Monday, July 19, 2010

Folk Rock!

SIMON & GARFUNKEL-Sounds Of Silence U.S. Columbia LP CL 2469 (mono); LP CS 9269 (stereo) 1966

1. "The Sounds of Silence"
2. "Leaves that Are Green"
3. "Blessed"
4. "Kathy's Song"
5. "Somewhere They Can't Find Me"

Side Two:
1. "Anji"
2. "Richard Cory"
3. "A Most Peculiar Man"
4. April Come She Will"
5. "We've Got A Groovy Thing Goin'"
6. "I Am A Rock"

So here's how this goes...two New Yorker's cut a few folk LP's and eventually get pissed off at each other and go their seperate ways.  One runs off to England for a month or so comes back (with a nice British accent, now how many American's do we know went over to Blimey and came back with accents?  Too many to list.)because there's this thing Bob Dylan invented called "folk rock" and the folks at CBS records have slapped the same sounds you heard on Mr. Zimmerman's brilliant "Like A Rolling Stone" onto some of their previously issued tracks like "Sounds Of Silence" and the kids are buying it faster than brill cream.

Enter our LP in question which was released on January 17, 1966.....for all of my jaded observations on the commercialism and cynicism about the the heartless, clueless and shameless U.S. record industry I love this album.  Was it a big attempt to cash in on "folk rock"?  Of course it was.  But once in awhile the suits get it right and come up with something that sounds great.  And being a 60's Anglophile it's been a base for a mother load of covers by British artists, in most cases hot on the heels of it's release (more on that further down)!

The LP kicks off with the somber "Sounds Of Silence".  I can remember tramping around a snowy sidewalk on the Lower East Side at about 2 or 3 in the morning (that's NYC) in the late 80's with this playing in my head .  It was one of those perfect moments for a perfect song, there were no iPods or CD Walkmans in existence then so I had to play it in my head.  Like a great deal of the tracks on this platter this is one of what I call "the table for one" soundtrack numbers that seem to reflect isolationism, disenchantment and unintentional solitude.  "Blessed" is another one that evokes all of that, plus all the name checking NYC places reminds me of the gritty Big Apple you saw in "Midnight Cowboy" and was still fairly visible when I was in my youth pounding the pavement's of NYC at ungodly hours and in (now gentrified) ungodly neighborhoods back in the mid/late 80's.

"I've got nowhere to go, I've walked around Soho for the last night or so..."

Of all the album's tracks this rates as one of my faves because it also evokes a nihilism fueled cynicism in it's lyrics that 43 years later still have an acidic bite to it:

"my words trickle down from a wound I have no intention to heal.......I have tended my own garden much too long"

"Somewhere They Can't Find Me" is one of my other choice favorites.  It's lyrical imagery of a part time crook on the run is interwoven in some groovy Fender Rhodes noodling and subtle trumpet care of Hugh Maskella (or so I've heard) and brilliant words from Rhymin' Simon before he became the musical vampire of Third World people in later years:

"oh baby you don't know what I've done.  I've committed a crime I've broken the law.  But when you were here sleeping and just dreaming of me I held up and robbed a liquor store..."

It's intro is a melody nicked from a track called "Anji" by our eternal hero Davey Graham, whom Simon was presumably turned onto during his brief U.K. sojourn.  Originally copies of the LP incorrectly credit Bert Jansch with writing the track. 

Which leads us to Side Two ....and a note for note cover version of Graham's acoustic instrumental "Anji, which though lacking the nimble fingers of the original still comes off pretty well and gets an A+ for probably being the first Americans to cover the master.  There are more bits of "plagiarism/inspiration".  The next "Richard Cory", is lifted from a poem by American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson in title and storyline, though Simon adds some gritty industrial realism with his lyrics while a groovy little three chord "Memphis" style lick shuffles in the backdrop amongst the "Highway 61 Revisited" style organ/guitar/bass/drums. Our song's protagonist is a wealthy industrialist/philanthropist, whose money can't buy him happiness so he goes home and puts one in his brain as seen through the eyes of a prole eking out a meager existence in one of his factories.  The suicide topic continues with a social observation on "A Most Peculiar Man" (pre-dating Ray Davies similar topic "Did you See His Name"), about a loner who ends it all as seen through the eyes of of his fellow apartment dwellers (one can easily imagine a 1960's NYC apartment building).  There's some brilliant stuff going on in this one, especially the discordant acoustic guitar slashes when the actual suicide is touched upon in the song and faint keyboards that sound like chimes. "We've Got A Groovy Thing Goin'" takes Nat Adderley's "Work Song" (made popular with rock n' roll crowd via fellow Columbia artist Oscar Brown Jr.) and rearranges a few notes and adds new lyrics, still it's a groovy little number!!  "I Am A Rock" closes the album.  It's perhaps the greatest misanthrope anthem of all time.  Again the groovy "Highway 61 Revisited" arrangement brings it home and again one can't help but conjure up seedy images of the old Big Apple before Disney/Giuliani wiped away the filth and an individual who doesn't want to move beyond the four walls that safely surround him. 

"I have my books and my poetry to protect me.  I am shielded in my armor. Hiding in my room, safe within my room, I touch no one and no one touches me"

Wow, solid stuff.

Of course our heroes across the pond wasted precious little time getting in on the "Sounds Of Silence" bandwagon. In the U.K. The Hollie's cut "I Am A Rock" on their January '66 LP "Would You Believe" (Parlophone PMC 7008), Justin & Karlsson cut a decent version of "Somewhere They Can't Find Me" in February '66 (Piccadilly 7N 35295), Adam, Mike & Tim served up " A Most Peculiar Man" in April '66 (Columbia DB 7902), Them released  their final single with Van Morrison, a rocking version of "Richard Cory" in May '66 (Decca F 12403) and The Kytes released "Blessed" in June of '66 (Pye 7N 17136).  Of course none of these made any chart impact whatsoever as the originals were riding high in Britannia. While over in Sweden Ola & The Jangler's cut a half decent version of "We've Got A Groovy Thing Goin'" in their mother country as the flip side to "Poetry In Motion" (Gazell C-186) in '66.


Trip Aldredge said...

I was surprised to find a year or so ago that Gerry and the Pacemakers covered "The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine".

Wilthomer said...

I swear I heard that many years ago (20+) but I can't for the life of me recall what it was like. I should check YouTube for that one!

Wilthomer said...

Found it, have a listen:

Trip Aldredge said...

its great. I was dumbfounded when I found the single at a record show a few years ago...the same I found the Tom & Jerry "Hey School Girl" single.