How “The Sound of Silence” Became a Surprise Hit


(via Smithsonian magazine)

by Geoffrey Himes

It’s been 50 years since Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” topped Billboard magazine’s pop singles chart. But it’s been almost 52 years since the song was first recorded. What happened in that interval made all the difference.

If Columbia Records producer Tom Wilson hadn’t taken the initiative, without the singers’ knowledge, to dub a rock rhythm section over their folk rendition, the song never would have become a cultural touchstone—a generation’s shorthand for alienation—nor the duo a going concern, let alone an exemplar of early folk-rock music.

The two, friends from boyhood in New York City, had had a modest hit single (“Hey, Schoolgirl”) as Tom & Jerry in 1957. They parted, then reunited as Kane & Garr and played a few club dates. Garfunkel was studying at Columbia University in the winter of 1963-64 when Simon got in touch: “Paul only had about five songs at this time,” Garfunkel recalls, “but he called and said, ‘Artie, I just wrote my best song.’ He drove over from Queens and played it for me in the kitchen amongst the roaches.”

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