee Lewis with Great Balls Of Fire. But that might well have been the end of things. Wikipedia says “subsequent efforts in 1958 did not reach near their initial success, and after high school the duo went to separate colleges”. Simon enrolled at Queens College and Garfunkel at Columbia University. In 1963, however, five years later, Wikipedia says they “found prominence” as part of the Greenwich Village folk music scene, alongside the likes of Bob Dylan. Their close harmonizing and Simon’s acoustic guitar playing were hallmarks of their style. But what of their academic careers? Wikipedia says Simon had completed college “but dropped out of Brooklyn Law School”. With both keen on folk music, Simon showed Garfunkel some folk songs he had written, including Sparrow, Bleecker Street and He Was My Brother.

I heard He Was My Brother in the early Seventies, when we picked up a copy of The Paul Simon Song Book, recorded sans Garfunkel in London in 1965. In the protest tradition of the time, the song was later dedicated to a classmate of Simon’s at Queens College, Andrew Goodman, one of three civil rights activists murdered in Mississippi in June 1964.

Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.

But first things first. Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. was the title of Simon and Garfunkel’s first album and it was not part of our early experience of the pair. In early 1964, says Wikipedia, Simon and Garfunkel had secured an audition with Columbia Records, whose management decided they would be called simply Simon & Garfunkel, despite the fear that their obviously Jewish names might have a negative effect.

Recorded in March, 1964, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. was released on October 19, 1964. Classified as folk, it was cut by Columbia Records and produced by Tom Wilson. After initially flopping, says Wikipeida, it was re-released in January 1966 after they had achieved sudden meteoric success, and this time reached No 30 on the Billboard pop charts. Wikipedia says it is best known for the acoustic version of The Sounds Of Silence.

I picked up a re-release of the album, from 1982, and found the original sleeve notes by Art Garfunkel quite interesting. Clearly very bright, he provides a “listener’s guide” to the five songs written by Simon. The rest are all covers, including an obligatory version of Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’. But let’s give the duo’s debut effort a quick spin.

Phew! Angelic is possibly the best adjective to describe the harmonizing. And it is that guy Garfunkel whose sublime voice cannot help but soften Simon’s. Not that Paul Simon is not capable of almost equally beautiful sounds in his own right. But there are songs here, which are also done solo on his Songbook album, where the duo find it impossible to resort to the brasher, harsher effects which Simon achieves there.

What is immediately noticeable on this album is that when they do covers they sound superb – but also they sound like any other great harmonizing duo might sound. It is only on the six Simon compositions (half the total), that one experiences the true phenomenon that was to be Simon and Garfunkel. So that opening track, You Can Tell The World (Bob Gibson/Bob Camp) is your quintessential folk club-type song. Admittedly the guitarwork and singing are sublime, with a wonderful understated quality, but this is a duo trying hard to fit into the mould as determined by the likes of Peter Paul and Mary.

The same applies to the next song, Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream, written by Ed McCurdy, which was one of those idealistic songs which shaped the folk music tradition. It was a protest song, but at the same time a beautiful one. It was hard to be accusatory when you sounded so good. Here a banjo and an acoustic guitar provide the backing for those lovely voices, with Garfunkel providing gorgeous grace notes. Ever wondered why their voices sounded so good together? I have a theory that the Everly Brothers and the Bee Gees gelled so well because, as brothers, there was a vocal similarity that lent itself to serendipitous tonal overlapping. Simon and Garfunkel were obviously not brothers, but they grew up in the same neighbourhood, Forest Hills in New York City, and lived just blocks away from one another. So they would probably have developed very similar vocal proclivities. And these clearly worked superbly in tandem.

But this was still just another folk-singing duo. The first spark of the Simon and Garfunkel genius ignites on Bleecker Street, the next track, which is also the first Simon composition on the album. So this is a very special moment. The two are performing an original folk song together for the first time on vinyl – and the impact is immediately sensational. Suddenly the guitarwork is more complex, more interesting. The melody is beautiful, and distinctly Paul Simon. And obviously the singing, the harmonizing, is out of this world. Instead of just rearranging other people’s songs, all at once we have a new creation. And Simon was clearly already deeply involved in the studio arrangements, with a second guitar picking out the melody and adding immensely to the richness of the experience. I must stress that Bleecker Street was not part of my early encounter with the duo, but it is so evocative of their sound it seems I have known it all my life.

In his sleeve notes, Garfunkel says initially the song was “too much for me”, adding that it is “highly intellectual, the symbolism extremely challenging”. So what was it about? “Fog’s rollin’ in off the East River bank / Like a shroud it covers Bleecker Street / Fills the alleys where men sleep / Hides the shepherd from the sheep.” Garfunkel says this reference to the fog-like shroud coming over the city “introduces the theme of ‘creative sterility’”. But, he says, it is the second verse “which I find particularly significant”. “Voices leaking from a sad café / Smiling faces try to understand / I saw a shadow touch a shadow’s hand / On Bleeker Street.” He says the first line is “a purely poetic image” – and I might add a brilliant one at that – while the second “touches poignantly on human conditions of our time”. The third, he says, “marks the first appearance of a theme that is to occupy great attention in later work – ‘lack of communication’”. Indeed a shadow touching a shadow’s hand speaks, does it not, of incredible loneliness and dislocation. Turning to the third verse – “A poet reads his crooked rhyme / Holy, holy is his sacrament / Thirty dollars pays your rent / On Bleeker Street” – he says the first line speaks of the poets having “sold out”, while the line about the thirty dollars “reminds one of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Christ for thirty pieces of silver”. The song ends with the verse: “I hear a church bell softly chime / In a melody sustainin’ / It’s a long road to Caanan / On Bleeker Street / Bleeker Street.” In all, then, a fascinating first foray for Simon, and clearly one that Garfunkel appreciated. And well he may, since Simon was clearly the creative genius which drove the partnership along.

Before looking at the next track, another Simon original, it has just occurred to me that the album’s title is a tautology of the type we, as sub-editors on a newspaper, are meant to pick up and eliminate. Wednesday, 3am, would have sufficed – but would it have been as poetic?

Anyway, Sparrow is the title of the next song. And, when you think about it, consider that this was recorded on March 10, 1964. How many other songwriters were penning work of this quality at this time? Certainly Dylan and the Beatles were, but few others. So we can see that Simon was one of the early pioneers. Sparrow may sound an innocuous title, befitting, perhaps, a piece of juvenile writing. But then Paul Frederic Simon was already 23 at this point – old in terms of rock musicians, I suppose.

He was born on October 13, 1941, in Newark, New Jersey, says Wikipedia, to Jewish Hungarian parents. His mother, Bella, was an elementary school teacher, his father Louis, a college professor, bassoon player and dance band leader. So clearly the musical and intellectual genes were well established. The family moved in 1941 – remember the Second World War was happening – to Kew Gardens in New York City. Then, while at that Forest Hills High School, he met Art Garfunkel and history was ordained. So at the age of 23, having written it a year or two earlier, Simon and Garfunkel produced this gentle little gem of a folk song, which starts with slow, moody acoustic guitar, then picks up in pace for that opening line, sung in their typically beautiful harmonies. “Who will love a little sparrow? / Who’s travelled far and cries for rest?” Already the scene is set; your interest is piqued by these rhetorical questions. Garfunkel, in those sleeve notes, says Sparrow “begins much of the style that characterises all the later work. The clarity of the song’s structure is matched by the simplicity of its subject.”

But who was this guy Art Garfunkel, who writes these notes on July 1, 1964, while Paul is in London? He says in September 1963 he had returned from Berkeley, California, “where I had spent the summer”. Paul had just completed Sparrow, having already written He Was My Brother, which Garfunkel first heard in June, 1963, “the week after Paul Simon wrote it”. Anyway, he says he (Garfunkel) “arranged the two songs for us” and “we sang them at Folk City that night and formed the partnership”. So clearly Art had some formal music training.

However, even before we establish Art’s credentials, let’s consider Paul’s pedigree thus far. Wikipedia says he earned a degree in English literature at Queens College, which perhaps explains the intellectuality of his songwriting. But, says Wikipedia, “his real passion was rock and roll”. So between 1957 and 1964 he “wrote, recorded and released more than 30 songs, occasionally reuniting with Garfunkel as Tom & Jerry for some singles, including Our Song, That’s My Story and Surrender, Please Surrender”. But most of the songs he recorded in those six years were with musicians “other than Garfunkel”.

Working for minor record labels, he also used various pseudonyms, including Jerry Landis, Paul Kane (from the Orson Welles film Citizen Kane) and True Taylor.

He had a few minor hits, including reaching No 97 in 1962 with Motorcycle while playing with a group called Tico and the Triumphs, and No 99 as Jerry Landis with the Lone Teen Ranger. So Paul Simon had paid his dues by the time this album came out, and possible thought he would continue on the periphery of pop stardom forever.

Before returning to that little sparrow, let’s look at how Garfunkel got to that place in 1964 where he too was on the threshold of greatness. Wikipedia says Arthur Ira (Art) Garfunkel was born on November 5, 1941, in Forest Hills, Queens, NYC. So he was a month younger than Simon. Like Simon’s, his family were Jewish, with his paternal grandparents coming from Romania. His mother, Rose, was a housewife, his dad, Jacob (Jack), a travelling menswear salesman. He met Simon in the sixth grade, but Wikipedia does not mention whether he had any formal music training. However, it does note that while at Columbia College in the early 1960s he sang with the Kingsmen, an all-male a cappella group. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in art history in 1962, and followed this with a Master’s degree in, of all things, mathematics. He was clearly no dunce with a sweet voice. And he had the gumption to help his mate Paul out with the arrangement of his compositions, since at this stage neither was altogether a superstar. But his intellect is clear from his analysis of Simon’s songs on that album sleeve. Sparrow continues from where we left off, oh ages ago, with lines which echo a childhood nursery rhyme Simon, like most English-speakers, probably grew up with, which contains the line “not I said the fly”. So here the rhetorical questions asked are: “Who will love a little sparrow? / Who’s travelled far and cries for rest?” The song gains urgency as the reply comes: “ ‘Not I,’ said the oak tree, / ‘I won’t share my branches with / No sparrow’s nest, / And my blanket of leaves won’t warm / Her cold breast.’” Isn’t that beautiful? The erudite Art says: “The song is asking: ‘Who will love?’ Poetic personification is used for the answers: Greed (the oak tree), Vanity (the swan), Hypocrisy (the wheat).” Couldn’t have put it better myself. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see this, along with much else of what Simon wrote, recognized purely for its poetic worth. Let’s see how it continues. “Who will love a little sparrow / And who will speak a kindly word? / ‘Not I,’ said the swan, / ‘The entire idea is utterly absurd, / I’d be laughed at and scorned if the / Other swans heard.’” Then the next verse: “Who will take pity in his heart, / And who will feed a starving sparrow? / ‘Not I,’ said the golden wheat, / ‘I would if I could but I cannot I know, / I need all my grain to prosper and grow.’” As I said, poetically perfect. “Who will love a little sparrow? / Will no one write her eulogy? / ‘I will,’ said the earth, / ‘For all I’ve created returns unto me, / From dust were ye made and dust ye shall be.’” Isn’t that a poignant ending? The only support the poor bird gets is from the clutches of its earthly grave. And naturally, Simon ends with a biblical reference.

Indeed, the pair take the religious mood into the next song, Benedictus, which they have arranged and adapted from the traditional original. Slow complex guitar, two beautiful voices and a haunting cello make for a soothing piece which also constitutes a rather daring departure for what was supposed to be a commercial album.

The scene is then set for the final song on the side. Simon and Garfunkel recorded The Sounds of Silence, written by Simon, on March 10, 1964. And no one really cared. Because the album was not a great success. But the song would later catapult them to superstardom. Having heard the original solo version on Simon’s Songbook, it is interesting to note that with Garfunkel’s influence, the message is softened somewhat, while at the same time made considerably more beautiful. The two voices pour into the lyrics almost immediately the Simon guitar starts humming. While I enjoy this pre-folk-rock version immensely, I can also detect a certain sameness which needs to be ameliorated.

Back then, in 1964, Garfunkel had little doubt this was a great song. He writes on the album sleeve that it is “a major work”. He says they were “looking for a song on a larger scale, but this was more than either of us expected”. Simon “had the theme and the melody set in November (1963), but three months of frustrating attempts were necessary before the song ‘burst forth’. On February 19, 1964, the song practically wrote itself.” I’m not sure Simon would agree, since clearly he was the genius who actually penned those lyrics. Garfunkel says the theme is “man’s inability to communicate with man”, which I suppose is obvious. But let’s take a look at the words of arguably their most famous song, which was an abiding presence in my life from probably not long after it was released as a folk-rock song a few years later. “Hello darkness, my old friend / I’ve come to talk with you again / Because a vision softly creeping / Left its seeds while I was sleeping / And the vision that was planted in my brain / Still remains / Within the sound of silence.” I remember a sense of questioning already being instilled by these lyrics in my young psyche. Here the protagonist addresses his “old friend”, who happens to be “darkness”. This seems to suggest that it was a night of troubled sleep, when unwanted thoughts seem to enter the subconscious mind. So he had a vision, which was, I suppose, the idea of this song about failing to reach people, neatly captured in the paradoxical “sound of silence”. Certainly the next verse endorses the view that it was a restless sleep. “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.” Garfunkel says the neon sign represents communication “on only its most superficial and ‘commercial’ level”. The Bob Dylan influence seems clear at this point. “And in the naked light I saw / Ten thousand people, maybe more / People talking without speaking / People hearing without listening / People writing songs / that voices never share / And no one dared / Disturb the sound of silence.” This verse, for me, seems to have a broader socio-political connotation. In totalitarian states, which is essentially what apartheid South Africa was, it was possible for masses of people to will themselves not to hear the truth about what was happening. Nazi Germany was the prime example where fear was the major reason behind such “deafness”, where no one dared disturb the state-imposed sound of silence about the institutionalised atrocities. In this country the crime was a plethora of racist laws which stifled the lives of people, systematically wearing them down. Hitler was less subtle, opting to brutally exterminate a race of people, and woe betide anyone who spoke out against him. Considering Simon’s Jewish roots, I don’t doubt the Holocaust still weighed heavily on his mind when he wrote these words. It is the most unlikely subject for a pop hit.

“ ‘Fools,’ said I, ‘You do not know / Silence like a cancer grows / Hear my words that I might teach you / Take my arms that I might reach you’ / But my words, like silent raindrops fell / And echoed / In the wells of silence.” This righteous indignation seems to echo the anger that Jesus Christ expressed at times. Having personally waged a small crusade through the letters column of local newspapers against apartheid in the 1970s, I know how angry one can get at injustice. Now, in a post-apartheid South Africa, all those who ridiculed our protests and hung doggedly to their racist views have miraculously undergone Damascene conversions. But back then, the National Party of Verwoerd, Vorster and PW Botha actually believed their racist ideology was Christian. They distorted the Bible to suit their needs. “And the people bowed and prayed / To the neon god they made / And the sign flashed out its warning / In the words that it was forming / And the sign said, ‘The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls / And tenement halls’ / And whispered in the sounds of silence.” Here, Simon seems to dwell on how gullible people idolize the mediocre and superficial. Yet, as Garfunkel says in his notes, “the ending is an enigma. I find my own meaning in it, but like most good works, it is best interpreted by each person individually”.

At this point it is worth noting that Barry Kornfeld played the second acoustic guitar on this album, with Bill Lee on stand-up bass. There is no reference to the cello I thought I heard, but that was probably a bowed double bass. Wikipedia says Simon was probably playing the banjo on Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream.

The opening track on Side 2, He Was My Brother, I also know best from the Simon Songbook album. Again, thanks to Garfunkel’s influence, the song becomes a thing of pure beauty which has the effect of softening the angry approach of Simon’s original. Here both voices provide a full folk-club like sound to the backing of strummed guitars. But in the original, and we’ll get to Songbook shortly, Simon’s anger was tangible. “He was my brother / Five years older than I / He was my brother / Twenty-three years old the day he died / Freedom writer / They cursed my brother to his face / Go home outsider / This town’s gonna be your buryin’ place / He was singin’ on his knees / An angry mob trailed along / They shot my brother dead / Because he hated what was wrong.” The song, says Wikipedia, was later dedicated to Andrew Goodman, a friend of both Simon and Garfunkel and Simon’s classmate at Queens College, who was one of three civil rights workers murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi, on June 21, 1964. However, the song was written before then and recorded on March 17, 1964, so it must refer to an earlier incident involving the Ku Klux Klan. “He was my brother / Tears can’t bring him back to me / He was my brother / And he died so his brothers could be free / He died so his brothers could be free.” The gentle quality of the song does change enough for the harshness of the message to get through, but this was still essentially a protest song and one that did not easily lend itself to the sort of treatment this melodic duo gave it.

The rest of the side is taken up with covers, beautifully executed, until the final, title track. Peggy-O, a traditional song, was obviously popular in the folk clubs at the time, and was also covered by Dylan about the same time. Go Tell It On The Mountain is a strange song for two Jewish lads to be singing, because it is essentially a Christian hymn. “Hallelujah! / Go tell it on the mountain / Over the hills and everywhere / Go tell it on the mountain / Jesus Christ is born.” I first heard Ian Campbell’s The Sun Is Burning done by the Dubliners around 1970, but clearly this a powerful song that was very much part of the folk protest genre at the time, given how close the world got to a nuclear war. Again, there is a disjuncture between the melodic handling of the song by these angelic voices, and the content itself. That said, the first three or four verses are meant to portray just such a tranquil scene. But, while beautiful, this version will never compete with the power with which Luke Kelly invests it for the Dubliners. “The sun is burning in the sky / Strands of clouds go slowly drifting by /In the park the lazy breeze / Are joining in the flowers, among the trees / And the sun burns in the sky.” Things seem idyllic. “Now the sun is in the West / Little kids go home to take their rest / And the couples in the park / Are holdin’ hands and waitin’ for the dark / And the sun is in the West.” But things aren’t as they seem. “Now the sun is sinking low / Children playin’ know it’s time to go / High above a spot appears / A little blossom blooms and then draws near / And the sun is sinking low.” Having recently read e=mc², a book about Einstein’s theories and the development of the atom bomb, it is a fact that a nuclear explosion contains within it the sort of energy found within the sun itself. So the next verse is perfectly true from a scientific point of view. “Now the sun has come to Earth / Shrouded in a mushroom cloud of death / Death comes in a blinding flash / Of hellish heat and leaves a smear of ash / And the sun has come to Earth.” Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the tragic testing grounds of this weapon. “Now the sun has disappeared / All is darkness, anger, pain and fear / Twisted, sightless wrecks of men / Go groping on their knees and cry in pain / And the sun has disappeared.” But some did survive those blasts, and even the radioactive fall-out that ensued. I had a classmate who said his father was a POW in one of those Japanese cities during the war and witnessed the explosion in 1945, but was protected, apparently, by some sort of concrete shelter. He survived, was later freed and went on to marry and raise a healthy family. Not so lucky were the 66 000 who died at Hiroshima and the 75 000 at Nagasaki, and the many thousands more who suffered from radiation-related cancers for the rest of their lives.

Bob Dylan was the next big thing among the folk fraternity in 1964, so it was inevitable that Simon and Garfunkel include his seminal The Times They Are a-Changin’ on their debut album. Again, the song is beautifully executed to a backing of strummed guitars and stand-up bass. But, if you didn’t know it was them, it could have been anyone singing. The individual stamp which set Simon and Garfunkel apart would, however, return with a vengeance on the final track.

Recorded on March 17, 1964, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. has all the hallmarks of the duo at their finest, from complex guitar arrangements to sublime vocals. “I can hear the soft breathing / Of the girl that I love, / As she lies here beside me / Asleep with the night, / And her hair, in a fine mist / Floats on my pillow, / Reflecting the glow / Of the winter moonlight.” This is heaven for any young man, surely, but the next verse contains a nasty surprise. “She is soft, she is warm, / But my heart remains heavy, / And I watch as her breasts / Gently rise, gently fall, / For I know with the first light of dawn / I’ll be leaving, / And tonight will be / All I have left to recall.” As he lies awake at 3am, he rues his mistake. “Oh, what have I done, / Why have I done it, / I’ve committed a crime, /I’ve broken the law. / For twenty-five dollars / And pieces of silver, / I held up and robbed / A hard liquor store.” Having been called up at regular intervals during my 20s and 30s to perform military conscription against my will and against my very nature, I find the last verse could have been written for me. “My life seems unreal, / My crime an illusion, / A scene badly written / In which I must play. / Yet I know as I gaze / At my young love beside me, / The morning is just a few hours away.” Fortunately, when I went off in July 1979 to do two years’ military conscription I had such a heavy hangover I could barely stand. Things could only get better. And for Simon & Garfunkel, they certainly did.

The Paul Simon Song Book

As noted earlier, we got into The Paul Simon Song Book probably only in the late 1960s, after they had made their indelible mark on the history of rock. And it offers a wonderful insight into Simon as an early solo artist and writer of protest songs.

Wikipedia tells us the album was recorded while Simon, having switched from rock and roll, was trying to make it as a folk singer in Europe in the mid-1960s. He “made several trips to England in 1964 and 1965, spending most of his time performing in small clubs and theatres”, says Wikipedia. His 1965 visit included performances in Paris and Copenhagen, as well as London and elsewhere in the UK.

The debut Simon & Garfunkel album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., had not yet been released in the UK, and would only come out there in 1968. Still under contract to Columbia, Wikipedia says this meant he could record for their UK label, CBS Records. He decided to release an album of his folk songs. The Paul Simon Songbook was recorded in June 1965. Wikipedia says he used only one microphone for both voice and guitar, “which is why he can be heard stamping his feet to the rhythm on The Sound of Silence …” Released along with the album in August, 1965, was a single, with I Am A Rock on the A side and Leaves That Are Green on the reverse. The B side is the one on the album, while the version of I Am A Rock, says Wikipedia, is not, as Simon can be heard tapping his foot to keep the beat on the single, but not on the album.

Wikipedia refers to the liner notes to the album, by Simon, calling them “somewhat bizarre”. That is an understatement. What he wrote is probably akin to that e-mail you send off to someone in a moment of madness, and the moment you send it you regret having done so. The bulk of the notes comprise a short play in which he parodies his own songwriting. Anyway, he concludes by saying, “This LP contains twelve 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.” He then talks of how what he wrote then is “just not me anymore”, and that “songs I write today will not be mine tomorrow”. He concludes by saying in writing those notes he was taken to a place “where I didn’t want to go and reflected what I didn’t want to see. One thing I know: I won’t reread them”. What’s the bet he did. Many times. And cringed. Because these are the bedrock songs for the whole Simon and Garfunkel phenomenon – especially the songs I Am A Rock and Leaves That Are Green, which would go on to become timeless Simon and Garfunkel masterpieces, along with April Come She Will. All the other songs are also impressive insights into the young Simon on the brink of success.

So who is the beautiful woman on the album cover with him? Wikipedia says it is his “then girlfriend, Kathy Chitty”, and that they are sitting on “narrow streets of cobblestone” in London. Curious that. I had always thought they were sitting beside a river, with the light reflected off its surface. But Wikipedia is correct. Looking to the left, those are clearly cobblestones. The fact that the two are playing with tiny dolls was probably meant to underscore the fact that this was still the work of a very young man. Who knows. It remains a beautiful picture, even if that reflected light comes not off some tranquil lake, but is rather that of the headlights of a car on a wet night in London.

Wikipedia says the album was re-released, despite Simon’s views about it, on CD in 2004. Interestingly, and I’m sure we’ll return to this, the lyrics for the anti-war song, The Side Of A Hill, were incorporated into the S&G arrangement of Scarborough Fair on Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

Indeed, following the success of The Sounds of Silence as an overhauled folk-rock single, Wikipedia says in late 1965 and early 1966, several of the songs on Songbook were re-recorded by Simon & Garfunkel and released on the albums, Sounds of Silence and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, to which we’ll return shortly.

But first let’s take a listen to this album, which was all about Simon the solo folk singer who, judging by his sleeve notes, wasn’t at all sure his work had much worth. All the songs are by Simon, though three are under the pseudonym Paul Kane.

For a young lad in the late 1960s, the song I Am A Rock offered much food for thought. Paul Simon loved to explore the hidden realms of the psyche. What makes people feel depressed, even suicidal? And, miraculously, people like myself enjoyed this soul-searching, introverted sort of music. Growing up in apartheid South Africa, with military conscription the inevitable outcome of reaching the age of 18, songs like this caused one to brood quite considerably on one’s lot in life. Why were we here, at this time? Obviously we first encountered this song in its later guise as a Simon & Garfunkel tune, but it also happens to be the opening track on Songbook.

Certain guitar effects, like the one with which he starts I Am A Rock, in which a couple of fingers are lifted and quickly returned to the strings a few times, became a signature of the Paul Simon sound. The rough, unpolished original of that opening guitarwork is on display as this song gets under way. Even without Garfunkel’s softening touch, Simon’s vocals are beautiful. “A winter’s day / In a deep and dark December; / I am alone, / Gazing from my window to the streets below / On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow. / I am a rock, / I am an island.” It is great poetry. There’s alliteration: deep, dark December. He’s in a little room gazing on another alliterative image: a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow. Lovely. Then he gazes, not outwards, but inwards. “I’ve built walls, / A fortress deep and mighty, / That none may penetrate. / I have no need of friendship; / friendship causes pain. / Its laughter and its loving I disdain. / I am a rock, / I am an island.” There is a plaintive quality about his voice, especially in the chorus, as if this is a fairly heartfelt song, sung with emotion. “Don’t talk of love, / But I’ve heard the words before; / It’s sleeping in my memory. / I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died. / If I never loved I never would have cried. / I am a rock, / I am an island.” Here, I suspect the web lyrics are a bit off. Surely it goes, I’ve heard the word, singular, and without the “but” at the start of the line? Anyway, the lonely lad continues to ponder his plight. “I have my books / And my poetry to protect me; / I am shielded in my armour, / Hiding in my room, safe within my womb. / I touch no one and no one touches me. / I am a rock, / I am an island.” The song had picked up a fairly robust strummed tempo, but this subsides for that final couplet, in which he perhaps sees through the folly of such a secluded lifestyle: “And a rock feels no pain; / And an island never cries.”

After that sombre beginning, the album continues with Leaves That Are Green, an all-time classic, the opening notes beautifully picked out on that guitar. “I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song. / I’m twenty-two now but I won’t be for long / Time hurries on. / And the leaves that are green turn to brown, / And they wither with the wind, / And they crumble in your hand.” At that age, in your early 20s, life does seem to pass you by. I know how distraught I got, having delayed military conscription as long as possible, to find myself at the ripe old age of 23, suddenly thrust into two years of soldier-playing, when I should have been out there making a career for myself. But this is a song, it seems, primarily about love, or lost love, something as elusive as a poem. “Once my heart was filled with the love of a girl. / I held her close, but she faded in the night / Like a poem I meant to write. / And the leaves that are green turn to brown, / And they wither with the wind, / And they crumble in your hand.” Sometimes he just painted images, though the symbolism was always there beneath the surface. “I threw a pebble in a brook / And watched the ripples run away / And they never made a sound. / And the leaves that are green turned to brown, / And they wither with the wind, / And they crumble in your hand.” Then an almost fatalistic approach: “Hello, hello, hello, hello / Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye, good-bye, / That’s all there is. / And the leaves that are green turned to brown, / And they wither with the wind, / And they crumble in your hand.” Life is like the crumbling leaves of autumn when you’ve lost the one you love. Simple as that.

But Simon was not only concerned with personal matters. A Church Is Burning is a trenchant attack on the racism of the Deep South. And, again, it is ironic that a Jewish person should be singing about a church, but perhaps it is indicative either of his no longer being a religious person, or of his ability to write about issues irrespective of such niceties. Clearly, he was incensed at what was happening. This is a long song, which starts with quietly strummed guitar, but which gets progressively more angry. “A church is burning / The flames rise higher / Like hands that are praying / Aglow in the sky / Like hands that are praying / The fire is saying, / ‘You can burn down my churches / But I shall be free’.” The chorus is followed by the story of how this came to pass. “Three hooded men through the back roads did creep / Torches in their hands while the village lies asleep / Down to the church where, just hours before / Voices were singing, and / Hands were beating, and / Saying, ‘I won’t be a slave anymore’.” The chorus is followed by Verse 2: “Three hooded men, their hands lit the spark / And they faded in the night, and they vanished in the dark / And in the cold light of morning, there is nothing that remains / But the ashes of a Bible and a can of kerosene.” The third verse cries defiance. “A church is more than just timber and stone / And freedom is a dark road when you’re walking it alone / But the future is now, and it’s time to take a stand / So the lost bells of freedom can ring out in my land.” The song concludes with that chorus, sung with great vehemence and righteous anger.

Again, it is time to chill, and few songs are as beautiful as the short, simple April Come She Will. The guitar picking is sublime, and Simon’s voice almost doesn’t cry out for Garfunkel’s support. “April come she will / When streams are ripe and swelled with rain; / May, she will stay, / Resting in my arms again.” It’s woman trouble again, the greatest generator of poetry in the history of our species. His handling of it here is masterful. “June, she’ll change her tune, / In restless walks she’ll prowl the night; / July, she will fly / And give no warning to her flight.” And still that guitar sings along melodically, preparing us for the finale. “August, die she must, / The autumn winds blow chilly and cold; / September I’ll remember. / A love once new has now grown old.” Or am I mistaken? Perhaps here he is personifying the months, the seasons, as spring passes through summer into autumn. Whatever, this was one of the S&G songs which captivated my young soul.

As, of course, did the next song, The Sound Of Silence, which we’ve already looked at on the previous album. Here the song starts with a decidedly foreboding mood, thanks to low, finger-picked bass-dominated chords. After the opening verse, “Hello darkness my old friend …” a complex strumming technique is adopted – and alongside it the stomping of his foot to keep the rhythm. It is almost as if he’s crying out for some sort of accompaniment. As if playing guitar and singing into a single mic is never going to give him the rounded quality he wants. The stamping only stops before those last whispered words.

A teenager, or youngster in his or her twenties, might well have been disturbed by a song about a loner committing suicide. I guess I was at the time. A quiet, melancholy melody provides the backdrop to A Most Peculiar Man. “He was a most peculiar man. / That’s what Mrs Riordan said and she should know; / She lived upstairs from him / She said he was a most peculiar man.” Does peculiar mean suicidal? “He was a most peculiar man. / He lived all alone within a house, / Within a room, within himself, / A most peculiar man.” A slight anomaly there, since he wasn’t totally alone, as Mrs R lived upstairs. “He had no friends, he seldom spoke / And no one in turn ever spoke to him, / cause he wasn’t friendly and he didn’t care / And he wasn’t like them. / Oh, no! He was a most peculiar man.” Then a resigned tone. “He died last Saturday. / He turned on the gas and he went to sleep / With the windows closed so he’d never wake up / To his silent world and his tiny room; / And Mrs Riordan says he has a brother somewhere / Who should be notified soon.” Then Simon wraps it up, almost fatalistically: “And all the people said, what a shame that he’s dead, / But wasn’t he a most peculiar man?” A clever song, really. Because people can really be nasty, can’t they? Shame that he died, but then he was most peculiar wasn’t he? And what if someone had simply befriended him, and made his life more fun? Thanks for asking, Paul Simon.

And that’s how the first side ends, with six interesting, often beautiful, songs already under the belt.

We encountered the opening track on Side 2, He Was My Brother, on Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. Here, as noted earlier, the song has greater gravitas, but lacks the Garfunkel grace notes.

Kath’s Song I have always found difficult to recall, because it is a song dedicated, I assume, to the covergirl Kathy Chitty, who one gathers was his girlfriend in England. This seems to be a song/poem of longing. Again the guitar picking is superb. “I hear the drizzle of the rain / Like a memory it falls / Soft and warm continuing / Tapping on my roof and walls.” I’m fairly sure we’ll encounter this again given the full S&G treatment. But here Simon comes close to proving he was more than capable of going it alone. “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.” So it’s a wet New York day, and his mind is on his girl far away. “My mind’s distracted and diffused / My thoughts are many miles away / They lie with you when you’re asleep / And kiss you when you start your day.” Again, distracted, he finds it hard to write. “And a song I was writing is left undone / I don’t know why I spend my time / Writing songs I can’t believe / With words that tear and strain to rhyme.” Then, as so many young men have done, he concedes life without her is worthless. “And so you see I have come to doubt / All that I once held as true / I stand alone without beliefs / The only truth I know is you.” He is in her thrall. “And as I watch the drops of rain / Weave their weary paths and die / I know that I am like the rain / There but for the grace of you go I.” Whatever became of Kathy, she was immortalized in this song and on that album cover.

Then from one work of great beauty to another. Simon in his Paul Kane guise wrote The Side Of A Hill, which is a powerfully understated assault on war. Here, again, the mellow guitar picking is ideally suited to his gentle vocals. “On the side of a hill, in a land called Somewhere / A little boy lies asleep in the earth / While down in the valley a cruel war rages / And people forget what a child’s life is worth.” For anyone who’s had children, this song will be steeped in meaning. “On the side of a hill, a little cloud weeps / And waters the grave with its silent tears / While a soldier cleans and polishes a gun / That ended a life at the age of seven years.” As I said, powerfully understated. “And the war rages on in the land called Somewhere / And generals order their men to kill / And to fight for a cause they’ve long ago forgotten / While a little cloud weeps on the side of a hill.” There is no way Paul Simon could possibly be embarrassed by that. He says in a few dozen words what Dylan sometimes took a few thousand to say.

Then a song that I disliked when I first heard it, because it seemed so out of kilter with the rest of the album. But of course now I love it for its clever allusions, and lovely dig at Dylan. After a single bold chord is struck, Simon speaks the title: “A SIMPLE DESULTORY PHILIPPIC / (or how I was Lyndon Johnsoned into submission).” Then, strumming some power chords, he launches into this literary assault. “I was Union Jacked, Kerouac’d / John Birched, stopped and searched / Rolling Stoned and Beatled till I’m blind / I’ve been Ayn Randed, nearly branded / Communist ’cos I’m lefthanded: /That’s the hand they use, well, never mind!” While not all the allusions were familiar to me – who was John Birch? – this is the first time I’m reading “Ayn Randed”, and am happy to report I’ve read her classics, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. “I’ve been Walt Disneyed, Dis Disleyed / John Lennoned, Krishna Menoned / Walter Brennan punched out Cassius Clay / I’ve heard the truth from Lenny Bruce / and all my wealth won’t buy me health / So I smoke a pint of tea a day.” We were too young to know about all these characters, but as a kid I loved the idea of smoking a pint of tea! Then comes that searing rip-off of Bob Dylan. “I knew a man his brain so small, / He couldn’t think of nothin’ at all. / He’s not the same as you and me. / He doesn’t dig poetry. / He’s so unhip that / When you say Dylan, he thinks you’re talkin’ about Dylan Thomas, / Whoever he is. / The man ain’t got no culture, / But its alright, Ma, / It’s just sumpthin’ I learned over in England.” This is lovely stuff, really. “I’ve been James Joyced, Rolls Royced / Mick Jaggered, silver daggered / Andy Warhol won’t you please come home? / I’ve been mother, fathered, aunt and uncled / Tom Wilsoned, Art Garfunkled / Barry Kornfeld’s mother’s on the phone.” So he even managed to find a rhyme for Garfunkel. There is a change of mood here, as they song ends. “When in London, do as I do / Find yourself a friendly haiku / Go to sleep for ten or fifteen years.”

The songwriting abilities of Simon became even more apparent on the final two tracks. Consider the subtle beauty of Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall, a mellow-sounding song accompanied by slow, quiet but expertly executed guitarwork. I was reminded at times of Don McLean. “Through the corridors of sleep / Past the shadows dark and deep / My mind dances and leaps in confusion. / I don’t know what is real, / I can’t touch what I feel / And I hide behind the shield of my illusions.” Again, as with Sounds Of Silence, there is a strong sense of dislocation here. Is this an existential crisis? Well, in the chorus he seems resigned to his fate. “So I’ll continue to continue to pretend / That my life will never end, / And flowers never bend / With the rainfall.” It’s a song, then, of self-deception. Of course flowers appear to wilt in the rain, but the moment the sun returns, they enjoy a surge of new growth. “The mirror on my wall / Casts an image dark and small / But I’m not sure at all it’s my reflection. / I am blinded by the light / Of God and truth and right / And I wander in the night without direction.” Firstly, it seems he can’t accept his short, dark stature, and secondly, confronted by all the evidence of what is good and right, he remains directionless. The case seems hopeless. After the chorus is repeated, he continues with: “It’s no matter if you’re born / To play the King or pawn / For the line is thinly drawn ’tween joy and sorrow, / So my fantasy / Becomes reality, / And I must be what I must be and face tomorrow.” He’ll accept whatever cards he’s dealt, realising the divide between joy and sorrow is narrow indeed. With the chorus repeated, it must be stressed that this song, despite its introspective melancholic nature, admirably showcases Simon’s vocals and guitarwork.

Patterns, the final track, while again a thing of beauty, is also very introspective. Here is Simon assessing his life, and questioning whether it is all worthwhile. Interestingly, for the first time a more blues-orientated approach is used, with a strong, complex, bass-string-based finger-picked guitar providing the platform for thought-provoking lyrics. “The night sets softly / With the hush of falling leaves, / Casting shivering shadows / On the houses through the trees, / And the light from a street lamp / Paints a pattern on my wall, / Like the pieces of a puzzle / Or a child’s uneven scrawl.” The young Paul Simon seemed to be much affected by his immediate surroundings. Street lights, snow, trees, windows – all that most of us would take for granted, he imbues with special purpose and power, as if these things have a measurable effect on his mood and emotions. “Up a narrow flight of stairs / In a narrow little room, / As I lie upon my bed / In the early evening gloom. / Impaled on my wall / My eyes can dimly see / The pattern of my life / And the puzzle that is me.” As I said, introspective to a fault – yet I believe many young people go though such periods. Indeed, for many the whole purpose of one’s life remains a mystery. “From the moment of my birth / To the instant of my death, / There are patterns I must follow /Just as I must breathe each breath. / Like a rat in a maze / The path before me lies, / And the pattern never alters / Until the rat dies.” What a tragic ending. He seems to feel that his life is predestined, pre-planned, and like a rat he need simply follow a preordained path through life’s maze until he dies. While this song again was beautiful and contained within it some of the incredibly creative qualities which would characterise his later work, I think I can see why, in retrospect, Simon was embarrassed by it. One does not normally confess to such dark, depressed thoughts in the very public domain of a recorded song. Still, as an artist, it was these areas of his mind and psyche he would constantly rely on to provide the impetus for his greatest work.

Sounds of Silence

Success in the music industry, as the Beatles had shown, often depended on a good deal of luck. As noted earlier, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., released in October, 1964, initially flopped badly. Fortunately, while Simon was in London working on his Song Book album, radio stations in the US started getting requests for the single, The Sounds of Silence, off Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. Encouraged by this, S&G’s producer, Tom Wilson, who was aware of the Byrds’ work, used a studio band to dub electric guitars, bass and drums onto the original track, effectively creating the first true folk-rock (literally an amalgam of the two) song, which became an instant success.

So it was, after Simon’s return to the US in the wake of the success of The Sounds Of Silence, that he and Garfunkel got together again and started to produce a string of hits which will go down as icons of the era.

On January 17, 1966, they released a new album, appropriately titled Sounds of Silence and featuring the eponymous title track, which reached No 21 on the charts. It featured several songs from The Paul Simon Song Book, now with electric backing, such as I Am A Rock, April Come She Will, A Most Peculiar Man and Kathy’s Song.

The seven singles spread around the globe, even into the depths of apartheid South Africa, where the beautiful English traditional ballad, Scarborough Fair/Canticle was a great success, as was Homeward Bound, written apparently when Simon was stranded overnight on a railway platform at Widnes station in England while touring in 1965. I loved that song as a child. Somehow, I conflate it with our reading the British Lion and Tiger comics, which we used to have delivered each week by a black man on a bicycle from the local, and only, shop in what today is Beacon Bay and was then Beaconhurst.

Wikipedia says the album was recorded in March 1964 and June and December 1965, which means there is a big gap between songs. It was produced for Columbia Records by Bob Johnston. It notes that when the original hit, The Sounds of Silence, was overdubbed on June 15, 1965, this was done by “Bob Dylan’s studio band”. It was released as a single in September, 1965. Sadly, Wikipedia offers little more information, but the track listing does explain when the songs were recorded, and the title track is put down as having been recorded on March 10, 1964, which means before it was overdubbed. Sadly, I don’t have a copy of this album, which opens with the title track. This is followed by Leaves That Are Green (recorded December 13, 1965), Blessed (December 21, 1965), Kathy’s Song (also December 21), Somewhere They Can’t Find Me (April 5, 1965), and Anji, the Davey Graham instrumental, recorded on December 13 that year. I’d dearly like to hear Paul Simon’s rendition of this.

On Side 2, Richard Cory was recorded on December 14, 1965, A Most Peculiar Man on December 22, April Come She Will on December 21, We’ve Got A Groovy Thing Goin” on April 5 that year, and I Am A Rock on December 14. And in case you’re wondering what happened to Homeward Bound, Wikipedia says it was only included on the album released in the UK.

I’ve just had one of those little nostalgia trips that are among the few benefits of growing older. I fished out an old seven single by Simon and Garfunkel, probably released around the time of this album, in early 1966, by CBS. Remember the orange label? Anyway, on Side 1 was Homeward Bound, and on the other side, Leaves That Are Green. The moment I put it on I was transferred back in time over 40 years. These songs were constantly on our turntable, but it was only now, as I listened to the songs with relatively objective ears, that I was able to consider just what it was that made them so compelling. On Song Book, Leaves That Are Green is a beautiful folk song, but it lacks spark. The first few chords of the song on the single, and this album, are full of life and joi de vivre. The backing is on a par with Dylan in his early electric phase. There is some superb acoustic lead guitar and what sounds like a harpsichord. Interesting percussion is added to the mix, while of course Garfunkel’s voice ensures the vocals are well-rounded and incredibly melodic.

Homeward Bound, recorded on December 14, 1965, had everything that typified the early S&G singles. It opens with those few tentative acoustic guitar chords, before both voices launch into that famous opening line: “I’m sitting in the railway station . . . ”, before the full band joins in, with bass and drums and possibly an electric rhythm guitar, adding body. And so the lyrics continue: “. . . Got a ticket for my destination. / On a tour of one-night stands my suitcase and guitar in hand. / And every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band. / Homeward bound, / I wish I was, / Homeward bound, / Home where my thoughts escaping, / Home where my music’s playing, / Home where my love lies waiting / Silently for me.” And of course that last line is the signal for a slowing down, a delightful change of tempo which takes us back to the measured pace of the opening verse. “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, / Homeward bound, / I wish I was, / Homeward bound …” And so the chorus is repeated. This is a wonderful idea for a song: a reflection on a brief period when he travelled across England playing the clubs, and yearning for his girl back home. “Tonight I’ll sing my songs again, / I’ll play the game and pretend. / But all my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity / Like emptiness in harmony I need someone to comfort me. / Homeward bound, / I wish I was, / Homeward bound, / Home where my thoughts escaping, / Home where my music’s playing, / Home where my love lies waiting / Silently for me. / Silently for me.” And of course here Simon works some more acoustic guitar magic as he repeats that tentative opening chord sequence. In all, one of the great, great songs of the mid-1960s, and one which cemented Paul Simon as a huge songwriting talent, and S&G as a duo to be reckoned with.

But what of the other tracks. Without the album to hand, I can only rely on the lyrics, and know for certain that we were most familiar with the third track, Blessed, which also seems to deal with his sojourn in London, and his general state of angst. Peculiar, again, how the Christian church plays such a prominent role. “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit. / Blessed is the lamb whose blood flows. / Blessed are the sat upon, Spat upon, Ratted on, / O Lord, Why have you forsaken me?” I assume this is London’s Soho he’s referring to in the following lines. “I got no place to go, / I’ve walked around Soho for the last night or so. / Ah, but it doesn’t matter, no.” Then the benediction resumes. “Blessed is the land and the kingdom. / Blessed is the man whose soul belongs to. / Blessed are the meth drinkers, Pot sellers, Illusion dwellers. / O Lord, Why have you forsaken me? / My words trickle down, like a wound / That I have no intention to heal.” It’s as if he identifies with these broken souls and has no plans to pull himself out of the mental morass. “Blessed are the stained glass, window pane glass. / Blessed is the church service makes me nervous / Blessed are the penny rookers, Cheap hookers, Groovy lookers. / O Lord, Why have you forsaken me? / I have tended my own garden / Much too long.” Those of a religious bent would, I’m sure, love to read something into this about a crying out for salvation, or suchlike. Me, I’m not sure what it amounts to.

Sadly, I don’t have the folk-rock version of Kathy’s Song, which is the next track, but can only imagine it too was elevated from a pleasant folk song to something with the S&G stamp of genius.

I don’t really recall Somewhere They Can’t Find Me, the next track, but was interested to see a few lines in it which crop up again on later songs. The opening line sounds familiar. “I can hear the soft breathing of the girl that I love, / As she lies here beside me asleep with the night. / Her hair in a fine mist floats on my pillow, / Reflecting the glow of the winter moonlight.” And of course those lines sound familiar because they are the first verse of Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. It seems, however, that Simon adapted this song by including this chorus: “But I’ve got to creep down the alley way, / Fly down the highway, / Before they come to catch me I’ll be gone. / Somewhere they can’t find me.” And so we have a new song. The side ends with Angi, which, as noted earlier, I’d love to hear.

As probably noted earlier, I don’t think I know Richard Cory, the first song on Side 2. Recorded on December 14, 1965, a quick look at the lyrics seems to reveal a Dylan-like narrative style of songwriting. “They say that Richard Cory owns one half of this whole town / with political connections to spread his wealth around / born into society a banker’s only child / He had everything a man could want power, grace and style / But I work in his factory and I curse the life I’m living / and I curse my poverty and I wish that I could be / Oh I wish that I could be / Oh I wish that I could be Richard Cory.” Now that repeated “Oh I wish that I could be” does ring a bell, but without the song I can’t be sure. As the song develops, one gets the sense that envy and jealousy was an integral part of Simon’s make-up, especially since physically he was such an unimposing presence, standing apparently just 5 foot 1 inch tall. “The papers print his picture almost everywhere he goes / Richard Cory at the opera Richard Cory at a show / and the rumor of his parties and the orgies on his yacht / oh he surely must be happy with everything he’s got / But I work in his factory and I curse the life I’m living / and I curse my poverty and I wish that I could be / Oh I wish that I could be / Oh I wish that I could be Richard Cory.” I suspect some heinous deed lies awaiting. “He freely gave to charity he had the common touch / and they were grateful for his patronage and they thanked him very much / so my mind was filled with wonder when the evening headlines read / Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head / But I work in his factory and I curse the life I’m living / and I curse my poverty and I wish that I could be / Oh I wish that I could be / Oh I wish that I could be Richard Cory.”

Again, I’d love to hear the S&G treatment of A Most Peculiar Man on this album, but somehow doubt it will have the gravitas of the treatment Simon gave it on Song Book. The next track, April Come She Will, however, I know was a single at the time and was the ideal vehicle for the angelic melodies of the duo. We’ve Got A Groovy Thing Goin’ I don’t recall, at all, while the final track, I Am A Rock, was another of those immensely popular singles from the mid-1960s which we listened to again and again. All in all, this is surely one of the great folk-rock albums of our time, including as it does several iconic early Simon and Garfunkel classics.

Ah, and I see among the Wikipedia “trivia” that Richard Cory was actually based on a poem by Adwin Arlington Robinson, though the chorus was “entirely of Simon’s composition”. And, of course, it is the second song on the album to deal with suicide, A Most Peculiar Man being the other.

Backing Simon’s acoustic guitar was one Glen Campbell on guitar and Hal Blaine on drums, though Wikipedia makes no mention of a bassist. The album was recorded at CBS studios in Nashville and Los Angeles.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Their next album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, was released in October, 1966, and included more songs from the Song Book and much else besides. But, as with its predecessor, we did not have this album, though again we were familiar with many of the songs thanks to the popularity of the seven singles.

The album was recorded between December 1965 and August 1966 and released on October 10, 1966. Thinking about that, it makes me realize that, relatively speaking, Simon and Garfunkel were producing among the most progressive-sounding stuff in the industry at the time. They were up there, in my mind, with the Beatles, Stones and Dylan.

Produced by Bob Johnston, the title is obviously, as Wikipedia notes, taken from the second line of the opening track, Scarborough Fair/Canticle, which combines their arrangement of the 16th century English folk song with a counter melody and spoken text about a soldier, formerly released on Song Book as On The Side Of A Hill.

The album reached No 4 in the US, but Wikipedia makes no mention of how it fared in the UK, where Homeward Bound was excluded from the album. And, ever innovative, it includes a strong political element, with the closing song, 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night containing clips of a news broadcast about the Vietnam War. Wikipedia says since it also carries the news of the death of comedian Lenny Bruce that day, it dates to August 3, 1966. Indicative of the high regard in which the album is held, it is ranked No 201 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Although I don’t have the album, I do have The Graduate on vinyl, which also opens with Scarborough Fair/Canticle. So I thought I’d give it a quick blast. This is the long version, over six minutes, twice as long as on this album, and it is an incredible creation. Simon prided himself on the quality of his work, preferring to limit his output so as to ensure that what he did produce was of the highest possible calibre. This work is a prime example of that ethos at work. I had always been befuddled by the double title for the song, and discovered that a canticle, according to the Oxford dictionary, is a “song or chant with a Biblical text”. Let’s see how that squares with the lyrics of this song, which again starts with that beautifully plucked acoustic guitar. What sounds like a harpsichord, and elsewhere a harp, play a prominent role as the song gets increasingly complex, with those two angelic voices harmonizing like few have done in the history of modern music. Let’s see how the lyrics pan out, remembering that two songs are basically combined with almost alchemical ease. Recorded on July 26, 1966, this is what the pair came up with: “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.” Then things get more tricky. “Tell her to make me a cambric shirt (On the side of a hill in the deep forest green) / Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme / (Tracing a sparrow on snow-crested ground) / Without no seams nor needlework (Blankets and bedclothes the child of the mountain) / Then she’ll be a true love of mine (Sleeps unaware of the clarion call).” That’s the first time I’ve actually seen these lyrics, and clearly this is not the same On The Side Of A Hill, though certain lines do correspond. Let’s see how it continues. “Tell her to find me an acre of land (On the side of a hill, a sprinkling of leaves) / Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (Washes the ground with silvery tears) / Between the salt water and the sea strand (A soldier cleans and polishes a gun) / Then she’ll be a true love of mine.” The majesty about this song is that it is a poetic tour de force. I am reminded of Henry Reed’s famous poem, Naming of Parts, which juxtaposes nature at its most beautiful, with the harsh, hard nomenclature of warfare. “Tell her to reap it in a sickle of leather (War bellows, blazing in scarlet battalions) / Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (Generals order their soldiers to kill) / And to gather it all in a bunch of heather (And to fight for a cause they’ve long ago forgotten) / Then she’ll be a true love of mine.” After that sublimely frenzied bit of harmonizing, the harpsichord (if it be one) calms a trifle, to allow Angelic Artie to repeat the opening verse. Magnificent! And on The Graduate the whole thing is repeated, with slight variations.

We encountered Patterns earlier on Song Book, but clearly this must be a wonderfully polished version that I’d dearly love to hear.

I did not encounter Cloudy, but a look at the lyrics reveals another fine bit of songwriting which I’ve missed out on. “Cloudy / The sky is gray and white and cloudy, / Sometimes I think it’s hanging down on me. / And it’s a hitchhike a hundred miles. / I’m a rag-a-muffin child. / Pointed finger-painted smile. / I left my shadow waiting down the road for me a while.” Simon’s literary bent is clear in the second verse. “Cloudy / My thoughts are scattered and they’re cloudy, / They have no borders, no boundaries. / They echo and they swell / From Tolstoi to Tinker Bell. / Down from Berkeley to Carmel. / Got some pictures in my pocket and a lot of time to kill.” His sense of alienation continues on this song. “Hey sunshine / I haven’t seen you in a long time. / Why don’t you show your face and bend my mind? / These clouds stick to the sky / Like floating questions, why? / And they linger there to die. / They don’t know where they are going, and, my friend, neither do I. / Cloudy, / Cloudy.”

The next song, Homeward Bound, we encountered on the Sound of Silence album, but fortunately I have the following track, The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine, recorded on June 15, 1966, on a seven-single. One forgets. Because by this stage, Simon and Garfunkel had become a fully fledge folk-rock band, and this song combines beautiful harmonizing with some strident rock. It starts at a quick tempo which never relents, and is in fact reinforced by the Steve Stills-like lead acoustic guitar which gives it a rich texture. A ripping bass line, with organ filling in the spaces, provides the perfect backing for the Simon-led vocals. Look a few years later we referred to marijuana as the “green machine”, but I wonder what this is really about. “Do people have a tendency to dump on you? / Does your group have more cavities than theirs? / Do all the hippies seem to get the jump on you? / Do you sleep alone when other sleep in pairs? / Well there’s no need to complain, / We’ll eliminate your pain. / We can neutralize your brain. / You’ll feel just fine / Now. / Buy a big bright green pleasure machine!” We’ve probably all been there. Are all your mates enjoying a rabid sex life, while you sleep alone in your bed? Is everyone else just that bit more hip than you? If you’re feeling low, then just buy that old green pleasure machine. But is it a reference to marijuana? I guess it has to be. “Do figures of authority just shoot you down? / Is life within the business world a drag? / Did your boss just mention that you’d better shop around / To find yourself a more productive bag? / Are you worried and distressed? / Can’t seem to get no rest? / Put our product to the test. / You’ll feel just fine / Now. / Buy a big bright green pleasure machine!” And it seems such things were selling fast. “You better hurry up and order one. / Our limited supply is very nearly gone.” This need to escape seems widespread. “Do you nervously await the blows of cruel fate? / Do your checks bounce higher than a rubber ball? / Are you worried ’cause your girlfriend’s just a little late? / Are you looking for a way to chuck it all? / We can end your daily strife / At a reasonable price. / You’ve seen it advertised in Life. / You’ll feel just fine / Now. / Buy a big bright green pleasure machine.” This song showed that Simon and Garfunkel were not just a folk duo who had electrified their sound. No, this was a fully fledged rock song, with a folk-singer’s sensitivity, and it meant this duo were up there with the best there was.

I can even play an inept version of Feelin’ Groovy on the guitar, so popular did this song, just 1:43 minutes long, become. In order to give it some gravitas, Simon gave it the alternative title, The 59th Street Bridge Song, which was possibly where he was when he came up with the wonderfully infectious melody. “Slow down, you move too fast. / You got to make the morning last. / Just kicking down the cobblestones. / Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.” This version of the lyrics does not include the “la-la-la laa laa laa la, feelin’ groovy” bit, which was such an integral part of the song’s surprisingly upbeat (for Simon) character. “Hello lamppost, What cha knowing? / I’ve come to watch your flowers growing. / Ain’t cha got no rhymes for me? / Doot-in’ doo-doo, Feelin’ groovy.” So he’s just walking around, chatting to lampposts and feeling fine. “Got no deeds to do, No promises to keep. / I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep. / Let the morning time drop all its petals on me. / Life, I love you, All is groovy.”

Given this tracklist, I’m actually surprised this album doesn’t rank even higher on that list of the greatest albums. Because Side 2 kicks off with one of Simon and Garfunkel’s finest works, in my opinion. Just the title, The Dangling Conversation, has a touch of literary class which sets it apart. And as an art lover, it is wonderful to see that the song opens with a reference to a painting. Luckily, I have it on an old seven-single… Another blast from the past. And I think I remembered this song more fondly than it deserves. On the reverse side of the Pleasure Machine single, from 1966, this opens with some lovely plucked acoustic guitar featuring descending bass notes. Simon again leads the vocals, with Garfunkel filling in the harmonies. But I’m not sure they didn’t overdo the strings on this track, which give it an almost orchestral feel. That said, I do recall that at the time this song was one very close to my heart, and was played again and again. “It’s a still life watercolour, / Of a now late afternoon, / As the sun shines through the curtained lace / And shadows wash the room. / And we sit and drink our coffee / Couched in our indifference, / Like shells upon the shore / You can hear the ocean roar / In the dangling conversation / And the superficial sighs, / The borders of our lives.” I enjoyed this as a child, but never heard the lyrics fully. It’s wonderfully poetic, with shadows “washing the room”. And again it’s about a failure to communicate, “couched in our indifference”, the conversation left dangling and suspended. I have read that this may in fact be about a failed marriage, about two people who live past one another. “And you read your Emily Dickinson, / And I my Robert Frost, / And we note our place with bookmarkers / That measure what we’ve lost. / Like a poem poorly written / We are verses out of rhythm, / Couplets out of rhyme, / In syncopated time / And the dangled conversation / And the superficial sighs, / Are the borders of our lives.” Yes, a failed relationship, lacking both rhyme and rhythm. He becomes more assertive in his views. “Yes, we speak of things that matter, / With words that must be said, / ‘Can analysis be worthwhile?’ / ‘Is the theater really dead?’ / And how the room is softly faded / And I only kiss your shadow, / I cannot feel your hand, / You’re a stranger now unto me / Lost in the dangling conversation. / And the superficial sighs, / In the borders of our lives.” Simon apparently was a regular visitor to psychoanalysts, so for him “analysis” was worthwhile. But isn’t this a sad image, where only shadows are kissed, and hands aren’t held.

The next track, Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall, I too have not heard from this album. Clearly, given Simon’s superb handling of it on Song Book, it will have been enhanced even further in partnership with Garfunkel.

I have discovered that in this version of A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission) – note, not Lyndon Johnsoned – the lyrics are somewhat altered compared with the Song Book version. Again, I’d be interested to hear how this very idiosyncratic, almost talking blues, song was handled by the duo. But let’s check out the lyric variation. “I’ve been Norman Mailered, Maxwell Taylored. / I’ve been John O’Hara’d, McNamara’d. / I’ve been Rolling Stoned and Beatled till I’m blind. / I’ve been Ayn Randed, nearly branded / Communist, ’cause I’m left-handed. / That’s the hand I use, well, never mind!” Clearly this was a wonderful vehicle for Simon to show how savvy he was about politics and literature. Later on, I believe, he takes another dig at his old nemesis, Bob Dylan. “I’ve been Phil Spectored, resurrected. / I’ve been Lou Adlered, Barry Sadlered. / Well, I paid all the dues I want to pay. / And I learned the truth from Lenny Bruce, / And all my wealth won’t buy me health, / So I smoke a pint of tea a day.” As I write, Spector languishes in jail awaiting sentencing for murder… “I knew a man, his brain was so small, / He couldn’t think of nothing at all. / He’s not the same as you and me. / He doesn’t dig poetry. / He’s so unhip that / When you say Dylan, he thinks you're talking about Dylan Thomas, / Whoever he was. / The man ain’t got no culture, / But it’s alright, ma, / Everybody must get stoned.” Ah yes, a rather unsubtle dig at Dylan. “I’ve been Mick Jaggered, silver daggered. / Andy Warhol, won’t you please come home? / I been mothered, fathered, aunt and uncled, / Been Roy Haleed and Art Garfunkeled. / I just discovered somebody’s tapped my phone.” Then, as the song fades, he is heard, in another Dylan dig, to say: “I lost my harmonica, Albert.”

The next song, For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her, rings no bell, but with the help of a 40-something-year-old seven-single, I shall jog my memory. Indeed, another short classic of just over two minutes. And another example of Garfunkel’s remarkably angelic voice. Simon was the past master at guitar subtlety, and he opens this song with impeccably plucked acoustic guitar, before Art’s blissful opening lines: “What a dream I had / Pressed in organdy / Clothed in crinoline / Of smoky burgundy / Softer than the rain.” Is this a dream about clothes, and if so, shouldn’t the second line read “dressed in organdy”? Just asking. On second thoughts, no, pressed has the correct allusions. “I wandered empty streets down / Past the shop displays / I heard cathedral bells / Tripping down the alleyways / As I walked on.” Silly me, this was a dream not of clothes, but of a girl in those clothes, one softer than the rain. And then he sets off to find her, which he does. I think Simon joins in the vocals here, as they become more forceful. “And when you ran to me, your / Cheeks fleshed with the night / We walked on frosted fields / Of juniper and lamplight / I held your hand.” Again, “flushed” with the night would make more sense. The song ends somewhat abruptly, with this final stanza. “And when I awoke / And felt you warm and near / I kissed your honey hair / With my grateful tears / Oh, I love you girl / Oh, I love you.” Simon was clearly intensely emotional as a young man, and it is this depth of feeling, especially in matters of love, that, as with the best blues songwriters, enables him to write so well on the matter.

So what was A Poem On The Underground Wall all about? I don’t recall hearing it at the time. Again, it is a song I’d love to encounter, evidently dating back to his London experiences. “The last train is nearly due, / The underground is closing soon, / And in the dark deserted station, / Restless in anticipation, / A man waits in the shadows.” If you’d presented that to me as a poem, sans any music, I’d have said I was eager to read on. So let’s do so. “His restless eyes leap and snatch, / At all that they can touch or catch, / And hidden deep within his pocket, / Safe within its silent socket, / He holds a coloured crayon.” He isn’t, is he? Going to write something on the wall? “Now from the tunnel’s stony womb, / The carriage rides to meet the groom, / And opens wide the welcome doors, / But he hesitates, then withdraws / Deeper in the shadows.” I can relate to that description of the Tube train arriving and opening wide its pneumatic, hissing doors, having travelled on it for two years in the early 1990s. But this miscreant ain’t going nowhere. “And the train is gone suddenly. / On wheels clicking silently / Like a gently tapping litany, / And he holds his crayon rosary / Tighter in his hand.” And still we have no idea what he plans. “Now from his pocket quick he flashes, / The crayon on the wall he slashes, / Deep upon the advertising, / A single-worded poem comprising / Four letters.” Not, surely not, THE four-letter word? You know, the expletive that so often has little to do with LOVE. “And his heart is laughing, screaming, pounding, / The poem across the tracks resounding, / Shadowed by the exit light / His legs take their ascending flight / To seek the breast of darkness and be suckled by the night.” There is an interesting innuendo in his return to a “breast of darkness” as he exits the Tube station, there to be “suckled by the night”. What word did Simon have in mind?

Anyway, while I’ve definitely heard the song before, I can’t put a tune to it. I do know that the final track, which I recall emanated from this poem story, is familiar. I think it was overlaid with music, as the news is read. As noted earlier, the reference to Lenny Bruce’s death gave it a specific date, while there is also a reference to the war in Vietnam. “This is the early evening edition of the news. / The recent fight in the House of Representatives over the Open Housing /Section of the Civil Rights bill / Brought traditional enemies together but it left the defenders of the / Measure without the votes of their strongest supporters. / President Johnson originally proposed an outright ban covering discrimination / By everyone for every type of housing but it had no chance from the start / And everyone in Congress knew it. / A compromise was painfully worked out in the House Judiciary Committee. / In Los Angeles today comedian Lenny Bruce died of what was believed to be an / Overdoes of narcotics. / Bruce was 42 years old. / Dr Martin Luther King says he does not intend to cancel plans for an open / Housing march Sunday into the Chicago suburb of Cicero. / Cook County Sheriff Richard Ogleby asked King to call off the march and the / Police in Cicero said they would ask the National Guard to be called out / If it is held. / King, now in Atlanta, Georgia, plans to return to Chicago Tuesday. / In Chicago Richard Speck, accused murderer of nine student nurses, was brought / Before a grand jury today for indictment. / The nurses were found stabbed and strangled in their Chicago apartment. / In Washington the atmosphere was tense today as a special subcommittee of the / House Committee on un-American Activities continued its probe into anti-Vietnam war protests. / Demonstrators were forcibly evicted from the hearings when they began chanting / Anti-war slogans. / Former vice-president Richard Nixon says that unless there is a substantial / Increase in the present war effort in Vietnam, the US should look forward / To five more years of war. / In a speech before the Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in New York, / Nixon also said opposition to the war in this country is the greatest single / Weapon working against the US. / That’s the 7 o’clock edition of the news, / Goodnight.” The question is: was that an actual recording of the news, or did Simon write a version which incorporates all the key issues afflicting US society at the time? Because this seems to cover the gamut, from racially divided housing, to Martin Luther King’s campaigning, to anti-war protests and Nixon’s hardline policies.

Thankfully, the song ends on a softer note, with the gentle verses of a Christmas carol. “Silent night / Holy night / All is calm / All is bright / Round yon virgin mother and child / Holy infant so tender and mild / Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.” Again, one finds two Jewish lads singing a Christian hymn … Another Wikipedia site does reveal that this was indeed the actual August 3, 1966, edition of the “7 O’Clock News”, and that “the voice of the newscaster is that of Charlie O’Donnell, then a radio disk jockey”. Silent Night was written by Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr in the early nineteenth century.

The Graduate

The Wikipedia story may be apocryphal, I don’t know, but it smacks of the sort of good luck which permeates the music industry. It is about how the song, Mrs Robinson, came to be written. Apparently the director of the film The Graduate, Mike Nichols, had become obsessed by Simon’s songs. An article in Variety magazine in 2005 reported that Simon was asked to write three new songs for the movie, but by the time editing was well advanced, he had only completed one. Asked what he was working on, he said: “It’s not for the movie … it’s a song about times past – about Mrs Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio and stuff”. Nichols evidently told him: “It’s now about Mrs Robinson, not Mrs Roosevelt.” Released in January, 1968, the soundtrack of The Graduate shot to No 1. Which for me is strange because I recall it having several instrumental tracks, which is not what Simon and Garfunkel were all about. Incidentally, it was apparently one of the first soundtracks ever to include contemporary pop hits.

And bizarrely, according to Wikipedia, while the album contains two versions of Mrs Robinson, “neither is the full version as featured on Bookends”. The first is an instrumental and the other, as noted, an abbreviated version, “tapering off as it does in the film”. The Sound of Silence, however, is given full rein, as noted earlier. However, since I have a vinyl copy of the album, picked up at a second hand shop, I’ll give it a fresh blast, and try to see why it should have been so successful, apart, obviously, from the fact that the movie was a hit.

Okay, part of the great deception about this album is that it is a Simon and Garfunkel album. It is a film soundtrack, and Wikipedia explains that the songs are “by Paul Simon and Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel and Dave Grusin”. Two asterisks indicate which are by Grusin, and the gruesome truth for Simon and Garfunkel fans is that his instrumental tracks constitute a substantial part of the album. Yet, even though just a fraction of the album is by our famous duo, the album is worth it just for that.

And purchasers of the album must have smiled on hearing the opening track, as lightly plucked guitar heralds the perfect harmonies of two gifted vocalists singing The Sound Of Silence. With perfectly understated drums and bass joining in the second verse, this is 3:05 minutes worth of magic.

But then, woe is he or she lulled into thinking a pleasant Simon and Garfunkel album was in store, because – though not mentioned anywhere on the cover (Grusin’s name isn’t even there) – you are subjected to the first of several loud, brash, brassy bits of schmaltzy big-band-type light jazz. Look the likes of The Singleman Party Foxtrot probably sounds fine in the context of the film, but not in the wake of such sublime beauty as The Sound Of Silence.

And don’t get your hopes up when you see Mrs Robinson is the next track, because it is just 1.11 minutes long. Sure there is a hint of things to come here, but this is not the real McCoy. Heavy, foreboding strings provide the backing for some quick-fire Simon acoustic guitar. Why the duo even sing a bit of “doo-da-doo-do-do-do”, but never actually get into the guts of a song you would have thought would be a key part of the film, since it contains the name of the leading protagonist. Indeed, we have to wait for Side 2 to get just a sliver of the actual lyrics.

We’re onto the fourth track of ostensibly a Simon and Garfunkel album and what do we get? Sunporch Cha-Cha-Cha, another of those Grusin instrumentals, with heavy strings, piano and flute. Sure the music may be good, but it don’t belong with Scarborough Fair/Canticle (Interlude), the next track. Or maybe it does. Because, at 1:41 this isn’t the real thing either. It starts with some promising plucked acoustic guitar, then more of those foreboding strings, before a quiet settles and the melody of Scarborough Fair is played, none too impressively I might add, on acoustic guitar. This is no Jose Feliciano stuff, rather what I’d sound like trying to play the tune from a book. And of the duo’s main strength, their vocals, there is not a trace. Neither, of course, is there on the next Grusin track, On The Strip, another bland jazzy instrumental.

But then, like a breath of fresh air, we get 1:50 minutes’ worth of bliss, April Come She Will sounding just like it should, with Simon’s superbly plucked acoustic guitar underpinning Garfunkel’s beautiful voice. It occurred to me, on listening to this again, just what an integral part of my upbringing this song was. Back then I don’t think I even fully appreciated how sublime it was – it was simply a case of playing this single over and over again because we dug it so much. And there are no strings attached here at all. In fact, it is one of the few times on a Simon and Garfunkel song, it seems, that there is no backing apart from the acoustic guitar.

From the sublime, however, to the ridiculous – another 2:27 minutes of gruesome Grusin, courtesy of another instrumental called The Folks, with its brash, loud wind instruments that sound so incongruous on a supposedly folk-rock album.

Would there be better fare on Side 2? The opening track looked more than auspicious. A 6:22 minute version of Scarborough Fair/Canticle. This is probably the definitive version of this masterpiece of harmony and composition. Hats off to Simon for the inspired decision to marry those two tunes, and to the pair of them for pulling off that complex piece of harmonizing with such aplomb. Wikipedia only credits Simon and Garfunkel as the personnel performing on this album, while there is no information on the cover. But clearly the backing musicians on this track – not to mention those big-band sounds that form the bulk of the album – were actual people. And here there is some superb harpsichord (or that’s what that insistent sound appears to be), as well as beautiful flute between the two conjoined “takes” of the song.

But if you thought Side 2 was going to be any different, A Great Effect soon quashes any such illusions. It is another Grusin jazzy sound with heavy brass and a passable drum solo near the end. It is mitigated somewhat by some good saxophone, but again my view is it does not belong here.

There is a glimmer of hope on the next track, albeit that The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine is only 1:46 minutes long. This is actually an epochal song, because it is probably the heaviest rock song Simon and Garfunkel had done – especially this version, which features an awesome electric rhythm guitar with a fuzzy effect reminiscent of the Velvet Underground. And here Simon leads the vocals, giving the song an edgier feel.

Grusin’s next song, Whew, almost fits in. It starts with an interesting acoustic guitar solo, accompanied by some nice flute. I even detected similar chord structures to those found on At The Zoo, while at one point a harpsichord (?) plays a rather wonky-sounding take of Scarborough Fair.

The film is about Mrs Robinson, and the 1:12-minute version of this song at least mentions her name. It is, however, a different animal to the polished product that would appear on Bookends. Here rather aggressively strummed acoustic guitar paves the way for the iconic, “beep-da-du-du-du-du” opening vocals, before both voices join for the famous lines: “And here’s to you Mrs Robinson / Jesus loves you more than you will know, wo wo wo / Stand up tall, Mrs Robinson / God in Heaven smiles on those who pray, hey hey hey / Hey hey hey.” And that’s it! The song sort of winds down as the hectic strumming slows, like a train pulling up at a station. A far cry, indeed, from the fuller version to come.

Thankfully, as with April Come She Will, the album ends with a crisp folk version of The Sound of Silence, all 3:08 minutes of it. Again, the infinite beauty of those two voices, against just an acoustic guitar, is hard to believe. This is a perfect melding of Simon’s more assertive, more passionate reading of the song – especially in lines like “silence like a cancer grows” – and the ephemeral quality which Garfunkel brings to all he touches.


And so to Bookends, which was really the first Simon and Garfunkel album I got my teeth into, having absorbed much of what they produced prior to this from singles.

Simon was a stickler for perfection, recording far fewer albums than Dylan. And the lengthy process he needed to complete a work is evidenced in the fact that the songs for this album were recorded from as far back as September 1966, through January, June and October of 1967, and again in February 1968, with the album being released by Columbia Records, says Wikipeida, on April 3, 1968. It was produced by the duo and Roy Halee and in 2003 was ranked No 233 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It reached No 1 in both the US and UK, while four singles charted – A Hazy Shade Of Winter, At The Zoo, Fakin’ It and, or course, Mrs Robinson, which was the only one to reach No 1.

Wikipedia says this was the last Simon and Garfunkel album to be released in both mono and stereo. We had the stereo version, but apparently a “limited quantity” of mono albums were cut, making them collectors’ items. It also contains “many sonic differences, most noticeably Paul Simon’s trailing echo on Fakin’ It, says Wikipedia. This version is on a 1999 CD, The Best of Simon and Garfunkel.

This was one of the soundtrack albums of my youth, a work very dear to my heart. So let’s give it a fresh spin, old though the vinyl may be, and see what the fuss was all about.

Oh my! Put this album up there alongside the Beatles’ Sgt Peppers immediately. It truly was a remarkable achievement. And that is purely based on a close listen, through 40 years of accumulated surface crackle on a 25-year-old record player. I have a friend who has been enlightening me on the quality differences between vinyl, especially as they were originally made, played on good equipment, and CD. It is a highly technical thing, but suffice it to say, vinyl beats CD hands down – which is why just about everyone, even modern bands, is insisting on producing vinyl records as well as their CD counterparts. But what of this album, man?

Remember how unobtrusively, how tentatively it starts, with the gentle Bookends Theme, a 32-second acoustic guitar rendition of the song, Bookends, with which the side ends. For indeed, there is a thread running through the first side, wedged between those two Bookends, as it were. Precisely what it is I hope to discover from the lyrics.

But what brings me to equate this album with arguably the Beatles' finest? Well, Save The Life Of My Child is probably better than anything the Beatles did, so on that alone I could rest my case. I’m no expert, but that big fuzzy electric sound may just be a bass, or even a rhythm guitar. All I know is that it courses out of the speakers, chased by a strummed electric guitar, and you are instantly alert as the opening lines are almost shouted by Simon: “Good god! Don’t jump! /A boy sat on the ledge. / An old man who had fainted was revived. / And everyone agreed it would be a miracle indeed / If the boy survived.” There is an incredible chorus of female voices (or so they sound) who pour their emotions into this song, while drummer Hal Blaine ups the ante with some of the most atmospheric stickwork you are likely to hear. As with most of these tracks, the percussion sounds, including handclaps, provide textures and nuances which again, for me, recall the best of the Beatles. The song hinges around the chorus: “Save the life of my child! / Cried the desperate mother.” The drama continues, that fuzz sound all the time pouring forth: “The woman from the supermarket / Ran to call the cops. / He must be high on something, someone said. / Though it never made the New York Times / In the daily news, the caption read, / Save the life of my child! / Cried the desperate mother.” As a newspaper person, I can obviously relate to this, though I suspect this was a headline above a picture, not really a lowly caption. Still, as the musical fireworks continue, the story continues. “A patrol car passing by / Halted to a stop. / Said Officer MacDougal in dismay: / The force can’t do a decent job / cause the kids got no respect / For the law today (and blah blah blah).” This time round, the chorus is longer: “Save the life of my child! / Cried the desperate mother. / What’s becoming of the children? / People asking each other.” Imagine this crowd in the heart of a big city, New York, ghoulishly waiting for some tragedy to happen. “When darkness fell, excitement kissed the crowd / And made them wild / In an atmosphere of freaky holiday. / When the spotlight hit the boy, / The crowd began to cheer, / He flew away.” There is an audible “aah!” after Simon sings that the spotlight hit the boy. He spares us the trauma of the boy’s suicide, it seems, explaining only that the boy “flew away”, possibly a euphemism for falling to his death. The song concludes with Garfunkel bringing his angelic voice to bear on the line, “Oh, my grace, I got no hiding place”, which is repeated till the song fades.

At which point, I would argue, you already have an incredible work of art, one of the great works of the 20th century. But then an unassuming, gentle humming heralds another which is also right up there with the best. Strummed acoustic guitar interspersed with virtuoso acoustic lead provide the understated introduction to America, again sung by Simon with Garfunkel providing all those grace notes which turn a song into a piece of magic. Which isn’t to say that Simon’s voice is not also up there too. Indeed, at times on this album I find parallels with Paul McCartney’s beautifully rounded delivery. The surprise, on America, is how quickly we go from old-style Paul Simon folk, to the texture-rich qualities of one of the greatest songs in the history of folk-rock. The key to that seems to lie with bassist Joe Osborn and Larry Knechtel, who plays piano and keyboards, alongside Hal Blaine’s excellent drumming, and the acoustic guitar marvel that is Paul Simon. This song is iconic. It has to be with a title like America. But are they off to discover a country, or themselves? The vocals are quiet and confiding. “Let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together (cue: drums, organ, bass) / I’ve got some real estate here in my bag / So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs Wagner pies / And we walked off to look for America …” As a kid I always wondered how he could have “real estate” in his bag. Was that a clever term for cash? Because he seems to use it to buy fags and pies. And then the quest began, with his girlfriend from the UK, Kathy, his companion. “Kathy, I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh / Michigan seems like a dream to me now / It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw / I’ve gone to look for America.” What wonderful chord changes mark this melody. It is truly a brilliant composition. “Laughing on the bus / Playing games with the faces / She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy / I said be careful his bowtie is really a camera.” I like that line. It speaks of a time in the US, at the height of the Cold War, when espionage was very much a part of life on both sides of the Iron Curtain. But these are carefree kids having a fun ride. “Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat / We smoked the last one an hour ago / So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine / And the moon rose over an open field.” It’s night time now, and they’re travelling through the great open spaces of the American heartland. But somehow, the protagonist is suddenly beset by a sense of alienation. “Kathy, I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping / I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why / Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike / They’ve all gone to look for America / All gone to look for America / All gone to look for America.” And his feeling of emptiness is transferred to the myriads in their cars as they course along the New Jersey Turnpike. All have gone off to find meaning in being American at a time when East-West nuclear conflict could have spelt destruction at any time. Notable in those closing lines is Garfunkel’s towering harmonies, while the organ gives a distinct sense of distance and desolation as the song fades. Another masterpiece.

After that tour de force, the mood softens for the gentle Overs, which starts with the sound of a match being lit. Some, naturally, contend that a spliff is then set in train, but we’ll see what the song was about before making such a judgment. “Why don’t we stop fooling ourselves?” Superb Simon acoustic guitarwork, including acoustic lead guitar, are a hallmark of this track, along with Simon’s beautiful vocals. “The game is over, / Over, / Over. / No good times, no bad times, / There’s no times at all, / Just The New York Times, / Sitting on the windowsill / Near the flowers. / We might as well be apart. / It hardly matters, / We sleep separately. / And drop a smile passing in the hall / But there’s no laughs left / ’Cause we laughed them all. / And we laughed them all / In a very short time.” Phew! This is a marriage or relationship on the skids. And it ends, it seems, not with a bang, but a whimper. The song also offers up the second reference to the New York Times, which must have been chuffed at the exposure. The last word, above, “time”, then heralds a different route for the song, as Garfunkel takes us on a lofty journey. “Time / Is tapping on my forehead, / Hanging from my mirror, / Rattling the teacups, / And I wonder, / How long can I delay? / We’re just a habit / Like saccharin.” By now Simon has joined the vocals and injected that sobering bit of reality, that their life together is simply a habit, as both age ineluctably. “And I’m habitually feelin’ kinda blue. / But each time I try on / The thought of leaving you, / I stop ... / Stop and think it over.” And, with that virtuoso guitarwork making this song far less melancholy than a mere reading of its lyrics would suggest, the protagonist resolves finally to do nothing about his position. Before they know it, both parties will be in old age homes, their lives all but over.

And it is just this predicament that Garfunkel sought to capture on Voices Of Old People, a 2:09 minute audio collage he recorded “in various locations in New York and Los Angeles”, according to Wikipedia. I have read critiques of this album slating the inclusion of this track, but my feeling is that it is pivotal to the entire Bookends concept. I remember listening intently to those elderly people reminiscing, bickering, philosophizing … and then marvelling how, as their voices faded, so emerged the two chords repeatedly strummed on Simon’s acoustic guitar heralding Old Friends, which of course ties in superbly with those recordings. But let’s see precisely what these old people had to say, back then in the late 1960s. This was taken from one lyric website. Man 1: “I got little in this world. I give honesty without regret. One hundred dollars for that picture. I remember taking a picture with ...” Woman 1 interjects: “Ooh! Let me show you. Let me show you our picture. This was me and my husband when we were first married.” Woman 2 seems to interrupt: “I always slept on one side, left room for my husband.” But Woman 1 is still explaining: “And that’s me when we were sixteen.” Woman 2 continues: “But this, this, this, this is not the case. I still do it. I still lay on the half of the bed. (pause) We used to sneak in ...” Traffic noises can be head outside. Man 2, his voice tired, old and broken, says: “Still haven’t seen the doctor I was seein’; there’s been blood for the last, eh, forty-eight hours, and I can’t get up the mucus for the last, eh, two, three months ... oh yes, and I maintain, I maintain strongly, to this minute, I don’t think it’s an ordinary cold.” Then Woman 3 proclaims: “God forgive me, but an old person without money is pathetic.” Then follows a discourse on the role of mothers. Woman 4: “Children, and mothers, that’s the way we have it. A mother … they are (mumbles).” Woman 5 responds: “ ’Cause mothers do too much.” Woman 4 gets quite indignant, and seems to stamp her fist on the table as she says: “That is mother’s life, to live for your child.” After a pause she adds: “Yes, my dear.” The track then cuts to Man 3, who reflects: “I couldn’t get younger. I have to be an old man. That’s all. Well ...” Then Woman 6, asks: “Are you happy here, honey? Are you happy living with us?” Man 3 seems disorientated: “So anytime I walk with Lou and ... that’s all.” But Woman 6 is persistent: “Mr Singer? Are you happy living with us here?” Woman 7 interjects: “But we don’t do that, dear.” Woman 6: “But are you happy?” Woman 7 then replies: “If you mean, if, if you could say, yes, and I thought, and I was so happy, and everybody, ‘What is this? What is it?’ ” Woman 8 then becomes quite emotional: “It just is, beautiful. Like, just a room. Your own room, in your own home.”

It is at this point that those lovely strummed guitar chords introduce Old Friends. And of course the poignant part today is that the “terribly strange” predicament of being seventy years old is now almost a reality for Simon, who reaches that age on October 13, 2011. But back then, of course, he was a young man, his whole life ahead of him, and this is how he viewed a pair of old men. “Old friends, / Old friends / Sat on their park bench / Like bookends. / A newspaper blown though the grass / Falls on the round toes / Of the high shoes / Of the old friends.” This song, like some of the greatest Beatles tracks – think Eleanor Rigby – is enhanced beyond measure by the string arrangement backing the duo’s harmonies, and Simon’s guitar. “Old friends, / Winter companions, / The old men / Lost in their overcoats, / Waiting for the sunset. / The sounds of the city, / Sifting through trees, / Settle like dust / On the shoulders / Of the old friends.” Fine poetry that, with clever allusions to old age in their waiting for the sunset and being winter companions. Then the young Simon thinks ahead … to how things will be now, when he too is an old man going on seventy. “Can you imagine us / Years from today, / Sharing a park bench quietly? / How terribly strange / To be seventy.” The violins soar, the cellos rumble, the guitar twinkles, as the song unwinds. “Old friends, / Memory brushes the same years / Silently sharing the same fears …”

And of course that isn’t the end of the side, because a single violin note leads us into the final track, Bookends. Again, a single plucked acoustic guitar emerges. With the first bass notes come that pair of angelic voices singing: “Time it was and what a time it was it was, / A time of innocence a time of confidences.” This is an epitaph for the youth of all mankind. “Long ago it must be, I have a photograph / Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.” Extrapolating from that, it might be argued that, when a loved one dies, it is our memories of that person that indeed live on within us.

Side 2 has an altogether different feel. While there is no similar theme, the five songs are connected to those on Side 1 by virtue of the fact that each song has the stamp of Simon and Garfunkel at their best. And of course the side offers the first full version of Mrs Robinson.

Track 1, Fakin’ It, opens with a high-pitched sound – strings, perhaps – before Simon’s virtuoso acoustic guitar plucks out a complex riff. Drums, strings, superb bass, handclapping and other percussion sounds give this song the sort of sound textures which set this album apart, and on a par with Sgt Pepper’s. And of course the vocal harmonies are right up there with those of Lennon and McCartney. “When she goes, she’s gone. / If she stays, she stays here. / The girl does what she wants to do. / She knows what she wants to do. / And I know I’m fakin it, / I’m not really makin’ it.” That lovely acoustic guitar rumbles along, daa-da, da-da da-da-daa dum. “Im such a dubious soul, / And a walk in the garden / Wears me down. / Tangled in the fallen vines, / Pickin’ up the punch lines, / I’ve just been fakin’ it, / Not really makin’ it.” The tempo slackens. “Is there any danger? / No, no, not really. / Just lean on me.” Then it picks up again. “Takin’ time to treat / Your friendly neighbours honestly. / I’ve just been fakin’ it, / I’m not really makin’ it. / This feeling of fakin’ it - / I still haven’t shaken it.” Then comes another interlude which recalls the Beatles, as the song takes on a whimsical air. “Prior to this lifetime / I surely was a tailor.” Now we are on a different plain, with teacups rattling. A genteel voice says: “Good morning, Mr Leitch. / Have you had a busy day?” The song then resumes. “I own the tailor’s face and hands. / I am the tailor’s face and hands and / I know Im fakin’ it, / I’m not really makin’ it. / This feeling of fakin’ it - / I still haven’t shaken it.” The song ends on a high note, like it began, with persuasive drumming and clapping.

Who, but Paul Simon, could have come up with a song title like Punky’s Dilemma, the next song on the side? But do you remember what it was about? Breakfast cereals, among other things, certainly. Again, understated acoustic guitar forms the rockbed. “Wish I was a Kellogg’s Cornflake / Floatin’ in my bowl takin’ movies, / Relaxin’ awhile, livin’ in style, / Talkin’ to a raisin who ’casionally plays LA, / Casually glancing at his toupee.” This seems to allude to a lifestyle that emerged in California, the land of milk and honey after the Second World War, where consumption was conspicuous and the youth would eventually rebel against this superficial lifestyle. Notable here, apart from the obvious beautiful vocals, is the rich, full bass guitar. “Wish I was an English muffin / ’Bout to make the most out of a toaster. / I’d ease myself down, / Comin’ up brown.” Then the bizarre jam preference lines. “I prefer boysenberry / More than any ordinary jam. / I’m a ‘Citizens for Boysenberry Jam’ fan.” At this point the harmonies take on a Beatles/Beach Boys feel: “Ah, South California.” The military call-up gets a reference in the next verse, something that was always on our minds growing up in apartheid South Africa. “If I become a first lieutenant / Would you put my photo on your piano? / To Maryjane - / Best wishes, Martin. / (Old Roger draft-dodger / Leavin’ by the basement door), / Everybody knows what he’s / Tippy-toeing down there for.” Well I never did find out what that was, but I do know he did not so much tip-toe as thump down those stairs. This lovely composition ends with the tune being whistled.

And out of that arises one of the most instantly recognizable song openings in the history of rock, with Simon’s acoustic guitar delivering that wonderful riff which sets in train the lively “dee di-dee-di-di-di …” which is a prelude to the full version, finally, of Mrs Robinson. Great strings and acoustic lead guitar see the duo start with that famous chorus. “And here’s to you, Mrs Robinson, / Jesus loves you more than you will know. / God bless you, please Mrs Robinson. / Heaven holds a place for those who pray, / Hey, hey, hey / Hey, hey, hey”. But then a touch of McCarthyism. “We’d like to know a little bit about your for our files / We’d like to help you learn to help yourself. / Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes, / Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.” One gets the sense here of someone incarcerated, possibly in a mental institution. “And here’s to you, Mrs Robinson, / Jesus loves you more than you will know. / God bless you, please, Mrs Robinson. / Heaven holds a place for those who pray, / Hey, hey, hey / Hey, hey, hey.” The voice sounds altogether too good to be true; far too solicitous. What sounds like a bongo drum takes the place of conventional drums as that guitar, Bert Jansch-like, keeps the song tumbling along. “Hiding in a hiding place where no one ever goes. / Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes. / It’s a little secret just the Robinsons’ affair. / Most of all you’ve got to hide it from the kids.” Then a possible reference to the Beatles’ I Am The Walrus. “Koo-koo-ka-choo, Mrs Robinson, / Jesus loves you more than you will know. / God bless you, please, Mrs Robinson. / Heaven holds a place for those who pray, / Hey, hey, hey. / Hey, hey, hey.” While I’m in no position to analyse these verses, they are simply an integral part of my upbringing. “Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon. / Going to the candidate’s debate. / Laugh about it, shout about it / When you’ve got to choose / Every way you look at this you lose.” In fact, having only just voted in South Africa’s fourth democratic elections, I think that verse is quite clear. Whoever you vote for, you lose, because around the world, especially where a party is as dominant as the ruling party is in South Africa, politicians have increasingly dangerous powers to destroy our lives. But this was the US, back then, and the people were hankering for heroes. “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, / Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. / What’s that you say, Mrs Robinson. / Jolting Joe has left and gone away, / Hey hey hey. / Hey, hey, hey.”

The penultimate track, A Hazy Shade Of Winter, is of course one of Simon and Garfunkel’s most famous songs. It opens with that iconic acoustic guitar riff, this time backed by drums, bass and strings. “Time, time, time, see what’s become of me / While I looked around / For my possibilities …” There is a hardening of the tempo here: “I was so hard to please / But look around, leaves are brown / And the sky is a hazy shade of winter.” Then that sense of space, of place. “Hear the Salvation Army band / Down by the riverside, it’s bound to be a better ride / Than what you’ve got planned / Carry your cup in your hand / And look around, leaves are brown now / And the sky is a hazy shade of winter.” Again, there is textural richness here thanks to the addition of trumpets, while the vocals remain superb. “Hang on to your hopes, my friend / That’s an easy thing to say, but if your hopes should pass away / Simply pretend / That you can build them again / Look around, the grass is high / The fields are ripe, it’s the springtime of my life.” And so a breath of spring emerges. “Ahhh, 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 slips while looking over manuscripts / Of unpublished rhyme / Drinking my vodka and lime.” Isn’t that a brilliant verse? Here the roles are reversed, with the seasons changing with the scenery, not vice versa. And then the seasons weave time in a tapestry, which is a lovely image. It is also the first time I’ve really heard the line about how “my memory slips”. There’s always a first time… The song concludes with the chorus repeated. “But look around, leaves are brown now / And the sky is a hazy shade of winter / Look around, leaves are brown / There’s a patch of snow on the ground . . .” And with that it ends abruptly, only for a gentle acoustic guitar to emerge from the sudden silence.

And that guitarwork marks the start of the final track, the delightful At The Zoo. It is another of those Simon and Garfunkel songs which will live on forever. It is a quiet, almost conspiratorial, Simon who whisper-sings the opening line: “Someone told me / It’s all happening at the zoo.” From there on, it becomes steadily heavier. “I do believe it, / I do believe it’s true.” Piano, bass and drums contribute to a great rhythmic flowing. “It’s a light and tumble journey / From the East Side to the park; / Just a fine and fancy ramble / To the zoo.” I wonder, looking at this, whether Simon wasn’t inspired by The Zoological Gardens, a song which The Dubliners did so superbly? Anyway, this is a New York zoo, not a Dublin one, and here the animals seem to have major issues. First, though, how to get there. “But you can take the crosstown bus / If it’s raining or its cold, / And the animals will love it / If you do.” The undulating beat slows to a more intimate quietness. I even detected the rattling of teacups. “Somethin’ tells me / Its all happening at the zoo. / I do believe it, / I do believe it’s true.” Then, with rich percussion and some virtuoso guitarwork, the tempo picks up again. “The monkeys stand for honesty, / Giraffes are insincere, / And the elephants are kindly but / They’re dumb. / Orangutans are sceptical / Of changes in their cages, / And the zookeeper is very fond of rum.” Every animal, it seems, has deep psychological qualities. “Zebras are reactionaries, / Antelopes are missionaries, / Pigeons plot in secrecy, / And hamsters turn on frequently. / What a gas! you gotta come and see / At the zoo.” It was the sort of whimsical, poetic nonsense which made the psychedelic era at the end of the Sixties such fun. Artists like Simon were finally free to let their minds explore all manner of new avenues, and in the process some emerged as fine poets in their own write, if you’ll pardon the Lennonism.

Small wonder that the album went to No 1 in 1968 in the US.

I have also read some interesting facts about the album in Patrick Humphries’s Paul Simon biography, The Boy In The Bubble. He notes that for the first time the duo were able to test the CBS studios “to the full, linking up two eight-track machines and using them simultaneously to give a sixteen-track effect”. He compares producer-engineer Roy HaleeHerH

to the Beatles’ George Martin, saying that together they “spent months slaving over the album and it remains their finest vinyl testament”.

He is critical of the fact that Side 2 only featured one new song, Punky’s Dilemma, with the others having all first been released as singles. But what singles! Humphries notes that Fakin’ It “originated in a ‘hashish reverie’ during which Simon speculated on his earlier incarnation as a Jewish tailor in the middle Europe of the nineteenth century”. He says the Mr Leitch in the song is Donovan, which the welcoming girl was Beverley, John Martyn’s wife. Punky’s Dilemma was “Simon’s caustic east coast view of the vagaries of the west coast; you could just imagine a movement out there, with proto-Yuppies sporting their ‘Citizens for Boysenberry Jam’ badges!”

And Humphries endorses my view that the album has strong parallels with Sgt Pepper’s, saying of all that tried to equal it, Bookends came closest. His analysis of the opening track is superb. He says it “plunges the listener into the chaos of America in 1968: the kids high on drugs, disrespectful of figures in authority”. He says the “multi-tracked vocals are phased and given an eerie presence of their own, like faces freed from the personal hell of a Francis Bacon painting”.

Bookends was indeed a classic, and Humphries’s book is well worth a read if for no other reason than he that seems to be one of the sharpest and most astute music critics of our era. But for me, growing up under the spell of Bookends, it was simply like living at a time when truly magical things were happening. This was a massive, massive album in the history of rock, and I think we seemed to appreciate that at the time, if the number of times we played the album is any criterion.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

My elder brothers Ian and Alistair and I were in the front lounge overlooking the Bonza Bay River of a house in Princess Drive, Bonza Bay, around 1971. We were visiting the home of the Kunhardts, where eldest brother Douglas lived at the time. He and his younger brother, whose name escapes me, were sublime surfers, and as such much revered. Anyway, I vividly recall they had Simon and Garfunkel’s album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, playing on the turntable. It was what people did in those days. There was always a musical backdrop to life. Today, it seems, music has become an insular, personal, almost anti-social, pastime, as people plug in earphones and listen to stuff on iPods and the like. I find the whole thing rather distatesteful. Music, to my mind, is meant to travel through air and then into your ears. How does your body “feel” sound if it is not surrounded by it? And tragically, I saw a news report just today, as I write, saying that UK band Coldplay will be giving away CDs of their latest album during forthcoming concerts because, it seems, people just aren’t buying what was called “physical records” much anymore, relying rather on downloads. A vinyl-obsessed friend down the road assures me that there is, from a sound quality perspective, no comparison between a good vinyl recording and the stuff we are being palmed off with through various digital platforms.

Which all brings me back to Simon and Garfunkel’s fifth and final studio album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, which was recorded in the Novembers of 1968 and 1969, according to Wikipedia, and released on January 26, 1970. Classified as folk rock, the album was produced by the duo and Roy Halee. It was, of course, a massive success, reaching No 1 in the US, while its title track won a Grammy for record and song of the year in 1971. The album has, says Wikipedia, sold over 25 million copies worldwide. And that, I assume, is albums, not amorphous downloads.

The album proved a “vast success” in the UK, says Wikipedia, “enjoying several runs at number one, spending some years in the charts and eventually becoming the country’s biggest-selling album of 1970 and 1971”. In 2006, the album was placed 7th in a BBC Radio 2 Music Club top 100 albums list, while in 2003 it was ranked 51 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

The album was particularly strong because the opening tracks on both sides were extraordinary. Side 1 opened with the title track, and side two with The Boxer. Patrick Humphries, in his Simon biography, says The boxer “marked the pinnacle of the Simon and Garfunkel sound and remains their finest song together”. Despite facets being recorded at different times and places it “still stands as the most cohesive and durable work of their partnership”.

Humphries dismisses claims, made at the time of the song’s release in early 1969 as a single, that it was a thinly veiled attack on Bob Dylan. The words “lie la lie” are supposed to allude to Dylan concealing his Robert Zimmerman identity. But Humphries says this interpretation belittles the song. He quotes Simon as saying a few years later that the song was about himself, and the criticism the duo were attracting at the time. He had told Playboy magazine several phrases came from his reading the Bible at the time, such as references to “workman’s wages” and “seeking out the poorer quarters”. “I think,” said Simon, “the song was about me: everybody’s beating me up, and I’m telling you now I’m going to go away if you don’t stop!”

Humphries goes into some detail about how the other songs were written in his superb biography, and notes that the album in fact won five Grammys (more than any album had done before), and was “the first single and album to be simultaneously top of the American and British single and album charts”. He says the album was at No1 in the US for 10 weeks, but in the UK “it held top slot for an incredible seven months and remained in the charts for nearly six years”.

The roots of the title track, says Humphries, were in gospel, “a tradition which had always fascinated Simon”. He says Simon “cites as his direct inspiration a gospel song called Oh Mary Don’t You Weep by the Swan Silvertones and their distinctive singer the Reverend Claude Juter”. He quotes Simon as saying that in the middle of the song, Juter scat sings the words “I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in my name”. He notes that initially the song was “simply known as Hymn”. It originally only had two verses, “but Simon added the third verse at short notice in the studio”. And no, says Humphries, claims at the time that the words “sail on silvergirl” referred to a hypodermic syringe were wrong. Instead, it referred to how his wife started panicking when she spotted two or three grey hairs one morning.

Poor Phil Spector has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons, but back then it was his arrangement for the Righteous Brothers’ Ol’ Man River, says Humphries, which inspired the arrangement on Bridge Over Troubled Water. This entailed a sparse, restrained early section, before “the final chorus unleashed his customary Wall of Sound”. Humphries says Garfunkel, he of the golden voice, was even wary of tackling the lead vocals, but Simon “insisted that it was the purity of Art’s singing which would give the song its full impact”.

And something I had not heard before, Humphries says at the time of the song’s release, similarities were noticed between it and the Beatles “valedictory Let It Be”. He quotes Simon as telling Rolling Stone the songs “are very similar … sort of in their general musical feel, and lyrically”.

Humphries says the title track and The Boxer dominate the album, “two stirring and immensely moving songs imbued with a majesty and force which few in popular music could match”. He finds that Only Living Boy In New Work is the only other track that “comes close to the power of these two”.

This song was written by Simon about Garfunkel while the latter was “marooned down in Mexico filming Catch-22”. The song recalls their early pseudonyms Tom and Jerry, and “stands as a touching farewell to the partner who had been at his side throughout their inexorable rise”.

One of my favourites, So Long Frank Lloyd Wright, Humphries says, was also about a parting of ways, ending as it does with Garfunkel singing “so long, so long …”, while “Simon can be heard to call out ‘so long already Artie!’”.

Well, before any further ado, let’s give the damn thing a spin. I have the album on a cassette, bought in the UK circa 1990, but one side is sticky, so will have to rely, I think, on an old vinyl picked up at that second hand shop.

Before I get into discussing this extraordinary album, a quick word about the cover, which features a grainy photograph of the duo dressed in fairly sombre shades. Make no error, this cover is probably as iconic as the record itself, but it never ceases to amaze me that they opted to use a picture in which nearly half of Art Garfunkel’s face is obscured by the top of Paul Simon’s head. Of course what it also illustrates is just how short Simon is/was, but the logic behind having old Art so totally eclipsed by his partner defeats me. I can’t imagine how Art Garfunkel could have sanctioned it. The back cover is equally bizarre. While the bulk of the space is taken up with the lyrics, walking out of the frame bottom right are a curious couple of lads. Garfunkel, in front, seems to lean back, as if trying to delay his inevitable departure from what had been an incredibly lucrative partnership with the creative genius that was Paul Simon. Simon, his head seeming to press into Garfunkel’s back, leans forward as he walks, like he can’t wait to get off the album cover and into a new post-Simon and Garfunkel existence.

All these strange symbols on an album which is undoubtedly the apogee of Simon and Garfunkel’s studio endeavours. It gave them instant immortality, and for good reason. It is a stunner.

So I hauled out this old 1969 vinyl album. Things weren’t too auspicious as the opening, title track got under way, the gentle opening piano battling to be heard above the surface noise. So I turned up the volume, and as I did so I appreciated again, despite the age and state of the album, why vinyl played even through a modest music centre like my old Sony, packed such a punch. Of course it helps that you’re listening to one of the greatest songs in the history of modern popular music. I know at their 1981 Concert in Central Park, Garfunkel handles the vocals ace out, at least as I recall, for the opening salvoes. But on the album, I sense that both guys are singing. Anyway, as the melody flows out of that piano like a thick, undulating wave, the lyrics are planted in our brain. Remember the song has a gospel genesis – two young Jewish guys inspired by black Christian music. You’ve got to love it. “When you’re weary, feeling small, / When tears are in your eyes, / I will dry them all; / I’m on your side. When times get rough / And friends just can’t be found, / Like a bridge over troubled water / I will lay me down. / Like a bridge over troubled water / I will lay me down.” Things are still very understated at this point, Larry Knechtel’s piano waiting, like a crouching leopard, before unleashing the full fury of the melody. “When you’re down and out, / When you’re on the street, / When evening falls so hard / I will comfort you. / I’ll take your part. / When darkness comes / And pain is all around, / Like a bridge over troubled water / I will lay me down. / Like a bridge over troubled water / I will lay me down.” It is at the point where Garfunkel sings the words “and pain is all around” that you feel a sudden surge of energy – the song comes alive with possibility, and the duo and their band deliver with no quarter given. The piano solo after the second verse is a thing of magic, its descending chords accentuated by drummer Hal Blaine’s slashing cymbals. Then, just as things again seem to quieten, the booming bass notes from Joe Osborn’s guitar usher in a new layer of experience. With the strings of Jimmy Haskell and Ernie Freeman joining in, this thing is set to build up to a cracking crescendo. Simon seems to take on the vocal lead as the awe-inspiring final verse is set in train: “Sail on silvergirl, / Sail on by. / Your time has come to shine. / All your dreams are on their way. / See how they shine. / If you need a friend / I’m sailing right behind. / Like a bridge over troubled water / I will ease your mind. / Like a bridge over troubled water / I will ease your mind.” The “wall of sound” effect culminates with a barrage of violins ringing out into the void. One is left knowing, your body aquiver, that you have experienced a remarkable musical experience. The lyrics, for me, have always been somewhat incidental. Indeed, until writing this, I always heard the words “all your dreams are on their way” as “all your dreams are all memories”. It is good, finally, to see the entire picture and to appreciate the supportive sentiments enshrined in the song.

How to follow up one of the greatest songs of all time? Why, with something completely different and pretty damn great in its own right, that’s how. It is the diversity of sounds on this album which make it so interesting. So after the 4:52 minute powerhouse that is Bridge Over Troubled Water, one is soothed into a different frame of mind by what? Well, the list of personnel on Wikipedia say that Los Incas musicians perform on “Peruvian instruments”. Anyway, the twinkling acoustic notes sound something like a mandolin, and they provide a totally fresh, and exotic, flavour for El Condor Pasa. I see in the sleeve notes that Simon wrote the English lyrics to this arrangement of an 18th century Peruvian folk melody by Jorge Milchberg. Wind instruments, possibly recorders, seem to evoke the call of small birds, and so it is no surprise that a sparrow features favourably in the lyrics. And I think Simon is the man who sings the main melody, although when the duo sound this angelic it is hard to tell. “I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail / Yes I would, if I could, I surely would / I’d rather be a hammer than a nail / Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would.” Just to record the words is to evoke the rich sounds emanating from those vocal chords and instruments, including a jaunty bass which gets the thing rollicking along, especially as we enter a new key, with Garfunkel taking us to new levels of sonar pleasure. “Away, I’d rather sail away / Like a swan that’s here and gone / A man gets tied up to the ground / He gives the world its saddest sound / Its saddest sound.” Simon brings us back down to earth, but in the nicest possible way. “I’d rather be a forest than a street / Yes I would, if I could, I surely would / I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet / Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would.” There is a lengthy instrumental section at the end in which I seemed to detect strong Irish traditional music influences.

When I thought about the next track, Cecilia, I kind of mentally dismissed it as a bit brash and noisy. This fresh listen changed all that. Certainly it has a spirited beginning, with up-tempo percussion and clapping spurring the vocalists along. “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.” By now a fast-strummed acoustic guitar and thumping bass drum have added to the lilt. “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 / Come on home.” I detected some persuasive acoustic guitar lead about here, as Simon took the song into the bedroom. “Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia / Up in my bedroom (making love) / I got up to wash my face / When I come back to bed / Someone’s taken my place.” Which probably explains why it is that his relationship with this girl is somewhat fraught. “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 / Come on home.” Who hasn’t been there at some time in their lives? But not everyone enjoys a happy ending. “Jubilation, she loves me again, / I fall on the floor and I laughing, / Jubilation, she loves me again, / I fall on the floor and I laughing.” In fact, he’s so ecstatic, he’s forgotten his English. The song fades with a da-da-da, and anyone of the millions familiar with this album will know that emerging out of that are the opening words of the next track, Keep The Customer Satisfied.

“Gee but it’s great to be back home, / Home is where I want to be. / I’ve been on the road so long my friend, / And if you came along / I know you couldn’t disagree.” This is a fast-paced folk-rock song with incredible acoustic guitar, drums and bass, while the Simon-led vocal harmonies are rich and wholesome. I detected some nice organ at about this point, while the addition of brass instruments adds interesting new textures as the chorus gets under way. “It’s the same old story / Everywhere I go, / I get slandered, / Libelled, / I hear words I never heard / In the Bible / And I’m one step ahead of the shoe shine / Two steps away from the county line / Just trying to keep my customers satisfied, / Satisfied.” But who are these customers and what is he providing them with? Drugs perhaps? Clearly the cops don’t like it, as the next verse makes patently clear. “Deputy sheriff said to me / Tell me what you come here for, boy. / You better get your bags and flee. / You’re in trouble boy, / And you’re heading into more.” With that the chorus is repeated, and the song ends in a frenetic rush of brass.

Fittingly, the next track and the last on Side 1 is a quiet, contemplative piece which also happens to be very beautiful. Few people have played the acoustic guitar as well. Garfunkel’s vocals are again angelic as he espouses the virtues of one of America’s greatest architects. My father was an architectural draughtsman, and he and my mother encouraged us all, around this time, to read Ayn Rand’s book ostensibly about Frank Lloyd Wright, The Fountainhead. So we were taught at a young age to appreciate individuality and creativity, which seems to be what Simon celebrates here. “So long, Frank Lloyd Wright. / I can’t believe your song is gone so soon. / I barely learned the tune / So soon / So soon.” The key to this album’s success is the arrangement of the other backing instruments. Here, again, gentle strings and what sounds like bongo drums pep up the action. “I’ll remember Frank Lloyd Wright. / All of the nights we’d harmonise till dawn. / I never laughed so long / So long / So long.” That seems to speak of a personal relationship with the man, but the chorus, sung in a lower voice by Simon, cherishes the man’s artistic contribution. “Architects may come and / Architects may go and / Never change your point of view. / When I run dry / I stop awhile and think of you.” And so enter one hauntingly beautiful flute, just to ensure we go out on a high note, with Garfunkel again taking us through the second verse, before ending with a reflective “so long, so long”. And yes, I think I did just detect Simon saying something like “so long already, Artie”.

Is it a bass harmonica? Certainly the defining sound on The Boxer, the opening track on Side 2 is a deep, throaty sound which provides an incredibly interesting texture. But that comes later. The song, just over 5 minutes long, opens with typically bright opening acoustic guitarwork from Simon. There are few frills at this stage on what seems like a classic folk song. “I am just a poor boy and my story’s seldom told / I’ve squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises / All lies and jest, still the man hears what he wants to hear / And disregards the rest, hmmmm.” This seems to be primarily Simon singing, although Garfunkel clearly joins in with “all lies and jest”. The strings kick in after the first verse, along with electric bass and, of course, that bass harmonica, which gives the song a steam-train-like impetus. “When I left my home and my family, I was no more than a boy / In the company of strangers / In the quiet of the railway station, runnin’ scared / Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters, where the ragged people go / Looking for the places only they would know.” The lyrics I downloaded have that chorus as “Li la li ...”, but of course author Humphries is correct, because the lyrics on the back cover are indeed “Lie-la-lie …” And suddenly it’s folk rock, as explosive drums and cymbals burst to the fore. But things settle again as the narrative resumes. “Asking only workman’s wages, I come lookin’ for a job, but I get no offers / Just a come-on from the whores on 7th avenue / I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome / I took some comfort there / Lie-la-lie.” Of course for us teenage boys in the rigidly conservative society that was apartheid South Africa, this reference to taking comfort with whores was incredibly exciting. In the midst of all this, Simon or is it Fred Carter Jr, find space for an interesting acoustic guitar lead solo. Meanwhile, our protagonist is stuck in cold, old NY. “Then I’m laying out my winter clothes / And wishing I was gone, / Going home / Where the New York City winters / Aren’t bleeding me / Leading me, Going home.” Then, as that bass harmonica chugs along, the pivotal point is reached. “In the clearing stands a boxer, / And a fighter by his trade / And he carries the reminders / Of every glove that laid him down / And cut him till he cried out / In his anger and his shame / ‘I am leaving, I am leaving’ / But the fighter still remains / Lie-la-lie.” Everything builds up to the point where the word “cut” is sung. It is a turning point, though I’m not entirely sure what the whole thing means.

Patrick Humphries insightfully says The Boxer is “a song of optimism, but optimism only earned by riding the punches of a cold and uncaring world”. Humphries, in his book, The Boy In The Bubble, offers other brilliant observations about the lyrics, but incredibly makes no reference to that bass harmonica, saying instead that Simon’s guitar, a thumping sax, and lush strings are the feature. But was it a bass harmonica? Fortunately Google’s questions answered service provided the solution. It says the sound is provided mainly by the guitars of Simon and Carter, a dobro played by Peter Drake “and most importantly, a bass harmonica (played by Charlie McCoy, one of the greatest Country music ‘session’ harmonica players in existence)”. What a masterstroke by Simon, though, to think of incorporating this sound into the mix – that is if it was indeed his idea.

Critics of the album would argue that after The Boxer, not much else could possibly pass muster. But this record is full of surprises. Baby Driver, the next song, opens with fast, bluesy acoustic guitar, soon joined by a tapped tambourine. And the lyrics seem to be partially autobiographical. “My daddy was the family bassman / My mamma was an engineer / And I was born one dark gray morn / With music coming in my ears / In my ears.” How’s that for an opening verse? The scene is set for a rollicking ride, which is spurred along by some loping bass, which along with the harmonies gives the song a Beach Boys feel, especially in the chorus. “They call me Baby Driver / And once upon a pair of wheels / Hit the road and I’m gone ah / What’s my number / I wonder how your engine feels. / Ba ba ba ba / Scoot down the road / What’s my number / I wonder how your engine feels.” There seems to be more than a snatch of sexual allusion there. The song develops like a good late Beatles song, with the inclusion of sublime sax and a keyboard/synthesiser sound which adds to the texture mix, along with the bassy sounds of what could be a tuba or trombone. “My daddy was a prominent frogman / My mamma`s in the Naval reserve / When I was young I carried a gun / But I never got the chance to serve / I did not serve.” He seems quite adamant about now serving in any combat zone, and at a time when the hippies were crying peace in Vietnam I don’t blame him. After the chorus, the narrative continues. “My daddy got a big promotion / My mamma got a raise in pay / There’s no-one home, we’re all alone / Oh come into my room and play / Yes we can play.” And, in one of Simon’s must upbeat songs, I think we can guess what sort of “play” he was after. Or can we? “I’m not talking about your pigtails / But I’m talking ’bout your sex appeal / Hit the road and I’m gone ah / What’s my number / I wonder how your engine feels. / Ba ba ba ba / Scoot down the road / What’s my number / I wonder how your engine feels.” Again, all a bit mysterious, but a great song nonetheless.

Then from the somewhat ridiculous to the absolutely sublime. The Only Living Boy In New York refers apparently to a period when Garfunkel was out of town filming in Mexico, and according to Humphries “stands as a touching farewell to the partner who had been at his side throughout their inexorable rise”. The Tom referred to is Tom Graph, Garfunkel’s nickname when they first started out as Tom and Jerry. “Tom, get your plane right on time. / I know your part’ll go fine. / Fly down to Mexico. / Da-n-da-da-n-da-n-da-da and here I am, / The only living boy in New York.” This is a quite beautiful song, its melody one of the highpoints in the Simon genre. “I get the news I need on the weather report. / I can gather all the news I need on the weather report. / Hey, I’ve got nothing to do today but smile. / Da-n-da-da-n-da-da-n-da-da here I am / The only living boy in New York.” But this philosophical approach seems to come unstuck as the song becomes edgier, with drums and bass picking up the mood. “Half of the time we’re gone but we don’t know where, / And we don’t know where.” There is some sublime harmonizing at this point which recalls the best of the Beatles. “Tom, get your plane right on time. / I know you’ve been eager to fly now. / Hey, let your honesty shine, shine, shine / Da-n-da-da-n-da-da-n-da-da / Like it shines on me / The only living boy in New York, / The only living boy in New York.” I like Simon’s reference to himself as a “boy”, not only here but also later on Graceland. This is the world view of someone who has no illusions about matters of the ego – he’s the direct opposite of your macho alpha male, happy to see himself as vulnerable and living at the whim of what life might hurl at him. In this case, he sees the end of an often frosty relationship with Garfunkel which, despite the fractiousness, led to the creation of some of the world’s greatest music. Small wonder he seems alone in the metropolis.

Why Don’t You Write Me is a far more upbeat song which whips you out of the reverie induced by its predecessor. A sprightly acoustic rhythm and lead guitar-led melody, backed by bass and drums, kickstarts a song which again, for me, has strong Sgt Pepper’s overtones, especially when the big brass section kicks in after the first verse. “Why don’t you write me / I’m out in the jungle / I’m hungry to hear you. / Send me a card, / I am waiting so hard / To be near you. / (La, la, la) / Why don’t you write?” That “la, la, la” is just so Beatles-like. Anyway, the song continues. “Something is wrong / And I know I got to be there. / Maybe I’m lost, / But I can’t make the cost / Of the airfare. / Tell me why / Why / Why / Tell me why / Why / Why.” Again, a Beatlesesque harmony, while the lyrics themselves have a playfulness with words which would have done the Liverpool lads proud. “Why don’t you write me, / A letter would brighten / My loneliest evening. / Mail it today / If it’s only to say / That you’re leaving me. / (La, la, la).” The bass surges along as the final verse takes on an almost manic tone. “Monday morning, sitting in the sun / Hoping and wishing for the mail to come. / Tuesday, never got a word, / Wednesday, Thursday, ain’t no sign, / Drank a half a bottle of iodine. / Friday, woe is me / Gonna hang my body from the highest tree. / Why don’t you write me?” Of course all this snail-mail induced angst would have been obviated if they had just thought of inventing e-mail a few decades earlier.

Some might argue, correctly, that the live recording of Bye Bye Love from a concert at Ames, Iowa, is somewhat incongruous on this album. But the fact remains that it has always been an integral part of the mix – and without it it would not be the same. A Felice and Boudleaux Bryant song, it starts with strongly strummed acoustic guitar, which is welcomed with wild applause. As the vocals get started, the audience join in with enthusiastic clapping, while the song itself again recalls the Beatles from the mid-1960s – more rock ‘n’ roll than folk rock. There is even a bit of a lead guitar solo near the end. For the record, the lyrics go: “Bye bye love / Bye bye happiness / Hello loneliness / I think I’m gonna cry / Bye bye love / Bye bye sweet caress / Hello emptiness / I feel like I could die / Bye bye my love, goodbye.” These were the days when songs could simply dwell on the issue of how one felt about either being in love or not. “There goes my baby / With someone new / She sure looks happy / I sure am blue / She was my baby / Till he stepped in / Goodbye to romance / That might have been.” After that chorus, the final verse. “I’m through with romance / I’m through with love / I’m through with counting / The stars above / And here’s the reason / That I’m so free / My loving baby / Is through with me.” The wild applause following the final chorus fades before a single gently strummed acoustic guitar emerges, setting the scene for the final, fundamentally beautiful, track.

Song For The Asking has a poetic quality which places it in a slot far above your common or garden successful pop song. Two pitch-perfect voices singing in harmony and some of the most expressive acoustic guitar playing you’ll be privileged to hear ensure that this song is indeed one for the asking. “Here is my song for the asking / Ask me and I will play / So sweetly, I’ll make you smile.” Simon clearly knew that his music had the pure and simple effect of lifting one’s spirits. “This is my tune for the taking / Take it, don’t turn away / I’ve been waiting all my life.” The singer-songwriter is only made whole when he or she performs and gives of his talent for the bliss of others. “Thinking it over, I’ve been sad / Thinking it over, I’d be more than glad / To change my ways for the asking.” Then, with the sort of subtle nuances that set John Lennon apart, he concludes: “Ask me and I will play / All the love that I hold inside.”

Who could have hoped for a more sublime ending to a marvelous album, and to over a decade of brilliance from the duo called Simon and Garfunkel?

Paul Simon

The 1970s, with the Beatles and Hendrix, Joplin and Jim Morrison, now all history, was to be an altogether different decade. But Paul Simon was to prove his longevity as a performer with several great solo albums, which we latched onto with alacrity.

The solo album, Paul Simon (1972), featuring the artist in a thick coat with a suspiciously real-looking fur hood hanging almost over his eyes, was a great hit with us, especially since the Jamaican-inspired first track, Mother And Child Reunion had become so popular. Considered one of the earliest examples of reggae by a white artist, this song is reputed to have its origins in a chicken and egg dish Simon saw on a menu in a restaurant in New York’s Chinatown. But let’s see what the Wikipedia oracles have to say.

Well, surprisingly little really. But what is instantly noticeable is the horde of musicians who joined Simon in making his debut post Simon and Garfunkel solo album. Released on January 14, 1972, the album was produced by old hand Roy Halee and Simon and is again classified as folk rock. Originally released on Columbia Records, Wikipedia says it is now with the Warner Brothers label. It adds that the “song-writing quality” revealed on The Only Living Boy In New York and Song For The Asking is “extended and combined with a new appreciation for the album as a complete and single work of art”.

There are “many autobiographical elements”, with several songs referring “directly or indirectly to his rocky marriage to Peggy (nee Harper), which ended in divorce in 1975”. These include Run That Body Down (Paul and Peg are mentioned by name) and Congratulations. Drugs and adolescence in urban areas are also themes, says Wikipedia, which adds that songs like Mother And Child Reunion and Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard, along with some percussion by Airto Moreira and Los Incas, “prefigure the fascination Simon had with world music, particularly on Graceland”.

As I said, we listened to this album avidly, so it is not surprising others our age did so around the globe. It reached No 4 in the US and No 1 in the UK and Japan. Now, some 37 years later, let’s give it a blast and see whether it was really that good.

Wow! I am stuck for superlatives to do justice to this album. It is fitting that it is simply titled Paul Simon, because finally we have the mature Simon, the complete item, putting together an album of his own work without Garfunkel, and he comes across as confident and self-assured. And, significantly, his virtuoso guitarwork – or that of the great musicians with which he surrounded himself – is often deeply rooted in the blues, which gives the album a depth possibly somewhat lacking on the earlier albums.

The weakest link, to my mind, is the opening track, which was also the most commercial. But that is on an album of works that are all superb, so is barely a criticism. Mother And Child Reunion, says Wikipedia, is “considered to be one of the first attempts at reggae music by a white musician (although some have pointed to the Beatles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da as an earlier example)”. It adds that the name “has its origin in a chicken-and-egg dish which Simon saw on a menu at the Chinese restaurant Say Eng Look in New York City’s Chinatown”. It certainly kicks off with reggae-sounding drums and a sprightly electric rhythm guitar which continues throughout the song. Gone are Garfunkel’s angelic harmonies, and instead the song is characterized by the backing vocals of Cissy Houston, Von Eva Sims, Renelle Stafford and Deirdre Tuck on the choruses. A feature of this album is that Simon’s lead vocals more than hold their own, and in my mind are one of its greatest strengths – along with his virtuoso guitarwork. This song, however, is somewhat repetitious, a fault not to be found on any of the other tracks. But let’s try to ascertain what he was singing about. “No I would not give you false hope / on this strange and mournful day / but the mother and child reunion / is only a motion away …” After this opening assault, the song becomes more intimate. “Oh, little darling of mine. / I can’t for the life of me / remember a sadder day / I know they say let it be / but it just don’t work out that way / and the course of the lifetime runs / over and over again.” It is hard to fathom if the mother and child scenario is to be taken literally. After the opening chorus is repeated, he sings: “Oh, little darling of mine / I just can’t believe it’s so / though it seems strange to say / I never been laid so low / in such a mysterious way / and the course of a lifetime runs / over and over again.” This talk of a lifetime running “over and over again” seems to allude to the chicken and egg scenario. In all relationships, I guess, it is difficult to say who causes a breakdown. Indeed, often it is simply a case of mutual incompatibility. Those female backing voices become more strident as the chorus is repeated “over and over again” as the song winds down. But this theme of collapsing relationships is taken up regularly as the album progresses.

The consummate beauty of Simon’s musical vision starts to become fully apparent on the next song, Duncan. I’ve done this an injustice down the years. I had a songbook with the chords for all the songs on this album, and tried playing them on guitar. There are some mean chord constructions here. But it is folly to expect to replicate these apparent folk songs on just a guitar, because much of the charm of the album arises from the wonderfully, wonderfully understated backing instrumentation. What this does is accentuate the Simon vocals, whilst at the same time giving each song the sort of wholesome body that was lacking on Song Book. Duncan starts with this splendid acoustic guitarwork, but bass and other instruments soon join the mix. I notice on the album cover that Los Incas provide flute, charango and percussion on the track. No bass? Whatever the instruments, this is Simon at the peak of his powers, vocally, as a writer and as an arranger.

Wikipedia says it recalls El Condor Pasa (If I Could) “with its wind instruments and emotional feel”. What I do know is that for randy teenagers, it spoke of some lewd goings on in the bedroom which was rare on a pop record. “Couple in the next room / Bound to win a prize / They’ve been going at it all night long / Well I’m trying to get some sleep / But these motel walls are cheap / Lincoln Duncan is my name / And here’s my song, here’s my song.” As noted above, a hallmark here is the array of flute/recorder sounds which whir into focus between verses, while Simon’s vocals are bold and expressive. “My father was a fisherman / My mama was a fisherman’s friend / And I was born in the boredom and the chowder / So when I reached my prime / I left my home in the Maritimes / Headed down the turnpike for New England, sweet New England.” It is probably one of his longest, most narrative songs. “Holes in my confidence / Holes in the knees of my jeans / I was left without a penny in my pocket / Oo-we I was about destituted / As a kid could be / And I wished I wore a ring / So I could hock it, I’d like to hock it.” A bit like the best Dylan songs, the backing on this rambling folk song is sufficiently varied and wholesome to keep one interested. “A young girl in a parking lot / Was preaching to a crowd / Singing sacred songs and reading / From the Bible / Well I told her I was lost / And she told me all about the Pentecost / And I seen that girl as the road / To my survival.” How many virgin boys couldn’t relate to this encounter, this loss of innocence? “Just later on the very same night / When I crept to her tent with a flashlight / And my long years of innocence ended / Well she took me to the woods / Saying here comes something and it feels so good / And just like a dog I was befriended / I was befriended.” I did find that simile rather odd, though. How could one possibly compare a human sexual relationship with that between a dog and a “befriending” person? Then he drops in a bit of ambiguity. What, indeed, were his fingers busy with? “Oh, oh, what a night / Oh what a garden of delight / Even now that sweet memory lingers / I was playin’ my guitar / Lying underneath the stars /Just thanking the Lord for my fingers / For my fingers.” Obviously he was grateful for his fingers which enabled him to play such good guitar. But the earlier inference was that it was through his sense of touch that he experienced that garden of earthly delights. The song unwinds with those wind instruments blowing delightedly as Simon repeats “I know, I know, I know, I know”. Altogether, a great song.

But now we get to the truly interesting part of the album, where complex acoustic guitarwork is the order of the day, marking Simon (and his accompanists) as masters. Everything Put Together Falls Apart is just under two minutes of genius. The acoustic guitar introduction is accompanied by Simon humming “Mm-mm”, before opening with one of the least used words in popular music. “Paraphernalia / Never hides your broken bones / And I don’t know why / You want to try / Mm, it’s plain to see you’re on your own / Oh, huh, I ain’t blind, no / Some folks are crazy / Others walk that borderline / Watch what you’re doing / Taking downs to get off to sleep / And ups to start you on your way / After a while they’ll change your style / M-m-m, I see it happening every day / Oh, spare your heart / Everything put together / Sooner or later falls apart / There’s nothing to it, nothing to it / You can cry / You can lie / For all the good it’ll do you / You can die / But when it’s done / And the police come, and they lay you down for dead / Just remember what I said.” It is a warning against drug abuse just as powerful in its way as Neil Young’s Needle And The Damage Done. The song also seems to allude to the entropy concept in physics, whereby order tends to disorder. But really the lyrics have, for me, been pretty much incidental. It is the brilliant music, encompassing Simon’s virtuoso guitarwork and Larry Knechter’s harmonium and electric piano, which make this such an enriching experience. It is the sort of sound Simon would no doubt have loved to have achieved on Song Book, but things had changed markedly with the advent of folk rock enabling songwriters like Simon to have the best of both worlds. Another interesting facet is Simon’s vocals. In the absence of Garfunkel’s contralto he provides his own, such as the high-pitched “just remember what I said”. A truly delightful song.

The next track, Run That Body Down, we are told refers to Simon’s relationship to his wife Peg. Are they just wearing themselves out? The song opens as a slow, looping folk-rock number, with bass, drums and acoustic guitar playing another inventive chord sequence, which culminates every so often in a da-da da-da da-da. I notice on the album credits that David Spinoza joins Simon on acoustic guitar while Mike Manieri is on vibes, Jerry Hahn on electric guitar, Ron Carter on bass and Hal Blaine on drums. So it’s a big band, and they provide a fulsome yet mellow sound which never loses its understated subtlety. “Went to my doctor yesterday / (A-a-a-a-ah) She said I seem to be okay / (A-a-a-a-ah) She said / ‘Paul, you better look around / How long you think that you can / Run that body down? / How many nights you think that you can / Do what you been do-o-in’ / Who, now who you foolin?.” So his female doctor has warned him his late nights are wearing him out. “I came back home and I went to bed / (A-a-a-ah) I was resting my head / My wife came in and she said / ‘What’s wrong, sweet boy, what’s wrong?’ / (A-a-a-ah) I told her what’s wrong / I said ‘Peg, you better look around / How long you think that you can / Run that body down? / How many nights you think that you can / Do what you been do-o-in’ / Who-o, now, who you foolin?’” So he repeats the doctor’s advice to her, and this after she’d been so kind and gentle in the face of his malaise. A splendid lead guitar solo, first with wah-wah then without, ups the ante before one is jolted back to reality by a rather sudden: “Kid, you better look around / How long you think that you can / Run that body down? / How many nights you think that you can / Do what you been do-o-in’ / Who-o, now, who you foolin? / Who-o, now, who you foolin?” There are no pyrotechnics here, but in terms of providing a rich, interesting sound this song hits all the right notes.

Paul Simon’s genius on the acoustic guitar shines on Armistice Day, the final track on Side 1. The song starts with the guitar and vocals in tandem, but it isn’t long before that complex guitarwork has the song rocketing along in a bluesy, almost jazzy manner. “On Armistice Day / The Philharmonic will play / But the songs that we sing / Will be sad.” The whirring guitar is by now in full flow. “Shufflin brown tunes / Hanging around.” Then follows an “ahoo” and a “M-m-m-m-m-m-m” as the song bustles and bristles. “No long drawn blown out excuses / Were made / When I needed a friend she was there / Just like an easy chair.” Someone to lean on, or in this case, sit on. “Armistice Day / Armistice Day / That’s all I really wanted to say.” The intensity rises as the bongo drums of percussionist Airto Moreira and the horns of Fred Lisius and John Schroer, pump out a rhythm. “Oh I’m weary from waiting / In Washington D.C. / I’m coming to see my Congressman / But he’s avoiding me / Weary from waiting down in Washington D.C.” The song, with drums and bass prominent, is flying full tilt at this point. “Oh Congresswoman / Won’t you tell that Congressman / I’ve waited such a long time / I’ve about waited all I can / Oh Congresswoman, / Won’t you tell that Congressman.” The acoustic guitar remains the driving force as the song mellows and winds down to the sound of some languidly bent bass notes. Another masterpiece.

The opening track on Side 2 surges off from the outset at a fast and furious pace. Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard has an exotic feel, with two acoustic guitars, Moreira’s percussion and rollicking bass from Russell George. His vocals again crisp and clear, but this time with a slight “foreign” inflection, Simon launches into this rollicking tale about I don’t know quite what. “The mama pajama rolled out of bed / And she ran to the police station / When the papa found out he began to shout / And he started the investigation / It’s against the law / It was against the law / What the mama saw / It was against the law.” Well by now one is left thinking – what is against the law? Do we ever discover? What I do know is that that acoustic guitar sound is again superb, and along with the percussion gives the song a lovely rich, chunky texture. “The mama looked down and spit on the ground / Every time my name gets mentioned / The papa said oy if I get that boy / I’m gonna stick him in the house of detention / Well I’m on my way / I don’t know where I’m going / I’m on my way / I’m taking my time / But I don’t know where / Goodbye to Rosie the Queen of Corona / See you, me and Julio / Down by the schoolyard / See you, me and Julio / Down by the schoolyard / Me and Julio down by the schoolyard.” I have to say when I hear this song I kind of miss the “you” in the chorus, because it sounds a bit clumsy. Anyway, where is this thing heading? “In a couple of days they come and take me away / But the press let the story leak / And when the radical priest / Come to get me released / We was all on the cover of Newsweek / And I’m on my way / I don’t know where I’m going / I’m on my way / I’m taking my time / But I don’t know where / Goodbye to Rosie the Queen of Corona / See you, me and Julio / Down by the schoolyard / See you, me and Julio / Down by the schoolyard / Me and Julio down by the schoolyard.” I think the real point about this song is that it is so original. Millions of songs have been written by pop musicians, but it is only a couple of hundred, maybe a few thousand, that are sublimely new and original. These are the sorts of songs which made this era such a goldmine of creativity. Could Simon keep up the quality on this album? Of course he could.

Peace Like A River, naturally, starts with more utterly brilliant acoustic guitar, backed by Victor Montanez’s drums and Joe Osborn’s bass. Those chord arrangements are typically complex and compelling, propelling the song on with a relentless energy. “Ah, peace like a river ran through the city / Long past the midnight curfew / We sat starry-eyed / (Ooh, oh) We were satisfied / And I remember / Misinformation followed us like a plague / Nobody knew from time to time / If the plans were changed / (Oh, oh, oh) If the plans were changed.” That reminds me of the time I spent as a military conscript. It was part of the military’s method to keep everyone in the dark. Misinformation flowed, and you were only ever told what they wanted you to know. It got to the point where at times combat troops did not know whether they were heading off on an actual mission or a training operation. The song seems to have a strong political message. “You can beat us with wires / You can beat us with chains / You can run out your rules / But you know you can’t outrun the history train / I seen a glorious day, (aiee …)” That last word, like all the others in parentheses, are not on the album cover lyrics. And it is sung in a wonderful high pitch, showing just what sort of vocal range Simon was capable off. The ensuing acoustic guitar solo is superb, before the mood changes. “Ah, four in the morning / I woke up from out of my dreams / Nowhere to go but back to sleep / But I’m reconciled / Oh, oh, oh, I’m going to be up for a while / Oh, oh, oh, I’m going to be up for a while / Oh, oh, oh, I’m going to be up for a while.” And that last “up for a while” leaves matters suspended, which enables the acoustic guitar to take all those loose strings and tie them up in a final frenzy of breakneck activity.

Papa Hobo, the next track, sees the pace calmed as a slow, mellow acoustic guitar and bass harmonica (Charlie McCoy again), and Larry Knechtel’s harmonium render another work in rich textures. Simon’s vocals come over again as untarnished and clear. He hums, “Mm…”, before unleashing some interesting lyrics I hope to dissect. “It’s carbon and monoxide / The old Detroit perfume / It hangs on the highways / In the morning / And it lays you down by noon / Oh Papa Hobo / You can see that I’m dressed like a schoolboy / But I feel like a clown / It’s a natural reaction I learned / In this basketball town.” Detroit, even someone from South Africa knows, is Motown, motor city, where exhaust fumes are what you’d expect to smell on the air, because it’s the place’s lifeblood. Yet as I write, with the economic slump, it seems the very heart of the city is being torn out as the major automakers, as they call them, are fighting to survive. As that bass harmonica hums, the song continues. “Sweep up / I’ve been sweeping up the tips I’ve made / I’m living on Gatorade / Planning my getaway / Detroit, Detroit / Got a hell of a hockey team / Got a left-handed way / Of making a man sign up on that / Automotive dream, oh yeah, oh yeah / Oh, Papa Papa Hobo / Could you slip me a ride? / Well, it’s just after breakfast / I’m in the road / And the weatherman lied.” The song ends with sprightly acoustic guitar alongside that bass harmonica. Need I say it: another superb song.

Then, simplicity itself – or rather complexity so smoothly executed it sounds seductively simple. Hobo’s Blues features Simon on strummed acoustic guitar and then the master himself, violinst Stephane Grappelli. This, surely, must be the dream of any young musician: to play simple rhythm guitar alongside one of the world’s greatest fiddle players. You can just picture Grappelli’s fingers as they fly up and down the neck of the violin …

But that reverie ends with a bump as Paranoia Blues muddies the water, thanks to the whirring, stirring bottleneck guitar of one Stefan Grossman. Interestingly, Simon plays percussion on this track, and of course he sings, giving the song a strong, bluesy edge. “I got some so-called friends / They’ll smile right to my face / Oh, when my back is turned / They’d like to stick it to me / Yes they would / Oh no no, oh no no / There’s only one thing I need to know / Whose side are you on?” Again, the sound textures are engrossing, with that bottleneck guitar really rattling along. “I fly into J.F.K. / My heart goes boom boom boom / I know that customs man / He’s going to take me / To that little room / Oh no no. Oh no, no / There’s only one thing I need to know / Whose side are you on, whose side are you on?” Before launching into that chorus, just a reflection on paranoia, which is something anyone who has smoked illegal stuff like marijuana knows all about. We used to smoke the stuff regularly on the sand dunes of Bonza Bay beach, and with uncanny regularity would come across this older guy with short-cropped hair walking his dog. Of course we were convinced he was a plain-clothed cop – but nothing he ever did could substantiate this. But back to this song. The tempo rises as he bemoans his own predicament. “I got the paranoia blues / Fnom knockin’ around in New York City / Where they roll you for a nickel / And they stick you for the extra dime / Anyway you choose / You’re bound to lose in New York City / Oh, I just got out in the nick of time / Well, I just got out in the nick of time.” The sound just gets richer as horns join the mix, but then the song halts momentarily before the next verse resumes. “Once I was down in Chinatown / I was eating some Lin’s Chow Fon / I happened to turn around / And when I looked I see / My chow fon’s gone / Oh no, no, oh no, no / There’s only one thing I need to know / Whose side are you on, whose side are you on? / Well, there’s only one thing I need to know / Whose side, whose side, whose side?” Another blazing success whirs to a close, before the advent of one of Simon’s most sarcastic songs.

Congratulations is the concluding song on the album, and as noted earlier it is a sad song about a marriage on the verge of breakdown. Big open chords and lumbering bass launch a song characterized by bluesy acoustic guitar and even some piano and organ from Larry Knechtel. “Congratulations / Oh, seems like you’ve done it again / And I ain’t had such misery / Since I don’t know when / Oh, and I don’t know when, oh, and I don’t know when.” There is a lovely “hanging” sound achieved on the guitar, as chords are held and then roll away. “I notice so many people / Slipping away / And many more waiting in the lines / In the courtrooms today / Oh, in the courtrooms today.” Isn’t that a poignant picture of the cold, harsh reality of the divorce courts? Then Simon lays it on the line, as the song becomes more emphatic. “Love is not a game / Love is not a toy / Love’s no romance / Love will do you in / And love will wash you out / And needless to say / You won’t stand a chance, you won’t stand a chance.” Now, as he becomes more impassioned, I thought he sang “I’m hungry for love…”, which would have contradicted what he’d just said. Instead the words go: “I’m hungry for learning / Won’t you answer me please / Can a man and a woman / Live together in peace, / Oh, live together in peace?” The song ends with some lovely, jazz-like bass and piano, rounding off a superb album.

There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (1973) was a much-listened to album in our family as my schooldays ended and I mulled over how to avoid the army and indeed what to do with my life. A family friend, Mark Caldwell, who spent many a weekend at our place in Bonza Bay, nicknamed me Nikon for a while, after a line from Kodachrome, the opening song on the album. Simon proved adept at taking the music of different nationalities and making it his own. But let’s see what Wikipedia has to say about it.

Released on May 5 of 1973, the album was produced by Simon, Roy Halee and Phil Ramone and Paul Samwell-Smith. And, for the first time, it is classified as “rock”, though I’m sure we’ll find it is again a lovely mix of folk and rock, with various other genres thrown in for good measure.

Wikipedia says it was Simon’s “most rush-released studio album”, coming out just 16 months after Paul Simon. And, contradicting its earlier categorization, it says the album “contains songs covering several styles and genres, such as gospel (Loves Me Like A Rock) and Dixieland (Take Me To The Mardi Gras)”.

We loved the album, but what did the critics think at the time? Well Wikipedia says it is “arguably considered his best effort (due to its rich sound and crafted production) at least until the release of Graceland in 1986”. It received two Grammy nominations in 1974, for best male pop vocal performance and album of the year, and was ranked at No 267 in that 2003 Rolling Stone magazine list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. And, says Wikipedia, it was a bigger hit that its predecessor, reaching No 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. Incredibly, George Harrison’s Living in the Material World, which I have not even heard of, kept it from the top spot. In the UK, the album reached No 4. The lead single, Kodachrome, reached No 2 in the US. He also had success with Loves Me Like A Rock, American Tune and Take Me To The Mardi Gras.

But let’s give the album a fresh listen after all these years. The 36-year-old vinyl should hopefully still be playable.

It was more than playable. It was beautiful. And, like its predecessor, you in fact have to get past the opening, more commercial, track, in order to find the real brilliance of a Paul Simon probably really at the height of his creative powers.

At the outset, mention must be made of the inventive cover design. Open out the gatefold cover and you have all nine songs cleverly encapsulated with appropriate images, the most striking being a colourful comet which takes the eye from the front (right-hand side) to the back, and lands at a photograph of Simon, shirtless, with his child on his lap. Inside, he has repeated what he did on the first solo album by including the lyrics (often a few words are omitted, I noted) and most of the artists peforming on each song, as well as the engineers and where the song was recorded. Here too, there are six photographs, either of Simon himself, or of others who perform on the album, including the Dixie Hummingbirds.

Gone are the dark days of Simon’s I Am A Rock morose introspection. Sure Kodachrome still contains intelligent, semi-autobiographical (I suspect) lyrics, but it has a decided upbeat feel, and Simon’s voice is strong and full-bodied. And yes, this opening track is unashamedly rock music, fast-paced, bright and upbeat, despite the sentiments in the opening line. The album is characterized by the use of both piano and organ which flesh out the area so often neglected between the guitars and the rhythm section. So this song gets straight into the melody, and the lines we obviously enjoyed as our own school careers reached their end. “When I think back on all the crap I’ve learned in highschool / It’s a wonder I can think at all / Though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me much / I can read the writings on the walls.” Of course Simon did have a good education, so I’m not quite sure where he’s heading with this one, but we certainly identified with that opening sentiment. And so to the chorus, which seems to celebrate colour photography, or at least the illusions fostered by it. “Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colours / They give us the greens of summers / Makes you think all the worlds a sunny day, oh yeah / I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph / So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away.” Simon is joined on guitar by Pete Carr, while Jimmy Johnson is listed as playing electric guitar, David Hood bass, Roger Hawkins drums and Barry Beckett keyboards. “If you took all the girls I knew / When I was single / Brought them all together for one night / I know they’d never match / My sweet imagination / Everything looks worse in black and white.” And so to the chorus, before the song plays out on a somewhat frenzied note with: “Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away, / Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away / Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away.” Further on he sings “Mama don’t take my Kodachrome and leave your boy so far from home / Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away.” It is a great song, and small wonder it became a hit. But now the album becomes a whole lot more interesting.

Tenderness is a slow, low, gospel-inspired masterpiece, with brilliant jazzy piano, bass and drums, and of course the substantial impact of the Dixie Hummingbirds on backing vocals – although at times they take the lead. Simon opens in style with: “What can I do / What can I do / Much of what you say is true / I know you see through me / But there’s no tenderness / Beneath your honesty.” The crooning backing vocals enrich this song immensely, while there is also a lovely use of horns arranged by Allen Toussaint. Again, I notice, Simon is not the guitarist, with those duties left to Cornell Dupree. But his vocals are top-notch. “Oh, right and wrong / Right and wrong / Ooh, never helped us get along / You say you care for me / But there’s no tenderness / Beneath your honesty.” Can there be too much honesty in a relationship? I certainly think so. It is incumbent on a spouse to protect his or her partner from their shortcomings. In fact, is that not what love is all about – helping shepherd your partner through life. Anyway, at this point, Simon seems to get down to the point of his message. “You and me were such good friends / What’s your hurry? / You and me could make amends / I’m not worried / I’m not worried / Oh, honesty, / Oh, honesty / Ooh, it’s such a waste of energy / No you don’t have to lie to me / Just give me some tenderness / Beneath your honesty / You don’t have to lie to me / Just give me some tenderness.” And the full impact of those Dixie Hummingbirds comes together in the singing, in a rich baritone, of that last word. Again, another unique Simon song, completely unorthodox and therefore memorable.

And then he takes us to the Mardi Gras for a bit of fun, with the help of the Onward Brass Band, one of whose members, playing not a brass instrument but in fact a clarinet, is featured on the inside cover. Simon is back on acoustic guitar and the opening introduction is suitably superb. “C’mon take me to the Mardi Gras / Where the people sing and play / Where the dancing is elite / And there’s music in the street / Both night and day.” The bass and drums kick in early, giving the song a lively lilt. “Hurry take me to the Mardi Gras / In the city of my dreams / You can legalize your lows / You can wear your summer clothes / In the New Orleans.” Of course the famous city of jazz would be laid low a few decades later by Hurricane Katrina. But back then it was alive and well. Anyway, at this point, one Rev Claude Jeter injects his falsetto voice into the mix. I always thought it was Simon’s voice, but no, Jeter it is who sings: “And I will lay my burden down / Rest my head upon that shore / And when I wear that starry crown / I won’t be wanting anymore.” There is appropriately a strong biblical quality to that verse, given that the reverend was singing it. And he keeps in the mix as a backing vocalist as Simon sings the final verse. “Take your burdens to the Mardi Gras / Let the music wash your soul / You can mingle in the street / You can jingle to the beat of the Jelly Roll.” The song concludes with a lengthy instrumental section in which the brass band is prominent, while Simon sings things like “Tumba, tumba, tumba, Mardi Gras / Tumba, tumba, tumba, day …” before the song fades.

And then it is time for some more sublime acoustic guitarwork, with Simon joined by David Spinozza and Alexander Gafa on the instrument. It is impossible to say who is responsible, therefore, for the opening bars, but one has to imagine Simon lays down the basic melody and the others embellish. This is Something So Right, and it is another little gem. It starts slow and subtle, with full-bodied bass and the other guitars soon fleshing out the sound. “You’ve got the cool water / When the fever runs high / You’ve got the look of lovelight in your eyes / And I was in crazy motion / Till you calmed me down / It took a little time / But you calmed me down.” I’m a trifle confused about the differences between keyboard, piano and vibes, but these, according to the album sleeve, are all played in an understated way as the chorus is sung in a gentle but upbeat way. “When something goes wrong / I’m the first to admit it / I’m the first to admit it / And the last one to know / when something goes right / Well it’s likely to lose me, mm / It’s apt to confuse me / It’s such an unusual sight / Oh, I can’t, I can’t get used to something so right / Something so right.” I won’t attempt to ascertain what that’s all about, but clearly Simon had relationship issues… Suddenly, however, we are transported to the world’s biggest construction. “They’ve got a wall in China / It’s a thousand miles long / To keep out the foreigners they made it strong / And I’ve got a wall around me / That you can’t even see / It took a little time / To get next to me.” It’s a clever analogy. After that long chorus is repeated, he makes another observation which is so very true. “Some people never say the words / I love you / It’s not their style / To be so bold / Some people never say the words / I love you / But like a child they’re longing / to be told.” This may be a mellow song, but there is a point here where the bass guitar really rocks alongside some grand electric lead guitar. Strings, arranged by Quincy Jones, soar alongside a flurry of flutes as the song reaches its conclusion. Sadly, words will never do justice to the song I have just heard, so please do yourself a favour and find this song and listen to it.

The cover art for the final track on Side 1, One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor, is very clever. A green chair stands on a floor, while a red one hands suspended from the roof. Is this a variation on the saying one man’s meat is another man’s poison? Barry Beckett’s piano plays a prominent part on this song, which starts with some wonderful slow bass, a tinkling piano and drums, before the thing halts and a bass-note arpeggio (is it?) is performed on the piano, laying the platform for another Simon vocal extravaganza. “There’s been some hard feelings here / About some words that were said / Been some hard feelings here / And what is more / There’s been a bloody purple nose / And some bloody purple clothes / That were messing up the lobby floor / It’s just apartment house rules / So all you apartment fools / Remember one man’s ceiling / is another man’s floor! / Remember: one man’s ceiling / is another man’s floor.” So this is literally about living in an apartment block. Bizarre that this is the first time I’ve divined the nature of the lyrics. The lesson is, if you live cheek by jowl, be considerate! Pete Carr is on electric lead guitar, and he provides a fine solo as the song rocks along, with that piano always in close attendance. “There’s been some strange goings on / And some folks have come and gone / Like the elevator man don’t work no more / I heard a racket in the hall / And I thought I heard a call / But I never opened up my door / It’s just apartment house sense / It’s like apartment rents / Remember one man’s ceiling / is another man’s floor! / One man’s ceiling / is another man’s floor.” As the mood intensifies musically, so does the message. “There’s an alley / In the back of my building / Where some people congregate in shame / I was walking with my dog / And the night was black with smog / When I thought I heard somebody / Call my name.” Talk about paranoia! I don’t know who were congregating in shame, but today it is the lot of the smokers to do so, no matter the weather. Anyway, the song plays out with the lines “Ah- remember one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor! / One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor!” repeated, before a closing section repeats that opening bluesy piano sequence. Another fine, fine work.

As I said, this is one of the great rock albums of all time, and how better to start Side 2 than with the remarkable American Tune. A simple strummed acoustic guitar sets Simon on his way on a melody which I see, from Wikipedia, is based on a tune by JS Bach. “Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken, / and many times confused / And I’ve often felt forsaken, / and certainly misused. / But it’s all right, it’s all right, / I’m just weary to my bones / Still, you don’t expect to be / bright and bon vivant / So far away from home, / so far away from home.” With the bass having kicked in early, the song flows as rhythmically as the lyrics. A feature is the lovely steely sound of Simon’s guitar strings, with the squeak of chord changes often quite audible, but never off-putting. “I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered / Don’t have a friend who feels at ease / Don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered / Or driven to its knees. / But it’s all right, all right, / We’ve lived so well so long / Still, when I think of the road we’re travelling on, / I wonder what went wrong, / I can’t help it / I wonder what went wrong.” Strings arranged by Del Newman launch the listener into the air as Simon takes us aloft. “And I dreamed I was flying. / I dreamed my soul rose unexpectedly, / and looking back down at me, / Smiled reassuringly, / And I dreamed I was dying. / And far above, my eyes could clearly see / The Statue of Liberty, / Sailing away to sea / And I dreamed I was flying.” To me, who has never visited the US, this is a classic piece of Americana, every bit as important as Liberty herself. Inspired, Simon then pours into history, and into the oeuvre of the contemporary space pioneers. “We come on a ship they call the Mayflower, / We come on a ship that sailed the moon / We come at the age’s most uncertain hour / And sing the American tune / But it’s all right, it’s all right / You can’t be forever blessed / Still, tomorrow’s gonna be another working day / And I’m trying to get some rest, / That’s all, I’m trying to get some rest.” It is a curious note to end on, but to me it speaks of the need for certainty and continuity. If tomorrow is another ordinary working day, it means the country is on an even keel. The Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times”, springs to mind. Treasure the ordinariness of another working day, because for millions, possibly billions, that luxury does not exist. And yes, it is a song like American Tune that is able to inspire such thoughts, because here in Paul Simon we had a songwriter with depth, a literary man whose lyrics are the measure of his mind. Are there such writers out there today?

Some might argue, in light of the above, that the next song, Was A Sunny Day, undermines all that I have said. Is this just a trivial bit of fun? Well what I do know is that a simple idea has provided the framework for a bit of musical magic. Simon again starts with an acoustic guitar flourish, ably backed by Bob Cranshaw’s bass. There is a brief hiatus before the Simon vocals, backed by Maggie and Terre Roche, kick in. “Was a sunny day / Not a cloud was in the sky / Not a negative word was heard / From the people passing by / Was a sunny day / All the birdies in the trees / And the radio’s singing song / All the favorite melodies.” So the scene is set, abetted by Airto Moreira’s percussion. “He was a navy man / Stationed in Newport News (what a lovely name for place) / She was a highschool queen / With nothing left to lose / She was a highschool queen / With nothing really left to lose.” The chorus is sung again with great joy de vivre, before the final verse. “Her name was Lorelei / She was his only girl / She called him Speedoo / But his Christian name was Mister Earl / She called him Speedoo / But his Christian name was Mister Earl.” Curious Christian and nicknames, but then this is a curious song, and all the more delightful for it.

Like Lennon and McCartney, Paul Simon had the knack of being able to take a simple English expression and turn it into a memorable song. Though I’m not sure this isn’t just good old homespun common sense. Learn How To Fall starts with typically complex but flowing and listenable acoustic guitar. Drums and bass add a rock beat which slows ahead of Simon’s perfectly enunciated vocals. “You got to learn how to fall / Before you learn to fly / And mama, mama it ain’t no lie / Before you learn to fly / Learn how to fall.” Carson Witsett adds a nice twinkling organ as the song moves to the second verse. “You got to drift in the breeze / Before you set your sails / It’s an occupation where the wind prevails / Before you set your sails / Drift in the breeze.” My brother, AB, used to love the term, those who fail to plan plan to fail, and I guess that’s what he’s getting at here. But the song becomes more strident. “Oh and it’s the same old story / Ever since the world began / Everybody got the runs for glory / Nobody stop and scrutinize the plan / Nobody stop and scrutinize the plan.” Look I don’t know much about American English, but in our version getting the runs means diarrheoa – if that’s how we spell it, damn it! Although not listed on the album, it is the horns which give the song urgency at this point, along with a fine lead guitar break from Jerry Pucket (I assume, as he is listed as also being on guitar). The song mellows again for a repeat of the opening verse, which underscores yet again what a wonderful melody Simon has created here.

Some album have a sublime track which stands out above the rest by dint of its sheer beauty, and St Judy’s Comet is such a song. It is a love song by a father totally besotted with his young son. Fittingly, it starts with gentle acoustic guitar and Roger Hawkins’s percussion, which are joined by understated lead guitar and bass. It is the intimacy of the song which tugs at the heartstrings. The lyrics off the Internet contain emotive words not cited on the album sleeve. So in their version, the song starts with an “Oo”, which does not appear in the sleeve lyrics. But it is an integral part of the song, so let’s retain it. “Oo, little sleepy boy / Do you know what time it is? / Well the hour of your bedtime’s long been past / And though I know you’re fighting it / I can tell when you rub your eyes / You’re fading fast, oh fading fast.” What, a child of three or four perhaps?” Barry Beckett plays keyboard and vibes, but what I hear is a piano, adding just the right touches to this remarkable tune. Because the chorus is one of the most beautiful, lyrically and musically, in the history of modern rock. “Won’t you run come see St Judy’s Comet / Roll across the skies / And leave a spray of diamonds in its wake / I long to see St Judy’s Comet / Sparkle in your eyes when you awake / Oh, when you wake.” I might qualify what I’ve just written by pointing to the clumsiness of “run come”, but the way it is sung the “run” seems to get lost, so … A hallmark of this song is Pete Carr’s almost jazz-like electric guitar, which chirps along, adding an audio sparkle alongside that of the comet. “Little boy / Won’t you lay your body down / Little boy / Won’t you close your weary eyes / Ain’t nothing flashing but the fireflies.” Isn’t that a soothing thought. I recall my wonder as a young child on first encountering fireflies and glow worms in the bush not far from our home in Bonza Bay. Comets and fireflies speak of the wonderful joys of unsullied childhood. But wait, Paul’s getting a bit peeved, because his son is not succumbing to his supposedly soporific song. “Well I sang it once and I sang it twice / I’m going to sing it three times more / I’m going to stay till your resistance / Is overcome / ’Cause if I can’t sing my boy to sleep / Well it makes your famous daddy look so dumb / Look so dumb.” What harm, I suppose, in throwing in a bit of a boast. The fact is that Simon was a daddy famous for his singing. And so he sings again the lovely chorus about the comet, and invites his son to catch some shut-eye. “Little boy, little boy / Won’t you lay your body down / Little boy, little boy / Won’t you close your weary eyes / Ain’t nothing flashing but the fireflies.” There is probably a degree of exasperation as he repeats the opening verse, but then again it is so beautiful one can’t imagine Paul Simon actually losing patience, as he convinces his son he is “fading fast, oh fading fast”.

And so, all too soon, the album comes to an end with the song, Loves Me Like A Rock, which again features the vocal group the Dixie Hummingbirds, who open with some rich, well, humming. It’s what they do. Then, as Simon launches into the gospel-like lyrics, the birds bring their vocal textures to bear with the words in brackets. “When I was a little boy, (when I was just a boy) /And the devil would call my name (when I was just a boy) / I’d say “now who do … / Who do you think you’re fooling?” (when I was just a boy) / I’m a consecrated boy (when I was just a boy) / Singer in my Sunday choir / Oh, my mama loves, she loves me / She gets down on her knees and hugs me / She loves me like a rock / She loves me like the rock of ages / And she loves me / She love me, love me, love me, love me …” With just bass and drums backing Simon’s acoustic guitar, it is that rich vocal flow which adds the textures that make this such a musical feast. Indeed, the song seems to presage Graceland which was way in the future. Oh and then a lovely uncredited saxophone enters the fray about the time the second verse gets under way. “When I was grown to be a man (grown to be a man) / And the devil would call my name (grown to be a man) / I’d say ‘now who do … / Who do you think you’re fooling?’ grown to be a man) / I’m a consummated man (grown to be a man) / I can snatch a little purity / My mama loves me, she loves me / She get down on her knees and hug me / She loves me like a rock / She rocks me like the rock of ages / And she loves me / She love me, love me, love me, love me …” He or she who hasn’t known a mother’s love has missed one of life’s greatest experiences. Rock solid, man. It’s programmed into them. Or it should be. But what about these political aspirations? “And if I was president (was the president) / The minute Congress call my name (was the president) / I’d say ‘who do … / Who do you think you're fooling?’ (who do you think you’re fooling) / I’ve got the Presidential Seal (was the president) / I’m up on the Presidential Podium.” And then, directly from that, he returns to his mother’s love, which makes one think she just makes him feel presidential. “My mama loves me / She loves me / She get down on her knees and hug me / Like she loves me like a rock / She rocks me like the rock of ages / And loves me …” As those beautiful voices chant out this refrain, the song gradually fades … leaving one wishing the album would go on and on.

This was surely one of the great albums in the history of rock, and happily we were there, receptive as teenagers could be, to lap it up.

Wikipedia provides one snippet of interesting info about the song Kodachrome, which it notes is “named after the Kodak film of the same name”. It says Kodak required that the album note that Kodachrome is a trademark of Kodak. Well I don’t see anything on the South African (interpak) pressing. Incredibly, while the song was a “major hit” in the US, it was not released as a single in the UK, says Wikipedia, because it “could not be played on BBC radio due to its trademarked name”. Which seems so petty I doubt even its ugly step-daughter, the SABC, would have followed suit.

Still Crazy After All These Years

It was about this time that we kind of lost interest in Paul Simon as various other musicians started to hog our attention. For that reason, I don’t recall the album, Still Crazy After All These Years, said to be his finest solo effort, but certainly do know the title track and the other hits, Slip Slidin’ Away and Late In The Evening, probably mainly from that later Concert in Central Park album, and of course airplay on the radio. Looking at the cover on Wikipedia it rings no bells at all. The mustached Simon, with cowboy hat, looks kinda out of character, and apart from those hit songs, I don’t recognise the titles of most of the others. Clearly this is an unpardonable omission which will one day be rectified. But let’s see what Wikipedia has to say about it.

Released in October, 1975, my first year out of high school, it is classified as rock and was produced by Simon and Phil Ramone. Wikipedia says the album produced four US Top 40 hits with Gone At Last (No 23), My Little Town (No 9, and credited to Simon and Garfunkel, who reunited with Simon for the first time since 1970), 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover (No 1) and the title track, which amazingly only reached No 40. It won a Grammy for best album in 1976, as Graceland would do 11 years later. On the album, Simon credits studio drummer Steve Gadd, says Wikipedia, for creating the “unique drum beat that became the hook for 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”.

Looking at the personnel who performed on the album, it is clear Simon was now bringing in all the best musicians he could, with no fewer than 30 contributing, among them two vocal groups. The album spent one week, from December 6 to 12, 1975, at No 1 on the Billboard 200. Interestingly, says Wikipedia, it was preceded by Rock of the Westies by Elton John, which I’ve not heard of, and succeeded by Chicago IX, a greatest hits album. I’ll look at the seminal singles from this period covered on that Central Park album, a little later.

One Trick Pony

As I said, by this stage I had started losing interest in Paul Simon, given that so much else of miracle and wonder was insinuating itself into my musical experience. So I also missed out on the 1980 album One Trick Pony, which includes the hit Late In The Evening. Wikipedia says it too was a pure rock album produced again by Simon and Ramone. It was, of course, released along with the film of the same title, in which Simon stars. Ostensibly a soundtrack, some of the songs from the movie are not on the album, which includes additional material not in the film. Wikipedia says the album is “best known for the track Late In The Evening” which reached No 6 in the US. Two of the tracks, Ace In The Hole and the title track were recorded live. Some of the top session musicians on the album also appear as the character Jonah’s backing band.

Again, looking at the track list, Late In The Evening is the only song that rings a bell, though some others may well be familiar if I were to hear them. Clearly, this is another album worth getting hold of. Oh, and he uses almost as many musicians on this album as its predecessor, 24 including himself.

The Concert in Central Park

I may have forgotten about Simon and Garfunkel by the early 1980s, but they made sure the world renewed their interest in them, by staging their seminal 1981 Central Park concert. It would have been late that year that my relationship with Simon and Garfunkel was happily renewed. I was still staying at my mother’s and my childhood home having just come out of the army after doing my initial two years of “national service”. Anyway, incredibly for the SABC, they aired the video of the concert which was a remarkable reunion event – “it’s great to have a neighbourhood concert” – and attracted half a million people. Of course, this concert was much like the other great stadium shows of the great bands of the ’60s and ’70s – largely all about nostalgia. But, having recently picked up a copy of the double vinyl album, and having watched parts of the concert on a friend’s large-screen home entertainment set-up, it is well worth exploring this event a bit further. Because, on watching that concert, I was struck by just what a wonderful, wonderful voice Art Garfunkel had. And imagine, then, how good it must have been when he was younger. Because here he just stands, hands in the pockets of his jeans, raises his face to the crowd, and lets those notes flow out in a seemingly effortless demonstration of pure vocal power and beauty. Sadly, if anything, the performance exposed Simon’s vocal shortcomings, although as I noted earlier, on those first solo albums he achieved sound qualities which even Garfunkel would have marvelled at. Given reports of the testy relationship between the two in the build-up to this event, I am sure it would have done Simon’s apparently fragile ego little good. But let’s see what the oracle, Wikipedia, has to say about it.

I’m now not sure when we would have seen the film of this concert, which was held on the Great Lawn of New York’s Central Park on September 19, 1981, just two and a half months after I “klaared out” of the army. Wikipedia says the album was only released on February 16, 1982, produced by Simon, Halee and Ramone. (Further on Wikipedia says it was released in March, so the jury’s out.) It says the video of the concert contains two songs not on the album, The Late Great Johnny Ace, and Late In The Evening. Johnny Ace, as we’ll see when discussing Simon’s next solo album, was apparently about John Lennon, who had been shot dead in New York in 1980. The song was disrupted when a fan rushed the stage and “came very close to attacking Paul”, says Wikipedia. While not listed on the track listing of the DVD release, it says it appears between A Heart In New York and Kodachrome. So, with the prospect of some periodontal surgery weighing heavy on my mind, let’s give this album a listen and see if it can take my mind off less pleasant issues.

That sparkle of intensity in Art Garfunkel’s eyes as he sings leaves probably the most lasting impression, after his actual vocals, that is. That and the strange stage set, which seems to incorporate shiny industrial structures – a far cry from the massive stage sets which bands like Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones used. Indeed, the intimate nature of the stage certainly did give this a neighbourhood concert feeling, and it seems the vibe between Paul and Art was not all that bad. In fact, having just given the albums a listen, I found the chemistry pretty good, with their vocal harmonies as strong as ever.

The video of the concert reveals a Garfunkel in his element, allowed simply to give rein to his singing genius, while Simon clearly shows he is taking strain. All the responsibility lies with him. A small man, he clearly has very broad shoulders, and he carries the concert virtually from A to Z with consummate professionalism.

The copy of the double album, The Concert in Central Park, which I picked up in a second hand shop is the original US pressing, which is a boon. I’m no expert on these matters, but I have heard that local SA pressings were not as good as the imported versions. An accompanying booklet was also included and this features all the lyrics and a lovely array of photographs of the pair from their teenage years, through the 1960s, and then from the concert itself. It was no Woodstock, but looking at the crowd I’d say many would have been at that concert 12 years earlier. So most of these people are now in their late 20s and 30s, like me having been raised on Simon and Garfunkel.

There is a sense of excited euphoria at the event, with much wild and sustained applause, ignited at the outset by the announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, Simon and Garfunkel”. Then fast-strummed acoustic guitar, instantly backed by the other rock instruments, gets the show under way with a full concert sound. From tentative beginnings in the late 1960s, Mrs Robinson had become a fully fledged rocker, and the duo give it their best shot on an upbeat arrangement. Incredibly, the famous voices gel instantly, and the crowd show their joy at the end with ecstatic applause.

If there is any cluster of notes on an acoustic guitar guaranteed to stir emotion it is those played by Paul Simon at the start of Homeward Bound. These set the duo on course for a vocal tour de force. “I’m sittin’ in a railway station …” Again, with Richard Tee’s keyboards, Rob Mounsey’s synthesizer, Simon, David Brown and Pete Carr on guitars, Steve Gadd and Grade Tate on drums and Anthony Jackson on bass, the sound is wonderfully rounded, yet always measured and understated. Again, as that opening riff is repeated on the acoustic guitar at the end, the crowd are left delighted.

It is before the next song, America, that Simon says his famous “It’s great to do a neighbourhood concert”, while adding something about hoping the sound is good and a bit about the “loose joints” for sale. The song itself starts almost tentatively with acoustic guitar and keyboards, but soon the distinctive chords fall into place. “Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together …” Of course there is the expected home-town response when they sing about the “New Jersey turnpike”, while an acoustic lead solo adds interest early on. A later electric guitar solo alongside curious organ or synthesizer sounds take the song to a tumultuous conclusion.

Naturally, a concert like this relies on the “hits”, so many of the real gems covered earlier are not included. But hit songs are generally also quality songs, and Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard fitted the concert bill perfectly. It is played at a frenetic pace, with a strong percussion emphasis and brilliant sax from Dave Tofani towards the end.

Okay, so Simon (or is it Garfunkel?) does sound a bit pleased with himself ahead of Scarborough Fair. “What a night!” he exclaims, adding, “I thought it might be somewhat crowded, but we seem to have filled the place.” Then, an absolute gem. Subtle acoustic guitar heralds the sublime beauty of Garfunkel’s vocals. This is the version sans the Canticle overlay, and it is an object lesson in harmonizing.

Side 2 starts with another set of distinctive acoustic guitar notes, before Garfunkel launches beautifully into April Come She Will. Great bass and acoustic lead, with Simon enriching the vocals sees this short but sweet piece again met with loud applause.

I confess on listening to this album down the years, I did not really take to Wake Up Little Susie, but with both guys singing and the band pumping out a rich sound, I can understand why this solid rock song was again the recipient of enthusiastic crowd support.

But it is a song like Still Crazy After All These Years that really pushes the nostalgia button, because much water had flowed under the bridge by this stage in their careers. Is it a synthesizer or an organ (keyboards) that gives that somewhat wobbly sound at the start of what is essentially a slow blues, with jazzy overtones? Simon opens the singing with the famous line, “I met my old lover on the street last night /She seemed so glad to see me, I just smiled / And we talked about some old times and we drank ourselves some beers /Still crazy after all these years, still crazy after all these years.” Of course this gets the crowd buzzing because they, we, were the crazy generation, very reluctant to grow up. “I’m not the kind of man who tends to socialize / I seem to lean on old familiar ways / And I ain’t no fool for love songs that whisper in my ears / Still crazy after all these years, still crazy after all these years.” The song gets heavier. “Four in the morning, crapped out, yawning, longing my life away / I never worry, why should I, it’s all gonna fade.” Then follows a suberb Tofani sax solo, before the final verse. “Now I sit by my window and I watch the cars / I fear I’ll do some damage one fine day / But I would not be convicted by a jury of my peers / Still crazy after all these years / Still crazy, still crazy, still crazy after all these years.”

American Tune was off a Simon solo album, so it is interesting to hear how it sounds with Garfunkel singing alongside him. And it is Garfunkel (I think) who prefaces the song with the words, “I’m so in the mood”. And clearly, watching the DVD, he was. It is him who opens the vocals alongside subtle acoustic guitar. “Many’s the time I’ve been mistreated …” But as Simon joins in the song strengthens, and it is he who flies solo with the words: “And I dreamed I was dying …” Again, the crowd go crazy.

The next song is the upbeat Late In The Evening, which starts with a big, fast-paced rhythm and guitar sound. “The first thing I remember / I was lying in me bed / I couldn’t have been no more / Than one or two …” And there was something in Simon’s vocals and the song in general which for me presages his Graceland sound. With trumpets blazing and more lively percussion, this again ends with sustained applause.

Acoustic and electric guitars open the first track on Side 3, Slip Slidin’ Away, another of those songs from a later album which I have always seemed to know, almost subliminally, possibly through the radio or maybe just through this album. “Slip slidin’ away / Slip slidin’ away / You know the nearer your destination / The more you’re slip slidin’ away.” Again there are lyrics here which seem to prefigure Graceland, including the words “believe we’re gliding down the highway”. Again, a polished performance with a well-rehearsed closing section.

Then Art Garfunkel asserts his individuality, announcing, “Here’s a song from a new album of mine …” He adds that it is almost the only song they’ll do that isn’t a “Paul Simon tune”. Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle wrote A Heart Of New York, and of course it goes down a treat in the heart of New York. Here Garfunkel gets to showcase that sublime voice to its full extent. It is a hauntingly beautiful song. “New York – to that tall skyline I come…”

We’re back in full-tilt rock mode on the next song, Kodachrome, which morphs into the Chuck Berry rocker, Maybellene. There is a predictable frisson of empathy from the crowd as Simon sings “When I think back on all the crap I learnt in high school”. Most, like us I guess, had an inherent resistance to state-run education systems, given that we were a generation raised on a diet of opposition to governments who stuffed up the lives of the youth, whether in Vietnam in the US, or in South Africa through apartheid and the Cold War conflict in Namibia/South West Africa/Angola. I did find on this song that Garfunkel’s vocals were perhaps superfluous. Remember that Paul Simon had really come into his own as a solo artist, and perhaps on some of these later songs felt a trifle inhibited having this angel singing alongside him. A superb sax solo boosts the song before the duo suddenly launch into, “Oh Maybellene, why can’t you be true”. And all at once we are back in the 1950s in what is a fitting tribute to the great Chuck. Curiously, the duo seem to lose any reservations they had about playing together as they too appear to be transported back to their youths, when rock ‘n roll ruled. And of course the song gets good and heavy, with some lekker lead guitar and sax pulling it to a close.

It was rather poignant, on the DVD, to watch Paul Simon as Garfunkel sang arguably the duo’s most famous song, Bridge Over Troubled Water. As Richard Tee plays that incredible introduction on the keyboards (electric piano?), Simon if I recall, actually sits down on the side of the stage. All the focus is on the golden voice of Art Garfunkel. While there is a slightly altered emphasis in the opening line, “When you’re weary, feeling small” (the accent is on weary), for the rest the song is pretty much as it was a decade earlier, an emotional roller-coaster which grows steadily in intensity until it culminates in the proverbial wall of sound. All the time, that voice flows out of Garfunkel like something even he doesn’t quite know how it got there. That far-away look in his eye seems to suggest he was, in a sense, possessed by musical forces he could scarcely control. Needless to say, the crowd goes wild with its applause at the end.

And so to the final side, which starts with another of Simon’s later songs from his solo albums, Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover. This and Slip Slidin’ Away I became most familiar with thanks to a guitar chord book I must have acquired about the time they were released. How great to hear the songs done by the masters themselves. So fast drums wake up the audience and get them paying attention, as an acoustic guitar is strummed. “The problem is all inside your head / She said to me / The answer is easy if you / Take it logically …” Piano and a vehement rhythm section get the crowd buzzing, especially during the choruses. Trumpets are prominent alongside a great lead electric guitar solo on another tour de force.

Look, late September is no longer the height of the northern summer, and Simon expresses his concern for the half million fans by asking: “How’re you doing – are you cold? You look great from here.” Then that instantly recognizable opening acoustic guitar tune heralds another classic, The Boxer. With both guys singing, things go swimmingly, then Simon, I think it is, seems to stall as he sings “I have squandered …”, but both seamlessly repeat the word and carry on. I’m not sure if it was planned, but it adds an interesting element to the song. The backing is again full and rounded, but conspicuous by its absence is that bass harmonica. The other instruments, however, come close to compensating for it. And, of course, there is the bonus of a new verse – one that gets the crowd buzzing with excitement, because it seems to allude to the here and now. “Now the years are rolling by me, they are rocking evenly (not “even me” as the lyric website suggests) / I am older than I once was / Younger than I’ll be / But that’s not unusual / No it isn’t strange / After changes upon changes / We are more or less the same / After changes we are more or less the same.” This is greeted with rapturous applause, which is repeated, naturally, when the song refers to those “New York City winters”. The song comes to a suitably climactic ending, as Simon says, “Thank you, goodnight”. But of course with an ovation like they received, there was no way they’d escape without a last farewell encore.

And the last three songs are a treasured moment in the history of rock, because now it is just the two of them and Simon’s acoustic guitar. An intimate folk-club scenario, with an audience of half a million. Those two familiar chords – sounding somewhat different, however, on the acoustic guitar with pick-ups – signal the classic from Bookends, Old Friends. And of course they were old friends. Fractious at times, no doubt, but they’d walked a long road together. Both voices are beautifully in sync (hey, that’s a good name for a pop group!) as this melody flows out of them, culminating in the last, poignant stanza. “Time it was and what a time it was / A time of innocence / A time of confidences / Long ago it must be / I have a photograph / Preserve your memories / They’re all that’s left you.” Think how each of the people in that crowd have preserved their memories of this wonderful event.

Paul Simon, as mentioned earlier, was clearly not fully relaxed throughout the show, but once senses the tension easing as the strains of The 59th Street Bridge Song, better known as Feelin’ Groovy, are met with wild applause. Simon even manages a delighted chuckle as he sings the first “feelin’ groovy”. Their harmonizing at the end has splendid echoes of that other great vocal group, Crosby Stills Nash and Young.

You can’t sit through a couple of hours of a Simon and Garfunkel concert and go off without hearing The Sounds Of Silence, which is probably why a call for the song seems to emanate from the audience. Simon responds by saying that they “wanted to have fireworks tonight” but weren’t allowed to. “Let’s make our own fireworks”, he adds, as the familiar acoustic guitar opening chords are again greeted with loud applause. The crowd clap along as the second verse gets under way, and again there is a ripple of excitement as they duo sing “ten thousand people, maybe more”, although when they add that these people talk without speaking, hear without listening, and so on, perhaps they did not feel quite so sure that Simon was singing about them.

This concert was a truly memorable moment in the history of rock which I can’t imagine anyone replicating in the modern era.

Hearts and Bones

I did recently get a chance to see where Simon was at in the early 1980s after picking up a copy of his 1983 album, Hearts and Bones. Interestingly, I note from Wikipedia that one song on this album, The Late Great Johnny Ace, is said to be a tribute to John Lennon, who was killed in December, 1980. Johnny Ace, however, was also the name of an early rock and roller who died in a game of Russian roulette.

Again classified as rock, and produced this time by Simon, old friend Roy Halee and two others, this was his fifth solo album. Wikipedia says it was “originally intended to be a Simon and Garfunkel reunion album called Think Too Much”, following the 1981 Central Park concert and a world tour they undertook in 1982-83, which obviously passed apartheid South Africa by. Wikipedia adds that some of the songs intended for the album were previewed on the tour. But, as I suspected listening to the Concert album, the guys were just too old to keep working together. Wikipedida says “tensions appeared” between them during the recording sessions over various issues, which led to the project being abandoned. Simon even wiped Garfunkel’s vocals from completed tracks and reworked the songs for his solo album.

Wikipedia says that on its release the album was “considered a failure” and a low point in Simon’s career, but that it has more recently been deemed one of his more important records “and a lyrically strong one”. I’ve had a vinyl copy floating around for a few years now, having bought it at my friendly second-hand shop. Let’s give it a spin.

And let’s say that Paul Simon just got a whole lot more serious – if that was possible. Or rather, let’s say that maturity, experience, insight, observation, and a host of other attributes that come with a productive and studious life, all had a bearing on what he was writing by the early 1980s. Because, while this may not have the global appeal which his seminal works from the 1960s and 1970s have, here we are faced with an artist exploring regions beyond those dictated by the music companies.

And one of the areas a poet will explore is a simple delight in words, even if their import is none to pleasant. Such is the nature of Allergies, the opening track. At the outset it must be said that Simon’s voice remains as crisp and clear as ever, while he has brought in musicians playing some really interesting instruments, like a contrabass guitar and a Fender Rhodes. Anyway, this opening track starts with a quite strange, possibly synthesizer-generated sound, which is maintained throughout, as the acoustic guitar is overlaid by heavier bass and drums. So here he plays with words like maladies, allergies and remedies in a fun look at, well, sicknesses and getting better but never getting well. Somehow, however, he keeps the song upbeat. Oh and of course the highlight is one of the fastest electric lead guitar solos I’ve heard, by Al Di Meola.

The Graceland sound is foreshadowed on the title track, Hearts And Bones, which is a lovely work that, says Wikipedia, is about Simon and his then-wife Carrie Fisher’s travels through Mexico “and also about love in general”. The opening lines really have the same sort of rhythm we encounter on Graceland. “One and one-half wandering Jews / Free to wander wherever they choose / Are traveling together / In the Sangre de Cristo / The Blood of Christ Mountains / Of New Mexico / On the last leg of the journey / They started a long time ago. / The arc of a love affair / Rainbows in the high desert air / Mountain passes slipping into stones / Hearts and bones /Hearts and bones.” Then this couple return “to their natural coasts / To resume old acquaintances / Step out occasionally / And speculate who had been damaged the most”. It is a song to treasure, with Simon dissecting, surgically, the visceral reality of married relationships. “The arc of a love affair / Waiting to be restored / You take two bodies and you twirl them into one / their hearts and their bones / And they won’t come undone …” Oh and what sets this song apart, aside from the lyrics, is the incredible sound textures achieved. Dean Parks plays a “hi-string guitar”, whatever that is, while vibes and marimba add to the mix.

Simon may have got serious on this album, but it was often done playfully, such as on the next track, When Numbers Get Serious. It is a long song, lyrically, but great fun and, says Wikipedia dead seriously, “evokes the beginnings of the Information Age”. A fast-paced, almost conventional rock song, Simon says: “I have a number in my head / Though I don’t know why it’s there / When numbers get serious / You see their shape everywhere / Dividing and multiplying / Exchanging with ease / When times are mysterious / Serious numbers are eager to please.” It continues in similar vein, but sadly for me numbers only really get serious when they are found on a bill and they exceed what’s in my bank account.

Think Too Much (b) actually precedes the same song (a) on Side 2. Simon had been quoted earlier as saying he thinks too much, and his regular visit to psychologists find a musical outlet in this fun song about what goes on in our heads. “They say the left side of the brain / Dominates the right / and the right side has to labour / Through the long and speechless night.” And aren’t those hours, from about 2am till sunrise, the longest, most fearful any adult has to endure, when you lie awake for hours mulling over matters which otherwise you’d be able to bury beneath a day’s busyness?

On the last track on Side 1, Song About The Moon, Simon contemplates the symbolic role of the moon. “If you want to write a song about the moon / Walk along the craters of the afternoon / When the shadows are deep / And the light is alien / and gravity leaps like a knife off the pavement / And you want to write a song about the moon / You want to write a spiritual tune …” The lyrics get even cleverer in the next verse. “If you want to write a song about the heart / Think about the moon before you start / Because the heart will howl / Like a dog in the moonlight / And the heart can explode / Like a pistol on a June night …” Again, his vocals are great and the backing music is unique, thanks to such instruments as a vocoder and a synclavier.

Side 2 opens with the (a) version of Think Too Much, a fast-paced rocker. Again, Simon dwells on matters of the brain. “I had a childhood that was mercifully brief / I grew up in a state of disbelief / I started to think too much…” And I love these lines: “Have you ever experienced a period of grace / When your brain just takes a seat behind your face…”

Train In The Distance is a Dylan-like narrative, but for me the highlight is the line from the title: “Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance …” Though I’m not sure why he adds, “Everybody thinks it’s true”. Surely, even in poetry, hearing is believing. Indicative of where Simon was at this point, he concludes the song with the words: “What is the point of this story / What information pertains / The thought that life could be better / Is woven indelibly / Into our hearts / And our brains.”

And then another Paul Simon original which speaks of a man steeped in art and literature. Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War” is the title and that line is repeated regularly in the song, because it is a beautiful image. In fact, the inside sleeve of the album even includes and black and white photograph for which that was the caption. Wikipedia calls it a “surreal song about the surrealist artist…” I wondered about the names of the bands cited in the song, and Wikipedia says it “fancifully suggest that they secretly admired the music of such doo-wop artists as The Penguins, The Moonglows, The Orioles and The Five Satins”. Oh and they say Simon changed the original caption from “during” to “after” the war. This fine song, fine poem, is proof, if it ever were needed, that Simon’s creative genius was still in full flow in the early 1980s, so his Graceland success was not that unexpected.

In Cars Are Cars I think he really just wanted a topic to play with and cars came to mind. But of course he did it oh so well. Indeed, it is a delightful homage to the motorcar, which has shaped our lives, for good or ill, these past 110 years or more.

Finally, The Late Great Johnny Ace is really a Paul Simon reflection on three decades of music, from the early rock and rollers of the 1950s, through the Beatles era of the early 1960s, till the tragic and untimely death of John Lennon in 1980s. The song ends on an orchestral note, with cello, viola, bass clarinet, violin and flute complementing the other instruments.

Wikipedia says Simon and Garfunkel actually premiered this song at the Central Park concert when a man ran onto the stage near the end of the performance, the attack apparently precipitated by Simon’s mention of John Lennon in the lyrics.

Wikipedia says the single Allergies, with Think Too Much (b) on the B side peaked at No 44 in the US.


I completely lost track of Paul Simon in the early Eighties, so it was ironic that it was this country, South Africa, at the height of the struggle against apartheid, which was to provide the inspiration for his last, in my mind, major hurrah: Graceland (released on August 12, 1986). While the title track was about the Elvis legacy, and was a fantastic piece of music, for us it was the integration of South African township sounds and the choral backing of Zulu group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which made this album something special. I had spent the first three months of my military conscription in an icy, midwinter camp at 5 SA Infantry Battalion, Ladysmith, Natal. And so it was songs like Diamonds On The Souls Of My Shoes, featuring those Zulu vocalists, which stole our hearts, and I believe in no small measure helped to liberate this country. White South Africans would see top overseas musicians like Simon embracing African culture and stop and think: hey, maybe there is something to be proud of there. Maybe we should all just live together as equals. The fact that Simon actually faced threats of a global boycott after all that he did to uplift local musicians was a travesty. Yet that album remains as a lasting monument to his bridge-building efforts.

One of the great memories from this period is Simon’s performance, alongside actor Chevy Chase on a video for the song You Can Call Me Al. Chase, who seems feet taller than Simon, lip synchs the song while Simon mimes playing instruments and looking bemused behind him.

The dilemma caused by Simon’s actions in embracing black South African music at the height of apartheid is recorded by Wikipedia. Evidently, Simon had been inspired by South African music after repeated listening to a cassette called Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits, Vol II, given to him by a friend in 1984. He later wrote lyrics for one of the tunes, which became the fourth track on the album, Gumboots.

Wikipedia notes that “much of the album was recorded in South Africa and featured many South African musicians and groups. Simon faced accusations that he had broken the cultural boycott imposed by the rest of the world against the apartheid regime in South Africa. This view was not supported by the United Nations Anti-Apartheid Committee, as the album showcased the talents of the black South African musicians while offering no support to the South African government. The worldwide success of the album introduced some of the musicians, especially Ladysmith Black Mambazo, to global audiences of their own.”

There are also other interesting facets to the album, such as the Everly Brothers – Simon’s idols growing up – singing harmony on the title track, while Linda Ronstadt sings on Under African Skies.

Underscoring Simon’s commitment to the liberation of South Africa, he teamed up with exiled South African musicians Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, along with the others who featured on the album, for a series of concerts. One held in Harare, Zimbabwe, just across our border, only served to emphasise the extent of our isolation. It was released as a video, The African Concert, which I saw in the late 1980s.

An indication of how the album catapulted South Africa into the global arena in the late 1980s by positively reflecting on its African culture, was the fact that the album ranks it at No 81 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Simon was a man who cared a lot about what happened in our country, and would clearly have been elated to have been part of the events which formed the catalyst for the peaceful transition to democracy in the early 1990s.

And when, in early 1992, I was able to briefly shake his hand when he arrived at Port Elizabeth Airport during his first concert tour of this country, I couldn’t believe it was happening. I was a reporter on the Eastern Province Herald (now simply The Herald), and was assigned to cover the visit. To think that for a few seconds I grasped a hand that had penned such globally famous classics as The Sound Of Silence and Graceland, not to mention all those other gems from the 1960s, for me was incredible. The impression I gained in the few minutes we were with the artist in that concourse was of a short, shy man of great humility. He has certainly been one of the all-time legends in the history of modern music. How sad, then, that another idol, United Democratic Front leader and cleric Dr Allan Boesak would later exploit Simon’s generosity by using funds donated by the musician for upliftment of the poor to line his own pockets, for which he was later to serve a short jail term.

Wikipedia notes that the album was recorded between October, 1985, and June 1986. It classifies the album as rock, township jive, mbaqanga and world music. It was produced by Simon and Roy Halee. Oh and it was preceded by a Simon album called Negotiations and Love Songs which I never even heard of.

Graceland, however, reached No 1 in the UK and No 3 in the US. It won a Grammy for album of the year in 1986 and the title track won record of the year the following year. In 2006, the album was added to the US National Recording Registry.

You had to have been living, and even more tellingly, working as a journalist as I was, in South Africa in the mid-1980s, to know what sort of a cauldron Simon was venturing into. This was a nation in the throes of an undeclared civil war. The United Democratic Front’s myriad affiliates had declared the aim of making the country ungovernable and a state of emergency was declared in various flashpoint areas around the country. Over the next few years, thousands were detained without trial as the township uprising continued in an ongoing process of rebellion and repression. But there were sparks of hope. Liberal, progressive whites were either joining the UDF, or through other forums, like the Urban Foundation, were embarking on encouraging meetings with the leadership of the UDF affiliates. Their demands remained constant: unban the ANC, PAC and other banned organizations; free imprisoned leaders like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu; allow the free return of exiles like ANC president Oliver Tambo; scrap all apartheid laws and embark on a process of negotiations towards the drawing up of a new constitution and the holding of the first non-racial, democratic elections. We all know that by 1994, this process resulted in Mandela becoming president of an ANC government. But back in the mid-1980s, when Simon arrived in this country, he must have been somewhat naïve, or probably just ignorant of the ramifications his apparent flouting of the cultural boycott would have. Yet I am of the view that his coming here was a courageous step into the unknown which only an overwhelming love of music could have generated. He wanted to come to the source of that African township jive sound that so inspired him, and in this country he found the warmth of the oppressed black people more than inspiring. They, I believe, delighted in this recognition by a global rock legend, and jumped at the chance to make an album with him. Few could, in their wildest dreams, have imagined this album would catapult them into international stardom alongside Paul Simon. As Wikipedia notes, the album, Simon’s highest charting album in the US in years and his most commercially successful, selling 14 million copies, “also helped draw worldwide attention to the music of South Africa”.

Patrick Humphries, in his Simon biography, The Boy in the Bubble, offers some interesting insights into the Graceland saga. He notes that Simon, who had assimilated a great diversity of influences throughout his career, was already familiar with the work of Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela, as well as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, “whom he knew from the 1978 BBC documentary Rhythm of Resistance: the Music of South Africa”.

He writes that throughout the summer of 1984, Simon “immersed himself in the indigenous black music of South Africa”. “Fired by the vitality of the music”, he decided to head for Johannesburg, alongside Roy Halee, “to try and contact the musicians who had played on the Gumboots tape with an eye to recording with them for some as yet embryonic project”.

Humphries says ahead of the visit the musicians had voted in favour of his coming, because it would boost local music. He also consulted Quincy Jones and Harry Belafonte, who gave the visit their blessing. The “Johannesburg sessions” took two and a half weeks in February, 1985. As I said, this was a time fraught with tension, as the anti-apartheid uprising and resultant repression got fully under way. Humphries says producer Hilton Rosenthal, “a major force in the development of South African music”, put him in contact with groups who appeared on the Gumboots tape, including the Boyoyo Boys and Tao Ea Matsekha. He says the “core musicians” in SA at the time were guitarist Ray Phiri and drummer Isaac Mtshali of Stimela, as well as Matsekha bassist Bahiti Khumalo. I am proud to say I attended a Stimela concert with a friend in the East London City Hall in the early 1980s, where I made several sketches. We were among very, very few whites in the audience. Humphries said Simon paid the musicians triple US Musicians’ Union rates, and “took pains to ensure they would also receive performers’ royalties”.

I have waxed lyrical earlier about high points in the recording careers of people like Dylan and the Beatles, when they poured out a heap of great songs in a few inspired days. Well, isn’t it incredible that, as South Africa teetered on the brink of civil war, Paul Simon and a host of black musicians put together some of the greatest songs in the history of rock music right in the heart of Joburg? Humphries writes that during the first week at Joburg’s Ovation Studios, Simon cut the song Gumboots and The Boy In The Bubble. Over the next 10 days, Graceland, I Know What I Know and Crazy Love Vol II were laid down. Incredibly, says Humphries, “Simon had no songs prepared prior to his trip, and the lyrics and melodies were improvised in the studio over the basic rhythms from the Gumboots tape”. He quotes Simon as saying that he was “following impulses, making up the songs around the basic music I was getting, shaping as I went along”.

As a result, writes Humphries, Simon shares writing credits on five of the songs, “an indication of the huge debt Simon felt he owed to the South African musicians”. This would ensure money from royalties would “reach the people who had directly helped Simon in his realization of the album”. But he was not as generous, it seems, with the guys from Los Labos, who claimed they derived the melody for All Around The world Or The Myth Of Fingerprints, for which they weren’t credited.

Humphries says while “the bulk” of Simon’s 17 days in South Africa were spent in the studio, he “couldn’t help but be aware of being inside a country under siege”. He later told Hot Press: “You really can’t miss it, the feeling of the whole society is terribly strained with racial tension. It’s not like any other thing I’ve ever felt. Even coming from a country that’s got its own history of racial antagonism and abuses, this was something beyond anything I’ve ever seen before.”

One day he was taken to Soweto, 20 square miles and two million people, which he said appeared normal on the surface, but had “a definite tension underneath”. Speaking to people he said he realized he was “in a country that is in the grip of a tremendous social upheaval”. It was grappling with “a political problem that really no other nation in the world has to deal with, which is, can there be an effective transference of power in a peaceful way or will there be another war, similar to what happened in Zimbabwe?”

When we first heard this album, in 1986, it was like a beacon of hope on a stormy night. Our isolation as a country had only helped cement the narrow-minded bigotry of the apartheid rulers, and widened the gulf between black and white. Here, suddenly, we saw a white US rock star acknowledging the worth of our own black musicians – and turning their joint efforts into one of the world’s greatest commercial successes. Of course white South African musicians had for decades flouted and challenged segregation laws, often at great cost to themselves. One thinks of Roger Lucey, a superb songwriter and singer who battled to get radio airplay for his thought-provoking songs. But it was Johnny Clegg, who teamed up with Sipho Mchunu in the late 1970s to form Juluka, who had really pioneered the cross-over sound, combining Western folk music initially with township jive and mbaqanga. I remember hearing Juluka at a hall at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, around 1978. We never made it into the packed hall, but stood around outside listening while drinking pink umquombothi, if that’s how you spell the traditional African sorghum beer we were wolfing down out of a Coke bottle.

But by 1986, even Clegg, I suspect, was despairing that this country would ever turn the corner. So I think Simon’s intervention was timely. Because over the next three years, while things got worse, they also got better, as the National Party leadership realized they had to start talking to the ANC in exile, and even to the UDF leaders they had detained. The rest, as they say, is history.

But so much for politics, this is about music, and Graceland was a beautiful work, a copy of which I had taken with me on tape when I was seconded to the SA Morning Group’s London office for 1990 and 1991. Part of the job entailed reporting on how the pariah state was viewed abroad. We taped all the BBC and ITV news broadcasts, as well as BBC radio news. One Sunday, I discovered there would be a short discussion on a BBC radio religious channel. I put the nearest tape I could find into the recorder, and that’s how I lost about four minutes of my only copy of Graceland. Yet the interview is probably appropriately ensconced within Graceland, because it gets to the very core of our crisis at the time, as the Dutch Reformed Church’s role in endorsing apartheid is dissected by, among others, UDF leader and cleric Frank Chikane (who later worked in President Thabo Mbeki’s office), DRC renegade Professor Beyers Naude and another progressive DRC cleric, Prof Johan Heyns. Heyns was assassinated on November 5, 1994, a killing no doubt carried out by operatives of the apartheid security forces and one that has never been fully explained.

So I’m missing a key part of this album, but will give it a run through anyway, and see what to make of the remainder. Well, it was a really stuffed up tape. Firstly, whenever I made this recording, off a vinyl album onto a TDK D60 audio cassette, I started with Side 2. Oh and that bit of BBC stuff kicks in after not even the first verse of Under African Skies and is all over before the 3:37 minute song is over. So I only lost about three minutes. The rest of the album is all there, with the second side following the first, except for Call Me Al. Of all the luck, the album seemed to have got stuck in the quiet part between the penultimate and last tracks. No-one could have been monitoring it, because this gentle clicking sound goes on for about 10 minutes before someone lifts the stylus off the record. The tape goes on recording nothing till the end.

So much for the tape traumas, what I do have of Graceland, including the superb title track, is enough, going with my memories of the other songs, to enable me to say without doubt that this was one of the great albums of the 1980s. It is perhaps small wonder the world leapt to embrace Graceland, given the relative dearth of truly exceptional sounds around after the Sixties and Seventies had produced their magic.

But what an impact this album had on us. I remember flouting apartheid segregation laws and for a while by dating a so-called coloured (mixed race) woman at the time and spending weekends in the northern areas of Port Elizabeth, from which sprung several prominent anti-apartheid leaders who later went on to take prominent positions in this country. Among this community was Danny Jordaan, who now heads the country’s Fifa 2010 World Cup organizing committee, though I never knew him at the time. But Graceland was part of our social whirl at the time, so I’m not surprised the record was left spinning. We had a lot of jolling to do and politics to discuss. And that opening track, The Boy In The Bubble, really set the scene, with its interesting accordion introduction, big drum sounds and brilliant bass.

Wikipedia gives a list of the personnel, which runs to over 50 individuals and groups. Simon alone plays acoustic and electric guitars, synclavier, six-string electric bass and does background vocals. Ray Phiri plays guitar on those five songs recorded in South Africa, but not the opening track, although it does feature Bakhiti Khumalo and Vusi Khumalo on bass. Also featured are Forere Motlobeloa on accordion, while Rob Mounsey plays synthesizer. Simon, on acoustic guitar, sings probably better than ever before as he laps up this new-found energy. Wikipedia says the words are by Simon and the music by him and Motlobeloa. “It was a slow day / And the sun was beating / On the soldiers by the side of the road / There was a bright light / A shattering of shop windows / The bomb in the baby carriage / Was wired to the radio.” That’s the first time I’ve gleaned what this was about: a terror attack. Hardly auspicious subject matter for a pop hit, but perhaps this was a reflection of the aforementioned situation Simon encountered in this country. Yet, as violence racks the land, he sings not of doom and gloom, but of hope and joy. “These are the days of miracle and wonder / This is the long distance call / The way the camera follows us in slo-mo / The way we look to us all / The way we look to a distant constellation / That’s dying in a corner of the sky / These are the days of miracle and wonder / And don’t cry baby, don’t cry / Don’t cry.” I’m not sure whether that is an allusion to “the situation”, as we used to call it, but certainly there was no shortage of television cameras following the “story”. The miracle and wonder was that the apartheid regime didn’t ban overseas broadcasters, as Zim’s regime did when things got out of hand after the 2000 invasion and seizure of white-owned farms. But the situation looked bleak, judging from the next verse. “It was a dry wind / And it swept across the desert / And it curled into the circle of birth / And the dead sand / Falling on the children / The mothers and the fathers / And the automatic earth …” The chorus is repeated, before some more Simon lyrical wizardry. “It’s a turn-around jump shot / It’s everybody jump start / It’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts / Medicine is magical and magical is art / The boy in the bubble / And the baby with the baboon heart.” The song seems to comment more broadly on a world beset by both miracles and disasters. “And I believe / These are the days of lasers in the jungle / Lasers in the jungle somewhere / Staccato signals of constant information / A loose affiliation of millionaires / And billionaires and baby …” The song concludes with that wonderful chorus repeated.

But what did Humphries make of it? He says Boy In The Bubble and the next track, Graceland, are the “striking opening salvo of the album, undeniably in the pop tradition but startlingly fresh and innovative, setting a pace which is miraculously maintained over the whole album”. He calls the former “one of the decade’s most perfectly realized songs”, adding that “the ‘days of miracle and wonder’ fly n the face of the pessimism of the 80s…” He says with “the biblical scale of Aids, massive unemployment, the proliferation of nuclear weapons … and terrorism running riot, they may seem more like days of chaos and disharmony, but Simon delights in the creative, positive use of technology and the inherent possibility of mankind, offering hope and optimism …” He agrees that the first verse was “inspired by Simon’s observations of events in South Africa”. He quotes Simon as later telling David Ricke the song was about “hope and dread … that’s the way I see the world, a balance between the two, but coming down on the side of hope”. Humphries said Simon learnt in South Africa that “in the face of repression, optimism is the unchallenged prerequisite”.

Humphries believes Simon’s fusion of “disparate strands of music to his own inimitable vision” works best on Graceland. Personally, I love the flowing, graceful rhythm set in train by that bass, drums and rhythm guitar. You are instantly on a journey of discovery, and the opening lyrics tell you your destination. I’ve never been a great Elvis fan, but I know from what I’ve read of people like Paul Simon and other great US songwriters, that he was inspirational to those old enough, in the mid-1950s, to fall under his spell. Anyway, it is his legacy and legendary homestead which inspired this song. “The Mississippi Delta was shining / Like a National guitar / I am following the river / Down the highway / Through the cradle of the civil war.” Has there ever been a better introduction to a pop song? And Simon’s voice does full justice to the poetic quality of his songwriting. Each word is beautifully enunciated. The African township guitar sound is immediately conspicuous as he launches into that famous chorus: “I’m going to Graceland / Graceland / In Memphis Tennessee / I’m going to Graceland / Poorboys and / Pilgrims with families / And we are going to Graceland.” The complex chord arrangement here is typically Simon – he’d being doing it for years, but with Ray Phiri’s electric guitar pulling out all the stops alongside his acoustic guitar, this becomes a wonderwork. And of course the song is autobiographical. With his son, Harper, Simon made the pilgrimage. “My travelling companion is nine years old / He is the child of my first marriage / But I’ve reason to believe / We both will be received / In Graceland.” He speaks of the place with the sort of awe Christians speak of places like Lourdes or other holy places. But now he embarks in a bit of nostalgia for his former wife. “She comes back to tell me she’s gone / As if I didn’t know that / As if I didn’t know my own bed / As if I’d never noticed / The way she brushed her hair from her forehead / And she said losing love / Is like a window in your heart / Everybody sees you’re blown apart / Everybody sees the wind blow.” But there was no time for remorse now, because: “I’m going to Graceland / Memphis Tennessee / I’m going to Graceland / Poorboys and pilgrims with families / And we are going to Graceland.” Of course, like Dylan, he wouldn’t be happy if he didn’t include unfathomable lines, just to keep us guessing. “And my travelling companions / Are ghosts and empty sockets / I’m looking at ghosts and empties / But I’ve reason to believe / We all will be received / In Graceland.” Now when you say a girl is a human trampoline, of course she has to be a whore. Not so? You judge. “There is a girl in New York City / Who calls herself the human trampoline / And sometimes when I’m falling, flying / Or tumbling in turmoil I say / Oh, so this is what she means / She means we’re bouncing into Graceland / And I see losing love / Is like a window in your heart / Everybody sees you’re blown apart / Everybody feels the wind blow … / In Graceland, in Graceland / I’m going to Graceland / For reasons I cannot explain / There’s some part of me wants to see / Graceland / And I may be obliged to defend / Every love, every ending / Or maybe there’s no obligations now / Maybe I’ve a reason to believe / We all will be received / In Graceland.” It is a wonderful construction, a wonderful arrangement, complete with full-bodied backing vocals, as big drum sounds and that complex guitar chord sequence see out the song. Also featured on this immortal track are the two South African bassists, Kumalo and Khumalo, percussionist Makhaya Mahlangu and pedal steel guitarist Demola Adepoju. Make no doubt about it, this is one of the great songs in the history of rock, which just happens to feature primarily South African musicians. Would that our present crop of political leaders could do as good a job.

Listening to the next track, I Know What I Know, took me back to my teens when we had a black guy, whom we only knew as Wellington, or Wells, staying illegally in a backyard shack, in defiance of the Bantu Administration Board’s apartheid decree that black people, apart from registered “maids”, could not spend the night in a “white area”. Anyway, Wells often borrowed my cheapo acoustic guitar and would play African township sounds. He also often had his portable radio tuned to a Xhosa station where the likes of the Teenage Lovers were among his favourites. There is something of that township jive sound in the opening guitars on this track. Backed by lively bass and drums, and female singers hitting the higher registers in the choruses, this is another fine fusion of Simon’s Western-style lyrics and African music. Indeed, I see General M D Shirinda is credited alongside Simon with composing the music. Anyway, what was this song all about? “She looked me over / And I guess she thought / I was all right / All right in a sort of a limited way / For an off-night / She said don’t I know you / From the cinematographer’s party / I said who am I / To blow against the wind.” Then that township feel really kicks in with the backing vocalists as the chorus launches forth. “I know what I know / I’ll sing what I said / We come and we go / That’s a thing that I keep / In the back of my head.” The interesting thing about these very personal, introspective, some would say neurotic, lyrics, is that they may have a Western, New York, sort of feel to them, but the sentiments are universal. So anyone, including Sowetans in the late 1980s, would have been able to relate to what he was saying. “She said there’s something about you / That really reminds me of money / She is the kind of a girl / Who could say things that / Weren’t that funny / I said what does that mean / I really remind you of money / She said who am I / To blow against the wind.” Those backing vocalists again help give the chorus a lift, as he ventures into the final verse. “She moved so easily / All I could think of was sunlight / I said aren’t you the women / Who was recently given a Fulbright / She said don’t I know you / From the cinematographer’s party / I said who am I / To blow against the wind.” Simon plays a synclavier on this and I’m blowed if I know what that is. In Afrikaans, a klavier is a piano, so this seems to be synthetic one. Bizarrely, Wikipedia credits no other performers for track 3, but those guitar sounds definitely have the stamp of Ray Phiri and the like.

And then the song that started it all. Gumboots is based on a song that was apparently on the tape given to Simon in 1984, which inspired this album. It too, was among those recorded in Joburg over that fortnight, and is naturally another song built around the township jive sound. High-pitched guitar forms the basis of the sound, and one initially wonders how Simon could possibly meld his sort of sound with it, but it happens quite seamlessly, and indeed beautifully. Hummed backing, possibly by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, forms an integral part of this song the music for which was jointly credited to Simon, Johnjon Mkhalali and Lulu Masilela. Simon starts in an almost talking blues style: “I was having this discussion / In a taxi heading downtown / Rearranging my position / On this friend of mine who had / A little bit of a breakdown / I said breakdowns come / And breakdowns go / So what are you going to do about it / That’s what I’d like to know.” Then the African rhythm kicks in with the catchy lines, “You don’t feel you could love me / But I feel you could.” The narrative resumes. “It was in the early morning hours / When I fell into a phone call / Believing I had supernatural powers / I slammed into a brick wall / I said hey, is this my problem? / Is this my fault? / If that’s the way it’s going to be / I’m going to call the whole thing to a halt.” This time the chorus is repeated, which is good, because it is what gives the song its backbone. “I was walking down the street / When I thought I heard this voice say / Say, ain’t we walking down the same street together / On the very same day / I said hey Senorita that’s astute / I said why don’t we get together / And call ourselves an institute.” The lovely melody built around the chorus is endorsed and emphasized by a scintillating sax solo. Simon again plays the synclavier, while Daniel Xilakazi is credited with playing lead and rhythm guitar on this track, with Petrus Manile on drums. Ah, and I see the backing vocalists are Diane Garisto and Michelle Cobbs, with Barney Rachabane and Mike Makhalemele on saxes and Lulu Masilela on tambourines. The reason I’m mentioning these African people’s names is because back then, unless you were part of the liberal English media or progressive NGOs and the UDF, you would simply have dismissed black South Africans as incompetent and lazy. These stereotypes were bred into whites, and often, as Steve Biko has noted, black people themselves, through decades of repression, would play out this role. It took a rare exception to, in Bob Marley’s words, “emancipate yourself from mental slavery”.

Then the magic of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (LBM). Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes could well have been written for the trendsetters among the young African community who lived in the dynamic suburb of Sophiatown in the 1950s. It was, by all accounts, a cosmopolitan sort of place where black South Africans were asserting a vibrant urban culture, loosely based on what their brothers and sisters were doing in urban America. This, of course, was anathema to the apartheid regime, and in the 1960s the area was flattened and its people forcibly relocated. In typically insensitive style, the resultant white suburb built in its place was called Triomf (Triumph), no doubt celebrating their success in destroying this centre of modern, progressive African urbanization. Because back then, I could imagine the trendy dressers might have worn diamonds on the soles of their shoes, to add just a bit more sparkle to their outfits. And they would have loved the crooning, Zulu lyrics with which the song opens, starting with the words: “A-wa! A-wa!” Simon and Joseph Shabalala wrote jointly the opening verse, which juxtaposes Zulu and English lyrics. I don’t know Zulu, but it is similar to Xhosa and there are words here I recognise. “(a-wa) O kodwa u zo-nge li-sa namhlange / (a-wa a-wa) Si-bona kwenze ka kanjani / (a-wa a-wa) Amanto mbazane ayeza.” Namhlange I know is today, and bona is to see. For the rest, I’m afraid I’m lost. In harmony with those rich LBM voices, still a-cappella, Simon sings: “She’s a rich girl / She don’t try to hide it / Diamonds on the soles of her shoes / He’s a poor boy / Empty as a pocket / Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose / Sing Ta na na / Ta na na na / She’s got diamonds on the soles of her shoes / She’s got diamonds on the soles of her shoes / Diamonds on the soles of her shoes / Diamonds on the soles of her shoes …” The LBM singers certainly add a rich dimension to those “ta na nas”. Anyway, there is a brief lull before more township jive pours forth, with guitars, bass and drums energized and alive. Simon’s vocals are superb as he continues. “People say she’s crazy / She’s got diamonds on the soles of her shoes / Well that’s one way to lose these / Walking blues / Diamonds on the soles of her shoes.” A stand-out feature is the bass guitar here, with the left hand moving up and down the fretboard at incredible pace. “She was physically forgotten / Then she slipped into my pocket / With my car keys / She said you’ve taken me for granted / Because I please you / Wearing these diamonds / And I could say Oo oo oo / As if everybody knows / What I’m talking about / As if everybody would know / Exactly what I was talking about / Talking about diamonds on the soles of her shoes.” It seems to all be about a flirtation, but it sounds incredible. “She makes the sign of a teaspoon / He makes the sign of a wave / The poor boy changes clothes / And puts on after-shave / To compensate for his ordinary shoes / And she said honey take me dancing / But they ended up by sleeping / In a doorway / By the bodegas and the lights on / Upper Broadway / Wearing diamonds on the soles of their shoes.” Then that fun chorus again: “And I could say Oo oo oo / As if everybody here would know / What I was talking about …” And so on. The sound of bongo drums alongside more “ta na nas” sees out the song, which also features a great brass section. But let’s see who performed what here. Well, Simon was playing electric guitar alongside Ray Phiri, with Isaac Mtshali on drums and Bakithi Kumalo on bass. On percussion were Yossou N’Dour, Babacar Faye and Assane Thiam, while Lenny Pickett played tenor sax, Alex Foster alto sax and Earl Gardner trumpet. All in all, though, this is again one of THE great songs in the history of rock, with Paul Simon ensuring that African musicians briefly became part of the lucrative Western music scene.

Sadly, as mentioned earlier, a single scratch on that vinyl record in the late 1980s ensured I never again got to hear You Can Call Me Al, but of course it was such a memorable track, especially given the great video that went with it, that I remember it very well. It is here that Simon plays a six-string electric bass, with Phiri again on electric guitar. Adrian Belew joins in on guitar synthesizer, while Kumalo and Mtshali again take up the rhythm duties. About half a dozen musicians provide a bold brass section for this wonderfully playful song. But what was it all about? “A man walks down the street / He says why am I soft in the middle now / Why am I soft in the middle / The rest of my life is so hard / I need a photo-opportunity / I want a shot at redemption / Don’t want to end up a cartoon / In a cartoon graveyard / Bonedigger Bonedigger / Dogs in the moonlight / Far away my well-lit door / Mr Beerbelly Beerbelly / Get these mutts away from me / You know I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore.” As with most of these songs, it is a catchy, clever chorus which sets this aboil. “If you’ll be my bodyguard / I can be your long lost pal / I can call you Betty / And Betty when you call me / You can call me Al.” It is good old Paul being introspective again, a bit like a musical version of Woody Allen. “A man walks down the street / He says why am I short of attention / Got a short little span of attention / And my nights are so long / Where’s my wife and family / What if I die here / Who’ll be my role-model / Now that my role-model is / Gone Gone / He ducked back down the alley / With some roly-poly little bat-faced girl / All along along / There were incidents and accidents / There were hints and allegations.” After that playful chorus, we return to the saga. “A man walks down the street / It’s a street in a strange world / Maybe it’s the Third World / Maybe it’s his first time around / He doesn’t speak the language / He holds no currency / He is a foreign man / He is surrounded by the sound / The sound / Cattle in the marketplace / Scatterlings and orphanages / He looks around, around / He sees angels in the architecture / Spinning in infinity / He says Amen! and Hallelujah!” The song ends with that chorus, but what on earth was it all about? Certainly there were allusions to possible African markets and orphans, and of course, sounds. Patrick Humphries, in his biography, writes that the lyrics arose after a misunderstanding between Simon, his then wife Peggy and the composer Pierre Boulez. On leaving a party at the Simons’ apartment, Boulez apparently thanked his hosts “Al” and “Betty”. Humphries adds that the title is also a line in a classic 1930s Depression song, Brother Can You Spare A Dime.

And so, as with all the superlative albums by other great musicians covered thus far, I pause and observe that, hey, so much has happened and we are only at the end of Side 1. Can Side 2 possibly match it?

Joseph Shabalala and Paul Simon

And of course it does, even if I lost most of Under African Skies to that BBC report. What I heard of it was right up there, with LBM again providing those haunting opening vocals. Indeed, I probably put this side on first when I made that tape because this was my favourite song. It certainly has a tremendously powerful sense of place, in the heart of southern Africa, at a time of great upheaval and hope. “Joseph’s face was black as night / The pale yellow moon shone in his eyes / His path was marked / By the stars in the Southern Hemisphere / And he walked his days / Under African skies.” Joseph, of course, was Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Humphries notes that after working with him on Homeless, Simon was so inspired that he wrote this song about him. “This is the story of how we begin to remember / This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein / After the dream of falling and calling your name out / These are the roots of rhythm /And the roots of rhythm remain.” Clearly, Simon was moved to the core by music, and this is also an account of someone growing up with music. “In early memory / Mission music / Was ringing ’round my nursery door / I said take this child, Lord / From Tucson Arizona / Give her the wings to fly through harmony / And she won’t bother you no more.” After the chorus is repeated, he repeats the evocative opening verse about Joseph. Except here he adds two words which really enhances the second last line. “Joseph’s face was black as night / And the pale yellow moon shone in his eyes / His path was marked / By the stars in the Southern Hemisphere / And he walked the length of his days / Under African skies.” I have lived in the UK for two years. I have covered European Union summit meetings and I have seen how dismissive the West is of Africa. We are usually an afterthought on their agendas. Yet here Paul Simon helped to show that, given African integration into the global marketplace, in whatever field, our people are capable, with the same opportunities offered to others in the West, of excelling.

Who performed here? Wikipedia says Adrian Belew and Simon played electric guitar. Kumalo was again on bass, with Linda Ronstadt providing additional vocals. Indeed, her voice is quite beautiful alongside Simon’s towards the end of the song, a small portion of which is available on my tape after the BBC intrusion.

Then, the song that really put Ladysmith on the map: Homeless. There is a lengthy a-cappella section at the start where the vocal group strut their stuff to great effect, their interesting accents only accentuating the mystical quality of the song. Credited to both Simon and Shabalala, the opening lines, for non-Zulu speakers, are all about the rhythm and harmony of those incredible voices. Then they branch into English. “Homeless, homeless / Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake / Homeless, homeless / Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake / We are homeless, we are homeless / The moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake / And we are homeless, homeless, homeless / The moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake.” After more Zulu verbal gymnastics, the next English verse reads: “Strong wind destroy our home / Many dead, tonight it could be you / Strong wind, strong wind / Many dead, tonight it could be you.” They repeat the “homeless” verse before the highly animated, chanted section, with Simon joining in on lead vocals: “Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih / Somebody sing hello, hello, hello / Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih / Somebody cry why, why, why?” This is repeated, before another verse in Zulu which seems to speak of travel to or from London and England. “Yitho omanqoba (ih hih ih hih ih) yitho omanqoba / Esanqoba lonke ilizwe / (ih hih ih hih ih) Yitho omanqoba (ih hih ih hih ih) / Esanqoba phakathi e England / Yitho omanqoba / Esanqoba phakathi e London / Yitho omanqoba / Esanqoba phakathi e England.” The “somebody say” verse is repeated, before the word Kuluman is evoked in the final verse.

With the African mood firmly in place, the last track recorded in Joburg, Crazy Love Vol II, is heralded by more lilting township guitar sounds, with bass guitar giving a steady rhythm. Again, you wonder how Simon hopes to integrate his sound into this mélange of indigenous African music. The answer is that he does it with lashings of inspiration. “Fat Charlie the Archangel / Slipped into the room / He said I have no opinion about this / And I have no opinion about that / Sad as a lonely little wrinkled balloon / He said well I don’t claim to be happy about this, boys / And I don’t seem to be happy about that.” It is suitably quirky to fit perfectly, and the chorus again underscores how Simon uses words as a rhythmic instrument. “I don’t want no part of this crazy love / I don’t want no part of your love / I don’t want no part of this crazy love / I don’t want no part of your love …” These lines are repeated a couple more times, before the next verse. “She says she knows about jokes / This time the joke is on me / Well, I have no opinion about that / And I have no opinion about me.” Again, it is self-deprecating introspection; a sort of ongoing existential crisis. “Somebody could walk into this room / And say your life is on fire / It’s all over the evening news / All about the fire in your life / On the evening news.” What a bizarre image! But the reaction is to repeat that crazy love chorus, before the final verse ties up the strings. “Fat Charlie the Archangel / Files for divorce / He says well this will eat up a year of my life / And then there’s all that weight to be lost / She says the joke is on me / I say the joke is on her / I said I have no opinion about that / Well, we’ll just have to wait and confer.” And then Simon, clearly a veteran by now of love’s ludicrous ways, concludes with that wacky chorus, as the sound of a flute enters the fray. Ray Phiri again handles the electric guitar on this one, with Belew on guitar synthesizer. This time Lloyd Lelose plays bass, with Isaac Mtshali again on drums. Which also raises the question: what became of these great musicians since the heady days of Graceland? Ah and I was wrong, that was no flute, it was Morris Goldberg (another South African?) on soprano sax.

The title of the second last song sounds unfamiliar: That Was Your Mother. But instantly you hear the sound of an accordion and fast-paced rhythm section you are alerted to its Cajun roots, and you know it so well. “A long time ago, yeah / Before you was born dude / When I was still single / And life was great / I held this job as a travelling salesman / That kept me moving from state to state.” So, you’re thinking, is this familiar? Well it will be, because no one will forget the following, more up-tempo chorus. “Well, I’m standing on the corner of Lafayette / State of Louisiana / Wondering where a city boy could go / To get a little conversation / Drink a little red wine / Catch a little bit of those Cajun girls / Dancing to Zydeco.” There is a great trumpet solo about here, while the rhythm section provides incredible textures. “Along come a young girl / She’s pretty as a prayerbook / Sweet as an apple on Christmas day / I said good gracious can this be my luck / If that’s my prayerbook / Lord let us pray.” And then that change of pace: “Well, I’m standing on the corner of Lafayette / State of Louisiana / Wondering where a city boy could go / To get her in a conversation / Drink a little red wine / Dance to the music of Clifton Chenier / The King of the Bayou.” How amazing that Simon could mutate from his African idiom to this altogether different, yet somehow apposite, piece of music. “Well, that was your mother / And that was your father / Before you was born dude / When life was great / You are the burden of my generation / I sure do love you / But let’s get that straight.” And then the final verse/chorus: “Well, I’m standing on the corner of Lafayette / Across the street from The Public / Heading down to the Lone Star Café / Maybe get a little conversation / Drink a little red wine / Standing in the shadow of Clifton Chenier / Dancing the night away.” Again, it is pure Paul Simon poetic genius, couched in splendiferous music.

The final track, All Around The World Or The Myth Of Fingerprints, also contains no obvious African affinities, but given how music travelled from these shores with the slaves, her rhythms are to be found far and wide. Still, what can a song with such a long title be about? Well it kicks off with pulsating drums, and the full sound of bass and accordion, not to mention Simon on acoustic guitar. Even a trombone seems to feature before the song quietens and Simon lets rip with that sublime voice of his. The lyrics, by the way, have the same hauntingly beautiful quality as the opening lines of the title track, Graceland. “Over the mountain / Down in the valley / Lives a former talk-show host / Everybody knows his name / He says there’s no doubt about it / It was the myth of fingerprints / I’ve seen them all and man / They’re all the same / Well, the sun gets weary / And the sun goes down (isn’t that beautiful?) / Ever since the watermelon / And the lights come up / On the black pit town / Somebody says what’s a better thing to do / Well, it’s not just me / And it’s not just you / This is all around the world.” Simon writes songs, and he includes lyrics which are instantly immortal and memorable. It is as much in his use of words as lyrical instruments as what he sings about. Somehow he is able to combine both to superb effect, the mark of a maestro. “Out in the Indian Ocean somewhere / There’s a former army post / Abandoned now just like the war / And there’s no doubt about it / It was the myth of fingerprints / That’s what that old army post was for.” And then some more wordplay: “Well, the sun gets bloody / And the sun goes down / Ever since the watermelon / And the lights come up / On the black pit town / Somebody says what’s a better thing to do / Well, it’s not just me / And it’s not just you / This is all around the world.” Fittingly, as sax and trumpets, along with some beautiful backing vocals, round out the sound, he repeats that lovely opening verse. “Over the mountain / Down in the valley / Lives the former talk-show host / Far and wide his name was known / He said there’s no doubt about it / It was the myth of fingerprints / That’s why we must learn to live alone.”

It is a marvelous album. Suprisingly, Wikipedia, in mentioning how the album did in various countries – the US (it reached No 3), UK (1), Canada (1), Germany (2), Australia (1) – does not mention how it fared in this country. I do know it was enormously popular, though possibly not as much among the black community as it might have been. It was, I believe, not fully accepted as an African sound, and that makes sense. But for young whites like myself it provided a great source of hope for the future. It also cocked a snook at the apartheid regime, letting them know that had they not denied black people equal opportunities for the past 40 years, this country would probably have forged ahead – provided, of course, we didn’t fall into the trap of so many other African countries, and adopted the failed, Stalinist policies of the communist states which so many liberation activists admired. Small wonder that a few years later, in late 1989, all those totalitarian regimes would be swept away in pro-democracy uprisings.

It is my firm belief that Graceland played a small but influential part in paving the way for this country to undergo its own transition in the early 1990s to nonracial democracy.

Angel Clare

As a post-script, I must add that as a family, in the early 1970s, we kind of lost track of Art Garfunkel, but he was sufficiently famous for us to buy Angel Clare, a 1973 solo album. He had one very successful single, Bright Eyes in 1979, but this album featured some other fine tunes by, among others, Paul Williams, Van Morrison and Randy Newman. Interestingly, I see that Paul Simon, J J Cale and Jerry Garcia are included among the “other musicians” who performed on the album. If ever an album showcased Garfunkel’s angel-like voice, it is this one.

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