Friday, 4 July 2008
Simon and Garfunkel "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" (1966) (Revised Review 2016)
Scarborough Fair-Canticle/ Patterns/ Cloudy/ Homeward Bound/ The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine/ The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)//The Dangling Conversation/ Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall/ A Simple Desultory Philippic/For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her, A Poem On The Underground Wall/ 7 O’Clock News-Silent Night
‘A still-life watercolour of a now late afternoon’
There's a sense of relief on Simon and Garfunkel's third LP, of things finally coming together. For the last nine years now the pair have been in the music business on other people's terms, making albums at speed to keep record company figures happy and desperately trying to prove that there is an audience out there for their music. Now at last, with the fortnight of rushed sessions for 'The Sounds Of Silence' proving that the title track wasn't just a one hit wonder, Simon and Garfunkel are a success and people are looking to them for inspiration rather than telling them what to do. Suddenly, after years of being exploited, Simon and Garfunkel finally have the chance to make what they've always wanted to make. Out go the snatched hours of recording between June and August 1966, a rarity at the time matched only by the fab four. Out goes the producer in charge of the ship, though Bob Johnston sticvks his head round the door enough to get a credit on the sleeve again, with engineer Roy Halee the *real* third member of Simon and Garfunkel from this point on. Out go the one-take acoustic songs in favour of elaborate arrangements recorded on one of the first eight-track recording machines used on rock and roll (Columbia only owned one machine and weren't at all happy that Simon and Garfunkel had commandeered it during its first day at the studios!) Out goes the pure folk songs too for a sound that’s brimming with early psychedelia (i.e. no exotic instruments yet, but lots of exotic things being done on everyday instruments). S and G are extending their repertoire at a phenomenal rate here: every track seems to take us somewhere different, usually at odds with the track that’s gone before it, without disappointing fans who got hooked on the philosophy and even the purity of their first two records. Now, at last, Simon and Garfunkel are making music on their terms: not in a single week or an hour but across three months, coating their already established signature stew of alienation and harmonies in extra herbs and spices and cooking everything for longer so that it sounds deeper, more resonant. While in later years some of this time and expense will go to the duo's head a little, leading to slightly overcooked albums like 'Bookends' and 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', this time the mixture is perfect. 'Parsley, Sage...' is the album Simon and Garfunkel always wanted to make, as perfect as two relatively experienced twenty-four-year-old perfectionists can make it. 'Parsley Sage' is also the pair’s most beautiful album, but it's not just about the herbs and spices either, with the songs underneath cooked to perfection, with some of Paul Simon's cleverest most pointed lyrics in there too.
While all S and G albums are popular to some extent, I've always felt that this 'middle' record never quite won the plaudits it deserved, the 'fullest' use of the S and G range taking in everything from joyful exuberance to pained world-weariness and yet with every track sounding as if it 'belongs' on this record. There's a particular quality to this album and though S and G will build on it for future releases it's here that the mixture works best. Sweetly subversive (just check out the front cover, where Simon and Garfunkel have never looked more like innocent choir boys, whilst also half-sitting in darkness, my old friend), dangerous but cute, claustrophobic yet free and big yet small, this record somehow manages to be lots of different things at once. This is true even though the material is quite a mixture of ages: three of the tracks that make up this LP had already been recorded in sparse form for 'The Paul Simon Songbook' and these all sound quite different here, with 'Patterns' 'Flowers' and 'A Simple Desultory Phillippic' given the big band treatment. Some copies of this album additionally include earlier A-side 'Homeward Bound', even though that song was getting on for a year old by this point. No it's that special sort of engineered clarity that makes this album hang together as well as it does, even though it goes from the extremes of the pure acoustic songs 'For Emily' 'Cloudy' and 'Feelin' Groovy' to the duo's first orchestral epic 'The Dangling Conversation'. 'Parsley, Sage' is special for many reasons, but more than anything else it's S and G's best produced work, highly impressive for its 1966 dating.
Could it be too that 'Parsley Sage' is a far more cleverly programmed record than anyone has ever given it credit for before now? (With a 'better' concept even than the more celebrated 'Bookends'?) Paul Simon has always loved using contrasts, pulling our emotions in one direction with the music of his songs and in quite another with his lyrics and ideas. On ‘Parsley, Sage’ the duo record pretty much a whole album of the things contrasting social classes, war and peace, sophistication and simplicity and most of all the mixture of joy and sadness that exist side by side across our lives. Of course you could argue that many albums do this, especially other Simon and Garfunkel records (where 'Bookends' is a straight progression from innocence to experience). But 'Parsley Sage' carries these themes so cleverly and every song seems to come with either a 'pair' or in the two songs that bookend the album combines the two extremes of war and peace in one track.
'Scarborough Fair/Canticle' juxtaposes the sleepy innocence of the traditional folk song that represents an 'older' purer way of life with an abandoned Paul Simon song  'The Other Side Of A Hill' about the monstrosities of modern warfare (one of Arty’s greatest suggestions in the history of these five records), while '7 O’ Clock News/ Silent Night' features a mock-news broadcast of all the horrors going on at the end of 1966 running underneath one of the most peaceful and beautiful arrangements Simon and Garfunkel ever sang on, a 'heavenly peace' that could be if only the world had turned out different.The arty literary upper-class characters of 'The Dangling Conversation' are after exactly the sort of re-action from people that the down-and-out graffiti artist of 'A Poem On The Underground Wall' is trying to express, both sides desperate for some deeper connection so that they feel alone (even if they use very different levels of language to express themselves!) We also get the life-is-pointless, we-have-no-control moodiness of Patterns contrasted against the life-is-blissful-and-unplanned innocence of Feeling Groovy. We get the power of 'For Emily' moving towards some golden someone who will save us all juxtaposed against 'The Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall', a tale of how each of us has the power to pick ourselves up and move on. 'Cloudy' paints a world that's naturally beautiful even when it's raining and ugly. 'Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine' paints a world that's horrid and limiting, badly sanitized and artificial even though we've been given everything we need. We get the sheer seriousness and intellectual poetry of ‘A Dangling Conversation’ contrasted with 'A Simple Desultory Phillippic' that pokes fun at this arty sort of person, not to mention the music business and the Bpob Dylan fan club in particular (or at any rate the sort of intellectual who knows of Bob Dylan but not Dylan Thomas). It’s as if, now that Paul came to properly sit down and write an album, he couldn’t work out what starting point to go from: the sadness of the ‘real’ ‘Sound of Silence’ or the cuteness he heard on the re-recording, playing it safe by giving us everything: common, posh, high-brow, low-brow, serious, silly, helpful, hurtful, pre-determined and free, love and war. On ‘Parsley Sage’ these feelings aren’t polar opposites but different ways of expressing the same feeling ‘shouldn’t our life be better than this? How do we make it better than this?’ Interestingly, amongst all the moping, innocence, sarcasm and intellectual debates the only song on this album that’s truly happy is a song Paul admits he now loathes: ‘feelin’ Groovy’, a song that doesn’t think or feel or worry but simply enjoys ‘being’.
In many ways it's the perfect album for 1966, one of the 'middle' years of the 1960s that often gets overlooked compared to the psychedelic haven of 1967 but isin many ways even more important. This was a year when everything changed and yet nothing from previous years had yet been replaced, with a flurry of great LPs that year that possess a similar sense of 'happy turbulence' as the world changes, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. 'Parsley, Sage' is Simon and Garfunkel's 'Revolver' 'Aftermath' ‘Face To Face’ or ‘Pet Sounds’, records that have a bit of everything for everyone and feature lots of backwards glances as well as forward-looking ones and an emotional heart twinned with a musical curiosity. It's a real shame that Simon and Garfunkel's desire to take their time making records means that they didn't put an album out in 1967 as a record high on the purity and innocence level of this record with more psychedelic effects would be quite something, but even so the half of this album that heads down that avenue (the sweeping daring strings of 'Dangling Conversation', the dazzling counterpoint display of 'Scarborough Fair', the pure hippie joy of 'Feelin' Groovy') is already pretty special. People forget though that the summer before the summer of love was often quite dark in chart terms, filled with The Beatles' sarcastic B-side 'Rain', the Stones' 'Paint It Black' and The Kinks' poverty-stricken 'Dead End Street'. Simon and Garfunkel pick up on that thread too, with the frustrated entrapment of 'Patterns' and the chilling coldness of the news broadcast that accompanies 'Silent Night' not to mentio n the ‘canticle’ flies in this very pretty musical ointment, signs that life is too big and dangerous to ignore by writing pop songs. It's as if all this lesson in contrasts is leading to the idea that the world of 1966 is pointed in two very opposite directions and two futures, both of which could be fulfilled depending on how mankind behaves itself (in a nutshell, do we deserve ‘Woodstock’ or ‘Altamont’?) As it is we get both the hippie joy of 1967 and the protestors’ hate of 1968, something which must have struck listeners who discovered this album in the wake of ‘The Graduate’ soundtrack that seond year as profound. On the one hand the ‘7 O’Clock News’ broadcast is filled with scared that never came to pass and were barely remembered even then (such as the blocked congress) while the modified Civil Rights Bill, passed against all odds in 1968, did indeed include a section making housing equal between all races and discrimination from landlords illegal. However even now I get chills when I hear the news bulletin’s mention of Dr Martin Luther King in the present tense, before his assassination that same year, not to mention the fears that the Vietnam War will run ‘another five years’ (actually it will be another nine). Simon and Garfunkel feel like sooth-sayers, the darkness on this album having been fulfilled, though not until after the whole world starts 'feelin' groovy' first. More so than any of the other S and G albums, 'Parsley Sage' is an album made to reflect it's times, but as it cleverly combines songs about the 'human condition' in all its different forms you could also argue that it's the band's most timeless LP, freed of the overtly folky feel of the first pair of albums or the 'new' arrivals of music forms like heavy rock, gospel and reggae on the later two.
Forget the 'themes' if you need to though: there's something particularly magical about this record even without taking the songs into consideration. To these ears Simon and Garfunkel's singing has never been better than on this album, with Paul's voice wavering halfway between the purity of his early years and the bitter gruff sound of a few years' time. Arty, till now either the counterpart harmoniser or the singer of cute fluff like  'April Come She Will' or music lesson  'Benedictus' learns how to do so much more across this album, tugging in different directions simultaneously to Paul's lead on tracks like 'Scarborough Fair' and 'The Dangling Conversation', turning these songs from monologues to dialogues or adding real emotional depth and power to 'For Emily', not to mention his inspired arrangement of ‘Scarborough Fair’ (which has more of his fingerprints on it than Paul’s). It helps that this is the first album Paul wrote from the start for two voices and he too has worked out how to make Garfunkel enhance his songs and the contrast (that word again) between his bitter sarcasm and his friend’s purity, rather than just adding a last minute harmony part on top. Apart they sound pretty wonderful - but together Simon and Garfunkel never sounded better, still very much in the flush of friendship and bonhomie as the childhood friends simply enjoy the fact that their dreams have all come true. There's less of Paul's guitar than before mind, Simon already suffering early signs of strain in his playing after a year in London clubs and a further tour in America plugging the ‘Sounds Of Silence’ LP, but even if its a shame in some ways that Simon and Garfunkel had to rope in session musicians then at least they have the pick of the 'Wrecking Crew', the most successful session crew of their day. It's no surprise that many of the musicians who play alongside the duo here (drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye and keyboard player Larry Knechtel among them) will go on to play with the duo together and apart for decades to come. They're a natural fit, adding dashes of colour to Simon and Garfunkel's signature sound instead of getting in the way of it.
However it's the songs that make the difference, with Paul's lyrics never more intelligent or poetic than here. Everybody knows 'Scarborough Fair' or at least they should: it's one of the duo's most popular recordings and a =hit single in some parts of the world but not oddly America (instead Columbia went with 'The Dangling Conversation', surely the one track here that doesn't really work as a 'single' being so obtuse and complex), building in scale in a most memorable way. 'Patterns' is a special overlooked song, the narrator's tiny frame in his tiny room silhouetted in a light through a window that turns him into a series of 'patterns' that sets him thinking about the pattern of his 'path before him'. 'Pleasure Machine' is a terrific reminder that the 1960s wasn't all fun and games, with an early use of the word 'hippie' inside a song about jealousy and social status that predicts the mass use of prescription drugs, all fed by a big bright green machine. 'Flowers' starts out as a typical Paul Simon song about alienation ('so I hide behind a shield of my illusion') before somehow working its way to a delightful chorus that tells us that, actually, it's all going to be ok whatever happens, that all we need to do is 'continue to continue'. 'For Emily' is one of Paul's purest love songs, written in a sudden burst of inspiration that has the shortest gestation period of any of his lyrics, perfectly cast for Arty to sing. 'Underground Wall' is a sideways look at 'The Sound Of Silence' exploring graffiti left as a way of filling in the void of darkness, a two minute adrenalin rush of desperation and dread, of the need to make your mark even when you have nothing to say. 'Silent Night' might not work for too many repeated listens - and as many reviewers have pointed out the 1966 news broadcast (actually several different ones compacted into one long sad single bulletin and given to news anchor/US Wheel Of Fortune host Charlie O'Donnell to read) does date the piece. But it's easy to miss what a groundbreaking idea this was, the perfect culmination of Paul's beloved sound effects he's been trying to perfect since he and Arty were fifteen and the fact that Simon and Garfunkel's harmonies on the carol make for the single best version of this much-covered piece of music you can hear. Even the much-mocked 'Dangling Conversation' makes for a fine album track if not a natural single, a tale of two bookish lovers who no longer share an emotional bond and are only left with empty intellectualisms and phrases. Find me one other twenty-five-year-old who'd reached this point in his personal development to even consider writing a song like this. And those are just the five-star highlights: even the 'filler' material is strong with 'Cloudy' a fluffy ball of fun, 'Feelin' Groovy' infectiously catchy and 'Phillippic' providing the album with a sense of humour, laughing uproariously at the seriousness with which everything else has been offered to us (I'm ignoring 'Homeward Bound', not because it's a poor song - anything that can find inspiration in blooming Widnes of all places has to be special - but because it's the one track that doesn't really belong here; I still say it belongs on 'The Sounds Of Silence' record more than here - weirdly it appears on both, depending which copy of which albums you have). All the S and G albums are great (or at least they all have great stuff on them: I'm still not convinced by 'Bridge'), but 'Parsley Sage' really is the most complete, without a poor or even average quality track on here.
It's a shame, then, that 'Parsley Sage' isn't better known. Despite the herbs of the title it's amongst the meatiest, most substantial of S and G albums, but with more flavour and colour than the pretty great records that came before it. It's the record that Simon and Garfunkel had longed to make for a decade or more, recorded at a canter instead of in a rush for the first time in a decade of making records and with a confidence that the duo actually have a market for their music. This was a time before making music turned into a treadmill and the pair began to argue over their creative vision for the partnership, back when they are united in their pursuit of making great music that’s both more intelligent and more emotional than almost all their peers. If this album has a fault then it's that, like all the S and G albums, it's just that bit too short and at twenty-nine minutes (the copies that don't include 'Homeward Bound' run for onlytwenty-six) which seems ridiculously brief even by 1966 standards. A couple of extra recordings might have made all the difference in how this album has long been perceived. However that's just 'seasoning' - the main meal is already here and tastes as great as any record in my collection, with this my candidate for one of the best all-round AAA albums of them all.
Opener  Scarborough Fair is one of the most famous Simon and garfunkel songs of them all, perhaps because it combines so many of the things they became known for. The Yorkshire-set folk tune has for some reason become synomynous with purity in the years since it was first notated in some form in the 17th century (and it’s probably older than that), a list of spices in the form of a love poem. Paul says he learnt the song playing clubs in England, particularly a set by Martin McCarthy (who was so miffed at not getting a co-write he stopped being Paul’s friend for thirty years, until they bumped into one another and he said sorry), and as an American (where the entire nation’s history was only a couple of hundred years old) just how much history there was in this song, with love the same for men and women across the ages. The full version of the song (some twelve verses in all) is really a complex duet about the impossible tasks set by one lover to another in tyheir quest for happiness, the endless things that the one expects the other to do for them (including ‘buying an acre of land’ ‘ploughing it with a ram’s horn’ and ‘sowing it with peppercorn’). Effectively it’s a song about trust, of how only after massive commitment on something dumb on both sides can a love be proven true, with the twist being that even this isn’t enough to decree if their romance will be a happy one because life doesn’t work like that. Simon and Garfunkel do what most folkies do, which is cut this song down to the opening male part up to the point where he starts asking her to make his shirts ‘without any seam or needlework’, making this song sound like a pure and innocent dating ritual. However the undercurrent of desperation and impossibility is well served by Arty’s inspired decision to add a counterpoint, a ‘canticle’ or prayer made up of lines from a song Paul had decided not to use,  ‘On The Side Of A Hill’, an openly anti-war song that’s treated like a nursery rhyme.
Arty re-set the song to his own new melody line based on the ‘pull’ of the original folk tune (what a shame he didn’t write more!) and offered it up as a contrast of the ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’. Before the split (and often after it) there was no bigger champion of Paul’s work than his singing partner and you can imagine his clever ears hearing a similar sense of profund simplicity around a very complex situation of warfare to ‘Scarborough Fair’s take on love. So, with Paul’s permission, Arty weavedthese abandoned lines into the song (particular the last verse of each), winding the two round each other so that instead of a punchline about love being complex behind a front of simplicity we get war hiding a front of love. The two sets ogf words go together surprisingly well, fitting like a glove, with both Paul and Arty really using the extra time on hand in the studio to use multi-dubbing for the first real time, darting about from the main melody line as if dropping nuggets of ‘truth’ into the song, giving us the very real sense of reading between the lines so that we get two conversations going on at once (so that, for example, the question‘Are you going to Scarborough Fair?’ is answered by the line ‘Generals order their soldiers to kill’, which shouldn’t fit but somehow does). The killer line here, of both Paul’s original and this re-make is ‘to fight for a cause they’ve long ago forgotten’, which in context sounds like two lovers losing sight of what they originally saw in one another, distracted perhaps by setting too many impossible tasks for one another. Hearing Scarborough Fair is like seeing one of those double exposure photographs that somehow become better than the shot you were planning to take, as the gorgeous sweeping optimistic pulse of the traditional folk tune is trampled underfoot by Paul Simon’s harshest lyrics yet, only to rise straight back up again from the ashes. The whole thing is wrapped up with a beautifully exquisite production where Paul’s guitar, treated with eacho, has never sounded better whilst a harpsichord plays on underneath it all, our link to yesteryear on a song that must have sounded impressively contemporary and psychedelic on release, the past present and future of mankind all wrapped up in a big ball of uncertainty, expecting things they don’t really need in love and war. Some note-perfect pain-staking vocals from Simon and Garfunkel then seal the deal, their love/hate relationship used at their best as they fight and clash before coming together in sudden unity in an astonishing tour de force that really darts across the speakers. Though this song has little to do with the rest of Simon and Garfunkel’s catalogue (and had less input from Paul than any released song outside  ‘Benedictus’), you can see why this track did so well, released as a hit single in the wake of its use in the ‘Graduate’ film in 1968.
Our book theme song [113b] Patterns has long been one of my favourite Paul Simon songs and the timid, sparse versionheard on the [113a] ‘Paul Simon Songbook’ has by now been transformed from a simple folk howl into a production masterclass. A dark and moody meditation about whether life is pre-determined or whether the narrator can break out of the nightmarish prison of life in which he is left ‘like a rat in a maze’, Paul wrote this one back in London when he must have been wondering what he had to do to get a lucky break, all that work on ‘Wednesday Morning 3AM’ having been for nothing (or so it seemed). The author’s mean mood is inspired by the visual senses, with this song a close cousin of  ‘The Sound Of Silence’s take on the audio. Paul is alone, trapped in a bedsit, trying to work out the mysteries of life and the answer to his loneliness as the streetlight outside shines through the darkness and throws up odd shadows on his wall. Rather than simply fixing his curtains it makes a (possibly drug-tripping) Paul think: these shadows are cast at a set time everyday by whatever worker from the council set up the timings; is he too pre-destined to experience such misery at this point in his life? Paul must have felt very out of control of his life when he wrote this song and you can see why he depicts himself as ‘like a rat’ caught in a maze much bigger than any he can see, doomed to live out his days in misery until, in one of the bitterest lines in his songbook, ‘the rat dies!’ However speed on approximately two years from when this song was written and Paul has even more reason to ponder fate. Here he is, invited back into the studio to record a sequel to an album that’s just been a colossal hit, with the singing partner he never thought he’d sing with again in a country he expected he would only be visiting from now on. Fate can be kind as well as cruel and there’s a lightness of touch to the production of this song which is almost a victory lap no matter how dark it still tries to be. Tightly coiled bongo playing, stuttering bass lines, reverberating background vocals, cascading cymbals and various gong bashes leap out of our speakers as the ‘rat’ falls into more mazes while Garfunkel’s harmony ebbs and flows throughout the song, stabbing us in the back rather than flying with us as usual. Check out how the two versions of this song ends though: the solo version is a curdled howl from Paul before he all but smashes his guitar, while here Paul finally becomes master of his own destiny, ending the song with a triumphant flourish. This is the difference between despair and joy, between night and day and the rat knows he’s caught a rare piece of cheese in this great maze of life he’s still confined to. A great song given a superb production results in one of the most unfairly neglected songs in Paul’s oeuvre, a triumph of late night ponderings and several late nights in the studio years later making the most of the box of tricks now at the duo’s disposal.
In the first of many songs of contrasts on this album  Cloudy floats like a feather and doesn’t feel trapped or confined or pre-planned at all but just sort of enjoys being. This is also a second song about shapes and another possibly inspired by a drug-trip, with Paul’s narrator lying in a field and starring at the sky. Suddenly the heavens, unknowable and impossible in the last track, appear up close literally ‘hanging down on me’. Paul doesn’t really have time to explore, but this feels important so ‘I left my shadow waiting down the road for me a while’ as he ponders on the universe. Sadly unlike the last track Paul doesn’t get that far. He greets the sun pouring out of the clouds like a long lost friend (‘I haven’t seen you in a long time!’), wonders if this sense of bigger creativity he feels from the sky was experienced by writers before him (‘from Tolstoy to Tinkerbell’ – Paul means J M Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’ character of course, suggesting this is another of his English songs that came along too late for ‘Songbook’) and asks his creator cheekily ‘why don’t you show your face and bend my mind?’ This narrator is free, unlike the last one – so much so that his thoughts are ‘scattered’ – and the irony is that he’s actually thinking clearly for what feels like the first time in his life, his thoughts inspired by a sky that’s ‘cloudy’. Paul reportedly re-wrote this song from a rare collaborative writing session with another London songwriter Bruce Woodley, whose name is mysteriously missing from the album credits. What would the original have sounded like you wonder? Sadly we’ve never heard it. Alas the performance of the song isn’t as on the money as most others on the album. Though Paul may have sung it solo in concert it’s odd that a song that the world hadn’t heard on record is so blandly re-arranged here, with Arty’s voice merely parroting what Paul’s does for the most part. Light and fluffy, it sounds like the sort of thing he would usually give his partner to sing anyway, while there are perhaps one or two too many twee noises going on in the background, from the xylophone and marimbas to what sounds like a music box somewhere in the mix.
 Homeward Bound comes next if you happen to own the ‘right’ copy of the album. This one is definitely one of Paul’s ‘English’ songs written post-Songbook and had already been a big hit single as the follow-up to  ‘I Am A Rock’ by the time this album came out. With the London folk clubs beginning to close, Paul went on a ‘tour of one-night stands’ around England, performing alone and without Kathy by his side as he couldn’t pay her way as well as his. One of these gigs was in Widnes, a nothing town just outside Liverpool and with yet another train cancelled (something that happens often in that part of the world) Paul found himself alone at the railway station with his ‘guitar in hand’ biding time until the train finally came in. Pouring out his heart about how lonely he was feeling and how much he was missing his girlfriend in London, this song is a real tale of loneliness and despair, Paul’s witty observant eye capturing the absurd in the live he leads whilst leaving it recognisable to anyone commuting away from work who isn’t a musician. Some things in life never change and seeing as I used to travel there twice every week I can vouch for the fact that Widnes is still one of the most isolated, deserted stations on earth, where no staff are ever on hand to sell tickets and few passengers are ever waiting to travel at off-peak times (which is odd, because I can see lots of reasons for wanting to travel out of Widnes!) An ‘every day stream of cigarettes and magazines’ is the same in every town he plays, to the point where he notices similariti4es between them all – the cinemas and factories look identical in every town he plays. Paul is trying to live his songs, his major outpourings of hope and love and life, but they ring hollow in such austere environments, leaving Paul to imagine he’s ‘playing a game’ and acting as he sings, his words haunting him with their ‘shades of mediocrity’. He realises that he feels ‘like emptiness in harmony’ and longs for a fellow singer to make his life special, such as the one that’s waiting at home for him. After so much minor key melancholy the moment when the song finally finds direction at the end of each verse on the word ‘home’ somehow makes everything right. Home is always important for Paul, but never more than here where he doesn’t have to turn up doing the same job over and over but his ‘thoughts are escaping, where my music’s playing, where my love lies waiting silently for me’. Note that word ‘silent’ again, like  ‘The Sound Of Silence’ – it’s the noisy idle daily chitter-chatter Paul struggles to cope with. ‘Homeward Bound’ is one of its author’s prettiest songs, with a sighing melody that more than catches the tiredness at the heart of the lyrics and is matched by a great performance – Simon’s vocal is a spot on weary shrug, Garfunkel’s harmony gently sympathetic and nurturing and the guitar-work on this song is pretty special too. You wonder, though, how far Paul got before the train got in because this song always felt like it was missing something at the end – Paul is usually so good with his resolutions but this song just ends unexpectedly on an extended ‘silenty for me’ line without any sense of ever coming home. Basically a three-minute distillation of the ‘One Trick Pony’ film project to come, this is Paul as failure going through the motions in a way so many of us can relate to, wrapped up in a beautifully warm production that is an obvious commercial hit. As a postscript Widnes station used to have a plaque telling the world that Paul Simon wrote Homeward Bound there – till they realized that it actually wasn’t much of a compliment and decided to take it down!
Why, the last song asks, do people put so much weight in money that they travel so far from home? The answer is the capitalist-serving parody song [123a] Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine, which in contrast to the heartfelt simplicity of the last song is Paul’s sarcastic side, all mirrors and hidden meanings. This bitter song pulls no punches in its savage attack on commerciality and the way it preys on human weaknesses, making people afraid that they are missing out on something important or useful, simply because an advertiser wants them to think that they are. This machine offers to solve all human problems and preys on paranoia, but it’s people’s gullibility that can never be solved and Paul despairs of anything man-made ever solving anything when to err is human. Advertising is a business that in the 1960s was seen as hip and trendy, exactly the sort of thing a clever young man like Paul must have been badgered into joining instead of that dead-end music lark back in the years when he couldn’t get any success at all. After all, Paul could use his music skilss to write jingles couldn’t he? However the gulf between music made for minds and ears and hearts and that made to sell products is so ridiculously wide that of course that would never have suited someone so ambitious and idealistic as Paul. Here he tells us why he views advertisements with suspicion, as they prey on our fears about being lonely, of not getting enough sex, of something happening to our loved ones, of being always in trouble with authority figures, of having ‘cavities’ i.e. holes in every part of our life, ironically given the cost of having no money. While I’ve yet to see a product that promises to solve all of these problems at once its only one step away in the absurdist limits as Paul lists all sorts of nonsense reasons why we need his product: it’s colourful, it’s green, it offers u spleasure, it’s been advertised in a prestifious magazine, stocks are running low and we might miss out, etc. ‘We can neutralize your brain!’ promises the advert, which is exactly what these mind-numbing adverts do. The joke wouldn’t be quite so funny though if Paul didn’t know exactly how to write for catchy jingles – the good-time tune is fast and ferocious, it’s played on the hammiest Hammond organ that ever was, there’s a crashing guitar riff that’s simple yet catchy ear-candy and Simon and Garfunkel find their inner sarcasm on one of the most unlikely yet convincing vocal tracks of their brief career. Despite straying so far from their usual territory, the duo make this song their own and the idea that someone can come up with an invention to cover up the ‘sounds of silence’ ringing in our ears by creating a fabricated noise that doesn’t really do anything is a classic Paul Simon metaphor.The result is another neglected album highlight, rockier than most with a punch and weight that many of S and G’s destractors think they never tried to pull off. An even better version, less poppy and more angry, later turned up on the ‘Graduate’ soundtrack album (see [123b]).
After all, we don’t need anything artificial to make us happy when life can, at times, make us feel happy just for existing. Paul admits that of all the songs he’s ever written the one he hates most is  The 59th Street Bridge Song (aka Feelin’ Groovy). You can see why; to his intellectual mind it’s a badly-dated set of buzzwords that doesn’t say much with a tune that sounds like a gauche nursery rhyme. All that is no doubt true, but this song is great at capturing that I’m-in-a-good-mood-the-whole-world-should-share-in feeling and genuinely was composed by its composer while walking on the 59th Bridge Street in New York on his return in the wake of  ‘The Sound Of Silence’. To put this in perspective, Paul probably thought he would never walk on that bridge again. When he left for England he knew that the odds of saving up money to fly home again while working in pubs and clubs all his life was unrealistic and that if he ever did make it home again it would be due to the generosity of some family member chastising him for his lowly career choice. Instead here he is, with the world at his feet, his problems financial and careerwise temporaily solved. Well might Paul plead for this morning to ‘slow down’ so he can enjoy his victory lap and take it all in, while the lines about calling out to every lamp-post and flower is merely a part of this album’s bigger theme of a grand masterplan running through life, one that Paul now adores and wants to salute every chance he gets. Paul once told the Monterey crowd when this song was written in the hazy state where ‘you know you won’t get tired for about an hour’ and indeed sounds like it was written on that wonderful burst of adrenalin you get when you are pushing your body because you’re having too much and it actually responds to you, but with the sense in the arrangement of the crash waiting to come over the horizon too. Though one of Paul’s silliest, most insubstantial songs, you can see too why so many fans like this track which sits so far out of the traditional idea of Simon and Garfunkel as pure gloom merchants. After all, what’s not to love about a song with the chorus ‘life I love you, all is groovy’?!?
 The Dangling Conversation is the most ‘posh college boy’ song of the Simon and Garfunkel songbook, snooty and elitist where other S and G songs are there for everybody. Many fans don’t like it as a result (even Garfunkel says this is his least favourite of Paul’s songs he sang on) and the daft decision to release this as an album single inevitably spelled disaster, being the only S and G single not to go top twenty since their post  ‘Sound Of Silence’ reunion. All that is true, but this much misunderstood track still has much going for it. Mis-communication is a key theme of Paul’s 1960s work and it’s rarely been portrayed better than here on what’s actually quite a biting and ironic song against the upper classes. The two intellectuals at the heart of this love story think they know everything as they debate their favourite poets over breakfast (Paul getting in a namecheck for his favourite poet Emily Dickinson alongside Robert Frost) and they discuss opera and theatre and whether certain art movements are ‘worthwhile’. However they life in a ‘still-life watercolour’ that’s been bled of all life and colour. Both halves of this couple have so many primal emotions they refuse to address that suddenly burst forth from this song out of nowhere just as we are least expecting it. ‘I cannot kiss your shadow, I only kiss your hand, you’re a stranger now to me!’ pleads the lover’s inner voice as they long for their partner to drop their pretence and tell them something that matters, something that’s ‘real’. The conversation isn’t really what’s ‘dangling’ in this song – that’s moving along fine with great intellectual debate. No it’s the feelings of the couple who love each other but for whatever reason cannot ever be that direct with each other, desperate for the other to realise that they loved not through a simple statement but a metaphor or a poem. Fittingly the accompaniment for this song is just as cold and austere, dominated for the first time by a string arrangement that pulses with great emotion but which wraps it all up with a stiff upper lip. Simon and Garfunkel (especially Simon) also play their parts as if they are dead behind the eyes, without their trademark feelings. The result is a song that’s hard to love but is still impressive, full of clever moments (I love the way the pair finally stop singing the same things at the same point on the line ‘in syn-co-pat-ed time’) but one that always felt a little outside the big heart of this album.
[112b] Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall is more what people might have expected from Simon and Garfunkel in 1966, a hard-hitting philosophical reflection of life attached to a wistful acoustic tune. First heard on ‘The Paul ASimon Songbook’ ([112a]) this is another of the album’s two-in-one songs that somehow manages to be both upset and joyous at the same time (it’s a track Paul really can’t do without arty there, the sugar to his bitter pill). On the one hand Paul is trapped and friendless, confused and drifting as he struggles to make sense of life as ‘I hide behind a shield of my illusion’. The narrator doesn’t even recognise himself when he looks in the mirror and sees someone ‘blind and small’. However he also holds his own gift of a solution, to ‘continue to continue’ with the realisation that nobody truly knows what they are doing and everyone’s lives ‘King or pawn’, are made up of moments both happy and sad. The main image of the song is an interesting one: it’s my experience that flowers (or at least their stalks) do bend with the rainfall, or at least any heavy weight that pushes them over; however what Paul means – I think – is that to grow everything in nature needs a contrasting dose of sunshine and rain. The trick during our sad times is to believe that there are happy ones still to come and that instead of despairing we should ‘be what we should be and face tomorrow’. The music, like the lyrics, can’t sit still for a minute. One moment Pauk’s complex riff is looking glum and facing downwards, plunking the notes with real despair and the next it’s up and rattling away at speed, enthusiastic and bundling the song to the end. A forgotten but incredibly important song in Paul Simon’s development as a writer, Rainfall is not Paul’s best but it is one of his most complex pieces and considering it’s an older song fits this album well, being another of the tracks that feels like two songs in one balancing the duality of life.
We’ve had the album’s deeply serious songs now – so here’s the joke! After showing he can still write ‘Paul Simon songs’, [111b] A Short Desultory Philippic is a painful comedy song that laughs at the earnestness of the folky moment. While the original ‘Songbook’ version is generally regarded as a jovial attack on Bob Dylan this song is more of a general idea attack on cool hippies who read too much into songs (erm, ahh, umm, I’d never do that, honest!) Actually Paul sounds as if he’s spoofing himself and his miserable image here with this send-up of an uptight neurotic who is doing his best to sound intellectual with his play on words and line-dropping of famous figures, despite the fact that he is singing to a generic and rather unoriginal blues backing everyone before him has used to death. There are some great lines here: the rhyme of ‘mother father aunt and uncle’ with ‘I’ve been Roy Halle’d and Art Garfunkle’d is inspired (Garfunkle’d is such a great word I think we ought to start a campaign to get it into the dictionary!, it’s how I feel after listening to The Spice Girls!), while The Rutles’ much loved quip that they were getting their spiritual thoughts by drinking tea was actually a joke they got here from Paul Simon twelve years before (Paul is in the film too, so it’s not as if the makers didn’t know who he was). Best line though is the hipster narrator bragging that the people around him don’t get culture like wat he does because they confuse Bob Dylan with ‘Dylan Thomas’ (whoever he was!0 with the damning line ‘the man ain’t got no culture!’ sounding like a galton and Simpson script for Tony Hancock at his most arrogant. Note too the narrator’s assumption that the FBI are on to him and tapping his phone, fearing him to be some legendary communist…because he’s sung a few cover songs. Listen out too for Paul’s slurred take on Dylan’s line ‘everybody must get stoned!’ from the just-out ‘Rainy Day Women nos 12 and 35’ and the harmonica ‘playing’ – I use the term loosely – before the reference to Albert, presumably a Mr Goldman who was managing Dylan at the time. Hilarious – once at least – this song does admittedly have a rather limited shelf-life and becomes more than a bit irritating on repeated playings. I also miss the charming final verse from the ‘Songbook’ version that is one of the original version’s best (‘when in London do what I do, write yourself a friendly haiku!’) while this is one of the few S and G recordings not to feature Art at all.
Instead Garfunkel shines on  For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her, a song that by contrast isn’t fake or artificial at all but one of Paul’s most intimate, pretty, heartfelt songs. A tale of dreaming for the person whose going to arrive and take you away from your personal prison, Paul no doubt had Kathy Chitty in mind when he wrote this song but also recognised that Art’s beautiful romantic voice would be perfect for this gentle sweet song. The narrator has just woken from a dream where he saw the love of his life so clearly he can still smell the honey in her hair and feel her hand in his as he grabbed it in a desperate need to escape his life. An opening verse is full of images of how delicate this love is, made of organdy, crinoline and painted burgundy and how easy it would be to break so Arty sings in a whisper, afraid to speak out loud in case it fades. At least until a thrilling climax when his emotions get the better of him and he screams ‘I love you girl, oh how I love you!’ Beneath it all there’s nothing except Paul’s guitar at its prettiest, soft and tender, ebbing and flowing with ease until taking over the song for a dramatic flourish in the middle, desperate to make this mysterious ethereal spirit turn real. The title, which isn’t mentioned in the lyrics, suggests that the narrator longs to find her for real in his life and even gives her a specific name, suggesting she’s out there somewhere. Often overlooked against Paul’s more heartfelt love pieces ( ‘Kathy’s Song’) or more obviously romantic later Arty solo songs ( ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’) this one often gets overlooked, but to these ears its one of the most exquisitely crafted combinations of song, arrangement,performance and production the duo ever made. The song covers a lot of ground in just past two minutes, Art’s double-tracked voice is note-perfect as he explodes just at the right time, Paul’s dancing guitar is at its best in the last year before the calcium deposit build-up in his fingers started giving him trouble and the simple muted echo really enhances the song, which stands out a mile on an album that’s generally going for big and bold statements. Perfect.
Interestingly, Paul sounds far more at home writing about the working classes than the rich of ‘Dangling Conversation’ on  A Poem On The Underground Wall, a contrasting song dealing not with people who are talking with nothing to say but people who have so much to say and no platform to say it. The closest Paul ever came to reprising  ‘The Sound Of Silence’, this song is an unusually sympathetic account of the lives of graffiti artists who are desperate to make their mark on society in any way, profound or not. This short simple song is full of tight, pulsating rhythms and some very clever internal rhymes that mirror the narrator’s pounding heart as enjoys the thrill of his actions, desperate not to get caught as he waits for the last train to leave a deserted station. Paul is again after a contrast in the song, though, showing how the narrator is terrified that someone might see him, but glorifying in the fact that his message will stand proudly for all to read. We never find out what the message is (except it has ‘four letters’), but it seems likely that this song was based on the true life story of the aborted front cover artwork for ‘Wednesday Morning 3AM’. The pair were shot in a tube station and only when the photograph was blown up later were the words ‘fuck you!’ noticed on the pillar behind them, which then had to be trimmed (and which is why the writing on that album cover is so big). The way Arty told it in concert before this track, they told Columbia ‘this was exactly the image we wanted for our first LP!’ – though joking, Garfunkel had a point as ‘the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls’ and Paul as a writer found a great eal of empathy with people who tried to show the world what it was really like in a world full of the fake commerciality of ‘The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine’. The result is, at 1:56, a little too short to work as well as the best of the album, but there are some very clever rhymes here (the graffitier’s pocket a ‘silent socket’ being my favourite, an emptiness that still holds a crayon that can say so much, here a ‘rosary’ he clutches like a religious symbol, his link to an afterlife that will live on the subway walls until somebody washes it off) and after an album where Simon and Garfunkel have been singing against each other in competition, it’s great to hear their voices combine again.
‘Parsley, Sage’ then has one last chance at showing us this album’s theme of duality with  Silent Night/Seven O Clock News. Like ‘Scarborough Fair’ we get love and war working alongside each other, but instead of being sung on top here we get them side by side. In this very original, haunting idea the left channel is filled with Larry Knechtel’s piano and some truly sublimne harmonies from Simon and Garfunkel singing the beautiful German Carol. The pair have never sounded more like innocent choirboys as they cross several centuries of time to bid us to ‘sleep in heavenly peace’ like newborn hippies. Simon and Garfunkel were master arrangers of Christmas songs – just listen to  Comfort and Joy’ or  Star Carol on the ‘Old Friends’ box-set: carols we’ve heard millions of times before completely re-arranged and altered before our ears that sound even better than their usual arrangements. ‘Silent Night’ is a more traditional rendering, but even this features a new rolling piano lick that really adds to the song’s yearning cry for peace and tranquility. Over on the right channel, though, Charlie O’Donnel (a semi-known disc jockey in the days before his better known work as a gameshow host) reads out a specially prepared compilation of various news events that havre taken place across 1966, all of them bad. This works nicely as a state of union address, juxtaposing how much cruelty and hate is there in the world: a democratic congress knows they will be defeated on an qual rights housing bill (that only gets put into law in 1968), Paul’s idol comedfian Lenny Bruce dies of a drugs overdose, Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights marches carry on in Chicago despite death threats and vice-president Tricky Dicky vows to provide another five years’ worth of troops in Vietnam while protestors are ousted and locked up. Like ‘Scarborough Fair’ these two opposites shouldn’t go together but instead part of the same duality on Earth, that heavenly peace and the misery of life exists side by side and live hand by hand. The result is somehow very timeless and very 1966, a time when early hippie appeals for peace lived alongside demonstrations and difficulties as the world tried to work out if it wanted to destroy itself or live in heavenly peace for good. It’s a duality we’re still trying to solve these fifty years on and – just as ‘Scarborough Fair’ is a tale of romance centuries old that’s still relevant to the present day – a problem mankind will probably never solve.
‘Parsley Sage’ then begins and ends with pretty much the same question: do we choose love or war? However this deep-thinking album asks several questions in between: who has more right to speak, intellectuals who talk in cebreal matters or the homeless scrawling obscenities on the subway walls? Is our life pre-detemined to teach us specific things or there simply to enjoy in the moment? Is the perfect person out there for us in reality or are they only a dream? Does out future lie in taking a risk to be with the one you love or do we really belong at home where we’re safe and uncomfortable. Like pieces of a puzzle or a child’s uneven scrawl, this quite brilliant album asks lots of probing questions but it is never off-putting or distant, full of some of Paul’s most accessible and catchy melodies and the first truly brilliant production moments from a duo who are finally in charge of their own destinies at last (left alone to use whatever time they needed, Columbia were shocked that it was six months. ‘Gee you guys take a long time to make music!’ they said, before subtracting the cost of their first multi-track machine off the album’s profit. In an era when Simon and Garfunkel could do no wrong and were really pushing their art this was still a good move). Forgotten once ‘Bookends’ and then ‘Bridge’ trumped it for sales, I have to say I prefer the mixture on ‘Parsley, Sage’ – the theme is less convoluted, the music is prettier and the songs are more consistent without a single weak track amongst them (though ‘A Desolutory Phillipic’ is the only one without lasting appeal). An album that can make you think, make you smile, make you laugh and make you cry is rare indeed and ‘Parsley, Sage’ deserves to be treasured, probably the most complete Simon and Garfunkel album in their short history. Forget ‘The Spice Girls’: I’m a Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme man with Simon and Garfunkel at their absolute peak.
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