The Sound of Silence
|"The Sound(s) of Silence"|
|Single by Simon & Garfunkel|
|from the album Sounds of Silence|
|Released||September 13, 1965|
|Recorded||March 10, 1964
(New York City)
June 15, 1965 (overdub)
|Simon & Garfunkel singles chronology|
"The Sound of Silence" is a song by American music duo Simon & Garfunkel from their debut studio album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM (1964). The song was written by Paul Simon over the period of several months between 1963–1964. A longstanding legend claims the song was inspired by assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. A studio audition led to the duo signing a record deal with Columbia Records, and the song was recorded in March 1964 at Columbia Studios in New York City.
The album was a commercial failure and led to the duo breaking apart, with Simon returning to England and Garfunkel to his studies at Columbia University. In spring 1965, the song began to attract airplay at radio stations in Boston and Florida. The growing airplay led Tom Wilson, the song's producer, to remix the track, overdubbing electric instrumentation with the same musicians who backed Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone". Simon & Garfunkel were not informed of the song's remix until after its release. The single was released in September 1965 and immediately began climbing the charts.
The song hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1965, leading the duo to reunite and hastily record their second album, which CBS titled Sounds of Silence in an attempt to capitalize on the song's success. The song was a top ten hit in multiple countries worldwide, among them Australia, Austria, West Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Generally considered a classic folk rock song, the song was added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important" in 2013.
Origin and original recording
Simon & Garfunkel became interested in folk music and the growing counterculture movement separately in the early 1960s. Having performed together previously under the name Tom and Jerry in the late 1950s, their partnership had since dissolved when they began attending college. In 1963, they regrouped and began performing Simon's original compositions around their hometown of Queens. They billed themselves "Kane & Garr", after old recording pseudonyms, and signed up for Gerde's Folk City, a Greenwich Village club that hosted Monday night performances. In September 1963, the duo performed three new songs, among them "The Sound of Silence", getting the attention of Columbia Records producer Tom Wilson, who worked with Bob Dylan. Simon convinced Wilson to let he and his partner have a studio audition, where a performance of "The Sound of Silence" got the duo signed to Columbia.
The song's origin and basis remains unclear, with multiple answers coming forward over the years. Many believed the song a comment on the John F. Kennedy assassination, but their performance at Folk City took place two months before the event. Simon stated in interviews that the song was written in his bathroom, where he turned off the lights to better concentrate. "The main thing about playing the guitar, though, was that I was able to sit by myself and play and dream. And I was always happy doing that. I used to go off in the bathroom, because the bathroom had tiles, so it was a slight echo chamber. I'd turn on the faucet so that water would run (I like that sound, it's very soothing to me) and I'd play. In the dark. 'Hello darkness, my old friend / I've come to talk with you again'." According to Garfunkel, the song was first developed in November, but Simon took three months to perfect the lyrics, which he claims were entirely written on February 19, 1964. Garfunkel once summed up the song's meaning as "the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly internationally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other."
To promote the release of their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, the duo performed again at Folk City, as well as two shows at the Gaslight Café, which went over poorly. Dave Van Ronk, a folk singer, was at the performances, and noted that several in the audience regarded their music as a joke. ""Sounds of Silence" actually became a running joke: for a while there, it was only necessary to start singing "Hello darkness, my old friend..." and everybody would crack up." Wednesday Morning, 3 AM sold a paltry 3,000 copies upon its October release, and its dismal sales led Simon to move to London, England. While there, he recorded a solo album, The Paul Simon Songbook (1965), which features a rendition of the song, titled "The Sounds of Silence".
Wednesday Morning, 3 AM had been a commercial failure before producer Tom Wilson was alerted that radio stations had begun to play "The Sound of Silence" in spring 1965. A late-night disc jockey at WBZ-FM in Boston began to spin "The Sound of Silence" overnight, where it found a college demographic. Students at Harvard and Tufts University responded well, and the song "overnight" made its way down the East Coast, "all the way to Cocoa Beach, Florida, where it caught the students coming down for spring break." A promotional executive for Columbia went to give away free albums of new artists, and beach-goers only were interested in the artists behind "The Sound of Silence". He phoned the home office in New York, alerting them of its appeal. An alternate version of the story states that Wilson attended the Columbia's July 1965 convention in Miami, where the head of the local sales branch raved about the song's airplay.
Folk rock was beginning to make waves on pop radio, with Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man" charting high. Wilson listened to the song several times, considering it too soft for a wide release. Afterwards, he turned on the Byrds' "Turn! Turn! Turn!", which gave him the idea to remix the song, overdubbing rock instrumentation. He employed the same musicians Dylan worked with on "Like a Rolling Stone": Al Gorgoni on guitar, Bob Bushnell on bass, and Bobby Gregg on drums (Wilson intentionally left off Simon's friend Al Kooper, who was too closely identified by Dylan's sound). The tempo on the original recording was uneven, making it difficult for the musicians to keep the song in time. Engineer Roy Halee employed a heavy echo to the remix, which was a common trait of the Byrds' hits. The single was first serviced to college FM rock stations, and a commercial single release followed on September 13, 1965. The lack of consultation with Simon and Garfunkel on Wilson's remix was because, although still contracted to Columbia Records at the time, the musical duo at that time was no longer a "working entity".
The song began climbing the charts instantly. Simon was in Denmark, performing at small clubs, and picked up a copy of Billboard, as he had routinely done for several years. Upon seeing "The Sound of Silence" at number 86, he bought a copy of Cashbox and saw the same thing. Several days later, Garfunkel excitedly called Simon to inform him of the single's growing success. A copy of the 7" single arrived in the mail the next day, and according to friend Al Stewart, "[Paul] was horrified when he first heard it [...] [when the] rhythm section slowed down at one point so that Paul and Artie’s voices could catch up." Garfunkel was far less concerned about the remix, feeling conditioned to the process of trying to create a hit single: "It's interesting. I suppose it might do something. It might sell," he told Wilson.
"The Sound of Silence" first broke in Boston, where it became one of top-selling singles in early November 1965; it spread to Miami and Washington, D.C. two weeks later, reaching number one in Boston and debuting on the Billboard Hot 100.
Simon promptly returned to the United States to prepare for the song's impending success, as well as Columbia's desire to record a new Simon & Garfunkel album. He later described his experiences learning the song went to number one, a story he repeated in numerous interviews:
I had come back to New York, and I was staying in my old room at my parents' house. Artie was living at his parents' house, too. I remember Artie and I were sitting there in my car one night, parked on a street in Queens, and the announcer [on the radio] said, "Number one, Simon & Garfunkel." And Artie said to me, "That Simon & Garfunkel, they must be having a great time." Because there we were on a street corner [in my car in] Queens, smoking a joint. We didn't know what to do with ourselves.
For his part, Garfunkel had a different memory of the song's success:
We were in L.A. Our manager called us at the hotel we were staying at. We were both in the same room. We must have bunked in the same room in those days. I picked up the phone. He said, 'Well, congratulations. Next week you will go from five to one in Billboard.' It was fun. I remember pulling open the curtains and letting the brilliant sun come into this very red room, and then ordering room service. That was good."
In 1999, BMI named "The Sound of Silence" as the 18th most-performed song of the 20th century. In 2004, it was ranked #156 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, one of the duo's three songs on the list. The song is now considered "the quintessential folk rock release".
In popular culture
When director Mike Nichols and Sam O'Steen were editing the film The Graduate, they initially timed some scenes to this song intending to substitute original music for the scenes. However, they eventually concluded that the song could not be adequately substituted and decided to purchase the rights for the song for the soundtrack. This was an unusual decision for the time, as the song had charted over a year earlier and recycling established music for film was not commonly done. With the practice of using well-known songs for films becoming commonplace, "The Sound of Silence" has since been used for other films, such as Kingpin in 1996, Old School in 2003, Bobby in 2006 and Watchmen in 2009. It appeared on the fourth season of the television series Arrested Development in 2013.
Chart and certifications
"C C C" (ja) by The Tigers (ja)
|Japanese Oricon Singles Chart number-one single
September 9 – 16, 1968
"Koi no Kisetsu" (ja) by Pinky & Killers (ja)
"Over and Over" by The Dave Clark Five
|Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
January 1, 1966
"We Can Work It Out" by The Beatles
"We Can Work It Out" by The Beatles
|Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
January 22, 1966
"We Can Work It Out" by The Beatles
- Dutch singer Boudewijn de Groot included a Dutch translation of the song ("Het geluid van de stilte") on his unnamed 1965 debut album.
- In 1966, Spanish rock band Los Mustang recorded a Spanish-language cover of the song, entitled "El Ritmo Del Silencio".
- Irish duo The Bachelors had a hit in Ireland and the UK with the song in 1966 before the Simon and Garfunkel version made it into the charts there.
- In 1967, Jamaican reggae bands The Soul Vendors and The Gaylads recorded a cover of the song.
- Swedish singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad recorded a Swedish-language cover of the song, entitled "En ton av tystnad", which was featured on her 1971 debut album, Frida.
- Serbian and former Yugoslav acoustic music duo Vlada i Bajka recorded a Serbian language version of the song, "Zvuk tišine", released on a single in 1971.
- Los Angeles punk band The Dickies recorded a cover of the song, released on a single in 1978.
- Israeli duo The Parvarim recorded a Hebrew-language version on their 1972 LP The Parvarim Sing Simon & Garfunkel. The lyric was translated by Ehud Manor.
- French singer Gérard Lenorman in his 1981 album D'amour, featured a rewritten lyrics of this song, and he named it "Chanson d'innocence".
- In 1986, Stanley Jordan recorded an instrumental version on his Standards, Vol. 1 album.
- In the late 1980s, The Fools often covered "The Sound of Silence" at their live performances. One such performance was released on the band's 1987 live album Wake Up... It's Alive!!!. The album was re-released with more tracks in 1993 as Wake Up... It's Alive!!! (Again).
- In 1990, Brazilian singers Leandro e Leonardo covered "The sound of silence", rewritten as the love song "É Por Você que Canto" (It is for you that I sing). This version has since been recovered by other Portuguese/Brazilian groups.
- In 1996, Filipino singer Regine Velasquez interpolated the song as a "Prologue" and an "Epilogue" for her album Retro.
- In 1996, Icelandic singer Emilíana Torrini covered "The Sound of Silence".
- In 1999, Gregorian covered "The Sound of Silence" on their album Masters of Chant.
- In 2000, Atrocity covered "The Sound of Silence" on their EP Sounds of Silence. In the same year, Nevermore covered "The Sound of Silence" on their album Dead Heart in a Dead World.
- In 2005, Italian singer Andrea Parodi, together with American guitarist Al Di Meola, covered the song, writing new lyrics in Sardinian language and renaming it Deo ti Gheria Maria (The Sound of Silence). This version is featured in his live album Midsummer Night in Sardinia.
- Italian classical singer, Micheal Castaldo recorded an Italian version of this song on his 2010 album Aceto.
- In 2007, rock duo Shaw Blades covered "The Sound of Silence" on their second album, Influence.
- In 2007, New Zealand singer/songwriter, Brooke Fraser, released a live cover version on the deluxe edition of her album Albertine.
- In 2008, the band Ascension of the Watchers covered "The Sound of Silence" on their album Numinosum.
- In 2009, Bananarama covered "The Sound of Silence" on their tenth album Viva as an iTunes bonus track.
- In 2010, Sharleen Spiteri covered "The Sound of Silence" on her album The Movie Songbook.
- In 2011, the band Bobaflex covered "The Sound of Silence" on their album Hell in my Heart.
- In 2011, Phil and Tim Hanseroth covered "The Sound of Silence" on Brandi Carlile's album Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony.
- In 2011 Kina Grannis covered "The Sound of Silence" on the deluxe edition of her album Stairwells.
- In 2011, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny opened on his Grammy Award-winning solo cover album What It's All About with "The Sound of Silence".
- In 2011, the song was performed by Paul Simon during the 10th anniversary memorial service for the victims of 9/11. This was a last minute change, as the official program had him performing "Bridge Over Troubled Water".
- On December 20, 2012, Paul Simon performed the song at the funeral of Victoria Leigh Soto, a teacher who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He knew Soto through his sister-in-law.
- Two of Celtic Thunder's principal singers Keith Harkin and Colm Keegan covered the song for their 2013 album 'Mythology
- Rabbi Aryeh Gat and his brother Rabbi Gil Gat, performed The Sound of Silence on the Israeli TV show Rising Star
- In 2013, husband-wife duo Jenny & Tyler recorded the song as a part of their cover album For Freedom, the proceeds of which they designated for the International Justice Mission.
- In 2014, Nouela Johnston of the Seattle band Mon Frere covered "The Sound of Silence" as a soundtrack to the 2014 American television drama series The Leftovers (TV series)
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- "The Sounds of Silence". Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2.
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- "Italian single certifications – Simon & Garfunkel – The Sound of Silence" (in Italian). Federation of the Italian Music Industry. Retrieved March 17, 2014. Select Online in the field Scegli la sezione. Select Week -- and Year ----. Enter Simon & Garfunkel in the field Artista. Click Avvia la ricerca
- "American single certifications – Simon & Garfunkel – Sounds of Silence". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved March 17, 2014. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
- "'Het geluid van stilte' lyrics". Boudewijn de Groot homepage. Boudewijndegroot.nl. January 22, 2012. Retrieved April 21, 2012.
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