Monday, January 23, 2012

Simon & Garfunkel 1: Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.

But for an odd whim by a hip producer, people may never have heard of Simon & Garfunkel, nor might the artists have recorded anything past this first album. They had had a few prior hits, in the late-‘50s as Tom and Jerry, even getting to appear on American Bandstand. A few years at college kept them busy when stardom failed to happen, and then when the folk music boom hit, the boys were right on top of it.
Armed with an acoustic guitar and sweet harmonies, the Mutt and Jeff of Forest Hills recorded their debut LP over a few weeks in March of 1964, in defiance of the British Invasion threatening the business. Of the twelve songs on Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., five come from the pen of Paul Simon. “Bleecker Street” paints a portrait of that iconic avenue. “Sparrow” is an allegory of some sort, but “He Was My Brother” is more direct, a timely elegy for a Freedom Rider. The title track is the striking departure of the set, a monologue from a cheap apartment, made all the more pretentious by the reference to “pieces of silver”. But it would be “The Sound Of Silence” that would endure, an incredibly poetic piece of work striking for its imagery, Garfunkel’s sweet voice, and Simon’s monotonic bleat.
The rest of the album is a mixed bag that mostly comes across as folk-lite, and it’s no wonder that the album didn’t sell. Perhaps there weren’t a lot of songs for affluent Jewish kids to make commercial, which would explain why such spirituals as “You Can Tell The World” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain” appear, along with an arrangement from a Catholic mass. More direct, if naïve, are “The Sun Is Burning” and “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream”, the latter sporting an ill-advised banjo. And in tribute to the kid from Minnesota, the boys harmonize on “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and even take a stab at “Peggy-O”, which Dylan had included on his first album.
So Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. is a very earnest collection of music that wasn’t about to change the world, but taken in context with what they would eventually achieve, it’s a nice snapshot. It’s certainly pleasant, and in places pretty. Given the dozens of similar records coming out at the time, we’ll leave it to the experts to rule whether these actually were “exciting new sounds in the folk tradition”.

Simon & Garfunkel Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964)—3
2001 CD reissue: same as 1964, plus 3 extra tracks

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