CK Retro Review: Wednesday Morning, 3AM by Simon & Garfunkel

Like many other artists who would go on to great music success, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel didn’t quite come out of the gate fully-formed legends. Their 1964 debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3AM, was a bit tentative, overly earnest, and too polished. Yet there were moments of brilliance, and all of the elements that would make them great, from Simon’s introspective songwriting and rhythmic ingenuity to, of course, the pair’s stunning harmonies, were there; they just hadn’t quite coalesced. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

12. “Go Tell It On The Mountain”- Their take in the spiritual is well-intentioned and well-performed, but it doesn’t find anything in the song that congregations for hundreds of years have already located.

11. “Peggy-O”- Any folk artist who debuted in 1964 was bound to be compared to Bob Dylan, but Simon & Garfunkel had a connection stronger than most in that they shared a producer (Tom Wilson.) Here they take on a song that Dylan performed with impish recklessness early in his career and ladle on a tad too much reverence.

10. “Benedictus”- Even though it’s essentially filler, the vocal arrangement is cleverly done, anticipating future gems like “Scarborough Fair (Canticle).”

THREE STARS

9. “The Times They Are A-Changin'”- I suppose we have to forgive them for rushing things a bit on this Dylan evergreen. He would return the favor a few years down the road by mumbling his way through “The Boxer.” In both cases, the songs are so good that even a bit of a misfire on the interpretation still scores a minor hit with listeners.

8. “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream”- The song is certainly of the times, yet it gives a chance for the boys to flash their harmonies on a rangy melody. Garfunkel is especially fine here, soaring over the proceedings with a beguiling combination of grace and passion.

7. “He Was My Brother”- Garfunkel, with typical candor, says it best about this song in the liner notes to Wednesday Morning, 3 AM: “Cast in the Bob Dylan mold of the time, there was no subtlety in the song, no sophistication in the lyric.” True, but Art doesn’t account for how well he and Paul’s voice would blend on those elongated notes, solving a lot of the song’s problems in the process.

6. “The Sun Is Burning”- The finger-picked guitar and the hushed vocals do their jobs so effectively that it’s possible to hear the song and never notice the lyrics, which, written by Ian Campbell, concern themselves with the threat of nuclear annihilation. Proof that the duo could cast a spell even in their earliest efforts.

5. “Sparrow”- Maybe Simon’s metaphors are a bit blunt, but the melody is engaging and sung beautifully. Paul imbues each of the characters with feisty attitude while Garfunkel high parts ache with sympathy for the sad fate of the title bird.

4. “You Can Tell The World”- The debt to the Everly Brothers is clear right off the bat in the opening song of the album, a gospel-folk number that’s rendered with, as the lyrics say, “joy, joy, joy.” It’s a blast to hear Paul cut loose with his vocals in the verses. Fun from start to finish.

3. “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.”- The title track seems like Simon’s attempt to modernize the murder ballad. Oddly enough, the parts of the song that recount the crime are the least convincing. What does hit home are the thoughts and emotions of a man about to leave his love never to return, his waning moments with her depicted with heartbreaking tenderness.

FOUR STARS

2. “Bleecker Street”- Freed from worrying about current events for once on the album, Simon creates a captivating snapshot of the titular avenue and the people on it. His imagery is haunting (“I saw a shadow touch a shadow’s hand”) and the tune is unassumingly pretty. For those who want to write this album off as “The Sounds Of Silence” and nothing else, play this for them and you’ll win the argument.

FIVE STARS

1. “The Sounds Of Silence”- Tom Wilson often gets the credit for adding the backbeat that transformed this song into the hit that it became. Yet a close listen to this version, sans drums, reveals that Simon always had the rhythmic thrust of the song in mind, and that’s what gives it much of its power. Listen to how the momentum almost imperceptibly picks up from the sparse opening. Also note how the vocals seem to ratchet up in intensity until the pair practically bellows out “The words of the prophets” line. It’s that sense of drama that powers the song’s success as much as Paul’s deeply felt lyrics about apathy and lack of communication, and that was all there before the whole “folk-rock” feel was added.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more of my work, check out the links below.)

http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0810888238

http://www.amazon.com/Pump-It-Up-Costellos-ebook/dp/B00BXLUFN2

http://www.amazon.com/No-Surprises-Radioheads-Songs-ebook/dp/B00CEZ2A0M/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1

http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=pd_sim_kstore_2

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2 Comments on “CK Retro Review: Wednesday Morning, 3AM by Simon & Garfunkel”

  1. Baggy says:

    So thrilled to see you start anew with this album CK as , along with Dylan and the Beatles, S&G are my personal favourites….

    Having said which I’m afraid I couldn’t give this version of Times They Are Changing’ more than a single star, the boys just can’t deliver it at all, and I’ve long speculated that if Paul could delete a single recording this track would be it.

    However I do think your rankings are harsh on Peggy-O and Benedictus, both of which have beautiful (i’d say “trademark”, but this early who knew ??) harmonies, and attractive guitar figures. I find great pleasure in these two tracks, and would put them towards the head of this album, just behind SOS and Bleecker Street, and alongsides the title track.

  2. Jacek says:

    I’m pleased, too. I’ve never been able to get into Paul Simon on the whole, but giving a listen to all your four- and five-star picks should add a bunch of songs to the Simon material I *do* like. It’d be nice to get a solid hour+ playlist out of it. Have fun!


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