Simon & Garfunkel's 15 greatest songs ever, ranked

3 September 2021, 11:05

Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel. Picture: Getty

By Mayer Nissim

A round-up of the very best songs by folk-rock legends Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel met as school children in Queens, New York and went on to record some of the greatest music of the 1960s.

After shaking off the (terrible) Tom & Jerry name they started with, Simon & Garfunkel had some minor folk success before superproducer Tom Wilson got ahold of one of their songs and changed everything.

Not sure where to start? Below we round up the 15 greatest Simon & Garfunkel songs, ending with the very best.

  1. 7 O'Clock News/Silent Night

    A quirky collage of the Christmas carol with a (fake) news bulletin read by DJ Charlie O'Donnell makes for a quirky, strange, ironic and alluring alternative Xmas classic.

    The fight for Civil Rights, the death of Lenny Bruce, the indictment of mass murderer Richard Speck, HUAC and Vietnam all get referenced in increasing volume, clashing with the gentle piano and harmonised carolling.

  2. El Condor Pasa (If I Could)

    Paul Simon's immersion in what came to be known as World Music reached its peak with Graceland in the 1980s, but he was always taking cues and inspiration from music from around the world.

    'El Cóndor Pasa' has a rich history, going back to Andean folk music, via the zarzuela (a sort of Spanish musical theatre/opera) El Cóndor Pasa by Peruvian composer Daniel Alomía Robles, via Los Incas's version (which Simon and Garfunkel used as their base track), with new lyrics by Paul.

    It featured on the band's fifth and final album Bridge Over Troubled Water.

  3. The Only Living Boy in New York

    Another song taken from the band's last album, the song perhaps hints at the upcoming breakup as each of the duo started to look around at other options.

    Paul Simon nods to the pair's early billing as Tom & Jerry as he writes about being left on his own when Art travelled to Mexico to kick off his acting career in Mike Nichols's version of Joesph Heller's Catch-22. ("Tom, get your plane right on time / I know your part'll go fine").

  4. Kathy's Song

    A Paul Simon original that was first released as an acoustic song by Paul alone on his solo release The Paul Simon Songbook in 1965.

    The S&G version appeared on their second album Sounds of Silence the following year.

  5. Bleecker Street

    Simon & Garfunkel were one of THE New York acts, and this pained love letter to the Greenwich Village street sums up the mixture of anguished hope and desperation of the city.

    The track marked the duo's shift from mainly covering folk standards to performing Simon's own songs, and was a highlight of debut album Wednesday Morning 3AM.

  6. Patterns

    Another song originally recorded solo by Paul Simon for his Songbook album that he dug out again to record alongside his sparring partner.

    A surprisingly hard-edged rocker that paints humanity as tortured rats in a maze, it featured on third album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

  7. A Hazy Shade of Winter

    A number 13 single on the Hot 100, this rocker was originally recorded for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme but was held back for the following Bookends album.

    A classic cover by the Bangles recorded for the Less Than Zero soundtrack in 1987 did even better, climbing up to number two.

  8. Richard Corey

    As we know, Paul Simon isn't averse to borrowing from allsorts for songwriting inspiration, and here he leant heavily on Edwin Arlington Robinson's 1897 poem from The Children of The Night.

    A dark tale of poverty and exploitation, a factory worker envies and curses his boss Corey, even after "Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head".

  9. The Boxer

    An absolutely remarkable bit of storytelling, 'The Boxer' was also one of Simon & Garfunkel's many top 10 hits, going all the way to number 7 on release months ahead of its inclusion on Bridge Over Troubled Water.

    Miles away from their early threadbare recordings, there are overdubs aplenty here and the sessions for the track apparently took over 100 hours.

  10. I Am A Rock

    A flip-reverse of John Donne's 1624 verse ("No man is an island entire of itself"), 'I Am A Rock' opened Simon's lesser-heard solo The Paul Simon Songbook before he dug it out for the Sounds of Silence.

    Taking inspiration for Tom Wilson's hit remix of 'The Sound of Silence', the band laid on the electric instruments, burgeoning their folk-rock credentials and scoring a number three hit in the process.

  11. Mrs Robinson

    When he was making The Graduate, director Mike Nichols became obsessed with Simon & Garfunkel's first two albums, and wanted to licence their music for the film.

    After a bit of convincing, Paul Simon agreed, and also said he'd write a couple of new songs. Nichols wasn't too blown away by 'Punky's Dilemma' or 'Overs' and held out for something else.

    That something else was the unbelievably catchy 'Mrs Robinson', (which previously had a working title of 'Mrs Roosevelt'), which was immortalised in the film, and also included (alongside those two rejected songs) on Bookends.

  12. Scarborough Fair/Canticle

    Paul Simon's borrowing from traditional songs has come up before, and maybe the best and most successful example was this reworking of a traditional English ballad.

    Simon learned 'Scarborough Fair' from Martin Carthy, who in turn picked it up from fellow folkies Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger (Bob Dylan had previously yoinked a couple of lines from this version for 'Girl From the North Country').

    To put their own spin on things, Simon mashed it up with his own 1963 song 'The Side of a Hill', reworked as 'Canticle' with a tune by Garfunkel. The fusion led Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme in 1966 and was added to The Graduate soundtrack a couple of years later.

  13. America

    Originally released on 1968's Bookends, 'America' is one of Paul Simon's most personal, beautiful and affecting bits of songwriting.

    Inspired by Simon's real-life trip with then-girlfriend Kathy Chitty, it's a whole road movie smooshed into just over three minutes, it tells the story of two young lovers crossing the country in search of the (mythical?) notion of America.

    'America' was belatedly bundled on to the B-side of a live version of 'For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her' to promote the then-split band's Greatest Hits in 1972.

    Fortunately, everyone soon saw sense and it got its rightful place as an A-side, climbing up to the Top 30 in the UK. It got even more attention when Anita played it for her mum in Cameron Crowe's nostalgic 200 movie Almost Famous.

  14. Bridge Over Troubled Water

    The Gospel-tinged title track of Simon and Garfunkel's last album 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' is seen by many as their standard-bearer and their masterpiece.

    Simon nudged Art to sing the song solo and after a bit of convincing, he agreed. A good decision, as the song ended up topping the charts in both the UK and the US (and a load of other countries, too).

    Like many Simon and Garfunkel songs, it's been covered plenty of times, including by artists as incredible as Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.

  15. The Sound of Silence

    Originally titled 'The Sounds of Silence', the original acoustic, folky version of this song was brilliant enough, even though it wasn't a hit (and nor was its excellent parent album Wednesday Morning 3AM).

    It flopped so badly, in fact, that Simon and Garfunkel actually split up.

    Undeterred and fresh from working on Bob Dylan's folk/rock crossover classic Bringing It All Back Home and the 'Like A Rolling Stone' single, S&G's producer Tom Wilson had an idea.

    He got guitarists Al Gorgoni and Vinnie Bell, drummer Bobby Gregg and bassist Bob Bushnell together, and without speaking to Simon or Garfunkel (because they'd split anyway), overdubbed it and remixed it into the classic electric version.

    Simon wasn't keen on the remix initially, but it became a massive hit, prompting a swift reunion with Art, and the rest was history.

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