Tuesday, February 18, 2014

top ten Tuesday: Simon and Garfunkel songs.

Last week, I told you all about my all-consuming Simon and Garfunkel obsession. I told you about how I had every album and how I still know every word to every song. I told you about how, even after all these years, hearing Simon and Garfunkel can still set my heart a-flutter.

So how’s this for a follow-up story: I have chosen my top ten Simon and Garfunkel songs for you. Some of them are sure to be familiar to you; some may not. But let me tell you: for a dyed-in-the-wool Simon and Garfunkel fan like me, choosing just ten songs to include was rather difficult. Without further ado (because I know you’re itching to find out what my choices are), I present my top ten Simon and Garfunkel songs!

Blues Run the Game
“Blues Run the Game” is not a very well-known Simon and Garfunkel song. I stumbled across it years while digging through the internet for whatever obscure Simon and Garfunkel mp3s I could find. (Fun fact: “Blues Run the Game” was on one of the very first CDs I ever burned.) Like many Simon and Garfunkel songs, it’s pretty melancholy, but that’s always part of the charm. I played this song for James not too long ago, and he – being the music teacher that he is – had all sorts of comments about how they were obviously talented singers because listen to those chords and pop music today is way simpler than what they’re singing. And even though I had absolutely nothing to do with it besides hitting the “play” button, I couldn’t help but feel a swell of pride. After all these years, I still love it when someone has something nice to say about Simon and Garfunkel.

As you probably know, most Simon and Garfunkel songs were written by Paul Simon himself. However, “Benedictus” is an arrangement of a piece from the 1500s, and it is GORGEOUS. Simon and Garfunkel’s voices blend effortlessly together, and it never fails to give me goosebumps. “Benedictus” is from their first album – Wednesday Morning, 3 AM – which was more or less a flop. However, it is one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel albums. The songs highlight their voices like no other album. While many of the songs on the album are covers, the handful that are written by Simon are beautiful and haunting. The covers, though, were carefully selected to play to their harmonies, and besides one or two, the covers are all fairly dark. “Benedictus” is one of the exceptions: their vocals are gorgeous, and you can just let them wash over you.

Kathy’s Song
I’ve talked about “Kathy’s Song” before (top ten love songs), but I can’t help but bring it up again. “Kathy’s Song” was written by Paul Simon for his girlfriend, Kathy (duh). She was living in London while he was in the United States, and of course, he missed her. When I first heard this song more than a decade ago, I thought it was magnificently lame. However, as the years went on, it grew on me, and I realized what a beautiful and sad song it is. I am not one for love songs or poems, but this one could make me swoon. Simon sings stuff like “the only truth I know is you,” which, come on, could make anybody melt.

The Only Living Boy in New York
True story: for one entire summer, I listened to this song every single day before I left for work at the ice cream shop by the lake. It was during the reign of my Evil Boss Lady, so I needed a little boost of Simon and Garfunkel to get me going. “The Only Living Boy in New York” is the sweetest song, especially when you know the back story. This is from Simon and Garfunkel’s final album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Their friendship was on the rocks at the time, and most of the recording was done separately, as Garfunkel had (foolishly) decided to try his hand at acting and was filming Catch-22 in Mexico. “The Only Living Boy in New York” is sung by Simon alone, and it’s for Garfunkel and how his life is going to be just fine – and how, despite everything, Simon will be there in New York when he gets back.

\Yep, I’ve talked about “Cecilia” before too, but I absolutely cannot pass it up. It’s a song about a slutty girl named Cecilia: “making love in the afternoon with Cecilia/up in my bedroom/I got up to wash my face/when I come back to bed/someone’s taken my place.” (Fun fact: my mom sang this in high school choir. Never mind the lyrics, I guess!) It’s so peppy and upbeat, even though something crappy just happened. And Cecilia is clearly no prize, but they sing “Jubilation!/she loves me again/I fall on the floor and I’m laughing.” Seriously: why would he WANT her back?! Logic aside, it’s a brilliantly catchy song, and it was on the “must play” list for the DJ at our wedding. (And you know what? The bridal party all knew the words. Best wedding ever.)

I Am a Rock
“I Am a Rock” is the first Simon and Garfunkel song that I truly loved. It’s so different from their other songs – Simon and Garfunkel songs tend to be either melancholy or peppy and goofy, but “I Am a Rock” is uncharacteristically angry. It’s about a man who is a tad bitter and would rather be left alone, and he’s obviously got some issues: “I have no need of friendship/friendship causes pain/it’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.” Yikes. However, at the very end, the song takes a shift from angry to sad: the tone changes as Simon sings, “and a rock feels no pain/and an island never cries.” So really, he’s a sad and lonely guy pretending that he doesn’t need anyone. In that last five seconds, “I Am a Rock” really tugs on the old heartstrings.

Wednesday Morning, 3 AM
“Wednesday Morning, 3 AM,” as you may have guessed, is from Simon and Garfunkel’s debut album of the same name. Like “Kathy’s Song,” I didn’t realize that I really loved “Wednesday Morning, 3 AM” until years after I’d first heard it. The song is about a young man who is saying goodbye to his girlfriend as she sleeps – he’s robbed a liquor store, and he has to leave before the police come looking for him. Again, sad and haunting. Happy endings just aren’t Simon and Garfunkel’s thing.

The Boxer
“The Boxer” was right on the heels of “I Am a Rock” as one of my early favorites. I would hear bits and pieces of it on the radio during my mix-tape recording sessions, but I didn’t hear the whole thing until I finally bought the greatest hits album. It’s been high on my list ever since. “The Boxer” touches on some familiar Simon and Garfunkel themes, primarily loneliness. It’s not their only song about being homesick (“Homeward Bound” being the most notable), but it’s the one I always thought of when I was in Denver, and New Orleans – far away from my family and friends. (Side note: Mumford and Sons have a spectacular cover version of “The Boxer.” You should check it out.)

Mrs Robinson
Ok, have you seen The Graduate? If not, you must rent it immediately – especially if you’re a recent college graduate with little clue as to what to do with your life. If so, you’ll know that a.) it’s amazing, and b.) the soundtrack is made almost exclusively of Simon and Garfunkel songs. Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft) is the older woman who seduces young Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman – LOVE HIM), and it is just perfect. “Mrs Robinson” was originally called “Mrs Roosevelt,” and it was a song that Paul Simon and written and didn’t particularly care about. When Mike Nichols (the director) approached Simon and Garfunkel about the soundtrack for The Graduate, Simon changed “Roosevelt” to “Robinson,” and a hit was born.

The Sound of Silence
This was Simon and Garfunkel’s first number one hit: it was the song that made them who they are. Simon wrote it in the aftermath of the JFK assassination, and it was originally released on Wednesday Morning, 3 AM with simple instrumentation. The song was – without Simon and Garfunkel’s knowledge – overdubbed with electric guitars, bass, and drums, and it was then that it became a huge it. “The Sound of Silence” is one of those songs where you can hear the raw emotion in both voices, and you can’t help but feel the same passion.

So there we are: after much deliberation and careful thought (and a few tough decisions), I have narrowed it down to my top ten Simon and Garfunkel songs. But be warned: just because a song isn’t on my list doesn’t mean I don’t love it. There are so many other wonderful songs out there: “Old Friends,” “Song For the Asking,” “You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies,” “A Most Peculiar Man,”… the list of songs that I love but didn’t include goes on and on. If you find yourself smitten with Simon and Garfunkel, I would definitely encourage you to listen to some of their lesser known stuff. You never know what kind of treasures you might find.


  1. "Benedictus" is hands down one of my favorites. And now I'm trying to imagine anyone currently on the radio singing in Latin, which is really funny.

  2. Hi. Just a few words on Cecilia.
    She is, in fact, St Cecilia, the patron saint of music.
    I believe the song is about Paul losing a little inspiraion, or having writers block if you like, and then gleefully rediscovering it, hence the line, "Jubilation, she loves me again."
    Listen to the song again and see what you think