Thursday, September 20, 2012

Song #261 of 9999 - The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel

Song #261 of 9999 

Title: The Sound of Silence
Artist: Simon and Garfunkel
Year: 1964
Album: Wednesday Morning 3 A.M.

Okay, I admit it. I have gaps in my pop culture education. I've never read The Grapes of Wrath. Never saw Gone With the Wind. Didn't watch Ken Burns's Civil War series all the way through. And until a few days ago, I had never heard this original version of "The Sound of Silence."

What a revelation! This is the kind of experience that makes the blog worth writing. I've never been a big fan of the well-known version of "The Sound of Silence" with its excessive production and overly compressed backing band distracting even the most ardent listener from the song's lyrics and message. (Seriously, what is up with guitar pitch bends and why do I have to walk across the room to the left channel speaker to hear the drums?) And as it turns out, all of this stuff was added without the knowledge or participation of the duo. The instruments were simply recorded over their original cut! The rest is pretty much history: the record went straight to number one when it was released in 1965 and probably saved the band, who had already gone their separate ways after the failure of Wednesday Morning 3 AM.

Listening to the stripped down version from their 1964 debut, I am struck by a fervent quality that drives the song forward in ways the rhythm section was unable to in the hit single. Listen to the bass in the second verse, propelling the song forward with a cadence that suggests the spirited determination of the 1960s folk movement. This rhythmic thrust supports the text of the song ("In restless dreams I walked alone/Narrow streets of cobblestone") as the protagonist takes to the neon-lighted streets of the dark night. But the most obvious and frequently chill-inducing aspect of this version is the dynamic phrasing achieved by the duo, all of which is lost in the updated recording. It's fun to wonder what would have become of Simon and Garfunkel had this song found its audience in 1964. Would they still have emerged as pop superstars or would they have blossomed into the serious folkies they seem to aspire to be on this captivating early release?

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