Mike Jahn

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["The Sounds of Silence"] is not one of Simon's best, being a bit laden with heavy images. And the theme—man's inability to communicate with man—is hardly virgin territory. Yet for a million-selling single in 1965 it was spectacular, curiously similar to [The Byrds's] "Mr. Tambourine Man" as a bearer of impressionistic images strongly expressed. Within a few years, Simon and Garfunkel became one of the most popular ensembles in the world, and Paul Simon was considered a ranking composer of songs and lyrics of high caliber. (p. 168)

Hardly the stuff of which a pop hit is made, ["The Dangling Conversation"] represents songwriter Simon at a particularly pretentious point, dangling his English Lit credits in front of the college audience like a dry fly before a trout. In the song, the woman reads Emily Dickinson, the man Robert Frost, and they don't talk to each other. A protest song for the Upper Middle Class? (p. 183)

Paul Simon had a shaky, or perhaps better to say, erratic, start as a poet, but, unlike most of his contemporaries, he has gotten better each year. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme was a wonderful start, and if it hasn't worn well as literature, its timelessness as pretty music goes unquestioned. (p. 184)

"Bridge Over Troubled Water," one of the major hit singles of 1970, has to be the culmination of the gospel-derived rock ballad. It was Paul Simon's way of showing the world that what the Beatles did with "Let It Be" could be done on a mammoth scale…. Its lyric is an elaboration on the "you can depend on me" theme, but done with great imagination.

All the songs on [Bridge Over Troubled Water] are gems, from lighthearted hard rockers like "Baby Driver" and "Keep the Customer Satisfied" and the quiet, enigmatic "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" to a recorded-live version of the Everly Brothers' "Bye, Bye Love." But in the way of lyrics, by far the best piece is "The Boxer," a hit single for Simon and Garfunkel in 1969. That Simon could take such an old show-biz cliché—the story of the unhappy prizefighter—make of it a fresh and exciting statement, and do it within the framework of a rock song is most impressive. The lyrics of "The Boxer" may be Simon's best effort, neither overstated nor precious, as the songwriter often has been. Simon seemed to be working away from the prettiness that marked early Simon and Garfunkel, toward a more stringent, sardonic kind of writing as in his 1972 solo release, Paul Simon. The entire album seems to be a love song to the lifestyle of a young man in New York. It runs the gamut of emotions and rock styles, from light folk to hard rock. "Mother and Child Reunion" and "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" are noble hard rockers. (pp. 269-70)

Mike Jahn, in his Rock: From Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones (copyright © 1973 by Quadrangle/The New York Times Co.; reprinted by permission of Times Books, a Division of Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co.), Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co., 1973, 326 p.

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