Old Friends: A History

The story of Simon & Garfunkel—or more properly of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel—begins not with a chance meeting of established musicians, but rather after a long period of trial and error on the part of two friends from a young age. Having attended school together near Brooklyn, the pair’s early work included playing as Tom & Jerry in the late 1950’s (from which they had a small hit called “Hey Schoolgirl”). For some time after this small beginning, they went their separate ways at graduation in 1958. Art began studying architecture at Columbia University (and later Berkeley) while Paul majored in English literature at Queens College. Upon the completion of his BA in 1963, Paul traveled to Paris where he continued in song writing and production.

Both Paul and Art eventually returned to New York. (Paul returning from Paris to continue in music; Art having switched to a degree studying math and education at Columbia Teachers College.) Their reunion soon led to the production of the album Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. under the name Simon & Garfunkel in 1964. Though definitely in keeping with the interest in folk music of the time, the album did not yield an immediate commercial success. For some time after, therefore, the duo went their separate ways again—Paul leaving to write and record in England and Art returning to college to receive his degree in 1965.

The expectations of both Paul and Art changed quickly in 1965, however, when producer Tom Wilson added additional tracks of electric guitar, bass, and drums to the original acoustic track of the song “Sounds of Silence”. Being at the vanguard of the emerging “folk rock” movement, the song became an enormous hit and revived the pair’s interest in recording together. Using many of the songs that Paul had already written in England, therefore, the duo was able to quickly create the album Sounds of Silence.

From this point on, the success of Simon & Garfunkel as a serious musical duo was established, and two albums with deep, thoughtful lyrics and amazing vocals soon followed in 1966 and 1968: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme and Bookends. In addition to the success of these albums, 1967 also saw the appearance of Simon & Garfunkel as the principal contributors to the soundtrack of the landmark film The Graduate. It was from this film that one of the best known Simon & Garfunkel tunes “Mrs. Robinson” emerged. Many other amazing songs—a number of which were chart successes as well—can be found on these projects and prove the ability of the duo in music and songwriting.

Despite their successes, however, the relationship between the two members of the group began to reach a straining point by 1969. Art’s interest in acting landed him a role in the film Catch 22, a move which required him to fly to down to Mexico to participate. Paul apparently saw this as a lack of dedication to the Bridge Over Troubled Water project on which they were working. Indeed, many of the songs on the album written by Paul reflect this period including “The Only Living Boy in New York” and “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”. Nevertheless, Art recorded most of the album before leaving and added backing vocals to other songs Paul had recorded upon his return. Thus, Bridge Over Troubled Water was released in 1970, and it was immediately considered by many to be the Simon & Garfunkel masterpiece.

Shortly after Bridge, however, Paul and Art officially went their separate ways with Paul pursuing a solo musical career and Art becoming involved in music, acting, and teaching. In 1975, the duo did release the first new Simon & Garfunkel song since their break. Called “My Little Town”, it appeared on both Art’s album Breakaway and Paul’s Still Crazy After All These Years. Other attempts at working together on several songs failed, however. Despite some brief work together (most famously a reunion concert in 1981 at Central Park), the duo did not want to, nor were able to, work together again on a more permanent basis for some time. 

In 2002, Simon & Garfunkel were awarded a lifetime achievement award at the Grammy Music Awards.  As part of the program, the pair appeared together singing “Sounds of Silence” .  This reunion seems to have led both of the singers to reevaluate the tension that had plagued their relationship over the years and sparked interest in the thought of performing together again.  A new reunion tour called Old Friends was the result, a very poplar tour which rekindled some of the original spirit of the duo’s work together.  While maintaining their own careers, the pair put heavy emphasis on the project in 2003 and 2004 with tours in the US and abroad.  Their recently released concert CD also contains their first new song in 30 years entitled “Citizen of the Planet”.  More about these reunions can be found on the “Tonight I’ll Sing My Songs Again” page.