Best Duo: Simon & Garfunkel

Paul And Artie,
Tom And Jerry,
Simon And Garfunkel: THE EARLY RECORDINGS

By Rush Evans

A white Tennessee trucker with slick, black hair and a slick, black voice turned the world upside down when he sang about hound dogs and blue suede shoes. It was this deep and forbidden music that a Jewish kid from Queens first heard in the 1950s, and it would forever change him. But as much as Paul Simon loved Elvis Presley’s voice, swagger, and infectious rock, he was also fascinated by the equally forbidden soaring harmonics of the black groups who walked through the door to white America that Elvis had opened for them — The Penguins, The Moonglows, The Orioles, The Five Satins and so many more. They sang songs like “Sincerely,” “Crying in the Chapel,” and “In the Still of the Night.” It was The Penguins’ biggest hit that struck the New York teen in a manner that went far beyond the new vocal sound itself. The song’s lyrics created the poetic notion of an “Earth Angel,” a girl whose beauty was too transcendent to be of this world.

Paul Simon, right, and Art Garfunkel perform at the 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concert at Madison Square Garden,Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009 in New York. (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)

Paul Simon shared his love of early rock and roll with a kid he’d met at school when they were just 11. In the elementary school’s version of the “Alice in Wonderland” play, Paul was The White Rabbit, and his friend Artie Garfunkel was The Cheshire cat. Artie loved music just as much, and he proved early on that he could sing — really sing, like those Penguins and Moonglows. He even served as cantor at his own bar mitzvah. Those doo-wop acts were not the only ones using harmony vocals. There were two brothers whose sound came from the world of country music, but together they would rock to the top of the pop charts with a unique close harmony. No one had ever sounded like The Everly Brothers, but maybe two New York teenagers could.

Paul and Artie were still in junior high when they went together to buy the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love,” and they were soon doing their best to duplicate the sound with their own voices in the basement of the Simon home. Artie had two tape recorders, which came in handy while trying to duplicate and overdub harmonies. Paul proved an excellent singer, too, and together, their voices blended as smoothly as The Everlys’. They called themselves The Sparks, then The Peptones, and then they proudly shared their newfound talent at a 1955 school assembly, where they performed an a cappella version of “Sh-boom.”

By high school, the friendship was as solid as their mutual musical passion, and Paul Simon was ready to take up the guitar. This quickly led to songwriting, which the friends did together. They may have just been kids, but this was New York, so all they needed were subway tokens and enough chutzpah to wander into the lobbies of Brill Building publishing companies in the heart of Manhattan. It was a time when two 15-year-olds could do that, but not as an act called Simon and Garfunkel. They may have been pitching themselves to businessmen with similar religious upbringings, but even they knew the marketability of a name so unusual, so cumbersome, so Jewish.

They were Tommy Graph and Jerry Landis, or Tom and Jerry, like the cartoon. They were turned away, time and again, to their great frustration. So without any publishing or recording ties, they decided to cut a demo disc for two dollars in Manhattan. The recording would go straight to acetate, so the duo would either nail the first take or not. It was their own song, “Hey, Schoolgirl,” and a businessman in the waiting area heard them record it. He told the teens that they were the best thing since the Everly Brothers, and that he would make them stars.

“Hey, school girl in the second row
The teacher’s lookin’ over
So I gotta whisper way down low
To say “who-bop-a-loo-chi-bop,
Let’s meet after school at three”
— from “Hey, Schoolgirl”

The boys signed on, recorded and released “Hey, Schoolgirl”/“Dancin’ Wild” on both 78 and 45 formats for the Big Records label. So it was that young Paul Simon and young Art Garfunkel had made a record about the same time that Lennon had first met McCartney. It was 1957.

Now with management and a record, the boys got matching outfits and even landed a Thanksgiving Day appearance on Dick Clark’s national television show, “American Bandstand.” The still-new medium had been crucial to the national explosion of rock and roll, as Elvis Presley’s and Jerry Lee Lewis’ and Chuck Berry’s wild gyrations were as engaging as their fiery music. “Hey, Schoolgirl” was a good, melodic pop song, and the sight of a tall, fuzzy-haired kid and his diminutive friend was presumably intriguing, but the appearance did not create an overnight teen sensation. They were heroes at home, though, and the song did dent the national charts (No. 49). That translated to 100,000 copies sold, no small feat for a couple of Queens teens. All that was just enough to get Tom and Jerry on the bill for several rock and roll package shows and to continue recording a series of sides.

“Baby Talk” was a cool-but-corny novelty track; “Teenage Fool” and “Our Song” were doo-wop gems; “True or False” was an attempt at Elvis-styled vocal acrobatics; “Dancin’ Wild” was an innocuous dance tune; “That’s My Story” was a weepy, faithful-to-form, doo-wop ballad. Few of them achieved the heavenly sounds or passionate depth of their beloved Moonglows or Orioles songs, but all of them showed potential and a mixture of voices that could soon soar past the Everlys’ harmonic convergence.

When the Big label folded, they released other singles on other labels that went nowhere. Paul and Artie remained strong, but Tom and Jerry did not, and the brief adventure into pop music ended. Through it all, the friends stayed in school, graduated, and, despite that taste of stardom, both went on to college right there in New York City. Garfunkel headed to Columbia College to study mathematics, and Simon went to Queens University to study English. Paul would not let the music go, and he briefly formed a duo with a fellow student named Carole Klein. Together, they were the Cosines, but it was The Passions who heard and recorded a song by Simon and Klein called “Just To Be with You.” Paul Simon was getting a little more serious about songwriting, and so was Carole, who soon changed her last name to King and became ensconced in the legendary Brill Building. With new songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin, she started writing timeless hits, songs like “Up on the Roof” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”
Paul was still happy to trade on the noteworthy resumé he and Artie had built as Tom and Jerry, so he began releasing singles as Jerry Landis, much of which was in the spirit of the times. As the ’50s gave way to the ’60s, it appeared that rock and roll’s raucous ride was winding down to a historical footnote. By the time Elvis went into the service, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Pat Boone and other clean-cut crooners were all the rage, with mom-and-dad-friendly pop songs that neither rocked nor rolled. Jerry/Paul wasted no time adapting to the new musical wave, with his own special brand of hokum.

I’d like to be the lipstick on your lips.
I’d like to be the polish on your fingertips.
A ribbon in your hair, the high-heeled shoes you wear.
And when the nights get colder,
I’d like to be the coat around your shoulder.
I’d like to be the belt around your tiny waist.
I’d like to be the chocolate candy that you taste.
— from “The Lipstick on Your Lips”

After a string of Landis singles (and one under the name True Taylor), he began performing as a member of a group, Tico and the Triumphs, who barely cracked the Top 100 (peaking at 99) with a Simon original called “Motorcycle,” a fun little rocker that famous New York WINS deejay Murray the K took a liking to, so much so that he put it in a song-of-the-week styled contest, where it narrowly lost out to Bobby Boris Pickett’s “Monster Mash.” By the time Paul graduated from Queens in 1963, he was also writing and recording under the name Paul Kane.

But something of monumental importance happened to Paul Simon during this time, something that would change his life forever: He realized he didn’t like that stuff at all. Authentic folk music of the rural south had found its way to his beloved urban city, and Paul was listening. New York and the whole world were changing in the shell-shocked aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. Simon began hanging out in Greenwich Village folk clubs, where a new scene had been developing. Bob Dylan had come to New York seeking Woody Guthrie, but there were plenty of other singers and songwriters of conscience, like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Phil Ochs and Fred Neil.

The world had come to him in New York, but Simon was restless to experience the world, so a musical sojourn took him to England, where his heart lay and where a man and his guitar could sing and develop among new faces. It was there he also found a woman to inspire a newer and deeper type of song that he was now writing — the girlfriend was to be remembered forever by her real name, in “Kathy’s Song.” It was as though he had never written any songs before. All the preceding songs had been written by those other guys, Jerry Landis and Paul Kane.

Artie had become Artie Garr, and he, too, had been releasing singles, including songs that he had written. His extraordinary voice had only gotten better, though he never came close to the success of Tom and Jerry or even Tico and the Triumphs. That was OK, because his friend Paul’s musical experiences in the years since high school had taken him forward to a new sound, yet back to the high tenor of his old schoolmate. Garfunkel went to visit his friend in England for a time, though Paul would stay longer. When he returned home, he and Artie went to work, as the real artists they were born to be, and the importance of the truth in songs of meaning, depth and complexity rendered the usage of their real names essential. Simon and Garfunkel they would be.

The rest of their story is well-documented rock and roll history. But, it is also worth noting that after their first album together, Paul Simon would return to his beloved England and record an album of new songs solo, most of which would soon be immortalized by the duo that would soon reunite. After becoming musical stars, Pickwick Records would release a “Simon and Garfunkel” album of those early Tom and Jerry songs, much to Paul Simon’s frustration. The cover featured a misleading contemporary photo of the young men, no longer teens and no longer doo-wop singers.

Though Paul Simon had once declared his embarrassment over the Tom and Jerry, Jerry Landis and Tico and the Triumphs recordings, he and Art gladly incorporated their first song together, “Hey, Schoolgirl,” into their reunion concert tour in 2004, sung moments before bringing their heroes, The Everly Brothers, out to join them onstage for a quartet version of “Bye Bye Love.” Surely, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, and both Everlys shared a sense of pride that those memorable melodies and beautiful close harmonies were alive and well at the half-century mark, in the able hands and voices of their original creators.

“Hey, Schoolgirl” happened nearly a decade before the first Simon and Garfunkel album, but without it and the string of experimentations that followed, an entire generation might not have walked off to look for America or dared disturb the sound of silence or sailed right behind, like a bridge over troubled water.


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