Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel grew up three blocks apart. They met at school in Forest Hills, Queens, New York in 1953 where they learned to harmonise and performed together under the name Tom & Jerry. Their partnership dissolved when they began college, but their shared interest in folk music and the growing counterculture movement lead to them reuniting in 1963 to perform Simon’s compositions around their hometown of Queens.
Simon wrote “The Sound of Silence” over a period of months in his bathroom, where he enjoyed the echo from the tiles and would turn off the lights to better concentrate. In September 1963, Simon & Garfunkel performed their new song at a Greenwich Village club, gaining the attention of producer Tom Wilson who worked with Bob Dylan. A studio audition and contract with Columbia Records followed.
“The Sound of Silence” was recorded March 10 1964 at Columbia Studios in New York City for inclusion on their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, released October 1964. Performances to promote the album went poorly. The opening lyric “Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to speak with you again…” cracked the audience up. The album flopped. Its dismal sales of 3,000 copies led to the duo once again disbanding. Paul Simon returned to a solo career in England and Art Garfunkel to his studies at Columbia University. Simon toured the small folk clubs of England and continued writing. He met Kathy Chitty, who became the object of his affection and inspiration for “Kathy’s Song” and “America”.
Then from obscurity, a murmur, a flicker of light.
In spring 1965 “The Sound of Silence” began to attract late night airplay at a radio station in Boston, Massachusetts. Popularity ignited overnight amongst the students of Harvard and Tufts University and the song made its way down the East Coast all the way to Florida for the spring break. Alerted to the growing airplay, Tom Wilson, remixed the track, overdubbing electric instruments with the same musicians who backed Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” on June 15, 1965. Simon & Garfunkel were not informed of the remix and the single was released in September 1965.
Simon was horrified when he heard it. However, he reunited again with Garfunkel that winter in New York, leaving Chitty and his friends in England behind. They hastily recorded their second album in three weeks during December 1965 at CBS studios in Nashville and Los Angeles, which Columbia titled ‘Sounds of Silence’ in an attempt to capitalise on the song’s success. Many of it’s tracks were re-recordings from ‘The Paul Simon Songbook’ which had been released in England summer 1965.
The original issue sleeve had the artist and title set in Cooper Black italic capitals. In spite of its immediate success, the client made the logo 20% bigger and added song titles for later issues.
The album cover image was shot by Guy Webster at Franklin Canyon Park, Los Angeles. Webster listened to it before meeting them and was stunned. After the shoot, he invited them back to his dad’s house in nearby Beverley Hills as he knew they would hit it off over thier shared love of literature and especially Dickens. The duo performed “The Sound of Silence” for him in the living room.
"The Sound of Silence” hit No. 1 on January 1 1966.