The Essential Simon & Garfunkel is being brought out to coincide with the multi-Grammy winning, multi-tens of millions-selling singer / songwriter duo’s first live tour for 20 years. After being one of the most popular and best-selling groups of the late ’60s, the pair split rather acrimoniously and it has taken them a long time to put their differences behind them and set aside their solo careers (Simon’s being rather more effective than Garfunkel’s) to once more sold-out venues across the globe.
The Essential… collection is a two-CD set comprising a mammoth 40 tracks. With Simon & Garfunkel, the compiler had plenty to choose from, with tracks taken from their six studio albums, two live concert recordings in New York, and a collection of studio recordings released as a five-CD set.
For the benefit of those to whom the works of Simon & Garfunkel are a closed book, their style may be summed up as two guys with mellow, melodic voices singing swirling harmonies of poetic lyrics, generally over a virtuoso acoustic guitar. Many of their best known tracks have this simple modus operandus, such as Sound Of Silence, Wednesday Morning 3AM, and Song For The Asking.
At times, however, they would pick up the tempo with, drums, electric guitars and funky bass lines like in Cecilia, 59th Street Bridge Song, and the classic A Hazy Shade Of Winter (later covered, not badly at all, by The Bangles). The songs generally seem timeless, but occasionally you are reminded that this was a band from the ’60s, most notably with Bye Bye Love (made famous by the Everly Brothers) but also with Baby Driver.
What is perhaps surprising is that more Simon & Garfunkel songs haven’t been covered – especially amongst the plethora of TV-voted and manufactured bands of recent times who generally have no original song-writing in them. Where bands have covered songs, like A Hazy Shade Of Winter, but also The Lemonheads‘ version of Mrs Robinson, they have brought out the richness and diversity of the original while bringing it to a whole new audience. Simon & Garfunkel are even amongst Carter (The Unstoppable Sex Machine)‘s influences – The Only Living Boy In New York being cunningly relocated to The Only Living Boy In New Cross…
The quality of the singing and Paul Simon‘s playing shine through, especially on the live tracks that are littered through the collection. Generally it is impossible to tell that these are live except for the polite but enthusiastic clapping at the beginning and end (it seems like concerts were a much more sedate affair in the ’60s!).
Listening to the lyrics can take you on a rollercoaster of emotions. I Am A Rock’s, “I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain,” aches with loneliness, whilst the depth of passion with which, “I held your hand,” and, “I love you,” is sung in For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, knows no parallel in modern music. Story-telling in The Boxer (“When I left my home and my family, I was no more than a boy… running scared”), and social comment on meths drinkers and pot-sellers in Blessed (“Sat upon, spat upon”) are also covered.
No essential collection could be without Bridge Over Troubled Waters – a perennial in “Top 10 singles ever” lists. Unusual in having a piano backing, and no Simon singing, this song can bring tears to the eyes of the strongest minded, with the beauty of Garfunkel’s voice and the sentiments of love and friendship at any cost. According to reports, at a recent concert Simon walked off the stage during the performance of this song, leaving Garfunkel alone. It would appear Simon is still somewhat miffed at his erstwhile’s friend’s success at singing his (Simon’s) song…
Whilst Simon & Garfunkel undoubtedly have many classics which warrant a two-CD set, the collection seems rather long, and perhaps falls between the two stools of the casual fan who wants the hits he knows, and what the dedicated follower (who will already have all the albums and just wants them in a different order) might desire. Further, the CD insert is disappointing, offering the bare minimum of detail on each track, no words, and no information on the band, such as might have been expected with a comprehensive retrospective.
Nevertheless, for those whose previous Best Of is scratched, or perhaps is even still on vinyl, this will be a welcome addition indeed.