Simon & Garfunkel- Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964)
Updated: May 9
Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (Columbia Records)
Released October 19, 1964
Recorded March 10 - 31, 1964
Early Life and Career
Simon and Garfunkel are arguably the most important vocal duo in recorded music. Paul Simon was born in Newark, NJ, and grew up in Queens. His counterpart Art Garfunkel was born in Forest Hill Queens, and the two met in elementary school when they both performed in a school production of Alice in Wonderland. The two became fast friends, and they began singing together as teens. In 1957 they recorded their first single, “Hey, School Girl,” under the name Tom and Jerry, which served as a minor hit. The tune borrowed heavily from the vocal stylings and their musical heroes, The Everly Brothers. The teens chose the name Tom and Jerry after the famous cat and mouse cartoon. Simon and Garfunkel, or Tom and Jerry, parted ways in the early 60’s to pursue solo careers; however, they reunited in 1963 to connect to the new growing folk music audiences that had developed in New York City.
The Album Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.
Now under the name Simon and Garfunkel, they released their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., which was initially a flop, and the boys went their separate ways once again, with Simon going to England to finish his first solo record, The Paul Simon Songbook (Columbia Records) and Garfunkel returning to Columbia University. What happened next was quite remarkable. Simon’s original composition “The Sound of Silence” from the album began to gain attention in 1965 when it was played in heavy rotation on Boston and Florida radio stations. The song’s producer, Tom Wilson, then remixed the track by adding electric instruments and drums, and the new version exploded worldwide, hitting #1 on January 1, 1966, and then hitting the top 10 in multiple worldwide markets. The song found a third life when it was heavily featured in the blockbuster 1967 film The Graduate, along with other Simon and Garfunkel tunes. Rarely has one piece made a career like “The Sound of Silence” did for Simon and Garfunkel.
With the success of the group's second album, Sound of Silence from 1966 (Columbia), the album Wednesday Morning 3, A.M. was reevaluated and re-released. The reissue charted at #30, a remarkable comeback considering it didn't even break the US Billboard Top 200 when it was initially issued. The group went from being broken up and silenced in 1964 to being one of the most celebrated groups of the 1960s, all because a fantastic song would not fade away. So if we evaluated Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. in 1964, the album would have been considered to have no impact, but over time, the release has become one of the most impactful records of the 1960s.
After The rerelease of Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., and Sound of Silence, the boys continued to produce numerous hits songs and albums but called it quits after their 1970 release, Bridge Over Troubled Water (Columbia). There are several reasons why they could not repair the bridge or the troubled waters that separated them, ranging from creative differences, fights over money and management, a desire to do more solo projects and just general burnout. It has also been suggested that Simon felt he deserved more credit because he wrote the songs. They did come together at times and performed a reunion concert in 1981 for 500,000 fans in Central Park. They also reunited for a successful tour in 2003-2004, but the two remained distant, and their relationship is generally described as “complicated.”
Following the split, Paul Simon continued releasing numerous hits and breaking new ground. Garfunkel also did pretty well and had four charting hits in the 1970s. He also acted in films like Carnal Knowlege and Catch-22. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel are 81 years old at the time of this recording. The duo was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1990. Paul Simon was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1982, The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (as a solo artist) in 2001, received a Kennedy Centers Honors in 2002, and was the first recipient of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song issued by the Library of Congress in 2007. While Garfunkel fared reasonably well, Paul Simon became the megastar and got the attention he desired and deserved.
(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)
Track 1- “Tell The World” is credited to Brooklyn folk singer Bob Gibson and British actor and singer Bob Camp. The song will bring “joy, joy, joy, joy, joy” into your heart. The tune is a great opener offering Simon’s uptempo guitar strumming, spectacular signature vocal harmonies, and the stripped-down sound for which Simon and Garfunkel are known. The blending of two voices can be such a magical thing and create such a distinct vocal colorization. Think about it in terms of painting. It takes the colors blue and yellow to make green and the blended voice of Garfunkel and Simon to make the magic of their sound. Lyrically the song makes religious and political references. The lyrics begin with the stanza, “You can tell the world about this; you can tell the nation about that. You can tell what the master had done, and the victory’s been won.” I can only tell that it's a fine tune that gets the listener's attention.
Track 2- “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” is a folk song by Ed McCurdy in 1950. Many artists have recorded the song, including the Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger, and Johnny Cash. The lyrics speak of a utopia where all people of all races and nationalities can live in peace and lay down their guns. Sadly it has become evident in recent years that we are moving further away from that dream. Simon plays a pretty impressive banjo solo on this one. Barry Kornfierld enhances the group on acoustic guitar, and Bill Lee plays the bass. Bill Lee is the father of Spike Lee, the film director who has made many socially conscious films dealing with racial inequality.
Track 3- “Bleecker Street” is the first song written by Paul Simon that is featured on the record. In the 1960s, Bleecker Street, located in New York's Greenwich Village, was the hub of folk music. The lyrics speak of "voices leaking from a sad cafe" and a poet reading "a crooked rhyme." Again the lyrics make biblical reference such as "holy, holy is his sacrament." "I heard church bells softly chime," and "It's a long road to Canaan." They also talk about how on Bleecker Street, the rent is $30. Today the average rent on Bleecker Street for a one-bedroom apartment is around $4000 monthly. Simon showcases his formalized and impressive guitar fingerpicking on the track. This album has several New York references, and even the cover art shows the duo waiting for a subway at 5th Avenue and 53rd Street. (*)
Track 4- “Sparrow” is another beautiful song by Paul Simon that showcases his fingerpicking guitar stylings and meaningful lyrics. Throughout the song, the bird questions, "Who will love a little sparrow? "Not I," responds an oak tree, a swan, and the wheat. Since the sparrow has no one to love or shelter it, she will die. Knowing she will perish, the sparrow asks, "Who will write my eulogy" and the earth answers. "I will." "For all I've created returns onto me. From dust you were ye made, and dust ye shall be." The sparrow is one of the world's most widespread and resilient bird species. There are more than 140 different species of sparrows found on every continent except Antarctica. In many cultures, sparrows are associated with good luck, happiness, and l freedom. Simon uses the sparrow as a metaphor to represent peace. So next time a sparrow poops on your car, maybe be more tolerant and love that little sparrow. (*)
Track 5- “Benedictus” is a unique choice for the album. Showcasing a folk duo singing a late Renaissance work in Latin is quite remarkable. "Benedictus" comes from the Belgium composer Orlando Di Lasso, born around 1530 and died in 1594. Di Lasso wrote over 2000 works and was considered a master of harmonic vocal writing. The lyrics translate to "in the name of the lord." It is unclear if Paul Simon was religious, although many of his songs suggest a search for a deeper meaning. Art Garfunkel was born Jewish but has studied Eastern philosophies and practices such as meditation and yoga. Their voices on this track are absolutely majestic.
Track 6- “The Sound of Silence” is Simon and Garfunkel’s most important early release and details regarding the song are remarkable impact have been described in the introduction section, but to sum it up quickly, this version was not an initial hit in 1964, It developed a cult following and was then re-recorded and re-released and became a number one hit. “The Sound of Silence” is one of the darkest and most introspective songs ever written, and this stripped-down version makes it even more dramatic. The opening lyrics, “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again,” is quite possibly the most haunting opening line ever written.”
Silence is one of the most essential compositional tools. In music, meaning often comes not only from the notes played or sung but also from the space between. Composer John Cage’s 4:33 is a piece in which a performer sits with a stopwatch open the piano lid and plays no actual “notes” for 4:33, yet the music is different every time. How, you may ask? Within those 4:33, someone is bound to make a sound, a cough, a chuckle, a foot tap. Or maybe the air conditioning has a slight hum. Either way, within those 4:33, your mind will wander and race because silence makes most people uncomfortable. Overall the meaning of the song has been interpreted in many ways. Basically, the piece reflects loneliness and how we are often too caught up in our own nonsense to actually communicate and ‘hear’ others.
Track 1- “He Was My Brother” was written by Paul Simon as a tribute to Andrew Goodman. Goodman was a civil rights activist killed in 1964 along with activists James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. The three were working to register African American voters in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer campaign. On June 21, 1964, the three men were traveling in a car when members of the Ku Klux Klan stopped them. They were pulled from their car, abducted, beaten, and killed. Their bodies were buried in a dam, and they remained missing for weeks. When found, the nation mourned, and an investigation was opened against the Klan.
Several members of the Ku Klux Klan were arrested and tried for the murders in 1967, and seven were convicted. The group's leader Edgar Ray Killen was sentenced to 60 years, while the other six Klansmen involved received 3 to 10 years. Killen died in prison in 2018 at the age of 92. Andrew Goodman was 23 when he died, Paul Simon did not know Goodman personally, but like many, he was deeply affected by the murder. The song is a powerful protest song and a reflection of the racial turmoil in America; at this time, an issue that is still far from being resolved.
Track 2- “Peggy-O” is a traditional folk song that may have been written in England or Ireland, sometime in the 18th or 19th century. The history of tracking folk songs is daunting as they are often taught through oral tradition and change over time. The verses tell the story of a captain who fell in love with Peggie O while marching on the streets of "Faneri-O." The final lyrics of "If ever I return, all your cities I will burn, Destroying all the ladies in the “ar-e-o" is quite dark. "Faneri-O" may be a fictional place or may refer to a place in English called "Farnborough." It may also reference a place called Fennerio from the Irish legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne. Simon's clean guitar fingerpicking is also of interest in this song. As far as 1960s folkies go, he was one of the most skilled in terms of guitar playing, arranging, and singing. Bob Dylan recorded the tune on his 1962 debut album, and there are also versions by Joan Baez and The Grateful Dead.
Track 3- “Go Tell It On the Mountain” is an African-American spiritual that has been covered by many artists like Mahalia Jackson, Peter, Paul and Mary, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Whitney Houston, and Aretha Franklin. The song tells the story of the birth of Christ and his desire to spread a message of love. Simon and Garfunkel's version is played uptempo in a celebratory way. No matter the subject, the blend of Simon and Garfunkel's voices is angelic.
Track 4- “The Sun Is Burning” was written by British folk singer and political activist Ian Campbell. The lyrics describe a peaceful day with the "sun burning in the sky" with "lazy bees, joining flowers among the trees." "Little kids are taken rest as the sun sets in the west. "Couples are in the park holding hands and waiting for dark." Then things take a dramatic turn when "high above a spot appears," which leads to a "mushroom cloud of death...of hellish heat." The nuclear attack leaves "twisted sightless wrecks of men, who cry in pain." In the final lyric "the sun has disappeared." The song reflects the terrors and fears of global destruction and reminds us everything can end in a flash. Needless to say, it's not a feel-good song. Simon and Garfunkel are remarkable at presenting material that is thought-provoking and melancholy.
Track 5- “The Times They Are A-Changin’” is a classic protest song written and recorded by Bob Dylan in 1964. Since I have already discussed the song when reviewing Bob Dylan-The Times They Are A-Changin', I will point out the similarities and differences between both versions. Both versions are sung against the simple strumming of an acoustic guitar, although Simon alters the chords slightly. While Dylan sings alone in his performance, Simon and Garfunkel's version offers vocal harmonies along with the addition of a bass player. Plus, there is no amateurish harmonica playing on their remake. Simon and Garfunkel's version also removed the fourth and seventh verses of Dylan's original, giving more profound meaning to the power of the chorus. Some struggle with the uniqueness of Dylan's voice or the simplicity of his playing. Others welcome the purity of his recordings. I have often suggested that Dylan's songs are best represented by the numerous artists who have covered his material.
Track 6- “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” was written by Paul Simon. The song speaks of the narrator's struggles as he lies in bed feeling lost and lonely even though he is with the girl he loves, who he watches sleeping soundly. While he lies awake, he reflects on his day and the robbery he committed when he held up a liquor store. He doesn't know why he did it, and his actions seem "unreal," as if they are "an illusion." He awaits the morning when he knows he will be "leaving” and that it will be the last time he sees his love. Nothing good happens if you are awake on Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.
Wednesday Morning, A.M. sold only about 3,000 copies during its first pressing and was widely ignored in the U.S. Then, people became hip to the album, and the record eventually reached over 500,000 in sales. This debut album revealed the incredible talents of Paul Simon as a songwriter, arranger, and guitarist and the signature vocal blend of Simon and Garfunkel. Adding interest is the variety of the material, which ranges from folk classics, protest songs, A Renaissance work, and Simon's originals. The balance is six songs from Simon and six cover songs. The duo would release five more studio albums, all hits, thus cementing their reputation as one of the most important acts of the 1960s.