Its boldest themes are still worryingly pertinent today.
Andy Fyfe 2009-09-02
Forged in a crucible of dizzying change, Simon and Garfunkel’s second album reflected the social upheaval of the mid-60s while playing as substantial a part in folk rock’s evolution as Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. Where Dylan was climbing into higher musical stratospheres to free himself from folk’s gravitational pull, Simon and Garfunkel were gently pulling it away from its finger-in-the-ear past, a less unpalatable option for traditionalist gatekeepers than Dylan’s electric revolution.
Not that the duo had any less to say about the modern world, with Parsley, Sage… marking Simon and Garfunkel out as counter-cultural spokesmen. Traditional opening track Scarborough Fair/Canticle, The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine and The 59th Street Song (Feelin’ Groovy) may seem slight on the surface, but their joy at merely being alive reflected the optimism of youth in a time of crisis.
On the flipside, with the Vietnam War rapidly escalating and the civil rights movement boiling over into raging confrontation, closing track 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night’s juxtaposition of the Christmas peace hymn with an increasingly grim newscast – announcing the overdose of comedian Lenny Bruce, student demonstrations, Martin Luther King’s move into Chicago, Richard Nixon’s claim that anti-war sentiment was the biggest hindrance to winning quickly in ’Nam – made their thoughts on America’s woes implacable.
The Dylan-mocking A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission) is cheekily disingenuous but, like The Sound of Silence a year before it and The Boxer many after, the existential questing of Homeward Bound and its less celebrated companion Patterns adds to the album’s creeping unease: within Paul Simon’s homesickness and self-doubt is a tear for the loss of less confusing times.
While hardly a groovy influence to drop, Simon’s craft and care helped set a template for literate, thoughtful songwriting, with a direct emotional eloquence Dylan often eschewed in pursuit of more visceral obfuscation. Art Garfunkel, meanwhile, possesses one of the most achingly beautiful voices of any genre. The talents of both haven’t been lost on Elbow’s Guy Garvey.
Over 40 years on, while the albums of many contemporaries (Joan Baez, Donovan, The Lovin’ Spoonful) seem like museum pieces, the boldest themes of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme are still worryingly pertinent today.