Simon & Garfunkel - Biography

By J Poet

In their relatively short career as Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel took home 10 Grammys received an additional Lifetime Achievement Award Grammy in 2003, some four decades after their inception. They sold over 40 million albums and singles, making them the most successful pop duo of all time. Since their final break-up in 1970, they’ve played periodic reunion gigs, beginning with a performance in 1972 at Madison Square Garden for presidential nominee George McGovern. The pair has never healed the personal rift that caused the split, but they share complicated history together.


Paul Simon was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1941. His father was a college professor, bassoon player, and even a dance bandleader in the 1940s. His mother was an elementary school teacher. Influenced by the pop and country music he heard on the radio, Simon began playing guitar and writing songs while still in grammar school. His family moved to Kew Gardens in New York City shortly after his birth and he attended PS 164 in Queens. It was there that he met Art Garfunkel. They were friends throughout their formative youths, and both loved The Everly Brothers enough to start singing close harmony songs together, many of them penned by Simon. They performed in grammar school musicals, including a rendition of “Alice in Wonderland,” and formed the professional pop-tandem of Tom & Jerry in 1953—going by the handles Jerry Landis (Simon) and Tom Graph (Art).


By the mid-1950s, Simon was writing songs and pitching them to record labels, making valuable music and business connections along the way. In 1957 the 16-year-old duo recorded “Hey, Schoolgirl” on Big Records, which reached #49 on the pop charts and was a big regional hit in the New York City tri-state area. These years are documented on the recent Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel release Tom & Jerry (2007 Superior UK.)


Tom & Jerry had several more minor hits, including “Dancin’ Wild” and “Two Teenagers.” Simon would eventually branch out under his own name and then as a member of Tico & the Triumphs, where he recorded singles for Amy, ABC-Paramount, Big, Hunt, Ember, King, Tribute, and Madison records. None were successful. Simon went to Queens College and started law school, but dropped out and started hanging around the folk clubs of Greenwich Village before reuniting with Garfunkel.


Art Garfunkel was born in Forest Hills, Queens, in 1941, the grandson of Romanian immigrants. Garfunkel went to Columbia and got a degree in Art History and a master’s in Mathematics. Although he did sing in a fraternity a cappella group called the Kingsmen, Garfunkel was planning on becoming a teacher out of college. When Simon finished polishing up a couple of his songs, he called Garfunkel and the duo landed an audition with Columbia Records. The label, enamored by a Simon-penned song called “He Was My Brother,” signed them for a one-off deal.


Simon & Garfunkel’s initial release, Wednesday Morning, 3am (1964, Columbia) was an ambitious flop, as Simon was still coming into his own as a songwriter and evolving his worldview. He left for England shortly after its release and Garfunkel entered grad school. In England, Simon toured folk clubs as a solo act and hung out with British folkies. He started co-writing with Bruce Woodley of The Seekers; one of the songs they wrote—“Red Rubber Ball”—later became a #1 hit for a band called The Cyrkle. Simon signed with Columbia England and cut The Paul Simon Songbook (1965, CBS UK; 2007, Columbia US.) It included the first recordings of many songs that would become the foundation of Simon & Garfunkel’s repertoire, including the hits “I Am a Rock” and “Leaves That Are Green.”


While still in England, radio stations in Florida and Boston added another of his of his songs—“The Sound of Silence”—to their rotations. Producer Tom Wilson dubbed electric guitars, bass and drums onto the original track and Columbia released it as a single. By December of 1965, “The Sound of Silence” had become a #1 smash hit. Simon returned to the States and went into the studio, again with Art Garfunkel, to record Sounds of Silence (1966,Columbia.) They recorded the whole thing in three weeks. Now with a full band behind it, “I Am a Rock” was transcended from its Songbook form, and became another hit. Simon & Garfunkel were on the map. Wednesday Morning, 3am, at first dismissed by the public, was revisited and slowly went platinum. Meanwhile, the breakout album Sounds of Silence went platinum three times over.


Their next record, the highly-anticipated Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966 Columbia) boasted the first shared writing credit on the hit track, “Scarborough Fair/Canticle,” and shot up the charts behind the #5 pop single “Homeward Bound.” A couple of years later, the pre-existing songs of Simon and Garfunkel were recycled on the soundtrack of Mike Nichols’ hit film The Graduate, which starred Dustin Hoffman. As the exposure on the film garnered new attention and placed their music in the context of rebellion and alienation, The Graduate Soundtrack (1968, Columbia) went double-platinum—in spite of the fact that it had but one new song, “Mrs. Robinson.”


Continuing with their success, Bookends (1968, Columbia) became Simon  Garfunkel’s first #1 album. It included the hits “Fakin’ It,” “Hazy Shade of Winter,” and the aforementioned “Mrs. Robinson.” Bookends went double platinum and the duo copped two Grammys that year for the momentous track from The Graduate, “Mrs. Robinson.”


Simon & Garfunkel toured without a band, stressing the folk side of the folk-rock equation, but things grew strained between the old friends who’d now become a world-renowned unit. When both men tried their hands at acting, and as Garfunkel appeared as Nately in Mick Nichols’ next movie, Catch-22, it only served to widen the rift—mainly because Simon’s part in the movie was cut.


The sessions for the aptly-titled Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970, Columbia) did not go smoothly. Simon had written a song called “Cuba Si, Nixon No” that Garfunkel refused to sing, and Garfunkel wanted to do a Bach chorale, which Simon nixed. The album was finally released with 11 delicately-layered and masterfully produced tracks, with the title song becoming a monster smash. Often personal, the chemistry of the folk duo was still in evidence on “El Cóndor Pasa,” “Cecilia,” and “The Boxer”—all of them hits. Bridge Over Troubled Water was massively successful, going 8X platinum and taking home seven Grammy Awards in 1971 in the major categories—Record of the Year,; Album of the Year; Song of the Year; Best Contemporary Song; Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists; Best Engineered Recording; and Best Contemporary Pop Performance/Vocal Duo or Group for the track “Bridge over Troubled Water.”


Despite the colossal achievements of that album, Simon & Garfunkel broke up just before the Grammys to try pursue solo careers, of which both were successful. Even still, subsequent pre-recorded releases continued to sell. Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits (1972, Columbia), which included four live tracks from a 1969 concert, went 14X platinum and remains one of the best-selling greatest hits albums of all time. Collected Works (1990, Columbia) includes everything the duo cut for Columbia on three CDs. It also went platinum.


Over the years Simon & Garfunkel have reunited for special concert tours and live albums, including In Concert (2004, Warner.) They’ve also released two concert dates from their most successful time together—Live from New York City, 1967 (2002, Warner) and Live 1969 (2008, Columbia.) Simon & Garfunkel were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. They have not recorded original material together since 1970, yet may still.

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