Friday 28 August 2009

Simon and Garfunkel "Wednesday Morning, 3AM" (1964) (Revised Review 2016)

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Simon and Garfunkel “Wednesday Morning, 3AM” (1964)

You Can Tell The World/Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream/Bleecker Street/Sparrow/Benedictus/The Sound Of Silence (Acoustic Version)/He Was My Brother/Peggy-O/Go Tell It To The Mountain/The Sun Is Burning/The Times They Are A Changin’/Wednesday Morning, 3 AM

‘The poet reads his crooked rhyme, Holy Holy, like a sacrament, thirty dollars pays your rent…’
Simon and Garfunkel released their first record in 1957 - and had long assumed that they'd released their last record together in 1958. Creative tensions, Paul's sudden  creative spurt and Arty's sense of betrayal at Paul cutting an Elvis parody 'on the side' of their record contract at BIG records had seen the two childhood friends grow further and further apart, Arty turning his back on music to become an architecture student while Paul tried his hand at jumping on every bandwagon just a few months too late to find much success: the doo-wop innocence of the 'Jerry Landis' years, the heavy metal motorbike racing of Tico and the Triumphs and the goodness-knows-what of True Taylor, not to mention the years between 1960 and 1961 cutting demos of original and cover songs for a few cents a time. But for now, at least, Simon and Garfunkel's friendship was too strong and too deep to see them go their separate ways forever, with the pair in near-constant contact during their few years apart. By 1963 a chance meeting meant a reunion seemed inevitable: Arty's studies were over and he could afford to goof around for a summer before looking for work, while Paul reluctantly had to admit he'd never quite been able to match the success he'd had when Tom and Jerry were just fifteen. Furthermore, both men were finally on the same page again, having both discovered folk music in general and Bob Dylan in particular, a sound that suited their voices and Paul's songwriting well. The duo really needed each other now, with Arty longing to escape a 'Graduate' style future of exams and graft and Paul needing the overwhelming support and enthusiasm with which Arty had greeted his new, deeper strain of songs, while it won’t have escaped Paul’s attention that he seemed to sell more records when hanging around the tall kid with the curly hair. For the third time, out of six-and-counting, Arty found himself excited again by the thought of working with the friend he'd declared he would never trust again the music sounded so good.
And it does: no wonder Bob Dylan's producer Tom Wilson snapped the pair up for Columbia immediately (where the pair will stay loyal, together and apart, for the next fifteen years; funnily enough Arty was studying at Columbia University at the time, though there’s no connection between the two) after catching them performing a three-song at Greenwich Folk Club - you would too if you'd heard new originals like 'Sparrow' 'He Was My Brother' and 'The Sound Of Silence' (another story goes that Tom knew what he was looking for already, having tried unsuccessfully to buy the rights to Paul’s solo 1963 B-side 'He Was My Brother' for one of his own groups to record, receiving instead a letter from the song's writer that read 'hey why don't you come and listen to me and my friend when we're in town?') All he needed was a demo, choosing ‘The Sound Of Silence’ and the duo were asked to provide one; calamity! Simon and Garfunkel didn’t have the money to make one – the former was playing mouth-to-hand in clubs and the latter was a student. But karma can be a kind mistress and just at the right time an old room-mate of Arty got in touch: Sanford Greenberg had been puzzled why he couldn’t read during lectures and went to the opticians who discovered glaucoma in one of his eyes. Devastated he planned to give up his studies, but with Arty and a few other friends’ help with lesson notes and coursework he stayed the course and got a great grade. To say thankyou he got his rich family to send a ‘thankyou’ to all the friends who helped him including Arty, who duly paid for the session out of his friend’s generosity (maybe the pair’s timing, which had sucked since 1957, was suddenly coming right after all?)
The duo still needed the songs to make a record, though. If you hear the Paul Simon catalogue in order (with all those Jerry Landis demos included into the mix) then these songs suddenly come out of nowhere: good as Paul is when he’s trying to sound a lovestruck teen, it’s nothing compared to what he sounds like when he starts singing from the heart and writing from the mind of an old man, even one locked in the body of a twenty-three-year-old (who still looks impossibly young on the cover photograph). However these sorts of songs are so hot off the press that Paul hasn’t got a whole album ready yet. Indeed Paul has had a mixed time of late: the single [43] ‘Carlos Dominquez’ is his real breakthrough to this new style, though the only person who picked up on it was Val Doonican – and his cover versions sticks this oh so very 1960s song in a very yesteryear crooner style. He’s just escaped from his years working as a Brill songwriter, churning out demos for a living, and he’s recorded some good material (as well as an awful lot of bad) but all he has to show for this extra songwriting craft is a tiny bedsit flat. He was doing better than this when he was fourteen for crying out loud! As for Arty music is the career he’s always wanted, but has already assumed he cannot have. Just a few years before this record a teenage Art Garfunkel was reduced to singing solo singles that repeated the title [13] ‘Dream Al-l-l-l-one’ over and over for 150 seconds and Paul Simon’s best record was under the alias of [38] ‘The Lone Teen Ranger’ (who was that masked avenger stealing my girl? Why, it’s the philosophical and world-weary Paul Simon, how...utterly strange). As his moving sleevenotes on the back of this record make clear, Arty made this record during time off from his final year in architecture, in the desperate hope that when he graduates he can escape the need to fight for a job he wasn’t really ready for by working with Paul. He’s already deeply jealous of his partner, ‘goofing off’ while he sits there with ‘three term papers’ left to write. Beneath it all though you can hear his sheer delight at the idea that, one of these days, when he checks his cubby hole he won’t be finding more coursework there but an actual LP he actually sings on, on songs he believes in. Given how unlikely it was for any kids off the street to make a record in this era, somehow that’s ambition enough. ‘Wednesday Morning’ feels like a last roll of the dice for both of them, an attempt to jump on the folk bandwagon rather than the doo-wop or rock and roll ones while they can, before ‘real life’ takes over. 
This album has long been dismissed as a failure, one that ‘only’ sold 300,000 copies and missed the charts entirely (though a lot today those sales weren’t much in 1964) and when fans got to know the whole catalogue and worked backwards it seemed empty: where were was the electric power? The arranging brilliance? The great Hal Blaine drums? Instead this album sounds like exactly what it is: two talented early twenty-somethings with two voices and a beaten up acoustic guitar taping the entire album on three days spread out across March 1964. However in many ways it really is the 'dark horse' of the Simon and Garfunkel back catalogue, with those voices at their purest, the sound at its simplest, the songs at their rawest. Yes, it's true it's not as sophisticated as the records to come and Paul has only written enough songs for half an album, leaving half a record of largely uncomfortable cover versions of old folk and gospel numbers and possibly the  worst of the many covers of 'The Times They Are A Changin' out there (the times clearly aren't changing fast enough in this version). But what a glorious set of songs this new unknown songwriter is coming up with already, the majority quite unlike anything Paul will go on to write: the philosophy parable 'Sparrow', the outraged social protest 'He Was My Brother' and the stark monochrome of 'Bleecker Street' are all amongst the duo's most special, instant, resonant songs. Even the cover songs - 'Times' aside - are exciting, performed with excitement and energy rare for Simon and Garfunkel in the future, with even tired folk tunes like 'Go Tell It To The Mountain' and the most exhilarating 'You Can Tell The World' you will ever hear bringing joy joy joy into our hearts. And that's before we get on to the first and arguably best version of 'The Sound Of Silence', even more barebones and serious and important in this first version where there are no electric guitars to hide behind, with a song that's ridiculously impressive for a twenty-three-year-old to be writing. Simon and Garfunkel may have sang better songs more deeply, but they've never sung as prettily as here Personally I'd have been content for Simon and Garfunkel to always sound like this, with just one guitar and two voices all they need to conjure up some real magic; it’s the later albums that alter from the template, not this one – its just that due to its poor sales record few fans come to this record first the way they should.
So why did this record fail the first time around? Well, unfortunately it suffers from the same problems all of Simon and Garfunkel's records had since releasing [1] 'Hey Schoolgirl' nine years earlier: timing. America had fallen to The Beatles in February 1964 and seven months later Merseybeat showed no signs of stopping. Acoustic folk was seen as boring, old-fashioned, even Bob Dylan briefly yesterday’s news before The Beatles help make him again the heir apparent. Had this album come out on a Wednesday Morning a year earlier (when Dylan was king) or even a year later (when first The Beatles and then The Byrds had made folk-rock hip) it would have been a different story but yet again Simon and Garfunkel were jumping on the wrong bandwagon at the wrong time. In 1964 this album had no chance and it will take Tom Wilson’s belief in the duo and his brainwave of overdubbing electric instruments on top of this album’s greatest moment ‘The Sound Of Silence’ before Simon and Garfunkel got the hit they deserved. To be the fair the album cover doesn't exactly scream 1964 either: 'exciting new sounds in the folk tradition' is not the sort of tag line people who'd heard The Beatles sing 'yeah yeah yeah' were rushing to emulate, while the front cover is one of the 'squarest' in AAA history as a very smartly suited Simon and Garfunkel stare forlornly past a tube train at a subway station (New York’s 53rd Street). Both of them are wearing their ‘serious’ look too and look as if they’ve been standing there for hours already waiting for the blurred train to arrive on the right (with my limited knowledge of New York subways it seems all too plausible they could have been waiting there all day as the trains got constantly diverted and re-directed). In the era of exciting bright colourful album covers (‘A Hard Day’s Night’ ‘In The Hollies Style ‘It’s The Searchers’ ‘All Summer Long’) this album had no chance.
Devastated by the mammoth loss and failure of the first album either of them had ever made (which looked now like the only album either man was ever going to make), Simon and Garfunkel split up a third time by the end of 1964 with Arty returning, reluctantly, to college to try out another degree (to further delay getting a 'real' job). Paul figured America had no place for him and that he was doomed to forever play in coffee bars the rest of his life so he may as well choose which of these to perform in, doing the opposite of almost every act in 1964 by being an American who fleeds to England. Licking his wounds in a new city, Paul meets Kathy Chitty in a club, feels suddenly very at home and becomes convinced that he's where he’s meant to be and that he’d never work with Arty or in New York again, these recording sessions a happy memory to tell his grandchildren. However, they reckoned without producer Tom Wilson who was equally upset that this album had done so badly when he was so sure of the pair's potential. So, with Simon and Garfunkel out of town, he hired a bunch of rock session musicians and turned his favourite of this album's twelve recordings 'The Sound Of Silence' from the perfect song for late 1962 into the perfect song for late 1965. Suddenly the timing, the only thing this record was missing, is no longer a problem: starting with WBZ-FM in Boston, local radio really picked up on this song that had been so under their radar a year earlier. Simon and Garfunkel were born for word-of-mouth cult status and they got it as more and more began phoning up, requesting to hear that lovely song about alienation again. Before too long Columbia were convinced that the song was worth promoting properly and, even with the duo both out of town, the single sold a million copies and topped the charts (not bad going for the month after ‘Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out’ in the days when beatle singles tended to top the charts for a quarter of the year at a time).
There's a reason that happened to this project rather than, say, Tico and the Triumphs' groovy songs about [27] motorcycles: 'Wednesday Morning 3AM' is a special record with a timeless quality shared by all Simon and Garfunkel recordings beyond this point with a lot of things to say and a lot of talent saying it; this record just had to be presented in the right way first before people fully realised it (Before anyone writes in to ask why their favourite book/website/Youtube video lists this album as a top 30 UK and US hit, by the way, this album 'peaked' in 1968 in the wake of 'The Graduate' whose back cover listing everything the duo had made together inspired many of their new fans to check out their old material too - it wasn't in fact released in the UK at all until 1968 as it hadn't sold enough copies to be 'commercially viable').
Moreover, 'Wednesday Morning' may well be the duo's toughest album. Not many upcoming wannabe folkies would dare cover 'The Sun Is Burning' on their first album, a tale of impending nuclear holocaust (though still sung with Simon and Garfunkel's sweetest harmonies). Few would have written a song about murder in the middle of the night and guilt as a fugitive runs from the law on Wednesday morning at 3AM, an ordinary time when everyone else is relaxing or asleep that will have major repercussions for the lives of the narrator and his girlfriend. None surely would have been brave enough to include 'He Was My Brother', a heartfelt tribute to a friend of Paul's from his short spell at Queen's College who had been in the news in the Autumn of 1963 after his body was discovered alongside three friends of different colours in Mississippi, murdered at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. 'The Sound Of Silence' too has become rather over-familiar thanks to repeated hearings, but in 1964 must have sounded 'alien' in all senses of the world - a stark, bleak look at alienation hat's almost uncomfortably direct at a time when even Dylan was hiding feelings behind poetry. ‘Bleecker Street’ takes a bleak, miserable, drab world and paints it for what it is at a time when few songwriters were brave enough to do this. Even ‘The Times They Are A Changin’ was a revolutionary song to sing in 1964 before too many bands started recording it. There are no singalongs on this album, no hits (bar ‘Silence’, not your typical commercial 45rpm single), no cover songs chosen purely or their prettiness or moments when Arty gets to sing a folk ballad; there’s nothing here to soften the blow except two Christian spirituals. Many fans would argue that there's something 'missing' on this album, meaning the band sound  and the elaborate arrangement; in actual fact its later S and G albums that feel as if they have something 'missing', softening down the brutal honesty and uncomfortable home truths of this album which won't be heard again until reunion single [188] 'My Little Town' returns to this bleak sense of need (a song which 'belongs' on this album a way it doesn't on the others, even with a typically epic production).
Somewhere along the way, though, this most important of S and G milestones seem to have been forgotten or overshadowed, dismissed for being recorded across the course of three (non-consecutive) days rather than a year. Most critics sneer at this album today, for its bare knuckles acoustic sound and lack of Paul Simon originals. But I’ve always had a soft spot for this LP – nowhere else can you hear the classic Simon and Garfunkel harmonies so free and unencumbered by arrangements and throughout their vocals are superb; magnificently so for two friends who hadn’t worked together in so long with both singers at their real peak, instinctively on the money every time in the days before they could afford the time or money for perfectionism. There are less distractions here in the way of drums or string overdubs or fuzz guitars or Paul’s future beloved sound effects. The handful of Paul Simon originals are among the best he ever wrote (if only we had another half to go with them instead of some variable cover songs this might well have been the best S and G album of them all).
‘Wednesday Morning 3 AM’ is firmly bracketed by both record label and fans in with the burgeoning folk market, but it's important to add that it sounds so different to any other folk record of the era (these are ‘exciting sounds’ for a reason, folks, not just record company blurb). It’s partly joyous for a start, with Simon and Garfunkel’s harmonies at their sunniest – even Dylan’s grouchy ‘Times They Are A Changin’ becomes a celebration of teenage spirit, not a put down of the pair’s elders as it is in nearly everyone else’s hands and 'You Can Tell The World' sounds like the pair have been on 'happy' pills, notwithstanding the overly bleak feel of the tracks earmarked above. This was in the days when the happiest thing in folk was Peter, Paul and Mary warning us about Armageddon; as gloomy as Simon and Gar4fyunkel’s reputation may be now, back in 1964 they were too cool for folk school. The switch between gears could be subtler (in fact there's nothing subtle about this album compared to later S and G records, whether it's joyous religious praising or damning societal angst, which might be why so few people like it) but in a way that suits this album's bumpy ride between the extremes of the ups and downs of life, a theme that crops up often as we travel from mountain-tops filled with religious fervour to 'Bleeker Street' which is every bit as bleak as it sounds. It’s also so refreshing to hear two voices together on a folk record – all the others from the early 1960s seems to be Dylan or Joan Baez and a guitar emphasising their own frail solo voices or a group like the Spinners or Peter Paul and Mary, overpowering their simple arrangements by providing lush harmonies that make the songs top heavy. Two voices and one guitar sounds spot on for this record, which is simultaneously both black and colourful, and back in the context of the times it makes for a highly unique sound: we'd been used to solo singers sounding gloomy and trios sounding deliriously happy; never had harmonies been used in a folk setting for grit rather than colour. You can argue that a full band suit Simon and Garfunkel's harmonies more by giving them something stronger to pit their vocals against and to better establish the perfectionism that was already becoming their trademark. At the risk of starting the third world war and making 'The Sun Is Burning' a reality, however, I have to say how much spookier and complete I find the original version of ‘Sounds Of Silence’ before the better known version with the overdubs was made which is ice-cool rather than purely cool, the starkness better suiting the song's howl of pain while Simon and Garfunkel sing so closely they sound like one voice. The singing on this album is drop-dead gorgeous throughout in fact, brightening even the weaker songs, and its easy to see why Simon and Grafunkel got on so well in this period – their voices are destined to go together every bit as much as CSN and Ys.
We also forget, some forty years after the duo’s break-up and playing this first ‘proper’ record back-to-back with lush masterpieces like [152] ‘The Boxer’ and [138] ‘Mrs Robinson’, how much of a giant leap forward this leap was. Most casual Paul Simon fans who only know ‘Graceland’ and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ are probably surprised that Simon and Garfunkel were going as far back as 1964 – after all, ‘Sounds Of Silence’ was only turned into a household-hummalong after its inclusion in ‘The Graduate’ film in 1968. ‘Wednesday Morning’ was the pair’s first really big push at the mainstream however – and it's no coincidence that it's only now the duo feel comfortable enough with their signature sound to drop the aliases and start using their real names. This was a big deal at the time and somehow its important: these are songs from the heart, Paul hiding behind nothing or nobody as he tells it the way it really is; he needs to use his real name, not some some pop star alias to sell extra records. However getting there was difficult after so many years of assuming their names were both too, well, Jewish to appeal to hip record buyers. It's long been forgotten that it was this record’s star Tom Wilson again who helped encourage with this too, having seen Paul and Arty perform under the pseudonyms 'Kane and Garr'; Paul had only just moved on to 'Paul Kane' - still the writing credit he uses for 'He Was My Brother' - after so many years as 'Jerry Landis' many of his pre-fame post-school friends were convinced it was his real name! His breakup with Sue Landis and lack of success put a final end to his favourite psuedonym.  This music, for the first time in Simon and Garfunkel's already-lengthy career, feels like 'them', the 'real' them, rather than two talented musicians trying so desperately hard to sound like someone else (Paul also credits the shock of finding out that Dylan's real name was 'Robert Zimmerman' as the moment he realised that to write these sort of songs he was going to have to use his real name too).
So why isn’t this album a classic? Well, many fans admit to feeling a bit of disappointment when they finally track down this record (it used to be the rarest of all Simon and Garfunkel’s until ‘The Collection’ came out). It’s got more cover songs than any other Paul Simon record ever made (seven out of twelve). Many fans go further and say that the solo arrangements of ‘Wednesday Morning 3 AM’ on the ‘Paul Simon Songbook’ record are superior – something I agree with right up until the harmonies should kick in (an extra bass and percussion part can’t make up for the missing Garfunkel). In hindsight it’s easy to see why this album didn’t become a million-seller the first time round, as it’s just so different and unmarketable compared to everything else around at the time, too happy for folk and too dour for pop. The record-buying public was wrong of course – not for the first or last time either, as Peter Andre’s mind-numbing top three hit last week proved (editor's note 2016: It really was a long time since the first draft of this review if Paul Andre was still getting hits and I wasn't saving all my vitriol purely for The Spice Girls...) ‘Wednesday Morning’ is undeniably a stepping stone towards bigger and better things, but in its own quiet, subdued way it’s the most prepossessing Simon and Garfunkel album of all. You can learn a lot about the duo and the fears and troubles experienced by intelligent teenagers in the early 1960s from this record. Paul Simon’s wit was never sharper and Art Garfunkel’s singing was never sweeter. I even love the cover, 'square' as it undoubtedly is – everyone else in 1964 took their album pictures in either polished studio poses or in exotic and exciting locations that were obviously meant to make the artists look similarly exotic and exciting. Simon and Garfunkel are already linking themselves to the ‘ordinary man’ by appearing in front of a graffitied subway wall (because ‘the swords of the prophets are written on the subway walls’ – the reason the photo was so tiny is that a record executive noticed the ‘f-word’ scrawled across the wall at the eleventh hour, an incident that inspired Paul’s later song ‘A Poem On The Underground Wall’). The only real negative points are the long list of slightly bland cover songs (this really isn’t Simon and Garfunkel's most consistent LP...) and the fact that, like many albums recorded in 1964, it’s annoyingly, ridiculously short by our own modern standards (thirty-one minutes, still three more than the follow-up). But when this album is good, it’s very very good. Cute as ‘Hey Schoolgirl’ is (and impressive as it is for two newcomers aged just fifteen) and worthy as ‘The Paul Simon Songbook’ made over in England is to come, the real legend of Simon and Garfunkel starts here. 
The Songs:
Firstly comes the delightful cover of [93] ‘You Can Tell The World’. It’s fast and ferocious, with Simon and Garfunkel dispensing with their soon-to-be-legendary lush harmonies for a Beatles-ish busk that’s as ragged and raucous as anything either men will ever record. ‘World’ is a worthy song for the pair to cover too, being finely balanced between protesting-on-behalf-of-the-underdog and talking about joy and freedom.  Chances are it was chosen as a favour to two other folkies from Queems the pair admired, Bob Gibson and Bob Camp who’s also placed songs with Peter Paul and Mary and The Kingston Trio, though this song seems to have been given specifically to the pair and to this day no one else seems to have ever recorded it. What’s really odd about this is how un-Simon and Garfunkel this opening track will be, firmly set in Christian values – for a start the pair of singers are Jewish and secondly Paul Simon’s always been something of a militant atheist and as early as the second Simon and Garfunkel album will be taking very controversial (for 1965) pops at the Christian ethic in [114] ‘Blessed’. But here Simon and Garfunkel are indignant that people can fill their time with anything but thoughts of Jesus and they turn into a pair of white gospel singers here on lines about the flames of hell, the streets of gold in heaven and how ‘The river Jordan is chilly and wide’ (a line lifted wholsesale from ‘Michael Row The Boat Ashore’). Chances are it was the song’s great riff and opportunities for harmonies that made the pair latch onto the song, but there’s no denying the fervour on the ‘Yes it is! Yes it is!’ chorus where there’s no signs of either the pair’s usual period brand of alienation or an ounce of sarcasm as the pair perform the sort of thing they would later spoof totally straight. Interestingly the only song close to this in their future catalogue is [144] ‘Bridge Over Troubled water’, particularly Paul’s solo gospel demo of it. As unusual as this song is, thogh, it suits the pair’s voices well and gets this album off to a far more energetic start than any other folk LP in my collection.
[94] Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream’ by Pennysylvania folkie Ed McCurdy isn’t just in a different league but a different solar system to the better songs on the album. The vocal lines are obvious and lazy, the lyrics a travesty (hmm, I’ve heard the line ‘I had a dream about joining hands and ending war’ before so many times, even in pre-1964 songs, that I can’t believe Coca-Cola haven’t turned this message into an advert. Oh hang on, yes they have) and the country arrangement complete with a banjo falls flatter than a pancake. Worst of all Simon and Garfunkel sound bored out of their skulls. This is a shame because this feels like a more obvious choice for the duo – it is pretty much the only anti-war folk protest song pre-1960s not written by Pete Seeger and even if it concentrates on sugary utopia rather than hard-edged realism it is still brave for its day. In the lyrics everyone signs a piece of paper saying they will never fight again and – unlike the obvious parallels with Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler – everyone keeps to it, laying down their weapons and ‘uniforms’ (a word I’d swear Paul sings as ‘unicorns’). Alas, though, it’s all a dream – and a strange one at that. Elsewhere on the album even the worst songs have a sort of je ne sai quais, thanks to the duo investing their all into everything they do and not allowing instruments to get in the way of their highly-mixed vocals, but this song – taped during the album’s second session on March 17th – sounds rushed. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that some record executive came along and said ‘hey guys, songs about silence and sparrows will never sell – whattabout some real genuine folk songs?’ and then insisted on it being the second track here to give audiences something they’d recognise from elsewhere. That’s really not the point of this genuinely daring album though. Don’t let it put you off – the rest of ‘Wednesday Morning’ gets so much better than this.
[95] Bleecker Street’ is the first of Paul Simon’s songs on the album and therefore the first time anybody who wasn’t a Jerry Landis or Tom and Jerry collector ever got to hear his work on record. In many ways it’s the most fascinating song here and an impressive composition for someone so young (according to Garfunkel’s sleeve-notes it was written in 1963!), with an excellent songwriter’s instinct for detail and ordinary life already firmly in place. ‘Bleecker Street’, a real place in New York, is obviously meant to read ‘Bleaker Street’ and sounds as if its somewhere right round the corner from The Kinks’ ‘Dead End Street’ (and the Simon and Garfunkel reunion song [188] ‘My Little Town’) with its tale of a dirty, backward, forgotten town filled with a cloud that’s all-consuming, making its inhabitants settle for this miserable life they’re leading. There are two things that make this song unusual though: one is that Bleecker Street was at the time, if not quite san Francisco and Haight Ashbury, then the New York equivalent of hippie paradise, a bohemian quarter full of artists and painters and writers, the sort of thing someone from square Queens would aspire to normally rather than look down on. The second is that Paul sees this as a district not without hope so much as without religion; the reference at the end about how they are ‘a long way from Canaan’ is a biblical reference to the plot of land that covers Israel, Phoenicia and others in Biblical times. If Paul is referring to his distant ancestors here (and if he is for one of only two times in this book – see [201] ‘Silent Eyes’) then he seems to be despondent that the Jewish people have had to emigrate to New York instead of in the land that is theirs, living out a hazy hollow version of the life they should have been living. Yet, beneath all of this, runs the idea that actually no land could ever suit Paul and his character better: the rent is only $30 (not bad even in 1964), he’s surrounded not by bad people but ‘smiling faces trying to understand’ him and each other, there are poets to confer ‘crooked rhymes’ with and there’s a church bell that somehow ties this land with where their destiny should have been anyway. For a kick-off the Bleecker name comes from 19th century writer Anthony Bleecker whose writing is not unlike Paul’s (and who, though out of favour in the 1960s, would surely have been known to Art as a fellow of Columbia University). The best line of the whole song, though, is the idea of ‘sad voices leaking from a street café’, our first chance to hear the alienation of Paul’s work in its peak era as people try to live out their days unthinking and unfeeling, reluctant to talk to anyone in case it breaks the cloud that sits on top of all of them. Clever as Simon’s lyrics are, though, it’s the magical harmonies that impress the most as for the first time Paul and Arty show just exactly what they can do – already bored with their usual harmonies the two swap round here and have two parts completely in counterpoint to the other. Many times in this song Art Garfunkel is left singing the growly low passages and Paul Simon the falsetto though never one do they quite match each other head on, as if reluctant to look each other in the eye. This song, then, is a best-kept secret that neither of them or the people they represent quite admit to. ‘Bleecker Street’ is a complex piece then and Arty isn’t the only one who admits (on the record’s back sleeve) that ‘the song was too much for me at first’ and the district remians unrecognisable for anyone who visits it now (where they serve particularly tasty pizzas and sell CSNY fridge magnets!), but it clearly touched a nerve somewhere in Paul’s psyche, with the real name of the street a gift for Paul’s busy brain.
[96] ‘Sparrow’ is much less original, borrowing heavily from various nursery rhymes meant to children about responsibility and friendship (its words taken from ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ and its music from a slower ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’), but its tart verses and sad-sighing chorus is still mightily impressive. Again it’s Garfunkel hitting the low notes that makes this song so special, uncharacteristically offering the harsh contrast to his partner’s dreamy sensibilities. If anything though this song is harsher than the nursery rhyme that inspired it, the sparrow dying out despite asking repeatedly for the help of others who could have given it, an early liberal diatribe against right-wing capitalist feelings. It’s almost a pre-cursor of the hippie movement (and despite appearances to the contrary Simon and Garfunkel really embraced the peace and love movement, as a listen to their set at the Monterey Pop Festival will show you), with the peace-loving Sparrow cut off by his peers who hoard their food, shelter and affections from him even though they have much to spare. The song ends very bleakly indeed, with the only ‘person’ willing to look after the sparrow being the earth that claims his dead body – a tactic that Paul Simon will use to even better advantage in his social protest songs [108] ‘A Most Peculiar Man’ and [117] ‘Richard Cory’ the following year. The way that Simon and Garfunkel contrast the purity and sweetness of their vocals on the sparrow’s lines and the bitterness of the oak tree, swan and golden wheat is particularly strong, each one willing to do so but worried what their neighbours will think if they help out a lowlife (a very astute idea, the single biggest thing working against hippie utopian ideals being not brainwashing or mean-ness but a need to keep up with the Joneses). A word too about Simon’s acoustic playing which is already as impressive as his contemporaries Bob Dylan, Bert Jansch and Davy Graham even if he himself never much reckoned on his playing  and his clever arrangement mirrors the bird’s innocent hopping and the grind of misery that lies underfoot. A song about innocence corrupted by mankind’s love of material greed and isolationism, its clear that Paul Simon had already found that voice of intellectual protest so unique to him, however derivative the song’s influences.
[97] ‘Benedictus’ may start with Paul’s voice but is very much Arty’s choice for the record. Garfunkel himself arranged what we reckon is the second oldest AAA ‘song’ of them all not released by Pentangle, a pretty monk chant from the16th century uncredited on the sleeve but really by Holland Renaissance composer Orlando De Lassus. The entire text, repeated over and over like a ‘round’, translates as ‘Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord’ (interestingly its opening line ‘blessed’ in English is sung on the exact same note as that opening word of Paul’s later [114] ‘Blessed’. We know that he recorded this song, like many of Arty’s choices, under protest so may well have used it as a starting point to offer up his own ideas about organised religion). The piece is impressively accurate based on the original (except the guitar part, of course), subtly updated to sound not exactly contemporary but at least timeless. It’s an odd idea, this one, with the lyrics in latin throughout and no sop to then-modern audiences to make it an easier pill for them to digest (even given that Latin was still being taught in schools at the time, its highly unlikely that more than small percentage of Simon and Garfunkel’s audience would have understood it). ‘Beneditcus’ hardly stands up to repeated listening (although it stayed in the duo’s set list for a surprisingly long time – they even perform it at Monterey in 1967, much to the stoned audience’s audible disbelief) but its rescued by a sterling orchestral part (the only one on the whole record), with a cello acting as a mournful undercurrent throughout the song. Simon and Garfunkel are in top vocal form too but this song seems out of place on the record by more centuries than just four and is one of the record’s weaker links.
[98a] The Sound Of Silence’ is, of course, a classic. And I’m not just saying that to follow the flock – I can take or leave [144] ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and still marvel at how [138] ‘Mrs Robinson’ still seems to be the duo’s best known song even now despite being one of their weakest and emptiest if catchiest singles. But ‘The Sound Of Silence’ is everything you want a song to be – the combination of words, voices and tempo make for a truly goose-pimple inducing performance and its universal thoughts about alienation and human indifference have never been bettered. Paul wrote this song in 1963 (whatever Arty says on the back cover), sat in the bath of his tiny bedsit to get some peace from the noisy neighbours outside although it took him until one last great burst on February 19th 1964 to finish the song – very close in timing to the date when Tom Wilson would have seen the duo performing and only three weeks before the performance given here. By this point in life Paul feels cut off and alone – he’s not yet back with Arty (at least when he had the first idea), he’s lost his job in the Brill building, his fanbase aren’t buying his pop records and he’s reluctant to go back home to his parents. Instead he’s living a dream of his own making, in a tiny world where he speaks to few people and he actively wants that world to get tinier, to swallow him up with its inky blackness. Simon is on peak form with the imagery he uses throughout: the opening incantation to ‘darkness, my old friend’ just sets the scene of isolation and despair so well and the idea that silence can eat away at you and grow the longer you remain cut off from people lingers in the mind long after the record stops playing. The people bowing ‘to the neon God they made’, filling their lives with empty distractions in desperation to avoid the long, cold, lonely struggle of life remains perhaps the definitive line Paul Simon has written, while ‘restless dreams I walked alone, narrow streets and cobbled stone’ with the narrator ‘turning collar to the cold and damp’ as he walks back home to his iserable small world again as quickly as he can is just sheer genius. After all, why should he join in with the nation’s prattle? Nobody has anything of worth to say beyond gossip and chitter-chatter, ‘people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening’ and poets who know the ‘truth’ are sidelined, left to write their songs to their own miserable ears or scribbling them down hastily on the subway walls as a protest that everybody reads yet nobody notices. Somehow, though, Paul finds the power to see beyond his misery. In a thrilling finale he reaches his arms out to his listeners, offering words to teach and open arms to heal, to offer the hugs with which so much of mankind has been deprived. But nobody listens and nobody cares, the sound of silence left lingering even after his invocation to the world has been made. You can see why this song made such a profound impact on the few people who heard it this early on – it says so much so eloquently, matched by a lovely thoughtful melody-line that stumbles its way through the darkness. A note-perfect performance of a song that could have easily gone wrong is the icing on the cake; I actually prefer this spooky original acoustic version – the better known electric version sounds a little too everybody-sing-along compared to the cold, austere treatment on this song that it so deserves. Simon and Garfunkel’s harmonies are again spot-on, delivering this song in the most muted and uncomfortable way possible but not without warmth (and again Paul so needs his partner here). Paul’s singing particularly – holding a clipped single note throughout most of the song – is perfect, giving the song a nagging, desperate feel in contrast to Grafunkel’s dreamy vocal hinting at how great life could be if only the world wasn’t isolated, offering the harmony that paul tries to ‘reach out’ too. This is only an ungrounded theory but I think Paul only got back with Arty after all the bad blood between them because he knew how much he needed him for this song, that contrasting lushness and sweetness to his sourness. ‘Silence’ is a remarkable achievement on every level, so unlike anything else that had ever been written till now and yet identifiable by everyone who ever wishes the world would stop talking – even more the people who regretted that it never started up again. This remains the duo’s most popular tune for a reason, majestic and powerful and memorable; everything a song should be.
If ever they use a Simon and Garfunkel song for the computer game ‘rock band’ or ‘guitar hero’, I really hope it’s [44ab He Was My Brother’ because Arty isn’t alone on the back cover when he writes ‘I love the way this song made me feel’. This is a joy to sing – all long vowels and held notes – and the indignance at wasted life and the people who let it happen is here in every word. One of Paul’s earliest tracks, its actually about a friend rather than a family member, with Paul moved to tears to hear that one of his school-friends Andrew Goodman had died along with two others at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan during a Civil Rights riot in Mississippi for nothing more than supporting African-Americans who wanted to be students (legend has it they were handed over to the Klan by the police after stopping them for 'speeding', which usually results in a fine rather than murder). The attack is so felt and so personal here this song rivals CSNY’s similar how-could-the-Government-do-this-to-us? ‘Ohio’ for sheer unbridled angry passion. Paul Simon rarely accuses people or institutions directly in his songs – most of his songs are more of the why-didn’t-society-find-it-in-its-heart-to-care and why-wasn’t-there-somebody-there-to-stop-this?, but ‘He Was My Brother’ is a real us-and-them song, drawing out each word in a long sigh as if the singer’s are drawing for breath between tears. Note that Paul sees his 'brother' as someone to look up to, 'five years older than I' - in reality Goodman was just twenty when he died, two years younger than Paul when he wrote this song. The unknown others who ‘curse my brothers to his face’ for daring to speak out against the powers that be are blamed every bit as much as the Government lackeys or the lynchmob, however – it's clear that Paul sees the Government’s ills as a result of societal weaknesses every bit as much as corruption and stupidity. An [44a] earlier version was chosen as Paul’s first really serious attempt to break out of the teenage market and was released under the pseudonym ‘Paul Kane’– hence the publishing credit on the record. So unusual is this song in the context of Paul’s catalogue many people have assumed that this song too is a cover, despite the obvious personal feeling the duo invest into the song. Compared to the original gone and the ‘Songbook’ version to come, this duo recording is – remarkably – the toned-down version, as in the original Paul Simon is more specific and names ‘Mississippi’ as his friend’s burial place. Another of this album’s forgotten gems and a stunning example of the duo’s power to move. The pair though nail the vocal perhaps even more than the other two versions, which drips with bitterness and agony, Arty’s harmonic power giving the song another frisson of energy and emotion that Paul can’t match alone. Paul truly did his friend's memory proud. Arty writes to Paul in the letter used on the back sleeve of the album that he's heading down to mixing soon 'to fight for the harmonica on 'He Was My Brother' - making an album is a lot of fun!'; clearly he lost as there's none on the final mix, but an alternate version with rather too much harmonica appeared as a bonus track when the album was re-released on CD. A bit too ‘Dylan’, you sense producer Tom was right – this direct song doesn’t need any embellishments.
[99] 'Peggy-O' seems to have been Garfunkel’s other contribution to the album and it’s another pretty but also pretty pointless cover of a traditional folk tune dating back almost as far as ‘Benedictus’. Simon and Garfunkel sing it well, but for once the simple acoustic arrangement here under-sells the song (it needs the crunch of a folk-rock band to work, like Pentangle in fact – so close is this song to their style that I’m amazed they never Pentangled their way through this song). Based on the Scottish folk-song ‘The Bonnie Lass Of Fyvie’, it follows a soldier who learns the lesson of love as well as war when he falls for a local maiden who elopes with him  (what will his unit think?!)  The twist is that for all his talk of being sweet to her and her visions of arriving in a carriage next to her beloved, he is still a soldier and he returns to burn the town down (‘If ever I return all your cities I will burn, destroying all the ladies in the area-o’). This is easy to miss though as Simon and Garfunkel sing it in the exact same ‘smiley face’ way as the rest of the song. As lessons in how to sing tricky, mainly counterpointed harmonies go its still fairly jaw-dropping – but coming after the onslaught of ‘He Was My Brother’ it all sounds decidedly flat.
[100] Go Tell It On The Mountain’ – a late addition recorded hurriedly on the third and last day -  is even worse, without even the strong vocals to savour. A 19th century spiritual, the duo probably learnt it from a 1963 Peter Paul and Mary record and may have chosen it for its similarities to their bright-eyed bushy-tailed feel of some of their other cover songs on the album. Another strangely feverish religious song, it’s basically ‘You Can Tell It To The World’ part two and this version lacks the irony of other contemporary versions (the Kinks for one). It’s nice to hear this over-common (and generally over-blown) song reduced to its acoustic basics though and Paul’s heavy strumming is interesting to hear but the pair’s harmonies are all over the place (Paul even misses his line about 1:35 into the song and Garfunkel has to cover for him) and the recording sticks out on this otherwise harmonious and polished record like a sore plectrum. The song only truly comes alive for the middle eight (‘Down in a lonely manger the humble Christ was bo-orn’), which is much closer to the tight, unusual harmonies Simon and Garfunkel excel in, but alas that’s about forty-five seconds total throughout this two minute song – the verses seem to go on for hours, so excruciating is it to hear two out of tune voices singing ‘hallelujah!’
[101] The Sun Is Burning’ is another cover version but its lazy laid-back performance coupled with lyrics of fury, chaos and death is soon to become an established Simon and Garfunkel trick (the theme runs throughout the whole of ‘Parsely, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’ for instance).  Ian Campbell wrote this song for his own folk group in 1963 (a sort of early version of Fairport Convention, complete with fiddle player Dave Swarbrick) but it would have been a very obscure choice when this album came out (most fans won’t hear the original until a 1971 compilation). This composition is every bit the equal of Simon’s work for once and the best of the small handful of covers the duo did,  again treating lines like ‘all is darkness, pain and fear’ with such a pretty tune that the song makes you far more uncomfortable than somebody roaring their heads off about the injustice of it all. Like many a Simon and Garfunkel song, the theme is how did things get so messed up when our lives should be so wonderful and the lines about the sun ‘moving west’ and ‘sinking low’ until it becomes a ‘mushroom cloud’ is deeply disturbing now, never mind what it must have been like in 1964. At first people think mankind has been saved when they spot what they take to be a ‘sun’, burning so much brighter that everyone comes out to play in the streets or bask in its glow while flowers grow quicker. To their horror, though, everyone realises that their paradise is a hell and its actually the light from a nuclear bomb, death coming in a ‘hellish flash of smearing heat and burning ash’. The twist is that this sun has ‘come to Earth’, with the technology that used to give now being used to take away, as the world ‘cries in pain’, the sun extinguished forever by this dark mushroom cloud, no hope left for mankind at all. For an ear less than twenty years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki this is a tough song indeed and full marks to Simon and Garfunkel as the chaotic aftermath of a nuclear explosion is a brave choice for a song on an anyone’s album, never mind an all-important debut.
[102] ‘The Times They Are A Changin’ is a much more impressive song – one of Dylan’s best, I’d go so far as to say, possibly tied with ‘Absolutely 4th Street’ - but alas Simon and Garfunkel reveal themselves to be awe-struck teenagers again rather than the highly drilled spokesmen for a generation they are on most of the other songs. Paul Simon’s Dylan-heavy accent is embarrassing - far more so than the supposedly career-frying Tom and Jerry records the duo keep suppressing every few years or so whenever they get re-issued - and although Garfunkel sings straight, hearing the two together is for once more of a chore than a delight. Despite being a practically new song (it came out the year before this record), Dylan’s song about a new gway of doing things ‘shaking your windows and rattling your walls’ was already something of a standard and an all-too obvious choice for folk artists to cover back then. Simon and Garfunkel’s choice is, for once, not exciting or new to the folk tradition like the front cover promises. Perhaps if the duo had truly locked harmonies this could have been great and highly inventive– like the ‘Hollies Sing Dylan’ album, but better – because nobody had ever dressed Dylan’s songs up with harmonies before in those pre-Byrds and pre-Sonny and Cher days. But if anything their vocals here are worse than Dylan’s original because at least he sounded like he meant it when he sang ‘don’t criticise what you can’t understand’, while Simon and Garfunkel are strumming songs around a campfire and don’t understand this song, never mind mean it. We can, perhaps, excuse it though: it was either this song or ‘Bleecker Street’ that was their first ever performance inside a professional recording studio and I would hazard a guess that its this one and that this is the one place on the record where their nervousness and inexperience shows.
The album ends on a downward note with the title track [103] 'Wednesday Morning 3 AM', which is easily the worst and most clichéd of the original Paul Simon songs on offer here. I’m amazed that this song was ever in the running to be the title track - its a but of a mouthful, you have to say, and even back in 1964 both performers and fans felt that ‘The Sound Of Silence’ was the album’s classic, closely followed by ‘Sparrow’, ‘Brother’ and – surprisingly – ‘Benedictus’. The lyrics are far vaguer than anything else on the album, even though Paul is trying to tell us a ‘story’ here – unfortunately the two-timing criminal who slips away from his loved one to ‘hold up and rob a hard-liqueur store’ is not suitable material for S and G, even if it does offer them another fine opportunity for a lesson in contrasts. How much better it might have been told if we’d been given any motive for this – we assume the narrator has no money but even he asks himself ‘why have I done it?’ without answer, as he pulls himself away from his sleeping girlfriend’s sleeping figure, a ‘scene badly written in which I must play’. That last quote, for example, just jolts the whole song and not only because it doesn’t quite scan – hearing heavy, threatening words in the context of this lush paradise doesn’t quite have the same impact as hearing about ‘lovely mushroom clouds’ on ‘The Sun Is Burning’. Paul wasn’t happy with this track and will re-write it as [115] ‘Somewhere They Can’t Find Me’ on the next album (Simon was never the most prolific of writers, even back then!), but even that slightly-improved electric version is something of a low point in Simon and Garfunkel’s catalogue and this isn’t a song that’s particularly suitable for the duo. ‘3 AM’ is interesting, however, for being pretty much the first song about guilt on a Paul Simon album, even though it’s a character’s rather than his – guilt will become a bit of an obsession round about ‘One Trick Pony’ and ‘Hearts and Bones’.
Overall, then, this album is too flawed and has too much filler to sit against the more elaborate and highly crafted albums that Simon and Garfunkel will go on to create. You miss the later album’s consistency, the ability to have so many originals banging shoulders without the interruptions of Christian hymns or hey hey it’s the monks’ section on the record as per ‘Benedictus’. You sometimes miss the big band sound too, with Paul and Arty’s ear for variation and eclecticism on their later arrangements perhaps the greatest gift they brought to their records after the songs and the harmonies (both of which are already in place here). However the handful of Paul Simon originals we do have are first-class and its evident that a very important, very clever voice has arrived out of nowhere, whilst the joy of hearing Simon and Garfunkel’s uncluttered harmonies with just an acoustic guitar for company for the most part is special indeed. Though I have a soft spot for ‘Parsley, Sage’ I would even go so far as to say that this might be Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest record, low spots and all – purely for the great trilogy of ‘Sound Of Silence’ ‘Bleecker Street’ and ‘he Was My brother’, three songs of a level that no one, not even Dylan or Lennon/McCartney or Brian Wilson, was yet reaching in 1964. No wonder both Simon and Garfunkel were crushed when this record came out to stony silence: after so many years of flops and failures and mistakes they must have been so gratified when they heard these songs on playback and realised that, yes, actually they had invented something new with ‘exciting new sounds in the folk tradition’ after all. The only thing this album really lacks is time – time to perfect the arrangements, time for a couple of extra takes, time to write a few extra original songs and time to learn a couple of more suitable cover songs. Considering everything the duo are up against, though, this album is remarkable, so good for a full-time architecture student on his term holidays and a failed doo-wop singer that you wonder how the world possibly missed its brilliance the first time round. Overlooked by performers, fans and critics for far too many years, ‘Wednesday Morning’ is one of the band’s more rewarding efforts, offering companionship through the dark 3 AM moments of your life and hinting at all the other joyous moments of your life to come as well.  

Other Simon and Garfunkel related articles worth reading if its Wednesday at 3Am and you can't sleep:


'The Paul Simon Songbook' (PS, 1965)

'Sounds Of Silence' (SG, 1966)

'Bridge Over Troubled Water' (SG, 1970)

'Paul Simon' (PS, 1972)

'There Goes Rhymin' Simon' (PS, 1973)

'Angel Clare' (AG, 1973)

'Watermark' (AG, 1977)

‘Scissors Cut’ (AG, 1981)

'The Animals' Christmas' (AG, 1986)

'Songs From The Capeman' (PS, 1997)

'Stranger To Stranger' (PS, 2016)

Every Pre-Fame Recording 1957-1963 (Tom and Jerry, Jerry Landis, Artie Garr, True Taylor, The Mystics, Tico and The Triumphs, Paul Kane)

Live/Compilation/Film Soundtrack Albums Part One: 1968-1988

Landmark Concerts and Key Cover Versions

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