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50 Years Ago: Simon and Garfunkel Release Their First Classic Album, ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’

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For the first time in Simon & Garfunkel‘s short career, they could take their time on an album. A hit single will give you that luxury, and the duo — which was all but broken up following the dismal sales of its first LP — took full advantage when they entered the studio in June 1966 to work on their third album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

Things were bumpy for Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel at first. Even though they scored a Top 50 single in 1957 as Tom & Jerry with “Hey, Schoolgirl,” their 1964 debut album as Simon & Garfunkel, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, stalled on the charts and failed to find an audience, even among the folk crowd they were aiming for.

So Simon left for England and Garfunkel went back to school. But almost nine months after its release on Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, “The Sound of Silence” — which was originally, like all of the LP’s tracks, an acoustic song — was remixed with electric instruments, and by the end of 1965, it was a No. 1 hit.

Simon & Garfunkel were rushed back into the studio to make an album revolving around the smash single, mostly made up of songs Simon had written and recorded for his U.K.-only solo debut, The Paul Simon Songbook. The record, titled Sounds of Silence, presented the duo as folk-rock artists in the vein of Bob Dylan and the Byrds. But it wasn’t really representative of what they were about and what they wanted to do.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme changed all that.

Once again working with Bob Johnston, who produced Sounds of Silence as well as various Dylan and Byrds albums, Simon & Garfunkel began fine-tuning their new songs, all of them except for the opening “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” — updated to include an anti-war message — and closing “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” written by Simon. (The Seekers’ Bruce Woodley received a co-writer credit on “Cloudy.”)

And then they fine-tuned them some more over the next three months as the album’s budget soared. Painstakingly assembling and applying studio tweaks, an array of new instruments and details to the musical textures, the dozen songs prefigure the even more sonic adventures they’d undertake on their next two, and final, albums, 1968’s Bookends and 1970’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. In short, Simon & Garfunkel made their first classic album.

The songs were darker, stranger and better than before: “Homeward Bound” (a Top 5 hit originally recorded during the previous album’s sessions), “Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall” (also leftover from Sounds of Silence), “The Dangling Conversation” (which was issued as a single a few weeks before the album’s release in October 1966 and reached No. 25) and “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” (released as a single in 1968 following its inclusion in The Graduate, it just missed the Top 10).

Even the slight “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” and the gimmicky “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” — which juxtaposes the holiday favorite with new reports about Vietnam and racial unrest — have their charm and, more important, their place on the album. For the first time, a Simon & Garfunkel album falls together as a piece, even as songs jump from one stage to another.

No matter. It was the first record the duo truly owned. And it gave them the first taste of what was to come. They worked side by side with Roy Halee as he mixed the LP, sparking one of pop music’s greatest working relationships (he co-produced Bookends and Bridge Over Troubled Water with them, and helped shaped some of Simon’s best solo recordings, from 1972’s self-titled album to Graceland in 1986 to 2016’s Stranger to Stranger).

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme reached No. 4, Simon & Garfunkel’s first trip into the Top 10 album chart. It wouldn’t be their last. So much of their legend starts here. It’s a little fussy, a bit pretentious and even modest at times. But it remains a timeless record, 50 years after its debut.

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