Rewind album: The Paul Simon Songbook, by Paul Simon (1965)
The Paul Simon Songbook
American audiences first became aware of Paul Simon through his partnership with Art Garfunkel and their breakthrough hit, The Sounds of Silence.
That tune had appeared in acoustic form on the 1964 Columbia album Wednesday Morning, 3AM, but only became a hit in 1965 after producer Tom Wilson overdubbed a rock track onto the original recording. Wednesday Morning, 3AM sold modestly: by the time the single started climbing the charts in the US, Simon was living in England, performing solo in folk clubs there and in Europe, and building a following entirely his own.
His album with Garfunkel had not been released in Britain and, to have something to promote, Simon arranged to re-record two of his songs from those sessions, and a further 10 previously unreleased, for Columbia's British label CBS.
The result was The Paul Simon Songbook, early versions of songs which later became the most popular in the duo's repertoire, performed by their author, alone, with just a guitar and occasional percussion from a tapping foot. Simon had mixed feelings about the collection, blocking its release in the US for several years. The 12 songs plus two alternate takes are now available on CD.
When it first came out, the Songbook was also available as a book of sheet music, plus a short story by Simon called On Drums and Other Hollow Objects. This remained Simon's only solo album of recordings until Paul Simon was released in 1972. Perhaps one reason he did not want the tracks in circulation is that they sound very much like demos for the more famous alternative versions with additional instrumentation and vocal harmonies. However, they demonstrate how fully formed the songs were and how sophisticated a guitarist Simon had become after spending time with the acoustic guitarists then playing the same British club circuit.
Most of the songs have stood the test of time. All of the early run of Simon and Garfunkel's hit singles are here apart from Homeward Bound - The Sound of Silence (the title had changed to the singular Sound by the time of this album), I Am a Rock - and on their last tour, the duo were still performing Leaves That are Green and Kathy's Song, the latter dedicated to Simon's English girlfriend Kathy Chitty.
Simon's sophomoric sleeve notes might induce a wince at this distance, but as he concludes those youthful reflections: "One thing I know. I won't reread them".
However, he should be able to listen to these recordings with some satisfaction and there is evidence here already of the meticulous recording artist in the making.