Simon & Garfunkel, “The Sound of Silence” and Mrs Robinson

Writing yesterday about the wonderful song I Only Have Eyes For You, got me thinking about Art Garfunkel who also had a big hit with that song in the 1970s. His most successful period however was the 1960s, when he and high school friend Paul Simon formed a duo. They first started recording music as teenagers but got back together in their early twenties to record their first album which featured a simple, pared-down, folk version of The Sound of Silence. Sadly the album was not a great success and the pair went their separate ways. Fortunately for us however, the song’s producer revisited it in the wake of increased airplay, remixed it and transformed it into the kind of folk rock record that was being produced by the Byrds and Bob Dylan at the time. By 1966 The Sound of Silence had become an international hit and needless to say Art Garfunkel headed back from college, and Paul Simon from working in England, in order to capitalise on the renewed interest in their music.

The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel:

I don’t think I really would have remembered them from that era as I was too young but in 1967 the film The Graduate was released and rather than use a specially written soundtrack, the director chose to use Simon & Garfunkel songs such as “The Sound of Silence”,” Mrs Robinson” and “Scarborough Fair”. The film was a massive success and unlike other film songs I have written about, these are carefully woven into the storyline to great effect, adding another dimension to an already compelling screenplay. Benjamin Braddock has returned home to Pasadena, California after graduating from college. Unsure of what he wants to do with his life, he spends his days lounging in the swimming pool of his parents’ very luxurious home. Enter Mrs Robinson, the wife of one of his father’s colleagues who is similarly bored and and disillusioned with life. Of course the inevitable happens and the affair she draws the inexperienced and clumsy Benjamin into, leads to moments of great two-handed dialogue.

Benjamin: For god’s sake, Mrs. Robinson. Here we are. You got me into your house. You give me a drink. You… put on music. Now you start opening up your personal life to me and tell me your husband won’t be home for hours.
Mrs. Robinson: So?
Benjamin: Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.
Mrs. Robinson: [laughs] Huh?
Benjamin: Aren’t you?

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I really only appreciated the music of Simon & Garfunkel properly after watching the film in the ’70s when it first appeared on television. (Was I too young for it I now wonder? – Doubt it as adult themes but never anything too disturbing.) I don’t think any other film made such good use of its soundtrack, until Saturday Night Fever came along in 1978 featuring the music of The Bee Gees.

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So, “What’s It All About” – Yet again I am writing about music from film or television. The soundtrack to my life has most definitely been heavily influenced by what I used to watch on screen. As a teenager I had a Saturday job in our village newsagents. In my lunch hour I used to go to our local electrical retailer (otherwise known as “The TV Shop”) which had a small rack of vinyl albums up near the back. Nothing there had been anywhere near a chart but there were lots of Greatest Hits (Simon & Garfunkel), Easy Listening (Burt Bacharach) and Film Soundtrack albums (The Graduate, West Side Story etc). All my welfare needs were already catered for by my parents, so the Saturday job wages were used to buy vinyl from this shop. Walking back to the newsagents one Saturday ahead of the afternoon shift with a carrier bag obviously containing an album (they were a very distinctive shape), I bumped into a friend. She immediately asked what I had just bought – “G-Gary Glitter” I quickly replied, embarrassed to admit it was actually a Glenn Miller album as I’d fallen in love with his music watching The Glenn Miller Story with my dad the previous Sunday. Funny how the passage of time has rendered that answer wrong on so many levels – I am proud however to say that I was never, ever again embarrassed to admit that I loved Mr Miller and his unique “sound”!

The Sound of Silence Lyrics
(Song by Paul Simon)

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.

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.

“Fools,” said I, “You do not know.
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you.
Take my arms that I might reach you.”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence.”

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Postscript:

I feel I can’t finish today’s post without mentioning the sad passing of Sir Terry Wogan – I can’t remember a time when he hasn’t been around on television and radio bringing joy to so many people. It’s akin to losing a favourite uncle (or great-uncle depending on your age). It is appropriate to note on this day therefore, that the guest who caused him most difficulty during his long run of early evening chat shows, was indeed “Mrs Robinson” herself, Anne Bancroft – She apparently sat in a catatonic trance and refused to answer any of his questions.

RIP Sir Terry.

Kids Telly, “White Horses” and Jackie Lee

I’ve come to realise that although I had a plan for how I would select songs to write about, they end up choosing themselves. The death of David Bowie last week led me to spend a lot of time thinking about him and then with the death of Alan Rickman, that led me to thinking about songs from movies. Somehow we ended up with Careless Whisper by George Michael which was the first randomly chosen song of last week as it turned out but followed on very nicely from the post about other early ’80s post-New Romantic pop acts.

So, the soundtrack of our lives can come from a variety of sources and in my case it is as much from television shows and films as from the music charts – This afternoon when I switched on the radio, a French song was playing and it took me right back to the kid’s TV show from the 1960s, Belle and Sebastian. There were still only two channels available at that time on our television set in rural Scotland, so very few programmes to choose from. Belle was a Pyrenean mountain dog and every week from late 1967 to early 1968, Belle and Sebastian enchanted us all, in black and white, with their adventures. It was a French show set in the Alps, and dubbed into English by the BBC. The most memorable thing about it for me however was the deeply moving opening song performed by the boy who played Sebastian – L’Oiseau.  Listening to it again just now, I can still picture that scene right at the beginning where you see young Sebastian scrambling up the snowy mountain-side with his big white dog, Belle.

The TV schedules at that time had many other European children’s dramas such as Tales from Europe (set in the most amazing Medieval locations) and the very best of them all – White Horses. This one was made by a Yugoslavian television company and followed the adventures of Julia and the beautiful Lipizanner horses raised on her Uncle Dimitri’s stud farm outside Belgrade. Again it was in black and white and again dubbed into English. First broadcast on British TV in 1968 it became a firm favourite especially with horse-loving little girls. The best bit of the show however was the theme song White Horses sung by Jackie Lee or, by the time it was released as a single in the April of that year, just Jacky. Some pieces of music just can’t help but make you feel good and this is most definitely one of them, often coming at the top of polls of the best TV theme song ever.

White Horses by Jacky:

What I do remember vividly however from this time of White Horses in the late ’60s, was that I was a very happy child. We were a family of three – My mum, dad and me, with my granny and grandad living next door. We had a big garden with vegetables, soft fruit, flowers and plenty of areas of grass to play on. There were neighbour’s children to play with and my cousins came to stay every school holiday. I realise now how lucky I was – Very different for many city-dwelling children back in those days, and different for nearly all children nowadays. All we would have needed to make it perfect was a big white Lipizanner stallion and Jacky singing White Horses in the background. Ok I’ve gone too far now – I’ll sign out for today before it gets any more schmaltzy!

White Horses Lyrics
(Song by Michael Carr/Ben Nisbet)

On white horses let me ride away
To my world of dreams so far away
Let me run
To the sun.

To a world my heart can understand
It’s a gentle warm and wonderland
Far away
Stars away

Where the clouds are made of candy floss
As the day is born.
When the stars are gone
We’ll race to meet the dawn

So when I can only see the grey
Of a sad and very lonely day
That’s when I softly sigh
On white horses
Snowy white horses
Let me ride away

Davy Jones, The Monkees and “Daydream Believer”

Day two after news broke of the death of David Bowie (Jones) and the media still awash with trubutes and commentaries about the icon.

Got me to thinking about that other David Jones who also died prematurely in his sixties – Davy Jones of The Monkees. My first big crush. Their television show (also called The Monkees) ran from 1966-68 and I was an avid viewer. Bright clothes, great pop songs, psychedelic sets and anarchic, slapstick behaviour – What not to like for a seven-year-old. Their scheduled slot was teatime on a Saturday night so perfect for family viewing.

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They very cunningly managed to highjack Neil Diamond’s best songs from that era and made them their own, no doubt contributing handsomely to Mr Diamond’s royalty cheques. My favourite was this one however from November 1967 and not a Neil Diamond song as it turns out – Daydream Believer. You only have to hear the first few notes on the piano to recognise what is about to come and boy are you in for a treat (starts at 0:20).

Daydream Believer by The Monkees:

Again, it makes me sad to think of those days nearly 50 years ago watching the impossibly cute Davy Jones leading the rest of the boys with his tamborine in hand. His diminutive size meant that he never really seemed to grow old and was a very handsome man right up until his death. After a spell of acting as a youth (Ena Sharples’ nephew in early Coronation Street) he became an apprentice jockey, but after taking up the role of the Artful Dodger in the West End, his show business path was set. He contined to have a lifelong love of horses however, and died aged just 66 after being out riding.

The Monkees never really did reunite properly although there were a few mini reunions over the years, the last being in 2011 to celebrate their 45th anniversary. The main reason was that they could never get Mike Nesmith on-board. His mother had invented and patented correction fluid, “Tippex”, so he inadvertently became a Tippex millionaire who didn’t really need the money and preferred to concentrate on his own projects – Very Rock ‘n’ Roll!

So from one David Jones (a Londoner turned Berliner turned New Yorker) to another David Jones (a Mancunian turned Angeleno turned Floridian) in two blogs. And both dead by the age of 70 – Far, far too young.

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Daydream Believer Lyrics
(Song by John Stewart)

Oh, I could hide ‘neath the wings
Of the bluebird as she sings
The six o’clock alarm would never ring
But it rings and I rise
Wipe the sleep out of my eyes
The shavin’ razor’s cold and it stings

Cheer up, sleepy Jean
Oh, what can it mean
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen

You once thought of me
As a white knight on a steed
Now you know how happy I can be
Oh, and our good times start and end
Without dollar one to spend
But how much, baby, do we really need