Thursday, February 23, 1978

Today in Music (1968): Simon & Garfunkel “Scarborough Fair” charted

Scarborough Fair/Canticle

Simon & Garfunkel

Writer(s): traditional/Paul Simon/Art Garfunkel (see lyrics here)

Released: October 10, 1966 (album cut)

First Charted: February 23, 1968

Peak: 11 BB, 19 CB, 5 GR, 14 HR, 5 AC, 2 CL, 49 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.2 UK

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 6.0 radio, 40.57 video, 52.92 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“Scarborough Fair/Canticle” was originally featured on Simon & Garfunkel’s third album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme. It was then also featured on 1968’s The Graduate, a soundtrack comprised of Dave Grusin instrumentals alongside mostly previously-released Simon & Garfunkel songs. The one new song from S&G was “Mrs. Robinson,” which would go all the way to #1. However, the soundtrack also spurred “Scarborough Fair” to be released as a single.

The tune for the song dates back all the way to 1670. It was called “The Elfin Knight” and also known as “The Lovers’ Tasks.” SS An elf tells a woman he will abduct her unless she performs an impossible task. WK A version from 1810 offered the text, “Can you make me a cambric shirt / Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme / Without any seam or needlework? / And you shall be a true lover of mine.” SS

The folk song became associated with the Scarborough Fair in the mid-19th century. It was an annual event held in Scarborough, a small town on the coast of England. SS It became a song in which a former lover who lives in Scarborough is given a series of impossible tasks. WK The herbs symbolize “desired virtues; parsley represented comfort, sage was strength, rosemary was love, and thyme was courage.” SS

One account suggests Art Garfunkel learned the tune from a female friend while in London, but it also been reported that while on tour in England, Paul Simon heard folk singer and guitarist Martin Carthy perform the song. Carthy also taught the song to Bob Dylan when he visited London in 1962. Dylan used the melody for “Girl from the North Country” and “Boots of Spanish Leather.” SS Simon incorporated the line “Remember me to one who lives there / She once was a true love of mine” from “Girl from the North Country.” SS Meanwhile, the “Canticle” part of the song was largely adapted from Simon’s own “The Side of a Hill” which he recorded in 1965. SS


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First posted 10/11/2023; last updated 10/16/2023.

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