Saturday, November 27, 2010

What Gives, Paul Simon?

Something has bothered me in the past year. It's not a matter of any import, I just find it curious. It involves the music of Simon and Garfunkel and the messing with songs that were fine the way they were.

Now as it is, there's the two different versions of "The Sound of Silence". But this really isn't Paul's doing and it doesn't make much difference. The original version appeared on their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM. Then the producer decided to issue it as a single, but added a backing "rock" track. That version was issued as a single and appeared on the Sound of Silence album that followed. That's the one you're probably familiar with, where the drums kick in on verse 2. It's a nice addition. I don't really see the need, and the song is otherwise exactly the same. I guess sometimes I'm in the mood for a little extra kick in it. But that's not the only song toyed with in the Simon and Garfunkel canon, nor the one I want to talk about.

I really like their debut album. It's partially original and partially covers, but I think it's a nice cohesive whole and better than a couple of albums that followed. One of my favorite songs on it is the title song, which closes the album. It's a somber sort of internal monologue on a guy having to leave his girl in the middle of the night after an act of crime. The vocals are sweet, and I think the mood of the piece fits the hour it's supposed to be taking place. It's also an evocative title, "Wednesday Morning, 3 AM." It's like a musical poem.

Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.

So it's a real head-scratcher for me when I listen to the follow-up album, The Sound of Silence. About halfway in, there's a song called "Somewhere They Can't Find Me" which is just a reworked version of "Wednesday Morning." Chunks of the verses are pulled out or changed, and it's become a pop song, with a repeating chorus. The lead character becomes more of a lowlife figure in this reading, and I just think it harshes the poetry of the precedent song.

Somewhere They Can't Find Me

Furthermore, it's one thing to mess with a previous song but this was the title track of the previous album! It was the last song on the record! It must have been a big deal for Simon if he named the album for it, so why sully that song by changing it so drastically and rerecording it? Was he unhappy with the first version? Was it simply an experiment in telling the same thing two different ways? Did Columbia Records want more pop-sounding stuff? I'm really curious to know. Surely artists sometimes manipulate one song from another, but I don't think I've seen it officially released in both versions or done so blatantly. It's like they become two seperate songs, but they aren't. Dylan often worked one song out of pieces from another that wasn't working. There's a fabulous outtake released recently called "Dreamin' of You" which eventually morphed into "Standing in the Doorway". Both are great songs. But the key is that Dylan picked the one he thought worked and put it on the album. I'm just staggered by what I consider to be an odd blip in the Simon and Garfunkel repertoire. And that the two appear in such close temporal proximity surprises me.

On a personal note, I really don't like "Somewhere They Can't Find Me." I think it takes everything that was good about the first song and kills it off in favor of commercialism. Give a listen to both and maybe leave me a comment telling me which one you prefer. And if you possibly stumble across this, Paul Simon, could you explain please?

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