Folk-Rock's Greatest Duo: Simon and Garfunkel

The story of the duo who ushered in folk-rock's golden age

Simon and Garfunkel in the Sixties
Simon and Garfunkel in the Sixties. undertoner.dk

Who Were Simon and Garfunkel?

They began as an Everly Brothers-styled, doo-wop influenced duo, but when Paul Simon retreated to England and discovered the folk scene, they reconvened as folkies, soon turned folk-rockers by chance and circumstance, allowing Simon to develop into one of rock's great songwriters (and Art one of its choice falsettos).

Simon and Garfunkel's best known songs:

"The Sound of Silence"

"Mrs. Robinson"

"Bridge Over Troubled Water"

"Homeward Bound"

"A Hazy Shade of Winter"

"The Boxer"

"Cecilia"

"I Am a Rock"

"Scarborough Fair"

"The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)"

Where you might have heard them "The Sound of Silence" will forever be associated with the movie it later appeared in, The Graduate (1967), specifically the last scene when its two lead characters realize the implications of what they've done, and also to any movie or TV show that uses it in a similar way (see: Season 4 of "Arrested Development"). "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is nothing less than a modern pop standard, covered by dozens and used in the aftermath of any devastating event.

Formed 1964 (Forest Hills, Queens, New York, NY)

Styles Folk, Folk-rock, Pop-rock, Pop

Members:

Paul Frederick Simon (b. October 13, 1941, Newark, NJ): vocals (baritone)
Arthur Ira "Art" Garfunkel (b. November 5, 1941, Queens, NY): vocals (tenor)

Claims to fame:

  • Folk and folk-rock's most successful duo
  • Established Paul Simon as one of the pre-eminent songwriters of his generation
  • Created the most seamless duo harmonies since the Everly Brothers
  • Brought folk-rock into the modern age with epic poetic stances and innovative production
  • Created a healing anthem for a turbulent era with the 1970 single "Bridge Over Troubled Water"
  • Began Simon's influential incorporation of world music into Western pop

History of Simon and Garfunkel

Early years

Childhood friends and schoolmates, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel began performing professionally at the age of 14 as a Everly Brothers-type duo called Tom and Jerry; in fact, they nearly scored a Top 40 hit in 1957 with Simon's composition "Hey, Schoolgirl." But subsequent success proved tough, and the duo soon went their own ways. By 1963, Simon had become inspired by the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk scene and started to write in that style. Garfunkel joined him for an album called Wednesday Morning, 3. A.M., but when it failed to chart, Paul decamped to England.

Success

In 1965, however, Florida radio stations began receiving numerous requests for "The Sound Of Silence," a track from the album. Sensing an opportunity, producer Tom Wilson overdubbed "rock" drums and guitars over the acoustic track, creating the hit we know today. Simon returned to the US, and although neither man approved of the tinkering, they began recording hits in a similar style, including "I Am A Rock." Their career got a major boost in 1968 when their songs were featured in the Mike Nichols film The Graduate, a timely generational comedy that proved a smash hit.

Later years

By 1970, Simon's songwriting had grown considerably, leading to the massive hit "Bridge Over Troubled Water." The two had grown tired of working together by that time, and entered a hiatus that turned into more or less a permanent breakup. Simon went on to an even more successful solo career, while Art became a serious actor and sang with some degree of success. The duo have reunited periodically, most notably for a single in 1975 and a free New York Central Park concert in 1981, but for the most part they have remained separate entities.

More About Simon and Garfunkel

Other facts:

  • Met as classmates in Queens' PS 164, appearing in a production of "Alice in Wonderland" with Paul as the White Rabbit and Garfunkel as the Cheshire Cat
  • Appeared on American Bandstand in 1957 as Tom and Jerry
  • The London "railway station" that inspired "Homeward Bound," Widnes Central, now features a plaque commemorating the song
  • "Mrs. Robinson" was originally called "Mrs. Roosevelt" but changed to reflect the name of a character in The Graduate
  • "El Condor Pasa" is based on an ancient Andean folk song
  • Asteroid 91287 Simon-Garfunkel is named for the duo

Simon and Garfunkel Awards and Honors Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1990), GRAMMY Awards (1969, 1971), GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award (2003), GRAMMY Hall of Fame (1998, 1999, 2004), Songwriters Hall of Fame (1982) (Simon only)

Simon and Garfunkel hit songs and albums:

#1 hits"
Pop "The Sounds of Silence" (1966), "Mrs. Robinson" (1968), "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1970)

Top 10 hits:
Pop "I Am a Rock" (1966), "The Boxer" (1969), "Cecilia" (1970), "My Little Town" (1975)

#1 albums:
Pop The Graduate (1968), Bookends (1968), Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)

Top 10 albums:
Pop Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966), Simon And Garfunkel's Greatest Hits (1972), The Concert In Central Park (1982)

Wrote or co-wrote "Red Rubber Ball," The Cyrkle

Notable covers The Lemonheads scored their one and only big hit with a pop-punk take on "Mrs. Robinson" in 1992; The Bangles had one of their biggest hits with their rock cover of "Hazy Shade of Winter" (1987), prominently featured in the film Less Than Zero; one-hit wonders Harper's Bizarre took the album cut "Feelin' Groovy" into the Top 10 in 1967; Frank Sinatra notoriously covered "Mrs. Robinson" on his album My Way, attempting to connect to counterculture youth and succeeding only in changing the words to reflect The Graduate and his right-hand man Jilly Rizzo 

Movies and TV The duo both perform in the concert documentary Monterey Pop (1968), but both men attempted acting careers in the '70s, Garfunkel with fairly well-received dramatic turns in the films Catch-22 (1970) and the Jack Nicholson movie Carnal Knowledge (1971), Simon with an appearance in Woody Allen's classic Annie Hall (1977) and his own starring role in the flop musical One Trick Pony (1980)