Nightman Listens To – Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends (Top 1000 Albums Series)

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to:

A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time.

B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety.

C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers.

D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard. As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go.

To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

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There’s a vast swath of music you, but more specifically I, have never and will never listen to. Each of us who claim to be genuine lovers of music will know of certain artists and albums, and know that we should listen to them, but haven’t and may never; that is ostensibly the purpose of these posts. For me, a lot of what most critics deem as the most important and best music of the 20th Century comes from the mid 60s – mid 70s US. My base knowledge has always been from the same period, but from Britain – Beatles, Floyd, Zeppelin, Who etc, while my general love of US music comes from later periods. That means that artists such as Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel have always passed me by. I know the hits, I know who they are and what they do, but not specific albums in full. I like to say I’m a US folk fan, but really Joni Mitchell is currently the only person I can claim to be knowledgeable about (and her styles changes frequently and drastically). I can say that the songs I know of from S and G I have enjoyed, but nothing has made me seek out more beyond simply thinking ‘I should listen to more of their stuff’. It changes now!

What Do I Know About Simon & Garfunkel: A folk-loving pair, known for their songs of love, loss, and rebellion, their harmonies, melodies, and hair. Lots of big selling hits everyone knows and loves.

What Do I Know About Bookends: Nothing… I don’t think I’ve even heard of it before looking at Larkin’s list. Looking down the tracklist I recognise two songs – one of their biggest, and one which The Bangles covered.

Bookends Theme: Plinky plonky acoustic guitars. A very short track always makes me think that the album is going to be a concept album. This is too short to really go anywhere.

Save The Life Of My Child: Loud throb followed by Irish style jig rhythm. Lots of stuff going on here, backing howls and vocals, whip cracks, and other effects. The guitars and vocals seem to be drowned out by all the extras. Heavier and more experimental than I would have expected. A strange one.

America: Slight electric before leading into the acoustics and vocals I know the due for. I haven’t heard this one, seems to be some sort of protest or patriotic song. Again some unusual twiddly stuff going on in the background. It’s fine, doesn’t do a lot for me though, maybe I’d like it more after a few listens.

Overs: This one has an even more gentle sound, good, sweet vocals, what I can pick up of the lyrics first time around seem interesting, but the melodies are too whimsical and loose to grab me. A lot of playing with time, pausing, and volume on this one. Feels like it’s over before it’s begun.

Voices Of Old People: Okay, so they’re being literal with the title. Snippets of what appear to be old people talking. Talking about stuff. It works well on Dark Side Of The Moon with a musical accompaniment. This is just voices. Essentially pointless.

Old Friends: I think I’ve heard this before, or parts of it. Gentle, I like the strings growing and falling and weaving. More loose vocals and construction. Then it turns into a nightmarish episode of Bewitched. 

Bookends Theme: And we fade back in to this. Singing this time. Sad, lonesome, whimsy.

Fakin It: Presumably the second half will be a little bit more commercial. We get off to an almost Beatles style folk song. A more traditional song, plenty of backing stuff in the production, good melodies and guitar. Still room for more outlandish stuff, with a spoken piece and an interesting ending.

Punky’s Dilemma: Lots of breakfast related lyrics. Nice stable beat, giving way at various points to Beach Boys harmonies. All very gentle, managing to stay on the right side of twee. More sounds and clicks and voices and whistles. All of these songs seem to pass me by though, like a whisper on a street.

Mrs Robinson: Obviously everyone knows this one, and it stands out from the rest of the album by having clear hooks. It’s a terrific song and I was expecting a few more songs like this on the album but so far nothing has come close to either sounding like this or being as good as this.

Hazy Shade Of Winter: I love the Bangles version of this, but until now I’ve never heard this original. So far, the Bangles version is heavier and has vastly superior vocals which is surprising. It’s still good and if I’d heard this one before The Bangles one I don’t know whether I’d prefer the original As it stands, I like The Bangles one more.

At The Zoo: Another two and a half minuter. Starts slowly before tumbling into a groovy pace. What’s it all about? Sounds like a skeptical attempt at poetry. Pick a thing, then write a different thing linking the first thing. Not much going on here musically, pretty simple stuff.

Colin Larkin’s Ranking: 338/100

What I Learned: Simon and Garfunkel can be more experimental in their sound. I knew them for their light folk infused rock and I suppose I should have expected them to be more than just that.

Does Bookends Deserve To Be In The Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: I’ll have to defer to the old favourite maxim of this presumably being influential and a product of its time for it appearing in the Top 1000 albums of all time. Personally, upon first listen there is almost nothing here which would make me recommend this or include it in the Top 1000 albums. A couple of obvious stand out tracks and one or two more which would probably grow on me after multiple listens, but it’s too light and airy and doesn’t speak to me on any personal level as a whole.

So, aging hippies out there – what am I missing? Is this truly a product of its time, or do its reaches extend beyond the realms of space and time? Let me know what other albums from Simon And Garfunkel are good. I did like this, but not enough for me to want to go and listen to it again – I wish I did as previously I’d liked everything I’d heard by them. Sound off in the comments!

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