Inductees: Paul Simon (vocals, guitar; born October 13, 1941); Arthur Garfunkel (vocals; born November 5, 1941)
The dulcet harmonies of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel remain one of the more cherished sounds of the Sixties. The music made by the Forest Hills, New York, natives was fueled by a mutual love of early rock and roll and a search for inspiration beyond the conventional borders of folk and pop. The two started singing together when they were in the sixth grade. Initially, they sang doo-wop hits, but then they began writing their own songs. In 1957, when they were just 16 years old, they recorded an Everly Brothers–style song they had written called “Hey, Schoolgirl.” Using the alias Tom and Jerry, they got a deal with Big Records. The song ended up selling 150,000 copies and made it into the Top 50. They also appeared on American Bandstand. Some follow-up singles didn’t fare as well, so the duo broke up.
While in college, Simon began writing songs and recording under the names Tico and the Triumphs (“Motorcycle”) and Jerry Landis (“The Lone Teen Ranger”). One of his songs, “Red Rubber Ball,” which he wrote using the Landis name, was a hit for the Cyrkle in 1966. At the same time, Garfunkel released some records under the name Artie Garr.
In 1964, the two reunited and began performing at coffeehouses in Greenwich Village. They wound up getting a contract with Columbia Records. Reverting to their surnames, Simon and Garfunkel recorded their first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. The album included traditional folk tracks, some Bob Dylan covers and some Simon originals. The only instrumentation on the album was Simon’s acoustic guitar. At first, the album didn’t attract much attention, so Simon went to England, where he played on the British folk circuit, while Garfunkel went off to grad school at Columbia University. Then, in 1965, a Boston radio station began playing one of the album’s songs, “The Sounds of Silence.” Columbia Records decided to add some electric instrumentation and drums to the track and release it as a single. The following January, the song hit Number One on the Billboard charts. With its urbane, poetical lyrics and astute blend of folk and rock elements, “The Sounds of Silence” became one of the cornerstone songs of 1966, selling more than two million copies.
As their literate brand of folk-rock connected with listeners across the age spectrum, the button-down duo became unlikely stars. In 1966 alone, they placed three albums and four singles in the Top 30, including such solipsistic singalong favorites as “I Am a Rock” (Number Three) and “Homeward Bound” (Number Five). The following year, they released two singles, “At the Zoo” and “Fakin’ It.” Then, in 1968, the meticulous, bookish duo rose to heights unheard of for folk performers with the album Bookends and their soundtrack contributions to the film The Graduate. “Mrs. Robinson,” from the latter album, hit Number One on the charts. Another hit, “The Boxer,” followed in 1969.
The duo’s next album, Bridge over Troubled Water – which featured the hymnlike title track, sung by Garfunkel in an arching tenor – topped the U.S. album charts for 10 weeks in 1970 and went on to sell 13 million copies worldwide. The album won five Grammy Awards and numerous other honors. By this time, however, Simon and Garfunkel were focusing their attention on other projects. Garfunkel began acting, getting roles in Catch-22 and Carnal Knowledge, while Simon was focusing on solo material. The duo, which broke up in 1970, played its final concert at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium.
Simon and Garfunkel entered the new decade as solo artists. Garfunkel tended toward adult-oriented pop, often interpreting the songs of composer/arranger Jimmy Webb, while Simon wrote and recorded wry, angst-filled songs (e.g., “Kodachrome,” “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover") spiced with ethnic accents: gospel, reggae, Cajun, Peruvian and more. According to Simon, the two did not speak to each other for several years. Then, on September 19, 1981, Simon and Garfunkel reunited for a free outdoor concert before a crowd of 400,000 in New York’s Central Park. The brief liaison resulted in a live double album, The Concert in Central Park, which went platinum and reached Number Six on the charts, and a Top 40 hit – the duo’s 15th, and its first since the one-off single “My Little Town” in 1975 – with their spirited rendition of the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie.”
Rumors of a more lasting collaboration were scotched when Simon erased Garfunkel’s harmony vocals from Hearts and Bones (1983), releasing it as a solo album instead. However, the duo did finally come together again for several charity shows in the early Nineties, and, in 1993, they embarked on a 21-night stand at New York’s Paramount Theater, as well as a tour of the Far East. Though technically these evenings were billed as Paul Simon retrospectives, Garfunkel appeared in two of the four nightly segments, and fans considered it a de facto reunion, regardless of billing.
In 2003, Simon and Garfunkel received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Following that, they undertook a two-month tour of the U.S., playing 40 shows in 28 cities. The following year, they toured Europe, and in 2009, they toured Australia, New Zealand and Japan. In October of that year, they performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th anniversary concert. A 2010 tour was canceled due to Garfunkel’s vocal cord paresis.
In 2013, it was announced that “The Sounds of Silence” would be one of 25 recordings to be preserved at the U.S. Library of Congress It was also added to the U.S. Recording Registry because of its cultural, artistic and historic importance.