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Old Friends

The Complete Columbia Recordings. 1964-1970.
Released August 2001

The Columbia Studio Recordings 1964-1970
(Columbia Legacy) The enduring legacy that was Simon & Garfunkel rang true last September when Paul Simon performed "The Boxer" on Saturday Night Live in tribute to a wounded New York City and a devastated America. Missing was Art Garfunkel's vocal sweetness, the necessary sugar to Simon's salty lyrics, a combination remembered with much warmth, affection, and plenty of bonus tracks on the duo's 5-CD The Columbia Studio Recordings 1964-1970. The five albums that comprised their six-year history are a remarkable body of work, a standing stone in rock history. New York-centric debut Wednesday Morning 3AM from 1964 presented a post-assassination generation with a canny mix of traditional ("Go Tell It on the Mountain") and social/cultural commentary ("Bleecker Street," Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changing") that became a hallmark of the duo. It also presented America's alienated youth with an anthem, "The Sound of Silence," a song so powerful and prophetic it was re-recorded as the title of their 1966 album and charted for 143 weeks. Sounds of Silence and equally strong Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme defined Simon & Garfunkel as estimable cohorts of Dylan et al., the fey "Scarborough Fair" weaving the angelic blend of the two singer's boys-choir harmonies into the fabric of the Sixties. In PSRT, Simon's songwriting sharpened with radio-friendly tracks ("Homeward Bound," "59th Street Bridge Song") and jabs at society ("A Simple Desultory Philippic," "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night"). Bookends, from 1968, likewise spawned more singles ("Mrs. Robinson," "Hazy Shade of Winter") along with the evolving craftsmanship of Simon's writing ("Overs," "At the Zoo"), but it was '70's Bridge over Troubled Water that made the ultimate exit. More massive singles ("Cecilia," "The Boxer") and an anthem for America in the title track made it a perfectly realized recording and an honorable farewell. So, why "The Boxer" for NYC 30 years later? Why not "Bridge Over Troubled Water" or even "America"? Here's why: "In the clearing stands a boxer and fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of ev'ry glove that laid him down, or cut him 'til he cried out in his anger and his shame, 'I am leaving, I am leaving,' but the fighter still remains ..." Everlasting words for a time when looking to the past makes it easier to face an uncertain future.
 
The Austin Chronicle
December 7th 2001
 

Old Friends. October 1997
Released October 1997

Old Friends (Sony Legacy). 1997. This  three-disc boxed set, 59 track overview of the relatively short five year career of the Sixties' most influential folk/rock duo has been a long time in coming. Even though all of these cuts from Simon & Garfunkel's five albums have been previously remastered for CD release, this is the first time that the original masters were used (they were claimed as lost) and the difference is pretty astounding. The albums were always tremendously well recorded, but the sumptuous sound of these 20-bit SBM-treated songs is absolutely unbelievable. The interplay of the team's vocals jumps into your lap for the first time since the original masters were used to cut early copies of the vinyl albums. To say that this stuff has never sounded better is an understatement. Even though it's not like hearing these wonderful songs for the first time, there's a sense of rediscovery here when you hear how much effort and artistry was put into the production of all of Simon & Garfunkel's albums.The box boasts a passel of 15 previously unreleased cuts (how the heck were these left collecting dust before this?), but the set starts out with an oddly glaring omission . Even though they were called Tom and Jerry at the time, the duo's 1957 hit "Hey Schoolgirl" would have made an obvious choice for a leadoff cut. It does show up later (on the third disc) in a ramshackle live version, but the original single would have made a nice addition and its exclusion is odd. The set's first song is an unissued demo of a song that turned up on the Wednesday Morning 3 AM album called "Bleeker Street", a lovely melodic folk song that set the stage for the duo's beautiful harmonies. Aside from another lost song, (a studio out-take cover written by a guy that Simon produced early in his career) tantalizingly called "Blues Run The Game" (disappointedly it's not blues), the first disc is a fine compilation of the duo's first two albums as they moved hesitantly from pure folk to a hybrid folk-rock synthesis best exemplified by the intense "I Am A Rock". The song choices are fine, if a bit obvious, and even though the sound is marvelous, it's not as revelatory as on the more intricately recorded selections on the following two discs. Disc two is where the sonic difference really becomes noticeable as it covers the third and fourth albums, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme, and Bookends. These releases were where the production really geared up, although PSR+T was still a folk album gussied up with percussion, harpsichord, and bass. Still the attack of the sparse congas, bass, and subtle organ on "Patterns" will cause anyone familiar with the previously released version of this song to do a double take. The duo's voices and acoustic guitar wrap themselves around the melody like dog huddled next to a fireplace on a cold night. Seven studio cuts are pulled from PSR+T (some others turn up in live versions) and although we could have done without the terribly dated "7 O'clock News/Silent Night" schlock, it's a fine selection from a great album. The second disk also includes a lengthy 5-song chunk from an all-acoustic 1967 Lincoln Center Concert which shows just how incredibly tight these guys were when they sang live. Even when spitting out words fast and furiously like on "A Poem On The Underground Wall", S&G's split second harmonizing never wavered. The live recording is crystal clear and reveals the loveliness of their interlocking vocals. A live version of Simon's "Red Rubber Ball", a fluff pop hit he wrote for the money for a flash-in-the-pan '60s group The Cyrkle is inconsequential but a nice rarity. It does show off the pairs direct Everly Brothers connection in a way that the more political, poetic, and personal songs don't. Disc two continues with the Bookends album, the first time that producer Roy Halee -- who was to play such an integral part in the sound of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" -- was utilized. One listen to the intricate production of "Save The Life Of My Child" (jagged synths, sound effects, and off-beat and often startling percussion) gives you an idea of how these guys had learned to use the studio in the year since PSR+T. Bookends also includes some of their best work. The sense of isolation and loneliness on "America" sounds just as relevant today as it did thirty years ago. The stark grayness of "A Hazy Shade Of Winter" cuts the poppy anemic Bangles hit version by miles. The melodies are tough and Simon's poetic lyrics capture the songs moods perfectly. Only the "Voices Of Old People" cut is missing from the original album, and it's not a major omission. The disc closes with two previously unreleased acoustic Christmas songs which are lovely but nothing you'd buy the set for. It all comes together on disc three, though. Kicking off with the legendary "Mrs. Robinson" (never sounding more powerful than in this remastered version), and continuing though the entire Bridge Over Troubled Water album, the duo's sound matured to almost symphonic proportions. The original sequence of the songs is jumbled (S&G did the track selection and running order, so they apparently wanted to rearrange things), yet the disc flows incredibly well. Fluff like "Baby Driver" doesn't hold up, but the grand Phil Spector-ish approach of the title cut, the marvelous and sadly forgotten "Only Living Boy In New York", and "My Little Town" (a post-Bridge final song from the pair) shows just how far the two had come from their folk beginnings only four years earlier. You can also trace the inception of Simon's later African/World Beat themes of Graceland and Rhythm Of The Saints to the Andean folk song "El Condor Pasa," which along with the Latin touches of "Cecelia" adds another dimension to Bridge. An unreleased studio track left off of BOTW "Feuilles-O" is a short but telling African folk tune that later oddly turned up on a Garfunkel solo album. Old Friends is an almost perfect box set. It traces, in roughly chronological order, the development of not only Simon & Garfunkel's historic career, but simultaneously the path of popular music through the '60s. Through all of the intensity of their most poetic moments, S&G never lost sight of the fun element in their work, or of the significance of their Doo Wop and Everly Brothers roots. The sound throughout is stunning, and hearing these wonderful songs some 30 years after they were recorded gives you an appreciation of the artistry and longevity of Simon's work. Nobody ever duplicated their sound, or for the most part even tried, making Simon & Garfunkel truly a unique and legendary duo in the annals of '60s music.
 
Hal Horowitz. Ink19

The Books

Simon and Garfunkel: Old Friends - Joseph Morella and Patricia Barey
1991 - Robert Hale Ltd - ISBN 0-7090-47797

Bookends: The Simon and Garfunkel Story - Patrick Humphries

 

Simon and Garfunkel The Definitive Biography by Victoria Kingston

1996 - Sidgewick and Jackson - ISBN 0-283-06267-3

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