1001 Songs Challenge,  1960s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #184: The Sounds of Silence (1965)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…


Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

We’re continuing in the US today, dear reader, and are in the company of one of the greatest duos music has ever known. In 1964 school friends, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, released an album Wednesday Morning, 3AM but it wasn’t a success. The two separated, going off in different directions and that seemed to be that. On that album was a song by the name of The Sounds of Silence which, like the album, had not fared well. Producer Tom Wilson remixed the track, throwing in electric instruments and drums and re-releasing the song in September 1965 with Simon and Garfunkel none the wiser. On 1 January 1966 The Sounds of Silence was the no.1 song in the US, convincing the duo to reunite and the rest is history.  

The Sounds of Silence was thought to be a response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963 but Paul Simon wrote the song when he was 21 which would have been 1962. The song took months to complete and Simon even wrote it in his bathroom. A popular theory, once confirmed by Garfunkel in an interview, is that the song is about the inability of people to communicate with each other, especially on an emotional level and that silence therefore prevails. Going through the lyrics, the narrator speaks of a vision they have while in darkness before taking to the streets alone. The sight of a neon light catches their eye and in the midst of the beacon comes many people but they do not communicate with him or with one another, physically or verbally, even though they have thoughts and ideas to share. All are transfixed by the light as if it is a deity to be worshipped. The narrator tries to speak to the people, warning of the danger of silence but his words are consumed by that same silence he tries to break. The neon light and its message of “words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls” could be likened to our fascination with the material world around us and how being transfixed by commercialism renders basic communication with one another irrelevant. Material things fulfil emotional and physical needs. This would certainly resonate 50 years later in the 21st century with continually advancing technology. 

My love of Simon and Garfunkel is indebted to my wife, Donna, who wanted their greatest hits collection as an Xmas gift one year. Prior to that, I was only familiar with Homeward Bound and I am a Rock. The Sounds of Silence is arguably the best song Paul Simon ever wrote though the likes of Bridge Over Troubled Water, Scarborough Fair, The Boxer and For Emily Wherever I May Find Her (to name just a few!) should be mentioned in the same breath. More than 50 years later, The Sounds of Silence is simply perfection. Any songwriter would have been proud to have written just this one song. For Paul Simon, it was just one of many masterpieces he wrote. Hats off, Paul.


Favourite songs so far:

Eddie Cochran – Summertime Blues (1958)

The Everly Brothers – All I Have to Do Is Dream (1958)

Ben E. King – Stand By Me (1961)

The Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (1964)

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

The Mamas & The Papas – California Dreamin’ (1965)

The Rolling Stones – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (1965)

The Seekers – The Carnival is Over (1965)

The Supremes – Stop! In the Name of Love (1965)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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