Monday 2 January 2017

The Paul Simon Songbook (1965)

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"The Paul Simon Songbook" (1965)

I Am A Rock/Leaves That Are Green/A Church Is Burning/April Come She Will/The Sound Of Silence/A Most Peculiar Man//He Was My Brother/Kathy's Song/The Other Side Of A Hill/A Simple Desultory Phillipic/Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall/Patterns

'He's so un-hip that when you talk in London about Dylan, they think you're talking about Dylan from the Magic Roundabout, whoever he was, the rabbit ain't got no culture!"

Paul was all of 23 years old when he recorded these songs. He's 75 now but won't be for long. Time marches on. But the music that was made when he was young still turns to gold even all these years on. 'The Paul Simon Songbook' is an unusual album in that it's the only album Paul ever made that he assumed no one would hear. All of the Simon and Garfunkel albums - even the first one 'Wednesday Morning 3AM' released sixteen months earlier - were released in the hope of getting a bit hit, whether it got one or not. Simon and Garfunkel were ambitious youngsters with a masterplan of how they were going to take over the musical world (which is why it was such a shock to them when their first album died a death and they went their separate ways). By the time of this album, though, Paul has left his singing partner, the land of his birth and most of his dreams behind, content to pick out a living playing London folk-clubs and living with new girlfriend (Paul's first real girlfriend?) Kathy Chitty. Strange as it may seem to think of it now Paul's albums sell millions to fans from all over the globe but Paul literally made this album because he hoped he could interest a few of his friends into buying it and to make the most of a few recent appearances on BBC local radio's 'Thought For The Day' (normally a religious programme but producer Judith Pieppe liked Paul's songs so much she fought to get him heard by somebody on something). Paul had been playing the twelve songs on it for so well that he managed to perform the whole half-hour set within an hour's recording slot at a studios in Bond Street with the album costing a grand total of £150 to make, including a £90 advance which was the part that interested a near-broke Paul the most. Even the album cover was taken more or less outside the studios, as Paul and Kathy squat on 'narrow streets of cobblestone' at no expense at all (the fact that Kathy, notoriously shy, agreed to be on the cover at all shows how few copies either half of the couple expected this to sell).

That was, as it happens, money that couldn't have been better spent. Though Paul is beginning to give up on his day-dreams, he can't slow down the songs he feels brimming inside him and - by Paul Simon standards - 1965 was a golden years, with two-thirds of the songs for the second Simon and Garfunkel album already written (only 'Blessed' 'Somewhere They Can't Find Me' 'We've Got A Groovy Thing Goin' 'Richard Cory' and the cover of Davy Graham's 'Anji' missing) plus three songs that will be overlooked until the third 'Parsley Sage' (and it's odd that this includes not only the awkward humour of 'A Desultory Phillipic' but also gems like 'Patterns' and 'Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall' which really belong on 'Sounds Of Silence'). For all his decision to drop out of the limelight and his American homeland, Paul is desperate for an audience and you can hear the joy in his voice as he gets to put down on tape the songs he's been carrying around in his head all this time before they get lost or stolen (knowing Paul, he wanted them down on tape so he could move on and leave the songs behind him too, something the rather sour sleevenotes - written a few months later - suggest). For Paul it's a welcome opportunity to hear himself as concert-goers would have heard him while adding a second poor-seller to his back catalogue for a handful of friends and fans eager enough to look them out.  Given the album title he may also have seen this record as an opportunity to plug his songs to singers - however if that was the plan then it didn't work as nobody picked up on the songs on this album despite their obvious worth. Maybe that's because, more than any other record, this feels like an album only Paul could write.

For us looking back now it's a goldmine. These songs all sound very different to the ones recorded by Simon and Garfunkel - even the two songs here repeated from 'Wednesday Morning 3AM'. Paul is more naturally serious when he's on his own and without the harmonies to move the recordings into barbershop quartet you can hear much more of the Dylan influence (especially on the very Dylanesque 'Phillipic' which became more of an affectionate pastiche of rock and roll in the duo's hands). You can hear, too, what these songs sound like without engineer Roy Halee making them big - by comparison even the low budget 'Wednesday Morning' sounds big as Paul plays literally with one microphone near his mouth and another near his guitar, with no clever engineering techniques or fancy overdubs. We won't hear Paul like this again until his first solo album in 1972 and even then only for patches of the album. Paul is thinking small in other words, in a way he never will again, and yet that only adds to the drama of the album. Great as they are songs like the falsely cheery 'A Most Peculiar Man' and the fury of 'He Was My Brother' felt slightly watered down thanks to Garfunkel's pretty singing, nudging the songs a little away from folk protest into Disneyland. Arty, too, could sing hard and loud when he wanted to so it's not him by any means, but just the fact that two people are sharing the load and singing in unity gives the Simon and Garfunkel albums a little support and hope even in their darkest hours (that's what the 'Parsley Sage' album, arguably the first to be thought of as a duo album from the start, is all about after all with the two singers softening the blow of 'Silent Night' v 'The 7 O' Clock News'). Here Paul really is alone, a rock and an island, making him sound more of an outside loner Dylan figure and giving songs like 'I Am A Rock' and 'A Church Is Burning' extra bite as you feel the isolationism and witness the helplessness and powerless of the man who observes but is too afraid to act. Paul could easily have been a big success had someone picked this album up - but then even Paul himself knew this album was never likely to be a big seller, with the folk boom of 1964 already on it's way out. Thankfully, for Simon and Garfunkel, it's moving towards folk-rock and the unexpected re-release of 'The Sound Of Silence' (heard here in an even starker, darker state than the acoustic version on 'Wednesday Morning'), but Paul of course doesn't know that yet.

What he does know is that he can get away with saying things on this record he'd probably never be allowed to say in America in 1966. The duo had already got into some small bother for their sympathy to the lynching on 'He Was My Brother', but here Paul goes further on the album's only (kinda sorta maybe) unreleased song 'On The Other Side Of A Hill'. This song may well be the most Paul Simon of all the mid-1960s taking in several other themes all in conflict with one another - innocence against maturity, youth against age, the working man against the intellectual and war against peace. Paul is now much more than a 'hill' away from his homeland and yet he views the Vietnam and Korean conflicts as if from a distance, shocked at events that have marched on ahead without him since his year away. The men involved have lost the perspective that Paul has now gained from a distance: they 'fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten', with no one quite able to tell them why they're risking their lives. If the lyric looks familiar then that's because Paul sneakily weaved part of this song into Simon and Garfunkel's innocent take on traditional folk song 'Scarborough Fair' (at Arty's suggestion, so it's said). It was the only way Paul could comment on the war in his homeland - at least until turning draft-dodging into a comedy in 'Punky's Dilemma' in 1966. This track should be one of Paul's most important and revered though, simple as it may be. We fans are grateful 'The Paul Simon Songbook' exists simply for this song, even though it's a shame in a way that Paul wasn't even in 1965 such a prolific writer that he could afford to 'lose' dozens of great songs here the way a period Neil Young or Paul McCartney might have done.

Though 'Hill' is the only rarity there's one song that differs in terms of lyrics (though many are slightly altered in arrangement). Not many of the songs are different in song form, although many differ in arrangement. 'A Simple Desultory Phillipic' which comes with an extra verse sticking the knife into Dylan and his writing practices even further: 'When in London do as I do, find yourself a friendly haiku, go to sleep for ten or fifteen years!' Presumably this was cut so as not to confuse Paul's later American listeners - and yet listen out for the mention of 'I've been Tom Wilson and Art Garfunkled!', a throwback to the 'Wednesday Morning' production team and suggesting either a fondness for old friends ('Garfunkled' is after all a great rhyme for 'aunt and uncled!') or a suggestion that even this song was written at the time of the first album and left unused. Several other lines in this song are altered too, with the song very much in early draft form. Yet everything else is as it will appear on Simon and Garfunkel's re-recordings - almost scarily so in some cases, especially considering this album's talk of 'transition' and wanting to change songs.  What's perhaps even more interesting than what's on the album though is what's missing. Several originals that appeared on 'Wednesday Morning' aren't here (the beautiful 'Sparrow' and the mature 'Bleecker Street' among them). Paul doesn't perform two of the most popular songs in his set at the time - covers of 'Scarborough Fair' and 'We're Going To The Zoo' that went down better than his own songs. Nor does he throw in any of the gospel or Dylan covers that were often in his set. Neither is 'Homeward Bound' in the pile even though we know that was written during his English stay and by this period. Presumably Paul wanted to show off his skills as a writer rather than interpreter and maybe sell some of his songs to other people - and yet it's odd that he didn't reach back for, say, 'Bleecker Street' instead of 'A Simple Desultory Phillipic' (a joke that works even less here than it will on 'Parsley Sage').Still, even this song is just too good to have been left to perish on a forgotten English only (London only?) LP all the same.

So it's strange to read the back cover and see that the Paul Simon of mid 1966 (as opposed to early 1966 when they were recorded) has already gone off many of these songs - even the ones he's still singing in concert now over half a century on. Taking his cue from his hero Dylan, Paul writes his own sleeve-note (with a recap of Arty's comment on 'He Was My brother' pilfered from 'Wednesday Morning') and runs thus: 'This LP contains twelve of the songs that I have written over the past two years. There are some here that I would not write today. I don't believe in them as I once did. I have included them because they played an important role in the transition. It is discomfiting, almost painful, to look back over something someone else created and realise that someone else was you!' Apart from the nerve of a twenty-four-year-old commenting on how much he's grown and matured since he was all of twenty-three, it's interesting to note how little respect Paul seems to have for his own material here. Though the radio broadcasts had brought perhaps Paul's first ever fan mail, period live shows in London got generally underwhelming responses at the time - some people got it, but more people didn't. A tape exists of Paul when he'd first moved to England, taped in December 1964 (six months before this album) in Scarborough, where the audience claps and cheers along to Tom Paxton novelty cover 'We're Going To The Zoo' yet all but ignores 'The Sound Of Silence' (sorry, it's not out officially and a horrified Paul keeps pulling it from Youtube but fans keep sticking it up again so persevere if you don't know it - Paul has never sounded younger or more self-conscious although his singing and songs are already note-perfect). Even at the time Paul seems to have considered these 'old' songs and if you'd stopped the singer on the cobble steps of the front cover in 1965 and told him he'd be a big star within the year and would be recording these songs all over again for a massive audience he'd have laughed. These songs are the 'old' Paul - he was only recording them for the 'transition' to work on something new.

Actually that 'something new' won't come for another 18 months or so and even then the cornerstone of 'Parsley, Sage' is already here sounding much the same (just simpler). What might the 'new' Paul Simon have been? Well, Dylan had already gone electric so maybe Paul would have done the same, re-working 'The Sound Of Silence' in a new setting himself even without old producer Tom Wilson getting ahead of the curve and doing it himself. Maybe Paul would have formed a London version of 'Tico and the Triumphs', his old motorcycle-riding rock band from 1962. Maybe Paul would have gone back to being a pure songwriter hawking his songs around London publishers. Or maybe - and this is where it gets sad - 'The Paul Simon Songbook' was never meant to be a 'transition' musically but one personally. You hear time and time again in Paul's memories of the 'old days' that this year in London was probably the happiest of his life. He and Kathy were soulmates and when 'Silence' did become a hit Paul and she said she wouldn't move to America with him Paul was heartbroken and left with a tricky decision about which to choose. Though Paul has been happy since, with multiple lives and after searching so hard might never have forgiven himself for throwing fame away (he's been searching for it a decade after all, since the 'Tom and Jerry' days in 1957), you sense there's a part of him even now that wishes he'd stayed with Kathy living a simple, humble life in a simple, humble home with a simple, humble job. Few singer-songwriters were less keen on adapting to fame than Paul and you sense that a part of that talent mixed with humility (so ably expressed in these sleevenotes) are what attracted Kathy to Paul in the first place. Could the transition Paul writes about here be not so much musical but his desire to give music up and become a full-time boyfriend? He already sounds ashamed of his younger, naive self in a way that suggests he didn't fancy testing the waters again so soon and it might explain the writer's block he experiences right the way up until 1969. The biggest surprise about 'The Paul Simon Songbook' isn't that it features a fresh-faced youth with an old soul singing songs way above and beyond his situation; we fans pretty much took that as read. It's more that this album seems to final, as if Paul is making this his final word and his final sip at the last-chance saloon rather than using this album as an easy way to get money and mark time. Perhaps that's why, too, Paul has made this album so very difficult for fans to get a hold of, delaying any kind of American release until 1969 (when Paul had it pulled straight away) and any sort of CD release until 2004, making it one of the very last AAA albums to secure a first-time CD release (and the very final of the Simon and Garfunkel related recordings, give or take the semi-dodgy Tom and Jerry sets around).

So, all these years on, where does the 'Songbook' stack up in Paul's catalogue? Well the sleeve-writer of 1965 would have been horrified to hear me say this but very highly indeed. 'Songbook' may be the most consistent album Paul made in the 1960s, full of his very best tunes and even the lesser ones have a new weight and impact when sung by Paul alone. No the album isn't as pretty as the re-recordings with Arty will make these songs sound and absolutely, Paul was never going to score a big hit with this album in this style in this particular year (even on this particular label - it still astonishes me how a little-known foreigner with only one flop album behind him managed to release an album with giants CBS at all, even if it was made on the cheap and with radio broadcasts behind it! Rumour has it Columbia insisted Paul was still signed to them as a duo act and he had to sign with their 'favoured' label, although even then you sense CBS would simply have got out of the contract if they wanted to). There's a real passion here that, while present on the Garfunkel re-recordings too, is only one of the many things being juggled in the performances alongside technical brilliance, commerciality and occasional sly sarcasm. There's none of that on 'Songbook' where passion is all there is - no subtlety, no production, no harmonies and no 'hidden meanings' - even on 'A Most Peculiar Man' (the most sarcastic song in the Paul Simon catalogue), Paul sings this as if he means it and he can't see the irony of the 'he was weird and nobody spoke to him - gee I wonder why he topped himself?' lines. Some fans will prefer the more technically brilliant, telepathic recordings made by the duo but to these ears 'Songbook' isn't just when these songs were at their earliest (give or take 'Silence' and 'Brother', interestingly probably the weakest things here on a performance level as if Paul knows he's covering old ground) but when they were at their best. A stunning album by a real singer-songwriter to watch, the wonder is that Paul wasn't hailed as a genius already and why it took so long for the rest of the world to catch up.

Whereas 'Sounds Of Silence' ended with it, 'The Paul Simon Songbook' begins with future hit single 'I Am A Rock', interestingly also the song chosen for release as a single here. And this time Paul really is alone, with the feel of winter in the air and betrayal still leaning on his shoulder without Garfunkel's beautiful harmonies. Paul gets far more carried away with his emotions here than the 'robot' of the re-recording too, almost screaming his lines about how 'it's laughter and loving I disdain' with the singer seemingly about to crack and reveal all this to be a mere facade - by comparison the duo version has both men going further with their pretence, acting controlled and calm to the last. Paul must have really bashed his guitar up too, snapping at the strings like a punk performer. You could argue that the better known version is classier - the vocal and guitar are better recorded for a start, while Paul all but messes the end up by going into the '...and a rock can feel no pain' refrain at speed rather than at leisure. However the drama of this performance is also compelling and arguably closer to the spirit of the song as, clearly, the narrator is cocooning himself out of hurt not because he wants to. In other words, the other version was always going to sell more copies, but emotionally it's a draw. The CD contains an outtake, although this sounds about as close as any two takes of the song can be to my ears - I wonder why he was asked to perform it again?

I much prefer the 'Songbook' version of 'Leaves That Are Green', shorn of all the artificial prettiness, train-like rhythms, pretty harpsichords and lush harmonies. This should, after all, be an austere song about the inevitability of the passing of years. Paul's voice is gorgeous on this earlier version, as he sings a vocal line at the exact halfway point between his deep gruffness and Arty's sweetness. Hearing the song like this the track sounds much more Dylan-like, with a lovely flowing folky guitar line that wasn't on the 'final' version at all. This time round Paul sounds more detached, as if he's viewing this natural phenomenon about growth and decay from a distance, which again suits the song a lot more than Paul and Arty bringing out the track's inner beauty. The song also ends, not on the awkward question mark of a harpsichord, but a very folky full stop with some truly lovely playing. Remember, this album was recorded in an hour. It takes Paul that long to get the drum sound right nowadays.

'A Church Is Burning' wasn't one of Paul's best early songs in either version and this recording needs the beauty of Arty's vocals to take the edge off the harshness somehow. Still, Paul's vocal is a good one, full of quiet wrath and indignation rather than pure unbridled venom. This song about a racial-incited torching of a town in the deep South also sounds even more empty and pointless here, a 'lone' voice of reason trying to stand up against the might of a baying mob as signified by yet more virtuoso guitar playing.

'April Come She Will' is perhaps the most different sounding song - mainly because Paul sings it not Arty. You can see why Paul gave this song to his partner to perform - it's a cute, understated song that suits his breathy loveliness a bit more than Paul's more serious take. That said, there's nothing wrong with this performance either as once again the song shows off far more of its folk-leanings with a Bert Jansch feel about the guitar rolls. Like 'Leaves' there's also a deeper sense of the inevitability of passing time and the fact that no one can escape it. Unusually for this album, Paul's performance on the guitar isn't up to the S and G re-recording either, messing up the final guitar twirl taking us into the full ending. Oh well. He did only have an hour...

Though Paul was keen to perform only his newer material, it makes perfect commercial sense for him to re-record 'The Sound Of Silence' here. The partygoers in the folk clubs might not have been that reverential, but it was the performance of this song on radio spot 'Thought For The Day' that got the people of London talking and even in the 'Wednesday Morning' sessions S and G realised that this was their strongest card. Alas Paul rather throws this second recording away, reducing the passion in the song by slowing up the tempo and awkwardly stamping with his feet as if to mimic the hordes of people marching silently (which sounds a nice idea but is actually quite distracting). Paul's clearly been singing this song for so long already that he's forgotten the meaning and he goes for OTT emotional performance here, which doesn't work anywhere near as well as it did on 'I Am A Rock'. Most of all, though, you miss Arty more than on the other songs - even though this song, too, is about loneliness and despair it's not a depressing song, thanks partly to the energising last verse where the narrator scribbles a few obscenities on a nearby wall of 'neon Gods' as some brief interlude from the pain and confusion but mostly to Arty's gorgeous harmony which lifts up in the air and sings beautifully while Paul's harmony is rooted to the earth, a hollow shell of everything he could be. This re-recording doesn't have that, with Paul again mixing his lines up by flying freely but still closer to the ground than Arty does. This is still a beautiful song and even The Spice Girls could record it without mucking it up beyond repair (not that I want to see them try or anything...) but the earlier duo version is clearly the stronger, in both acoustic and electric forms. However it's mind-boggling to think that although Paul has returned to perhaps his most famous song a lot of time on stage (including a few London gigs only a Rolling Stones throw away from where this take was recorded) the last time he sang 'The Sound Of Silence' in a studio it was here, amongst another eleven songs, within the space of an hour for a bit of spare change.

Oddly Paul ends side one not with the closest thing he had to a 'famous' song at the time but another brand new piece written in London after reading a notice in the paper about a man who had died. Paul decided to write their life history, given that the person who wrote the advert clearly didn't know him either, and concocted a tale of London class and ignorance that particularly suits this 'London' reading of the song. Paul mainly sings in Arty's flutey falsetto and it's gorgeous - Arty was himself a big fan of this side of Paul's singing and you can see why. However again this song lacks the re-recording's purity and innocence, as Paul and Arty sounded like two schoolboys wondering why the man shut himself away. The Paul here sounds too adult, too knowing - we've already heard these other songs of pain and torment, he knows far too well why people can become peculiar recluses. The stunning line when 'he turned on the gas and he went to he'd never wake up to his silent room...' doesn't come as so much of a surprise without the angelic voices. However, Paul stings most beautifully and again his guitar playing might just be even better than the real thing, even if he hits a premature wrong note at the end.

'He Was My Brother' is perhaps the most interesting alternate version of all. There are three versions of the song doing the rounds, of which this was the last. What started, as a 1963 B-side by 'Paul Kane' (Paul 'borrowing' his new surname from the 'Citizen Kane' film!) as an angry, shocked, emotional outburst and which then came only slightly softened by the addition of Garfunkel harmonies for 'Wednesday Morning' is slow and sombre. Paul is still in shock, not quite believing that he won't see his old classmate from Queen's College again after his murder by the Ku Klux Klan for nothing more than befriending an African American (also killed the same day). By 1965 the mood of folk protest has changed irrevocably from 'isn't the world sweet?' to 'how dare you America, we have to stop this' as Vietnam and Korea escalate. This version of 'Brother' is arguably the way Dylan would have sung it slow and stately, albeit in tune. But this is too direct a song for Dylan or indeed much of the protest movement and neither does version share the same passion of a Joan Baez. In a sense this song is more like Pete Seeger, plugging away at social change by singing this song night after night until the world gets things 'right' (even though, in fact, Paul never really sings this song past this point even though he's long said it's a favourite - he should revive it sometime as, sadly, it's message of prejudice and injustice still rings uncomfortably true). You can tell that Paul is hurting quite genuinely in all three versions of the song, but this song's instant damnation has turned to a cold and steely heart, Paul still trying to work through the pain of the shock from three years ago. Even his guitar is more about getting the mood just right rather than 'showing off'. This song is magical in any form but this one is particularly bright. Note too that, like the 1963 single, Paul revives his original geographically explicit line 'Mississippi's going to be your burial place', rather than just 'this town'.

By contrast 'Kathy's Song' sounds pretty much the same as the more famous version on 'Sounds Of Silence', given that both performances feature just Paul and his guitar. There are some differences though - Paul sings with more of a falsetto here, while the song starts off slower before picking up the pace as it gets going. Paul's voice is also getting a little husky here, suggesting this was the song recorded towards the end of the session (you try singing for an hour, it's hard work!) That's Kathy on the cover, of course, while she was probably waiting patiently outside until Paul had finished which makes this performance all the more poignant. Far from 'writing songs I can't believe' soon everyone will believe in them so much that these early-twenty-something sweethearts will be pulled apart.

'On The Side Of A Hill' is the album's other must-have moment. A beautiful song, it's very much in keeping with the mood of these early songs even if it isn't quite as original as some of the others and owes a little more to folk idioms and a little less to Paul Simon than normal. Still, it's too good a song to be forgotten and ignored, even if part of it became one of the most famous Simon and Garfunkel recordings of all as the 'Canticle' part of 'Scarborough Fair'. A 'canticle' is, technically, a hymn or prayer - and this song is a kind of prayer to everyone who ever died needlessly in a war that wasn't of their own choosing. Paul is an omnipotent narrator (his only one, although 'The Boy In The Bubble' is kind of this song from the inside looking out), wondering why no one on the other side of the hill can see the futility of what they're fighting when he so plainly can. As far as I know the town of 'Summawere' is fictional, though it could be anywhere, full of war victims, some of them children. People have moved on and forgotten 'what a child's life is worth', so the pattern starts again with another generation taken before their time. Like 'I Am A Rock' the song is slightly over-written ('The soldier cleans a gun that ended a life at the age of seven years') but then that's ok - the subject is one that cannot be too big or too over-the-top. It's meant to be ridiculous, full of generals giving orders that they wouldn't follow themselves to 'fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten' to quote this song's most famous line. Over on Paul's side of the hill, his town are a fraction ahead, mourning their dead while their rivals are still fighting but both will have forgotten the sting of death very soon. A thoughtful and emotional sung, performed with cold austerity by Paul at his most school-teacher-ish. This is too good a song to leave abandoned for so many years (it makes for a more natural Simon and Garfunkel re-recording than 'A Simple Desultory Phillipic anyway!) and a song all fans should seek out.

Talking of which, 'Phillipic' is even more of a sneer and less of a comedy piece in this early version, a full 18 months before appearing on 'Parsley Sage'. The target of this version is purely Bob Dylan (the other targets everybody from all genres!) with lots of extra digs and Paul sings in a very Dylan manner. Paul speeds up the tempo, playing with the same pizzazz as on 'You Can Tell The World' on 'Wednesday' and seems to be having great fun compared to the poker-face he'll use on the re-recording. There are a few altered names here which make for some interesting takes on who was 'in' in 1965 but not in 1966; interestingly Lenny Bruce, James Joyce, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and Art Garfunkel make it through unscathed, but Walt Disney, 'Barry Kornfeld's Mother' (!) - he's a 1950s protest singer but goodness only knows who his mother is -  and even John Lennon failed to make the later version, replaced by the song's best pun 'Phil Spector resurrected'! There's no harmonica this time but the 'he's so unhip' line sounds more like Dylan than the re-recording. Meanwhile 'it's all ma, everybody must get stoned!' is performed here as 'It's alright ma, it's just a little something I learned over in England!' with Paul getting the Dylan voice spot-on. As for the conclusion, it's very different: instead of Paul busking 'folk-rock' and swallowing his harmonica and complaining to Dylan manager Albert Grossman, Paul writes a 'friendly haiku' during his time in England while 'going to sleep for ten or fifteen years', with the tape fading suddenly mid-verse. This version of the song is much noisier and lacks the sour fuzz-bass of the finished product, while Paul's frenetic performance her borderlines on madness. Even so it's a fascinating listen and proves that even this early on Paul was keen to laugh not just at the world around him but at himself too.

Up next is a shaky but great version of the pretty 'Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall'. The 'finished' version - astonishingly abandoned until the third S and G album - is pure pop thanks to a full band performance and some twinkly Garfunkel harmonies; this version is pure folk, as Paul holds the last note of each of his lines over to the next one ('hides behind my confusionnnnnnnnnso I'll continue to continue...') Where the finished version is all about beauty and the joy of being alive, this is another song, like 'Leaves', about how being alive passes all too fast and wondering why we waste it 'behind a shield of our illusion?' The resolution that Paul will 'continue to continue' is not a bouncy happy finale where everything has fallen into place - instead it's more a resolution to keep looking and searching for the meaning of life before it's over. Lovely as the finished version is, this is another case of the 'Songbook' recording featuring a stronger and much more suitable setting for a truly beautiful song.

The album ends with a third straight song left until 'Parsley, Sage' and it's another stunning song that's far too good to have been passed over for 'Sounds Of Silence'. In fact I strugle to believe that Paul was only 24 at most when he wrote what may be (along with 'Silence') his most abstract, complex and fascinating early composition. 'Patterns' is spooky as hell on the final version, thanks to sudden gunfire bursts of Garfunkel harmony, sudden cowbells and what sounds like someone having a seizure while playing the bongos. Somehow those added touches all worked on a song that's all about trying to pick your way through the undergrowth of life's twists and turns, working out your way to the exit 'like a rat in a maze' without making too many obvious mistakes or falling in all the traps. However this original acoustic beauty is even better even though all we have is a weary-sounding Paul and the sound of his own lighting guitar. Paul sounds hemmed in, doomed to repeat the same cycle over and over, but still struggling to work out what it all means. There's even a gonzo guitar solo heading into the last verse in which Paul gives up following the chord structure and tries to break out of his self-imposed prison with a flurry of noise, energy and turbulence that's probably the single most 'punk' moment in his catalogue, pure noise and bluster without his usual technique. It's a surprisingly glorious sound. Without the vocal effects the line 'impaled on my wall my eyes can dimly see the pattern of my life and puzzle that is me' is chilling, causing Paul to spit out his words with real venom. An outtake, included on the CD re-issue, isn't quite as emotional - it sounds as if the producer encouraged Paul to let it all out for the version on the album, which he surely did. It's a magical ending to a pretty magical record.

Overall, then, 'The Paul Simon Songbook' is way too good a record to have those scathing sleevenotes, those poor original sales, that low-key CD re-issue Paul pretended none of us would actually notice and to be made in an hour under protest by CBS probably as a 'tax loss' after hearing some guy on the radio and trying to cash in on his fleeting fame. Paul is already fully formed as an artist, even more so than on 'Wednesday Morning' which is another under-rated early album with some truly forward-looking moments in between the cutesy gospel covers. What both albums lack is consistency, with a few songs like 'Phillipic' not up to standard and a few performances like 'The Sound Of Silence' and 'April Come She Will' heading the same way. However the question is not so much why an album made in an hour by a singer-songwriter all but heading for musical retirement has a few weak links in the chain but why such an obvious genius wasn't heralded as such right from the word go - and why it had to take some un-booked overdubbing sessions back in the States to make Paul so. If London had been more awake and more aware we could have claimed Paul as our 'own' and Simon and Garfunkel might have recorded endless concept albums about being Americans in London, so far away from home. Instead yet another talented singer-songwriter sounds (at least from the sleevenotes) as if he's about to hang up his guitar for good and embrace a life of love and simpleness Paul has always dreamed of. Little was Paul to know that fame wasn't done with him yet, with most of his musical life still ahead of him. For all the great moments still to come, though, 'The Paul Simon Songbook' recalls a time when all the songs were special and when every Paul Simon song was a reason to get excited about music again. 


'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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