On July 31, 2004, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel stood in front of more than a half a million fans at Rome’s famous Colosseum. They were nearing the end of a nine month tour called Old Friends, but some cynics wondered if the Old Friends were more interested in cashing in on Baby Boomer nostalgia rather than making music together.
Recordings from the tour suggest two senior citizens extremely comfortable with each other, albeit unable to reach many of the notes and phrasing that made that famous.
And famous they were. In terms of chart success, only Hall and Oates was as successful as the relatively brief (1964-1970) run Simon and Garfunkel enjoyed when they epitomized folk-pop eventually ending the first round of their careers with perhaps their greatest album, Bridge Over Troubled Water.
The pair met and recorded while they were teenagers. Under the name of Tom and Jerry, their Hey Schoolgirl single actually charted, but after multiple false starts and a flop of a solo album in 1964, they seemed destined for one-hit wonder status.
Producer Tom Wilson was the unlikely hero who found the song The Sounds of Silence on their debut album and pushed hard to bring the duo together. Wilson, whose street credentials included producing some of Bob Dylan’s breakthrough music, was a man the music community respected. With his backing, Simon and Garfunkel created the 1966 album Sounds of Silence, and their lives were never the same.
Often accused of writing syrupy pop ballads particularly early in his career, Simon penned some of folk-pop’s seminal works including Bridge Over Troubled Water, Mrs. Robinson (from the Dustin Hoffman movie The Graduate) and Scarborough Fair. Simon began exploring other musical styles, but the pair broke up after the release of their most successful studio album. He went on, of course, to a wildly successful solo career and became a Grammy darling, but kept reuniting with Garfunkel.
One such reunion brought the double album Concert in Central Park to a new generation of fans. Reaching into their own childhoods, the pair had a minor hit with Wake Up Little Susie, which despite appearing on more than 175 albums, reached #37 on the Billboard singles charts in 1982.
Winners of a Lifetime Grammy Achievement Award, Simon and Garfunkel scored four Grammys during their career, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year for Bridge Over Troubled Water. Three of their songs reached #1 on the pop charts, and four decades later, the old friends were still on stage together.