Stephen Holden

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 492

[Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits] is a greatest hits album that lives up to its name….

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I'm a little sorry that the cuts on this collection aren't arranged in chronological order so that we could trace directly Paul Simon's development as a songwriter. Unlike Dylan, who executed a series of dramatic stylistic changes, Simon's evolution has been subtle, but in the long run almost as significant. Though the distance he has traveled is far more apparent on his solo album than it is here, it is still very evident after close listening. Compare, for instance, "The Sounds of Silence" and "I Am a Rock," with "America" and "The Boxer." The difference represents a triumphant movement away from folk rock formalism and an academic poetic style toward a more relaxed, more assured narrative style with greater depth and range of expression….

"Th Sounds of Silence" has a strong melody, simple harmony, and knock-out words—an outpouring of beautiful imagery flawed only by the predictable excesses of a gifted but still-young poet intoxicated with language and a little uneasy working with close rhymes in a tight structure. There was stilted poeticism ("'Neath the halo of a street lamp / I turned my collar to the cold and damp") and pontification ("'Fools!' said I, 'You do not know.'") but these faults scarcely detracted from the lyrics' cumulative impact….

"The Dangling Conversation," for all its literary self-consciousness …, expresses better than any song before or since the pervasive angst of the affluent collegiate. Parsley also contained "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)," Simon's most relaxed, least "poetic" song up to that time….

"America," from the Bookends album, was Simon's next major step forward. It is three and a half minutes of sheer brilliance, whose unforced narrative, alternating precise detail with sweeping observation, evokes the panorama of restless, paved America, and simultaneously illuminates a drama of shared loneliness on a bus trip with cosmic implications. I don't think a song could be more compact and fluid at the same time. (p. 38)

In some ways "The Boxer" is even more ambitious than "America." Both songs are essentially dramatic monologues with commentary. But "The Boxer" is more daring, since it is the autobiography of a loser in the big city and risks sounding false. In "America," Simon was able to call upon a stereotypical middle class ethos, familiar since The Catcher In the Rye. The saga of the boxer goes beyond that ethos into social tragedy. The reason it works so well is that Simon does not literally enter his character. (pp. 38, 40)

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" has one of Simon's greatest melodies—a long soaring arch that perfectly carries forward the spirit of the lyrics, whose sentiments of hope and promise of comfort are universal. (p. 40)

Stephen Holden, "Simon & Garfunkel—A Greatest Hits Album That Lives Up to Its Name," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1972; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 114, August 3, 1972, pp. 38, 40.

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