Sunday, October 19, 2014

Simon & Garfunkel's First Album

It should come as no surprise that the Beatles were the most popular recording artists in the 1960s, but Simon & Garfunkel's popularity easily rivaled the Beatles' by the time the decade ended.

Simon & Garfunkel made their debut on this day in 1964 with the release of their "Wednesday Morning, 3 AM" album — but widespread acclaim did not come until after they released their second album, "Sounds of Silence," a year and a half later.

Recorded over three daytime sessions in the spring of 1964, "Wednesday Morning, 3 AM" offered five original songs and several traditional folk songs, much like the composition of Bob Dylan's debut album.

And, again, like Dylan's album, it offered a glimpse into the future.

It was my mother who introduced me to Simon & Garfunkel when I was just a little boy. Mostly it was the music from the "Sounds of Silence" album, which Mom played frequently — and loudly — on our old stereo. I have no memory of hearing "Wednesday Morning, 3 AM" until I was much older, maybe when I was in college.

I don't think there were any hits on the album, nothing that would be recognizable to anyone except the really hard–core Simon & Garfunkel fans.

And Mom was a pretty devoted fan. She probably heard some of the tracks from "Wednesday Morning, 3 AM," which led her to purchase Simon & Garfunkel's second album. I have many memories of her humming along with songs from "Sounds of Silence" and "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme." Sometimes, when the spirit really moved her, she would belt out the songs with the gusto of Ethel Merman. My brother and I were her audience. We were little, but we would cheer and applaud when she sang Simon & Garfunkel.

I don't recall hearing her sing most of the songs from "Wednesday Morning, 3 AM," though, which is a shame. There were some good songs on that album. Not great songs, but good songs — and, as I say, they gave people a taste of what to expect.

The original Paul Simon songs on the album clearly indicated a folk direction to Simon & Garfunkel's music at the time. I guess the folk genre was always appropriate for Simon & Garfunkel's music, but it was probably most pronounced on "Wednesday Morning, 3 AM" with its acoustic guitar presence, but it also had an element the duo's other four studio albums lacked — a banjo.

Of course, there were glimpses of the hit machine Simon & Garfunkel would become — like the original "The Sound of Silence," which it seems to me was the first Simon & Garfunkel song my mother brought home — in the form of a 45 rpm single.

That wasn't necessarily the version that was on the album that was released 50 years ago today. It might have been the revised (and, in my opinion, inferior) version that was included on the duo's next album — the one that brought them wide recognition.

So perhaps she heard "Wednesday Morning, 3 AM" after all. That song was featured more prominently in the album that shared that name.

I liked other original Paul Simon songs on the album, too. "Bleecker Street" was probably my favorite, but the historian in me appreciated "He Was My Brother," a song that was inspired by the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in the summer of 1964. One of those workers, Andrew Goodman, had been a classmate of Simon's. The song took certain liberties — for example, it said that the unnamed brother was five years older, when, in fact, Simon was about two years older than Goodman.

It was still a good song — and it was, I believe, Simon & Garfunkel's first foray into topical songwriting. It was also the song that first attracted the attention of Columbia Records.