Friday, January 1, 2016

50 years ago: Simon & Garfunkel hit #1 with “The Sound of Silence”

The Sound of Silence (aka “The Sounds of Silence”)

Simon & Garfunkel

Writer(s): Paul Simon (see lyrics here)

First Charted: November 20, 1965

Peak: 12 US, 11 CB, 12 HR, 50 AC, 1 CL, 7 UK, 2 CN, 2 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 7.0 radio, 193.0 video, 337.15 streaming

Awards (Simon & Garfunkel): (Click on award for more details).

The Sounds of Silence


Released: December 7, 2015

First Charted: February 6, 2016

Peak: 42 US, 17 AR, 22, 29 UK, 40 CN, 4 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.5 US, 0.6 UK, 3.45 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 846.0 video, -- streaming

Awards (Disturbed): (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel started working together as teenagers in 1955, writing “The Girl for Me.” Two years, later, they recorded “Hey, Schoolgirl” as Tom and Jerry and took it to #49 on the Billboard Hot 100. They continued to work under different aliases, with minimal success. By 1964, they were performing on the Greenwich Village coffee house circuit, BR but still struggling for their break.

Early that year, Columbia Records’ Tom Wilson signed the duo and they recorded Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. The album included the single “The Sounds of Silence,” a ballad which featured only vocals and an acoustic guitar. Simon said it took him six months to write the song, one line per day. DT He completed it in February 1964 – in the bathroom TB hence the line “hello darkness, my old friend.” TC Simon said the tiles produced an echo chamber and he found it soothing to work in there with the lights off and the water running. TB

Unfortunately, the single and album failed. Simon returned to England where he’d moved in 1964, and Art Garfunkel went back to graduate school. BR Folk music, however, was big in the Boston area, from where Joan Baez and other folkies hailed SJ and a local station started playing “The Sounds of Silence.” Columbia was convinced they’d have a hit if they reworked the song with new electric instrumentation. Wilson, who was producing Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” asked the session’s musicians to add electric guitar, bass, and drums to the song.

The “amplified ‘Silence’…became a hit before Simon and Garfunkel had even heard it.” RS500 In fact, Simon didn’t even know it had been re-recorded until he picked up a copy of Billboard in the Netherlands. TC Simon said, “It had some level of truth to it and it resonated with millions of people.” DT He told NPR he thought the success of the song was due to “the simplicity of the melody and the words, which are youthful alienation.” DL

In 2015, Disturbed recorded a cover of the song. While the original was perfect for the radio playlists of middle-of-the-road, adult contemporary stations, this was a cover by a heavy metal band that turned the song into a menancing anthem as singer David Draiman’s voice builds throughout the song. Paul Simon himself endorsed the cover, calling it a “really powerful performance” WK after seeing the band on Conan.

Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Simon & Garfunkel
  • DMDB page for parent album The Sounds of Silence
  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Disturbed
  • BR Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 190.
  • TC Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Pages 603-4.
  • DL (6/26/2019). “The Best Songs of All Time – According to Critics and Fans” by Claire Gillespie
  • RS500 Rolling Stone (4/7/2011). “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
  • SJ Bob Shannon and John Javna (1986). Behind the Hits: Inside Stories of Classic Pop and Rock and Roll. New York, NY; Warner Brothers, Inc. Pages 12-13.
  • DT Dave Thompson (2011). 1000 Songs That Rock Your World. Krause Publications: Iola, WI. Page 122.
  • TB Thunder Bay Press (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Outline Press Ltd.: San Diego, CA. Page 74.

First posted 4/19/2020; updated 6/28/2021.

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