Sound Of Silence1
“Sound of Silence” may be the emblematic song for my own sub-cohort within the Boomer Generation. The first set of LPs I bought after securing a Sears “Better” phonograph,2 included an album by the Beach Boys, an offering by Jan and Dean,3 and “Sounds Of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel.
Its use in the 1967 movie, The Graduate,4 itself a cultural marker, strengthened and perhaps ossified the links between “Sounds Of Silence” and the themes of political and social anomie which emerged in the literature and arts of the 1960s.
Wikipedia concisely summarizes the song’s history:
Simon began working on the song sometime after the Kennedy assassination. … On February 19, 1964, the lyrics apparently coalesced, and Simon showed the new composition to Garfunkel the same day. Shortly afterwards, the duo began to perform it at folk clubs in New York. They … included the track on their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., released that October. The album flopped upon its release, and the duo split up, with Simon going to England for much of 1965. There he often performed the song solo in folk clubs, and recorded it for a second time on his solo LP in May 1965, The Paul Simon Songbook. …
On June 15, 1965, … [Columbia Records producer] Wilson took the original track of Simon & Garfunkel, and overdubbed the recording with electric guitar (played by Al Gorgoni), electric bass (Bob Bushnell), and drums (Bobby Gregg), and released it as a single without even consulting Simon or Garfunkel. The song entered the U.S. pop charts in September 1965 and slowly began its ascent.
… By the end of 1965 and the first few weeks of 1966, the song reached number one on the U.S. charts. Simon and Garfunkel then reunited as a musical act, and included the song as the title track of their next album, Sounds of Silence, hastily recorded in December 1965 and released in January 1966 to capitalize on their success. … In 1999, BMI named “The Sounds of Silence” as the 18th-most performed song of the 20th century. In 2004 it was ranked #156 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, one of the duo’s three songs on the list.
The Basis - Sounds Of Silence By Simon and Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel – Sounds of Silence 1966 (Live)
The Sounds Of Silence Covers
Given the status of “Sounds Of Silence,” there are remarkably few memorable covers of it. While at least 25-30 versions can be found, most are by standard-bearers such as Carmen McRae, Ray Conniff and The Singers, and Julius Wechter & Baja Marimba Band and most are disappointingly pedestrian affairs.
“Sounds Of Silence” may be too tightly tied to Simon and Garfunkel or, more likely, to the era of its origin to be shaped into something unique by the covering artist. Covers and impersonations are not, after all, synonymous.
The chain of seemingly cloned copies of the original “Sounds Of Silence” has, on occasion, been interrupted by attempts to play on the irony of the sounds of silence motif, resulting in such regrettable versions as the shredded interpretation of the song by the Smashing Pumpkins.
It was Leonard Cohen’s recitation of “Sounds of Silence” on the “Tribute to Paul Simon: Take Me to the Mardi Gras” album that caught my attention as an effective attempt to bring something new to the song while still respecting its origins.
Leonard Cohen – Sounds of Silence (Tribute to Paul Simon Album)
This version by Paul Simon and Bob Dylan (or, as more than one wag has renamed the duo, “Simon and Bobfunkel”) also seems to have something special about it, although that could be no more than an perceptual artifact from the pairing of two musical icons.
Dylan And Simon – Sounds of Silence (Colorado Springs, June 6, 1999
The next two versions may also owe their perceived “not just another clone” status as much to the characteristics associated with the singers themselves as to their musical performances.
Brooke Fraser is a singer-songwriter from New Zealand with strong Christian and philanthropic affiliations.
Brooke Fraser – Sounds Of Silence
Alizee is a popular French vocalist, whose early success featured her as a seductive Lolita character and whose public persona, at least, continues to play heavily on her sexuality.
Alizee – Sound Of Silence_____________________
- As Wikipedia points out, ‘The song was originally called “The Sounds of Silence,” and is titled that way on the early albums in which it appeared and on the single. In later compilations, it was retitled “The Sound of Silence.” Both the singular and the plural form of the word appear in the lyrics.” [↩]
- By the 1960s, my family was too upwardly mobile to settle for products in the Sears “Good” quality category but we weren’t the sort of uppity folks who showed off by purchasing Sears “Best.” [↩]
- Similar to, predecessors of, and collaborators with the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean had a batch of California surf and car hits such as “Surf City,” “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” and “Dead Man’s Curve” [↩]
- Played during the opening and closing credits, as well as during the film, “Sounds Of Silence” frames the experience of the movie-goer. [↩]