Album: The Sounds of Silence
. . .
OK, so the roots of this go back to 1961, when Bob Dylan recorded “House of The Rising Sun” for his debut album — using an arrangement that he basically stole from fellow folkie Dave Van Ronk, who had been playing it since the 50s — which was heard by The Animals, who decided to turn it into an electric rock song.
Said electric rock song was a massive hit in 1964, inspiring Dylan’s meddling producer, Tom Wilson, to dig up some musicians and dub them over an outtake that Dylan had recorded in 1961. This version didn’t pass muster, and didn’t get released until the mid-1990s. And that on an interactive CD-ROM. (Of course, this wasn’t even the first attempt at electric Dylan, as his first single, “Mixed-Up Confusion”, was an electric rock song recorded and issued at the end of 1962, and promptly swept under the rug in the wake of The Freewheeling Bob Dylan. But I digress.)
Anyways, Tom Wilson was also the meddling producer of a pair of folkies, Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, whose 1964 debut Wednesday Morning 3AM was such a commercial failure it broke them up, and Simon went to Europe to record his solo debut, a UK-only release called The Paul Simon Songbook.
But here’s the thing: folk-rock. And because “The Sound of Silence” was the song that got them signed to Columbia records, and because the folk version — originally called “The Sounds of Silence” just to make this all more confusing — had gotten some college radio play by beatniks, I guess, Wilson decided to do it again, even using some guys who had just played on “Like a Rolling Stone.”
And you know the rest of the story: all it took was drums, bass and electric guitar to make “The Sound of Silence” a standard.
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains within the sound of silence
Obviously, there’s only so much the electric arrangement could do, having slapped itself on top of the original version, and so the gathering momentum of the song as it winds through its five verses was definitely in the original recording, but that said, the genius of the electric overdubs was that it got “The Sound of Silence” heard in the first place. It got it on the radio, and it was the right lyrics and right sound at the right time, and eventually topped the charts in early 1966.
It also became an instant and long-lasting cultural reference point, used at the end of The Graduate parodied in lyrics by Rush (“The Spirit of Radio“) and the Beastie Boys (“The Sounds of Science”), and eventually introduced to a whole new generation by Arrested Development.
That said, the most important thing it did was essentially force Simon & Garfunkel to reunite, resulting in three more records before they finally imploded, all of which contain songs way better than “The Sound of Silence,” as we’ll be discussing in the next week or so.
“The Sound of Silence”
“The Sound of Silence” live, 1965
“The Sound of Silence” live in Central Park, 1981
“The Sound of Silence” live in NYC, 2009
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