Paul Simon - The Paul Simon Songbook (1965)

Paul Simon's first solo album, The Paul Simon Songbook, has an interesting backstory, but first let me give you my overview of his career.

Even though Simon has never been deified like Bob Dylan, the Queens, NY native has always occupied an exalted place in the halls of popular music.

While more people hold Dylan in higher regard it can be said that Simon has been the more eclectic composer of the two. He's explored alternative genres that the Bard of Minnesota has never touched. Dylan's excursions into country music don't wander very far from folk-rock and his cover versions of the Great American Songbook are discounted because he has never written in that vein.

Simon has taken full album deep-dives into South African music on Graceland and Brazilian themes on his follow up, Rhythm of the Saints. He wrote gospel influenced works, music for Broadway, and on his most recent release, 2023's Seven Psalms, he blended seven songs together into one album long, thirty-three minute suite.

To top it all off Simon is a good if not a superb singer - something Dylan can never claim to be - and his beautiful harmonies with Art Garfunkel are a wonder to behold.

After the failure of Simon and Garfunkel's debut LP, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, Simon moved to London in 1965 playing in clubs and coffeehouses that were part of the British folk scene. He built a following there, and that led him to record Songbook, a solo acoustic set that contained two songs from Wednesday Morning, an album not released in England until 1968 - four years later than in America. Simon's British album included "The Sounds Of Silence" and "He Was My Brother," both from S&G's mostly unheard American debut.

All but two of the remaining ten tracks  - "A Church is Burning" and "The Side of a Hill" - were re-recorded by Simon & Garfunkel for later release. The latter was eventually paired with "Scarborough Fair" as "Canticle" with new lyrics by Garfunkel.

While Simon was living across the ocean, the duo's producer, Tom Wilson, lifted "The Sounds of Silence" off of Wednesday Morning, added rock instruments (electric guitars, bass and drums) to their original version, and released it as a single in 1965. It soared to #1 in America and is probably S&G's most famous song. It's definitely the one that established their career.

Due to that single's success Simon returned home, reunited with Garfunkel and recorded their second full-length long player named after their hit single.

Later solo works by Simon - as well as his Simon & Garfunkel material - were more colorfully and uniquely arranged and produced, but these Songbook tracks are good enough to to be satisfying with just Simon's voice and guitar.

Songbook was released in the United States in 1969, but it was pulled off the market quickly at Simon's request. It was never available again here until 1981 when it was included as part of a vinyl box set, Paul Simon: Collected Works. It wasn't released as a standalone album until it appeared on a Columbia CD in 2004 with two bonus tracks.

The young girl sharing the cover of the album is Kathy Chitty, who was Simon's English girlfriend while he was living there. Simon later brought her to America and they toured the USA together by bus. She is the "Kathy" referred to in "America," one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs. ("Kathy, I said, as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh".) She is also the protagonist of "Kathy's Song" and the inspiration for "Homeward Bound."

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